Mango v. Buzzfeed, Inc., No. 19-446 (2d Cir. 2020)

Annotate this Case
Justia Opinion Summary

Plaintiff filed suit against BuzzFeed for using one of his photographs without crediting him in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA). The district court awarded plaintiff statutory damages. BuzzFeed appealed, arguing that it did not know its conduct would lead to future, third-party copyright infringement.

The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's award of statutory damages and held that the plain language of the DMCA does not require plaintiff to prove that BuzzFeed knew its actions would lead to future, third-party infringement. In this case, the district court correctly applied the DMCA by finding that Buzzfeed, through its own journalist, distributed the photo knowing that plaintiff's gutter credit had been removed or altered without his permission and distributed the photo with a gutter credit reading "Fisher & Taubenfeld" knowing that doing so would conceal the fact that a BuzzFeed journalist did not have authority to use the photo.

Download PDF
19-446 Mango v. Buzzfeed, Inc. 1 United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 August Term, 2019 (Argued: February 24, 2020 Decided: August 13, 2020) Docket No. 19-446-cv _____________________________________ GREGORY MANGO, Plaintiff-Appellee, 13 14 v. 15 BUZZFEED, INC., Defendant-Appellant. 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 Before: _____________________________________ LIVINGSTON, PARK, AND NARDINI, Circuit Judges. Gregory Mango, a photographer, sued BuzzFeed, Inc., for using one of his photographs without crediting him in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”), 17 U.S.C. § 1202(b)(3). The district court (Marrero, J.) awarded Mango statutory damages, and BuzzFeed appealed, arguing that it did not know its conduct would lead to future, third-party copyright infringement. On review, we hold that the DMCA does not require Mango to prove that BuzzFeed knew its actions would lead to future, third-party infringement, so the district court properly awarded damages. AFFIRMED. MICHELLE MANCINO MARSH (Lindsay Korotkin, Peter L. Menchini, on the brief), Arent Fox LLP, New York, NY for DefendantAppellant. 1 2 3 4 5 JAMES H. FREEMAN, Liebowitz Law Firm, PLLC, Valley Stream, NY for PlaintiffAppellee. PARK, Circuit Judge: 6 This appeal concerns the publication of a photograph without the 7 photographer’s permission or correct attribution. BuzzFeed, Inc., an online media 8 company, published a news article containing a photograph of a man taken by 9 Gregory Mango, a freelance photographer, without crediting him. Mango sued 10 BuzzFeed for removal or alteration of copyright management information 11 (“CMI”) under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”), 17 U.S.C. 12 § 1202(b)(3), and the district court awarded statutory damages after a one-day 13 bench trial. 14 A removal-or-alteration-of-CMI claim under Section 1202(b)(3) of the 15 DMCA requires a plaintiff to show that the defendant distributed copyrighted 16 work “knowing that [CMI] has been removed or altered” without authorization 17 and “knowing, or . . . having reasonable grounds to know, that [such distribution] 18 will induce, enable, facilitate, or conceal [a copyright] infringement.” 17 U.S.C. 19 § 1202(b). BuzzFeed argues that it cannot be held liable under the DMCA because 20 there was no evidence that it knew its conduct would lead to future, third-party 2 1 infringement of Mango’s copyright. We hold that the DMCA does not require 2 such evidence and affirm the judgment of the district court. I. BACKGROUND 3 4 A. Facts 5 Mango is a freelance photographer who regularly licenses his photos to 6 newspapers, including the New York Post. BuzzFeed is an online media company 7 that produces news, entertainment, and lifestyle content on its websites and 8 various social media platforms. This case concerns a photograph Mango took of a 9 man named Raymond Parker (the “Photo”), who was the lead figure in a 10 discrimination lawsuit filed by federal prosecutors against the City of New York. 11 In January 2017, the New York Post licensed the Photo and published it alongside 12 an article titled “Bharara sues city over NYPD rejecting man with HIV.” Below 13 the Photo, the article included Mango’s name, an attribution known in the 14 industry as a “gutter credit.” 