On April 9, 2012, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals handed down its ruling in the copyright case of L.A. Printex, Industries, Inc. v. Aeropostale, Inc., No. 10-56187, 2012 WL 1150273 (9th Cir. Apr. 9, 2012). The plaintiffs (copyright owners of a small floral design) alleged that a major apparel retailer and manufacturer infringed their copyright by using the design on shirts bearing the apparel retailer’s trademark. The district court granted the apparel retailer’s motion for summary judgment, but the Ninth Circuit reversed. On the question of access, the Ninth Circuit held that the plaintiffs had raised a genuine issue of material fact by presenting evidence that they had sold more than 50,000 yards of fabric bearing the copyrighted design to fabric converters, many in the Los Angeles area—the same location of the defendant who had provided the design to the major apparel retailer. This was enough to avoid summary judgment on the question of access: “A reasonable jury could find that [the copyrighted design] was widely disseminated in the Los Angeles-area fabric industry, and hence that there was a ‘reasonable possibility’ that Defendants had an opportunity to view and copy L.A. Printex’s design.”
The Ninth Circuit also took issue with the district court’s view that the differences between the copyrighted work and the apparel retailer’s shirts were enough to grant summary judgment for the defendant. According to the Court: “[a] copyright defendant need not copy a plaintiff’s work in its entirety to infringe that work. It is enough that the defendant appropriated a substantial portion of the plaintiff’s work.” L.A. Printex at *7. The Court also rejected defendants’ contention that an error in the plaintiffs’ copyright registration precluded the suit. Although 17 U.S.C. § 411(b)(1) provides that the knowing inclusion of inaccurate information in a copyright registration can render the certificate incapable of supporting an infringement action, the Ninth Circuit disagreed that the inaccuracy in this case met this standard of invalidity. The Court noted, “[t]here is no evidence that L.A. Printex knew that the two designs had been published at the time it submitted its application for copyright registration,” and that the Copyright Office’s issuance of a certificate of supplementary registration when the plaintiffs noticed the error and corrected the registration “shows that the error was not one that ‘if known, would have caused the Register of Copyrights to refuse registration.’” L.A. Printex at *9.
This decision emphasizes both the difficulty that copyright defendants face in winning on summary judgment and the reluctance of federal courts to invalidate copyright registrations.