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Daley v. Firetree

January 19, 2006

DENNIS C. DALEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
FIRETREE, LTD., AND KENN HALL, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James F. McClure, Jr. United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, Dr. Dennis C. Daley, Ph.D., initiated this action by filing a complaint on October 7, 2004 against defendants Firetree, Ltd. and Kenn Hall. According to the complaint, Dr. Daley is a leading expert in the field of alcohol and drug addiction and dual disorder treatment, and is employed by the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Firetree and its Corporate Clinical Director Kenn Hall are engaged in the treatment of alcohol and drug addiction in the Williamsport area. In his three-count complaint, plaintiff alleges copyright infringement under the federal Copyright Act (Count I), unfair competition under the common law (Count II), and tortious interference with advantageous business relations (Count III).

Jurisdiction of this court is based upon 28 U.S.C. § 1338(a) as to Count I, § 1338(b) as to Count II and § 1367(a) as to Count III.

Before the court is a motion for partial judgment on the pleadings filed by defendants on October 25, 2005. A brief in support of this motion was filed the same day.*fn1 Plaintiff filed a three-page response devoid of citation to legal authority on November 14, 2005. For the following reasons, we will dismiss plaintiff's unfair competition and tortious interference claims, and order that plaintiff be limited to a single award of statutory damages for each work proved to be infringed, consistent with 17 U.S.C. § 504.

ANALYSIS:

A. Legal Standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) provides that "[a]fter the pleadings are closed but within such time as not to delay the trial, any party may move for judgment on the pleadings." "Judgment will not be granted unless the movant clearly established there are no material issues of fact, and he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Sikirica v. Nationwide Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 214, 220 (3d Cir. 2005) (citing Soc'y Hill Civic Ass'n v. Harris, 632 F.2d 1045, 1054 (3d Cir. 1980)). We are required to view the facts as alleged in the pleadings and the inferences to be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Id.

B. Preemption of State Common Law Claims

The Copyright Clause of the United States Constitution "neither explicitly precludes the States from granting copyrights nor grants such authority exclusively to the Federal Government." Goldstein v. California, 412 U.S. 546, 560 (1973). And so it was, until Congress amended the Copyright Act in 1976, that state-law copyright schemes coexisted alongside the federal copyright laws. See, e.g., FunDamental Too, Ltd. v. Universal Music Group, Inc., No. Civ. A. 97-1595, 1997 WL 381608, at *1 (E.D. Pa. July 8, 1997) (Dalzell, J.). However, the 1976 amendments "eliminated the dual copyright systems and expressly preempted state copyright laws or their equivalents." Id. The question raised by defendants' motion here is whether Dr. Daley's state law claims are preempted by the federal copyright laws.

Section 301(a) of the Copyright Act provides in relevant part that:

all legal or equitable rights that are equivalent to any of the exclusive rights within the general scope of copyright as specified by section 106 in works of authorship that are fixed in a tangible medium of expression and come within the subject matter of copyright as specified by sections 102 and 103 . . . are governed exclusively by this title . . . . [N]o person is entitled to any such right or equivalent right in any such work under the common law or statutes of any State.

17 U.S.C. § 301(a).

District courts have applied a two-part test to determine whether a given claim is preempted by section 301. See Long v. Quality Computers & Applications, Inc., 860 F. Supp. 191, 196 (M.D. Pa. 1994) (Caldwell, J.); FunDamental Too, 1997 WL 381608, at *2. Accordingly, a state law cause of action is preempted by federal copyright law if (1) the subject matter of the claim falls within the subject matter of copyright law, and (2) the asserted state law right is "equivalent" to any of the exclusive rights specified by 17 U.S.C. ยง 106. The first prong of the test is called the "subject matter ...


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