15 Almost three months later, a BuzzFeed journalist named Michael Hayes 16 published an article about Parker and included the Photo. Hayes did not ask 17 Mango for permission to use the Photo. Instead of listing Mango’s name in the 18 gutter credit, Hayes listed the name of Parker’s attorneys’ law firm, Fisher & 3 1 Taubenfeld. A six-year veteran of the company, Hayes had written over 1,000 2 articles for BuzzFeed, all of which included a photograph, and it was Hayes’s 3 custom to give credit to photographers by “name or by photo outlet.” App’x 157. 4 Hayes had asked Fisher & Taubenfeld for a photo of Parker, but ultimately 5 downloaded the Photo from the New York Post website himself. Hayes claimed 6 that one of Parker’s attorneys at Fisher & Taubenfeld “advised” him to use the 7 Photo he had downloaded. App’x 194. Parker’s attorney did not recall such a 8 conversation, but said she had difficulty imagining that she gave Hayes 9 “permission to use a picture that [she] had no authority to give permission for.” 10 App’x 219. 11 B. Procedural History 12 Mango filed a two-count complaint against BuzzFeed in the U.S. District 13 Court for the Southern District of New York, alleging (1) copyright infringement 14 under the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. §§ 106, 501, and (2) removal or alteration of 15 CMI under the DMCA, 17 U.S.C. § 1202(b). See Mango v. BuzzFeed, Inc., 356 F. 16 Supp. 3d 368, 371 (S.D.N.Y. 2019). Mango sought statutory damages of $30,000 for 17 his copyright infringement claim, $5,000 for his DMCA claim, and attorneys’ fees 18 under 17 U.S.C. § 505. Id. at 374, 378–79. Prior to trial, BuzzFeed stipulated to 4 1 liability on the copyright infringement count. Id. at 371. After a one-day bench 2 trial, the district court found BuzzFeed liable on the DMCA count and awarded 3 damages on both counts. Id. at 379. 4 The district court held that under the “double-scienter” requirement of 5 Section 1202(b)(3) of the DMCA, plaintiffs must prove (1) “actual knowledge . . . 6 that CMI was removed and/or altered without permission,” and (2) “constructive 7 knowledge . . . [that] such distribution ‘will induce, enable, facilitate, or conceal an 8 infringement.’” Id. at 377 (quoting 17 U.S.C. § 1202(b)). After concluding that 9 Mango’s gutter credit constituted CMI and that BuzzFeed distributed the Photo 10 with altered and missing CMI, the district court held that (1) BuzzFeed knew CMI 11 had been removed and altered without permission, rejecting as not credible 12 Hayes’s claims that he believed he had obtained permission; and (2) “BuzzFeed 13 had reasonable grounds to know that such removal and distribution concealed 14 a[n] . . . infringement.” Id. at 373–74, 377. The court awarded $3,750 in statutory 15 damages for copyright infringement and $5,000 in statutory damages for violation 16 of the DMCA. Id. at 379. It also ruled that Mango was entitled to reasonable 17 attorneys’ fees and costs, id., and later awarded $65,132.50 in fees and $1,810.03 in 5 1 costs under 17 U.S.C. § 505. See Mango v. BuzzFeed, Inc., 397 F. Supp. 3d 368, 371 2 (S.D.N.Y. 2019) This appeal, which concerns only the DMCA claim, followed. II. APPLICABLE LAW 3 4 A. Standard of Review 5 “We review questions of statutory interpretation de novo.” United States v. 6 Epskamp, 832 F.3d 154, 160 (2d Cir. 2016) (citation omitted). “[A]fter a bench trial, 7 we review the district court’s finding of fact for clear error and its conclusions of 8 law de novo. Mixed questions of law and fact are also reviewed de novo.” Kreisler v. 9 Second Ave. Diner Corp., 731 F.3d 184, 187 n.2 (2d Cir. 2013) (citation omitted). “This 10 Court is not allowed to second-guess the factfinder’s credibility assessments, and 11 where there are two permissible views of the evidence, the factfinder’s choice 12 between them cannot be clearly erroneous.” United States v. Williams, 943 F.3d 606, 13 610 (2d Cir. 2019) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). 14 B. