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First off today, Gene Maddaus at Variety reports that all 11 judges of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals heard the Stairway to Heaven case and expressed serious doubts about the plaintiff’s ability to win the lawsuit.
The case was filed by the estate of Randy Wolfe, who was the guitarist for the band Spirit. They claim that the the Led Zeppelin song Stairway to Heaven is an infringement of the Spirit song Taurus. A jury ruled against the estate previously but a three-judge panel ruled that the jury instructions were improper and sent the case back for a possible retrial. However, in a rare move, the full court agreed to hear the case and did so yesterday.
One of the key issues in the case that came up was that the deposit copy filed for Taurus may be flawed. Several of the judges seemed to indicate that the case should be tossed on those grounds alone since the claim must be limited to the deposit. However, a ruling is not expected for many months and may still be appealed again.
Next up today, Eriq Gardner at The Hollywood Reporter Esquire reports that a battle over an exhibition on Alexander Hamilton has taken a copyright-oriented turn as a partner of the exhibition tries to claim copyright protection in much of its work.
The dispute is between Hamilton Exhibition LLC, which was founded by Hamilton producer Jeffrey Seller, and Imagine Exhibitions Inc., which is operated by Tom Zaller. The two put on an exhibit based on the life of Alexander Hamilton in Chicago that was seen as a commercial failure. The two sides have squabbled over who was responsible for the various issues it faced and are embroiled in litigation over it.
As part of that litigation, Zaller has registered work associated with the exhibition with the U.S. Copyright Office and is demanding payment for the use of their content. However, in a motion to dismiss, Seller claims that Zaller has failed to mention any protectable elements that have been infringed, noting that historical facts cannot be protected by copyright, only their expression, and that Zaller and his company have counterintuitively claimed that they had limited involvement in the exhibition that they are claiming used their work.
Finally today, Jacob Carpenter at the Houston Chronicle reports that the Houston Independent School District (HISD) is facing yet more litigation in its battle against DynaStudy, its insurance company.
DynaStudy is a small company that produces study material for students and teachers. However, according to a lawsuit, the school allowed widespread copying of their work with teachers even going as far as to cover up copyright notices with tape and getting tacit OK from a school principal. Despite this, DynaStudy attempted to settle the case for just $250,000 but was turned down without a counter offer. The case went before a jury and HISD lost with the jury awarding DynaStudy $9.2 million for the infringement.
Since then the two sides are in post-verdict settlement talks with both sides still far apart. However, HISD’s insurance agency, Princeton, has filed a lawsuit against HISD saying that, due to the way HISD has been handling the case, they have no obligation to pay any award or settlement. The move is proactive in that there’s no indication HISD was planning on making a claim, but Princeton claims that they are exempted from paying because the employees knowingly engaged in the infringement and that they have not been involved in the settlement negotiations.