Erickson Productions, Inc. v. Kast, No. 15-16801 (9th Cir. 2019)Annotate this Case
Defendant appealed a jury verdict finding that he vicariously and contributorily infringed Erickson's copyrighted images by displaying them on his website and did so willfully. This case arose when defendant hired a website developer, Only Websites, to redevelop defendant's company website and three photos taken by Erickson were incorporated on the company site.
The panel vacated the jury's vicarious liability verdict because Erickson presented no evidence that could constitute a direct financial benefit as a matter of law. However, the panel affirmed the jury's contributory liability verdict and upheld the judgment against defendant, because the district court did not plainly err in instructing the jury that "knowledge" for contributory infringement purposes includes having a "reason to know" of the infringement. Finally, the panel vacated the jury's willfulness finding and remanded for a determination of whether defendant's infringement was willful on the existing record.
Court Description: Copyright. The panel affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court’s judgment finding that the defendant vicariously and contributorily infringed plaintiffs’ copyrighted images by displaying them on his website and did so willfully. Defendant hired a website developer to redevelop the website of his business. Three photos, taken by plaintiffs and licensed to Wells Fargo Private Bank through plaintiff’s company, were incorporated into defendant’s website. The panel vacated the jury’s vicarious liability verdict, which found that defendant vicariously infringed plaintiff’s copyright through his employment of the website developer, the direct infringer. The panel held that to prevail on a vicarious liability claim, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant has (1) the right and ability to supervise the infringing conduct and (2) a direct financial interest in the infringing activity. The panel held that plaintiffs presented no evidence that could constitute a direct financial benefit as a matter of law. Specifically, the website developer’s avoidance of licensing fees for the photos did not confer a direct financial benefit on defendant. The panel affirmed the jury’s contributory liability verdict and therefore affirmed the judgment. A party engages in contributory copyright infringement when it