Mavrix Photographs, LLC v. LiveJournal, Inc., No. 14-56596 (9th Cir. 2017)Annotate this Case
Mavrix filed suit against LiveJournal for posting 20 of its copyrighted photographs online. The district court granted summary judgment for LiveJournal, holding that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's (DMCA), 17 U.S.C. 512(c), safe harbor protected LiveJournal from liability because Mavrix's photographs were posted at the direction of the user. In this case, when users submitted Mavrix's photographs to LiveJournal, LiveJournal posted the photographs after a team of volunteer moderators led by a LiveJournal employee reviewed and approved them. The court disagreed with the district court and concluded that the common law of agency does apply to this analysis and that there were genuine factual disputes regarding whether the moderators were LiveJournal's agents. Therefore, the court reversed and remanded for trial. The court addressed the remaining issues that the district court addressed because these issues may be contested on remand. On remand, the district court must determine whether LiveJournal met the section 512(c) safe harbor threshold requirement by showing that the photographs were posted at the direction of the user, then LiveJournal must show that it lacked actual or red flag knowledge of the infringements and that it did not financially benefit from infringements that it had the right and ability to control.
Court Description: Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The panel (1) reversed the district court’s holding, on summary judgment, that the defendant was protected by the safe harbor of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act from liability for posting the plaintiff’s photographs online and (2) vacated a discovery order. The panel held that the safe harbor set forth in 17 U.S.C. § 512(c) would apply if the photographs were posted at the direction of users. The defendant, a social media platform, posted the photographs after a team of volunteer moderators, led by an employee of the defendant, reviewed and approved them. The panel held that whether the photographs were posted at the direction of users depended on whether the acts of the moderators could be attributed to the defendant. Disagreeing with the district court, the panel held that the common law of agency applied to the defendant’s 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 MAVRIX PHOTOGRAPHS V. LIVEJOURNAL 3 material; and (2) it did not financially benefit from infringements that it had the right and ability to control. The panel 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 panel 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.
The court issued a subsequent related opinion or order on August 30, 2017.