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act 15 Congress enacted the DMCA in 1998 “to strengthen copyright protection in 16 the digital age.” Universal City Studios, Inc. v. Corley, 273 F.3d 429, 435 (2d Cir. 17 2001). “Fearful that the ease with which pirates could copy and distribute a 18 copyrightable work in digital form was overwhelming the capacity of 6 1 conventional copyright enforcement to find and enjoin unlawfully copied 2 material, Congress sought to combat copyright piracy in its earlier stages, before 3 the work was even copied.” Id. 4 The DMCA prohibits the removal or alteration of CMI “conveyed in 5 connection with” creative works. 17 U.S.C. § 1202(c). CMI includes “[t]he name 6 of, and other identifying information about, the author . . . [or] copyright owner of 7 the work.” Id. § 1202(c)(2)–(3). 1 Section 1202(b) of the DMCA states: 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 No person shall, without the authority of the copyright owner or the law . . . (3) distribute, import for distribution, or publicly perform works, copies of works, or phonorecords, knowing that copyright management information has been removed or altered without authority of the copyright owner or the law, knowing, or, with respect to civil remedies under section 1203, having reasonable grounds to know, that it will induce, enable, facilitate, or conceal an infringement of any right under this title. 17 Id. § 1202(b) (emphasis added). Section 1202(b)(3) contains a so-called “double- 18 scienter” requirement: the defendant who distributed improperly attributed The DMCA, by its express terms, contains no requirement that a copyright owner personally affix CMI. We therefore reject BuzzFeed’s argument that Mango’s gutter credit cannot constitute CMI because he did not personally affix it to the Photo in the New York Post article. Cf. GC2 Inc. v. Int’l Game Tech., 391 F. Supp. 3d 828, 845 (N.D. Ill. 2019) (“Nowhere does the text of section 1202 suggest that removal of copyright management information is only a violation if that information was placed on the copyrighted materials by the plaintiff itself. Such a reading would lead to the absurd result where a copyright owner who contracts with another entity to manufacture their products—and in the process to affix copyright management information— could not avail itself of the DMCA's removal provisions.”). 1 7 1 copyrighted material must have actual knowledge that CMI “has been removed 2 or altered without authority of the copyright owner or the law,” as well as actual 3 or constructive knowledge that such distribution “will induce, enable, facilitate, or 4 conceal an infringement.” Id. 5 A plaintiff must thus prove the following: (1) the existence of CMI in 6 connection with a copyrighted work; and (2) that a defendant “distribute[d] . . . 7 works [or] copies of works”; (3) while “knowing that [CMI] has been removed or 8 altered without authority of the copyright owner or the law”; and (4) while 9 “knowing, or . . . having reasonable grounds to know” that such distribution “will 10 induce, enable, facilitate, or conceal an infringement.” Id.; see also Fischer v. Forrest, 11 ___ F.3d ___, Nos. 18-cv-2955, 18-cv-2959, 2020 WL 4457943, at *5 (2d Cir. Aug. 4, 12 2020) (stating the general elements for establishing a Section 1202(b) claim). III. DISCUSSION 13 14 The question presented on appeal is whether the DMCA requires proof that 15 a defendant knew, or had reasonable grounds to know, that its conduct would 16 lead to future, third-party infringement. Because the plain language of the statute 17 does not require such evidence, the district court did not err in finding BuzzFeed 18 liable. 8 1 “As in all statutory construction cases, we begin with the language of the 2 statute. The first step is to determine whether the language at issue has a plain 3 and unambiguous meaning with regard to the particular dispute in the case.” 4 United States v. Am. Soc’y of Composers, Authors, & Publishers, 627 F.3d 64, 72 (2d 5 Cir. 2010) (citation omitted). “When the language of a statute is unambiguous, 6 judicial inquiry is complete.” Id. (citation omitted). 7 A. The DMCA’s Double-Scienter Requirement 8 The DMCA’s first scienter element requires that a defendant distributing 9 copyrighted material have actual knowledge that CMI “has been removed or 10 altered without authority of the copyright owner or the law.” 17 U.S.C. § 1202(b). 