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Copyright Infringement: Plane and Simple

Universal won a summary judgment motion against Global Eagle and InFlight Productions (“IFP”) – its subsidiary, an in flight entertainment company that provides entertainment service by way of music and movies to American Airlines and US Airways passengers while flying. IFP has been in discussions with the major labels for over six (6) years regarding licensing music to be available to its patrons while flying on airplanes, but Universal had not yet reached an agreement with IFP. However, IFP took it upon themselves to provide airplane passengers with music owned by Universal without first clearing the rights.

Universal filed a summary judgment motion on the grounds of copyright infringement and defendants attempted to avoid penalty by stating that they receive copyright protection from another jurisdiction (country) and that Universal granted them an implied temporary license based on prior negotiations between the parties. The jurisdictional argument is based on the unsettled issue involved in licensing music that is played all over the world. Defendants claim they licensed the rights legally outside of the United States and simply imported it to the United States while flying. Defendants’ also countered with arguments of fraud and tortious interference of business relations. District Judge George Wu presided and rejected both of defendants’ arguments, finding that defendants were well aware of the fact that they did not possess the rights to license the music and make it available to its consumers. The Court also found that there was no reason for the defendants to rely on an implied temporary license when the plaintiffs did not say or do any act that led the defendants to believe a license was imminent or forthcoming and therefore no fraud was committed.

Judge Wu further found that IFP was guilty of willful copyright infringement, which carries with it the penalty of statutory damages in the amount of one hundred and fifty thousand dollars ($150,000) per occurrence, which is in addition to actual damages. With over 4,500 copyrights involved, plaintiffs stand to win hundreds of millions of dollars from defendants’ acts. The damages trial is set to take place on May 10.

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