Monday, March 02, 2015

Copying graffiti could infringe copyright and trademark

Williams v. Roberto Cavalli S.p.A., No. 14-cv-06659 (C.D. Cal. Feb. 12, 2015)
Plaintiffs Jason Williams, Victor Chapa, and Jeffrey Rubin sued the producers and distributors of Just Cavalli clothing, alleging copyright infringement, removal and alteration of copyright information (CMI) under §1202, unfair competition, and negligence. Some of the defendants moved to dismiss all claims but copyright infringement, and failed (even though it will ultimately be pretty hard to show that the distributors had the requisite knowledge under §1202 for CMI removal; a more targeted attack on that issue might’ve asked whether that knowledge was plausibly pled).
The plaintiffs alleged that they were well-known and respected graffiti artists who created a mural in San Francisco that contained signature elements identifying them as the creators. The mural depicted the stylized signatures of “Revok” and “Steel,” pseudonyms associated with two of the plaintiffs, against a background of “revolutions” imagery, allegedly publicly recognized as the third plaintiff’s signature style.
Mural, from complaint
Defendants allegedly used high-resolution photography to obtain images of the mural and placed the images on a collection of Just Cavalli clothing.  While the “revolutions” imagery was intact, the Revok and Steel signatures were rearranged and indiscernible. 
Examples of Just Cavalli clothing
On some items, the brand name “Just Cavalli” was superimposed over images from the mural, allegedly intentionally designed to “induce, enable, facilitate, or conceal” the infringement.
Just Cavalli clothing with Just Cavalli name added
On the CMI claim, the court concluded that the artists’ signatures under their pseudonyms counted as CMI, even though they weren’t provided through a digital technological process.  Further, it was sufficient to argue that defendants removed CMI by copying only part of the mural, so that “the signatures of Revok and Steel are chopped and rearranged to such an extent that they are not recognizable.”
Unfair competition: The third plaintiff, Chapa, alleged that his “revolutions” imagery functioned as “product packaging or logo.” Defendants argued that Dastar precluded this kind of claim, but the court concluded that Chapa’s claim alleged passing off, not reverse passing off, because he alleged that the use of his “revolutions” imagery created the “false and deceptive impression that the Just Cavalli garments and accessories are associated with and/or manufactured by [Chapa] and Plaintiffs.” Designs can be protected by both the Lanham Act and copyright law.
Because Chapa adequately pled his Lanham Act claim, his California statutory and common law claims also survived.

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