Court Dismisses Tarantino’s Copyright Claim Over Hyperlink To Leaked Script; Grants Leave to Amend But Notes That Fair Use Argument Is Strong

by Foley Hoag LLP - Trademark, Copyright & Unfair Competition
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QTWe recently reported on director Quentin Tarantino’s copyright lawsuit against Gawker Media over his leaked script for the film The Hateful Eight. The suit alleged that Gawker Media, by encouraging its readers to leak the script and then linking to the leaked script on another site, engaged in contributory copyright infringement. Gawker Media, arguing in part that a mere hyperlink could not be the basis for copyright infringement liability, filed a motion to dismiss.

On April 22, 2014, the District Court for the Central District of California granted Gawker Media’s motion, holding that Tarantino had failed to allege sufficient facts to support his infringement claim. The court explained that, in order to succeed on a claim for contributory infringement, Tarantino had to allege (1) that a third party committed direct infringement of which the defendant had knowledge; and (2) that the defendant “induced, cause, or materially contributed to the infringing conduct.” Here, the Court held that Tarantino failed on both prongs.

First, Tarantino was required to establish direct infringement by some third party, because secondary infringement cannot exist in the absence of direct infringement. However, the Court found that Tarantino’s complaint failed to allege a single act of direct infringement to support his contributory infringement claim. Instead, the court wrote, Tarantino “merely speculate[d] that some direct infringement must have taken place,” and failed to allege the identity of any direct infringer or the circumstances of the direct infringement.

Second, Tarantino had alleged that Gawker Media “induced, caused or materially contributed” to infringing activity because it was “facilitating and encouraging the public’s violation” of Tarantino’s copyright by providing links to the leaked script. The Court held that this was insufficient to establish a claim for contributory copyright infringement.

The Court allowed Tarantino until May 1, 2014 to amend his complaint in order state a claim in compliance with the opinion. However, the Court also signaled what might be interpreted as a general disapproval of Tarantino’s case by concluding that Gawker Media’s fair use arguments, while premature on a motion to dismiss, were “persuasive and potentially dispositive.”

 

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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