| LiveJournal is a social media platform that displays photographs posted by users. Maverix Photographs sued for copyright infringement of some of its photographs. LiveJournal raised the defense that it was protected by the safe harbor provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The district court agreed and dismissed the case on a summary judgment motion by LiveJournal.
The appeals court (1) reversed the district court’s decision, instead finding that the safe harbor would apply if the photographs were posted at the direction of users. However, LiveJournal posted the photographs after a team of volunteer moderators, led by an employee, reviewed and approved them. The court held that whether the photographs were posted at the direction of users depended on whether the acts of the moderators could be attributed to LiveJournal. Disagreeing with the district court, the panel held that the common law of agency applied to the LiveJournal’s DMCA safe harbor defense. Because there were genuine factual disputes regarding whether the moderators were the defendant’s agents, the panel reversed the district court’s summary judgment and remanded the case for trial.
The panel also discussed the remaining elements of the safe harbor affirmative defense. If an internet service provider shows that the infringing material was posted “at the direction of the user,” it must then also show that (1) it lacked actual or red flag knowledge of the infringing material; and (2) it did not financially benefit from infringements that it had the right and ability to control. The court held that to fully assess actual knowledge, the fact finder must consider not only whether the copyright holder has given notice of the infringement, but also the service provider’s subjective knowledge of the infringing nature of the posts. The court held that to determine whether the defendant had red flag knowledge, the fact finder would need to assess whether it would be objectively obvious to a reasonable person that material bearing a generic watermark or a watermark referring to the plaintiff’s website was infringing. When assessing the service provider’s right and ability to control the infringements, the fact finder should consider the service provider’s procedures that existed at the time of the infringements and whether the service provider had “something more” than the ability to remove or block access to posted materials. Finally, the panel vacated the district court’s order denying discovery of the moderators’ identities.
Summary based on courts case summary. Full opinion available HERE.
Court: U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
Opinion Date: April 7, 2017