Wall-Street.com – Supreme Court victory

THE CHALLENGE

An entrenched circuit split had developed on an issue of statutory interpretation presented at the outset of virtually every copyright case. Section 411(a) of the Copyright Act provides that no infringement suit may be filed unless registration “has been made.” Must the Copyright Office act on an application for registration before suit may be filed, or is filing the application enough?

Multiple circuits, in line with the view of leading treatise authors (Goldstein; Nimmer), had held that simply filing the application is enough. We were retained after a leading Supreme Court expert filed a petition for review advancing this so-called “application” approach.

THE ENGAGEMENT 

Because the petition appeared virtually certain to be granted, our petition-stage goal was to stake out a strong merits position: that the only permissible reading of the statutory language of the Copyright Act is that the Copyright Office must act before suit is filed. When the Court called for the views of the Solicitor General, the government fully endorsed the view articulated in our brief. The Court granted the petition for review.

At the merits stage, with the support of the government and multiple amici, we explained why the compelling policy arguments advanced by the petitioner should not overcome the plain meaning of the statutory text written by Congress. The case was argued by Peter K. Stris in January 2019.

THE RESULT

In an opinion written by Justice Ginsburg (who, despite not being able to attend the argument herself, cited a portion of Mr. Stris’ argument from the transcript for a key point), the Supreme Court ruled 9-0 in our client’s favor. The decision vindicates not only the original text of the Copyright Act, but also Congress’ desire to promote early and extensive copyright registration.

design LAB — a Decade of Success

The Challenge

Defending a start-up in a bet-the-company jury trial brought by a competitor.

The Engagement

design LAB, Inc. is a private-label design and manufacturing company that was co-founded over ten years ago by Adam Beatty, a Harvard Business School graduate. Shortly thereafter, a lawsuit was brought by one of the company’s primary competitors alleging, without merit, that design Lab’s co-founders had improperly solicited clients and misappropriated trade secrets. The lawsuit, tried before a Santa Monica jury, was an existential threat to the company. Mr. Beatty chose Peter Stris to serve as lead trial counsel.

The Result

Mr. Stris successfully defended this bet-the-company suit by persuading the jury to award the plaintiff only a nominal sum. And, in the decade since, Mr. Stris and his partners have served as outside general counsel as design LAB has grown to become one of the nation’s preeminent private-label designers and manufacturers of pet and theme-park merchandise.

Barnes & Noble — Victory in New York

The Challenge

A self-published author filed a baseless hold-up suit against Barnes & Noble seeking damages for distribution of free samples of his unsuccessful e-book through Barnes & Noble’s cloud-based system. We were retained to implement and execute an efficient defense strategy in federal court.

The Engagement

We filed targeted motions and used focused discovery to frame the issues. This approach paid dividends. Our motion to dismiss resulted in the dismissal of a co-plaintiff that the author had added in an early amended complaint. Our early summary judgment motion secured dismissal of the author’s unfair competition claim. And our renewed summary judgment motion and opposition to plaintiff’s cross-motion resulted in dismissal of the remaining copyright claims.

The plaintiff then appealed to the Second Circuit. We submitted briefing and Elizabeth Brannen presented oral argument. In a unanimous opinion, the Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment.

The Result

We efficiently obtained a complete victory for Barnes & Noble in the trial court and on appeal.

Smashwords — Victories in Ohio and the Sixth Circuit

The Challenge

Defending Smashwords, Inc., the nation’s largest self-publishing platform, against a meritless intellectual property suit.

The Engagement

An Ohio couple sued Smashwords and several well-known booksellers for selling an e-book with their picture on the cover without obtaining their permission. The e-book was a self-published, erotic novel featuring football star Robert “Gronk” Gronkowski, which achieved notoriety when it was featured on National Public Radio and Jimmy Kimmel Live. Smashwords retained Stris & Maher to defend it in the suit. An early summary judgment motion asserting constitutional and other defenses secured a swift and complete victory before the district court. The Ohio couple appealed to the Sixth Circuit, where we continued to represent Smashwords. 

The Result

We obtained early summary judgment for our client and preserved that ruling on appeal to the Sixth Circuit.