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Murakami-Wolf-Swenson, Inc. v. Cole

United States District Court, D. Oregon

March 18, 2015

MURAKAMI-WOLF-SWENSON, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
LAWRENCE A. COLE, individually and d/b/a ACME-TV, and MAGNUM PRODUCTIONS LLC, an Oregon Domestic Limited Liability Company, Defendants.

MICHAEL M. RATOZA, Bullivant Houser Bailey, PC, Portland, OR, BRIDGET B. HIRSCH, Los Angeles, CA, EVAN S. COHEN, Los Angeles, CA, Attorneys for Plaintiff.

SCOTT N. BARBUR, JUSTIN R. STEFFEN, Barbur Law Office, LLC, Milwaukie, OR, Attorneys for Defendants.

FINDINGS OF FACT, CONCLUSIONS OF LAW, AND VERDICT

ANN J. BROWN, District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court to resolve whether Defendants willfully infringed Plaintiff's copyright of an audiovisual animated film titled The Point. For the reasons explained herein, the Court concludes Plaintiff has proved Defendants willfully infringed Plaintiff's copyright and awards to Plaintiff statutory damages of $5, 000.00 and reasonable and necessary attorneys' fees in an amount to be determined. The Court also directs the parties to make additional submissions as noted herein.

BACKGROUND

The following facts are undisputed unless noted.

In 1970 Murakami Wolf Productions, Inc., predecessor in interest to Plaintiff Murakami-Wolf-Swenson, Inc., created an audiovisual animated film produced for television titled The Point. The Point, narrated by Dustin Hoffman, was broadcast on television by the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) in 1971. The Point as narrated by Dustin Hoffman was never released for sale to the public.

In 1985 Vestron Video, Plaintiff's licensee, released for sale to the public a videocassette recording of The Point narrated by Ringo Starr. The 1985 release of The Point was identical to the 1971 broadcast except for the change in narrators.

On January 22, 1987, Murakami Wolf Productions registered a copyright for The Point with the Register of Copyrights. Murakami Wolf Productions noted in its Copyright Registration that The Point was created in 1970 and listed the date "of first publication of this particular work" as February 11, 1970.

In 1988 The Point was broadcast on television by the Disney Channel. Alan Thicke narrated the 1988 broadcast, but everything else about The Point was identical to both the 1971 broadcast and the 1985 videocassette release. Plaintiff never released or licensed for release to the public the 1988 broadcast version of The Point.

In 1993 LIVE Home Video, Inc., Plaintiff's licensee, released for sale to the public a videocassette recording of the 1985 version of The Point narrated by Ringo Starr. The 1993 release of The Point was identical to the 1985 videocassette release.

In 2004 Sony BMG, Plaintiff's licensee, released for sale to the public a digital video disc (DVD) recording of the 1985 version of The Point narrated by Ringo Starr. The 2004 release of The Point was identical to the 1985 videocassette release.

As early as 2012 Defendant ACME-TV[1] offered for sale and sold DVD copies of The Point on Amazon.com and ACME-TV.com, which was run through eBay.com. Defendants offered two versions of The Point for sale. The first version was identical to the 1985 Ringo Starr version of The Point, and the second version was identical to the 1988 Alan Thicke version of The Point.

On October 16, 2013, Plaintiff filed an action in this Court against ACME-TV, Magnum Productions, and Lawrence Cole in which Plaintiff asserted a claim against Defendants for willful copyright infringement in violation of 17 U.S.C. ยง 501. Plaintiff sought damages and injunctive relief.

On April 24, 2014, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on the Issue of Liability.

On May 28, 2014, Plaintiff filed a Supplemental Registration to the Copyright Office changing the date of first publication of The Point to 1985.

On August 13, 2014, the Court issued an Opinion and Order in which it concluded Plaintiff had an effective and valid copyright of The Point at the time of its first publication in 1985 and that Defendants infringed Plaintiff's copyright of The Point when they sold and offered it for sale thereafter.

The remaining issue for trial is whether Defendants' infringement of Plaintiff's copyright was innocent or willful.

Plaintiff asserts Defendant willfully infringed Plaintiff's copyright when they manufactured, offered for sale, and sold unauthorized copies of The Point. Plaintiff seeks damages of $50, 000, a permanent injunction, and attorneys' fees.

Defendants, in turn, contend their manufacture, offer for sale, and sales of copies of The Point were innocent infringements rather than willful conduct as evidenced by the fact that, in their opinion, they adequately researched Plaintiff's copyright and they discontinued selling copies of The Point in July 2013 when Plaintiff advised them that their sales were infringing Plaintiff's copyright.

FINDINGS OF FACT

On February 24, 2015, the Court conducted a one-day bench trial on the agreement of the parties. The parties submitted exhibits into evidence and two witnesses testified: Evan Cohen, Plaintiff's administrator of the copyright and film The Point, and Defendant Lawrence Cole, co-owner and administrator of Defendant Magnum Productions LLC.

Having weighed, evaluated, and considered the evidence presented at trial, the Court makes the following Findings of Fact pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a) ...


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