Company can sue for foreign infringement of Denny tape copyright
NINTH CIRCUIT–Plaintiffs suing for the unauthorized exploitation overseas of copyrighted work initially infringed in the United States may recover damages for the international use, the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco (9th Cir.) ruled in mid-July.
The ruling arose from a copyright infringement lawsuit filed by the Los Angeles News Service against the international news service Reuters. During the April 1992 riots in Los Angeles that followed the Rodney King verdict, a LANS helicopter videotaped the beating of trucker Reginald Denny. The videotape was then copyrighted and licensed to the NBC network in New York. When NBC broadcast the footage on the “Today show” to its affiliates, the European Broadcasting Union, a Reuters subsidiary in New York, made a copy and transmitted it via satellite to Reuters’ London office. Reuters in turn provided copies of the beating to its subscribers.
The district court had ruled earlier that LANS was entitled to recover damages only for domestic infringement because the U.S. Copyright Act does not apply “extraterritorially.” This ruling, said the 9th Circuit court, was premised on the assumption that LANS’ claim was based on the satellite transmission from the EBU to Reuters in London.
Writing for the appellate court, Judge William Schwartzer held that for the act to apply to foreign distribution, “at least one alleged infringement must be completed entirely in the United States.” Focusing on EBU’s action in copying the NBC transmission, rather than Reuters’ distribution, the court ruled that LANS could recover for the overseas infringement.
“While the extraterritorial damages resulted from Reuters’ overseas dissemination of the works received by satellite transmissions from . . . EBU, those transmissions were made possible by the infringing acts of copying in New York. The satellite transmissions, thus, were merely a means of shipping the unlicenced footage abroad for further dissemination.”
After the ruling, the court remanded the case to the district court for a hearing on damages. William Bergen, the lawyer for LANS, said the ruling could mean as much as $6 million in damages for his client, as well as increased protection for copyright owners against the unauthorized transmissions of copies on satellite feeds and the Internet. “Up until today, infringers have been allowed to infringe by putting it on a satellite feed,” he said. (Los Angeles News Service v. Reuters Television; Media Counsel: William Bergen, Auburn (LANS), Louis Petrich, Los Angeles (Reuters))