11 The second scienter element of the DMCA requires that a defendant know 12 or have reason to know that distribution of copyrighted material despite the 13 removal of CMI “will induce, enable, facilitate, or conceal an infringement.” Id. 14 On its face, “an infringement” is not limited by actor (i.e., to third parties) or by 15 time (i.e., to future conduct). So while future copyright infringement by a third 16 party may constitute “an infringement” under Section 1202(b), nothing in the 17 statutory language limits its applicability to such downstream infringement. 9 1 First, “an infringement” is not limited to the infringing acts of third parties. 2 The plain meaning of the statutory language also encompasses an infringement 3 committed by the defendant himself. This includes the knowing, unauthorized 4 infringement that serves as the basis for establishing the first scienter element of 5 Section 1202(b). 6 copyrighted material without proper attribution of CMI will conceal his own 7 infringing conduct satisfies the DMCA’s second scienter requirement. In other words, a defendant’s awareness that distributing 8 Second, “an infringement” is not limited to future infringing conduct. 9 Although the word “will” indicates future action, in the context of Section 1202(b), 10 it is used in conjunction with the words “induce, enable, facilitate, or conceal,” not 11 “an infringement.” Id. So the statutory language requires constructive knowledge 12 of future concealment, not future infringement. 13 14 We thus reject the argument that a defendant must know or have reason to know about likely future infringement by third parties. 2 Instead, Section In addition, interpreting Section 1202(b) to limit liability to defendants with knowledge of likely future infringements by third parties would be inconsistent with the purpose of the DMCA, which is to provide broad protections to copyright owners. See Murphy v. Millenium Radio Grp. LLC, 650 F.3d 295, 303 (3d Cir. 2011) (“As for the purpose of the statute as a whole, it is undisputed that the DMCA was intended to expand—in some cases . . . significantly—the rights of copyright owners.”). 2 10 1 1202(b)(3) also encompasses “an infringement” that, upon distribution, “will . . . 2 conceal” the fact of that infringement. 3 B. Application 4 The district court correctly applied the DMCA in this case. The district court 5 found that Buzzfeed, through Hayes, (1) distributed the Photo knowing that 6 Mango’s gutter credit had been removed or altered without Mango’s permission, 7 and (2) distributed the Photo with a gutter credit reading “Fisher & Taubenfeld” 8 knowing that doing so would conceal the fact that Hayes did not have authority 9 to use the Photo. Mango, 356 F. Supp. 3d at 378. Based on these findings, the 10 district court properly concluded that BuzzFeed violated the DMCA. 11 First, the district court did not err in finding that BuzzFeed distributed the 12 Photo “knowing that [CMI] ha[d] been removed or altered without authority of 13 the copyright owner or the law.” 17 U.S.C. § 1202(b)(3). The district court rejected 14 the assertion that Hayes did not know that he had removed CMI and affixed 15 erroneous CMI without authorization. It found Hayes’s shifting and self-serving 16 explanations for his use of the Photo without proper attribution not to be credible. 3 BuzzFeed argues that the district court erred by basing its analysis of the first scienter requirement on BuzzFeed’s stipulation of liability on the copyright infringement claim. BuzzFeed stresses that the stipulation stated in relevant part that it “shall not be construed to have any effect 3 11 1 Second, the district court did not err in finding that BuzzFeed distributed 2 the Photo “knowing, or . . . having reasonable grounds to know, that it will . . . 3 conceal an infringement.” Id. Hayes’s testimony that he “understood from his 4 training and experience that he was required to get permission to use 5 photographs” provided a sufficient basis for the conclusion that Hayes “should 6 have reasonably known that altering the gutter credit to include a false attribution 7 to Fisher’s law firm would have wrongfully implied that BuzzFeed had 8 permission to use the Photograph, thus concealing its infringement.” Mango, 356 9 F. Supp. 3d at 378. In sum, the district court did not commit clear error—to the 10 contrary, it carefully weighed Hayes’s testimony and demeanor in light of his 11 extensive experience in the industry. 