Who knew? Apparently, some circuits do not recognize copyright infringement claims involving pornography. District Judge William Young (D. Mass.) recently denied motions to quash John Doe IP address subpoenas involving alleged unauthorized reproduction and distribution of Liberty Media’s adult film “Corbin Fisher AmateurCollege Men Down on the Farm.” In a footnote, Judge Young noted,
It is undisputed that Liberty Media is a distributor of lawful, albeit hardcore, pornography, and the Motion Picture is itself hardcore pornography. Notably, it is a matter of first impression in the First Circuit, and indeed is unsettled in many circuits, whether pornography is in fact entitled to protection against copyright infringement. Copyright protection in the United States was “effectively unavailable for pornography” until the landmark decision by the Fifth Circuit in Mitchell Brothers Film Group v. Cinema Adult Theater, 604 F.2d 852, 854-55, 858 (5th Cir. 1979) (holding that the Copyright Act neither explicitly nor implicitly prohibits protection of “obscene materials,” such as the films at issue there, and rejecting the defendant’s affirmative defense of “unclean hands”). See also Jartech, Inc. v. Clancy, 666 F.2d 403, 406 (9th Cir. 1982) (stating, in the context of copyright infringement of a pornographic film, that “[p]ragmatism further compels a rejection of an obscenity defense” because “obscenity is a community standard which may vary to the extent that controls thereof maybe dropped by a state altogether”). Compare Devils Films, Inc.v. Nectar Video, 29 F. Supp. 2d 174, 175-77 (S.D.N.Y. 1998) (refusing to exercise its equitable powers to issue a preliminary injunction against infringement of pornographic films and “commit the resources of the United States Marshal’s Service to support the operation of plaintiff’s pornography business,” holding that the films were “obscene” and illegally distributed through interstate commerce), with Nova Prods., Inc. v. Kisma Video,Inc., Nos. 02 Civ. 3850(HB), 02 Civ. 6277(HB), 03 Civ. 3379(HB), 2004 WL 2754685, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 1, 2004) (holding that the question of whether particular pornographic films are “obscene” is one of fact for the jury, and that, even were the films deemed to be obscene, it would not prevent their protection under a valid copyright) (citing Jartech, Inc., 666 F.2d 403; Mitchell Bros., 604 F.2d 852). Congress has never addressed the issue by amendment to the Copyright Act. See Ann Bartow, Pornography,Coercion, and Copyright Law 2.0, 10 Vand. J. Ent. & Tech. L 799,833 (2008). This issue, however, is not presently before the Court and the Court expresses no opinion on it here.
Of course, there is nothing in the Copyright Act that exempts porn from its protections. Specifically, § 102 of the Act defines the “subject matter” that may qualify for protection:
(a) Copyright protection subsists, in accordance with this title, in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device. Works of
authorship include the following categories:
(1) literary works;
(2) musical works, including any accompanying words;
(3) dramatic works, including any accompanying music;
(4) pantomimes and choreographic works;
(5) pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works;
(6) motion pictures and other audiovisual works;
(7) sound recordings; and
(8) architectural works.
(b) In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained,
illustrated, or embodied in such work.
Pornographic movies would appear to qualify under § 102(a)(6). As the Mitchell Bros. court noted,
The legislative history of the 1976 Act reveals that Congress intends to continue the policy of the 1909 Act of avoiding content restrictions on copyrightability. In recommending passage of the 1976 Act, the House Judiciary Committee stated:
The phrase “original works of authorship,” (§ 102) which is purposely left undefined, is intended to incorporate without change the standard of originality established by the courts under the present copyright statute. This standard does not include requirements of novelty, ingenuity, or Esthetic merit, and there is no intention to enlarge the standard of copyright protection to require them.
H.R.Rep.No. 1476, 94th Cong., 2d Sess. 51, Reprinted in (1976) U.S.Code Cong. & Admin.News pp. 5659, 5664 (emphasis added).
It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the First Circuit.
Judge Young’s decision is below:
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