12 BuzzFeed relies on the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Stevens v. Corelogic, Inc., 13 899 F.3d 666 (9th Cir. 2018), to argue that the district court erred by failing to 14 require evidence that BuzzFeed had constructive knowledge of likely future, on whether or not liability exists as to any other claim, including but not limited to Mango’s claim under 17 U.S.C. § 1202, nor as to any factual or legal issue pertaining to intent or damages, or any other matter not expressly stipulated herein.” App’x at 151. We reject this argument because the district court did not base its first scienter analysis on the stipulation. To be sure, the court at one point noted that BuzzFeed had distributed the Photo without permission, as established by the stipulation; however, that fact was irrelevant to the first scienter analysis, which instead required the court to determine that BuzzFeed distributed the Photo while knowing that its CMI had been removed or altered without authorization. Because, as discussed above, the court separately found that this requirement was satisfied, its reference to the stipulation was immaterial. 12 1 third-party infringement.4 Stevens, however, does not help BuzzFeed here. Unlike 2 Mango, the plaintiffs in Stevens did not allege—let alone prove—an underlying 3 claim of copyright infringement that would support the knowing concealment of 4 either that infringement or another. See id. at 675 (explaining the lack of “any 5 evidence indicating that CoreLogic’s distribution of . . . photographs ever 6 ‘induce[d], enable[d], facilitate[d], or conceal[ed]’ any particular act of infringement 7 by anyone”) (second emphasis added); see also Stevens v. Corelogic, Inc., 194 F. Supp. 8 3d 1046, 1053 (S.D. Cal. 2016) (explaining that plaintiffs “allege no cause of action 9 for infringement” and “provide no evidence that the absence of metadata led to 10 actual copyright infringement”), aff’d, 899 F.3d 666. Because the plaintiffs in 11 Stevens could not show infringement by the defendants, they instead attempted to 12 prove that the alleged removal of CMI in the form of photo metadata increased the 13 risk of downstream infringement by others. Thus, because Stevens did not address 14 whether a defendant’s own infringement satisfies Section 1202(b)(3)’s second 15 scienter requirement, it is not in tension with our decision here. Mango argues that BuzzFeed waived any arguments based on Stevens by failing to cite that case in the district court. Yet BuzzFeed has consistently maintained that Mango failed to show that BuzzFeed had the requisite mens rea under Section 1202(b)(3), and its citations to Stevens on appeal thus do not raise a new argument but rather lend further support to an argument fully aired below. See In re Air Cargo Shipping Servs. Antitrust Litig., 697 F.3d 154, 161 n.3 (2d Cir. 2012). 4 13 1 C. Attorneys’ Fees 2 Finally, Mango seeks an award of attorneys’ fees incurred in defending this 3 appeal, which he calls “baseless.” This appeal is not frivolous or objectively 4 unreasonable, however, because the interpretation of Section 1202(b)(3) is “a 5 relatively novel issue,” Agence France Presse v. Morel, No. 10-cv-2730, 2015 WL 6 13021413, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 23, 2015), aff’d, 645 F. App’x 86 (2d Cir. 2016), and a 7 question of first impression for this Court. 8 circumstances warranting an award of attorneys’ fees here, and the request is 9 therefore denied. 10 11 Mango points to no other IV. CONCLUSION For the reasons set forth above, the district court’s judgment is affirmed. 14
Primary Holding
The plain language of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act does not require plaintiff to prove that BuzzFeed knew its actions would lead to future, third-party infringement.

Disclaimer: Justia Annotations is a forum for attorneys to summarize, comment on, and analyze case law published on our site. Justia makes no guarantees or warranties that the annotations are accurate or reflect the current state of law, and no annotation is intended to be, nor should it be construed as, legal advice. Contacting Justia or any attorney through this site, via web form, email, or otherwise, does not create an attorney-client relationship.