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Grant Heilman Photography, Inc. v. McGraw-Hill Global Education Holdings, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

June 28, 2018

GRANT HEILMAN PHOTOGRAPHY, INC.
v.
McGRAW-HILL GLOBAL EDUCATION HOLDINGS, LLC, McGRAW-HILL SCHOOL EDUCATION HOLDINGS, LLC

          MEMORANDUM RE: DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT

         In this copyright infringement case, Defendant has moved for partial summary judgment under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, seeking a ruling that Plaintiff is not eligible for statutory damages stemming from any copyright infringement of the photographs at issue.

         The underlying case before this Court is Plaintiff's second copyright infringement action against Defendant. The first action (the “2012 Action”)[1] was the subject of a mini-trial and later, a settlement.

         This second case is about very similar alleged copyright infringements-via Defendant's reprinting of books containing Plaintiff's images-which occurred after the 2012 Action was settled. Defendant has conceded liability for copyright infringement, but disputes Plaintiff's eligibility for statutory damages pursuant to 17 U.S.C. § 504. In the 2012 Action, this Court ruled that none of the photos at issue in that case were eligible for statutory damages.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         On April 18, 2012, Plaintiff commenced the 2012 Action against Defendant, alleging copyright infringement. In September, 2014, the Court conducted a mini-trial of 53 claims (out of Plaintiff's more than 2, 300 claims). The Court ultimately granted Defendant's Motion for a Directed Partial Verdict, on the grounds that none of the photos at issue were eligible for statutory damages. Specifically, the Court concluded that none of the photos at issue in the mini-trial were eligible for statutory damages because Defendant had infringed the same photos in earlier textbooks before Plaintiff obtained copyright registrations for the photos. In other words, where infringements of photos began prior to their registration dates, Defendant could not be liable for statutory damages.

         Of the eight photos that this Court found ineligible for statutory damages, six have subsequently been pleaded as the basis for Defendant's liability in the present case (the “2016 Action”). Additionally, another twelve photos now being pled in the 2016 Action were subject to the jury's verdict in the 2012 Action, where the evidence at trial showed Defendant's infringement began prior to the photos' registrations.

         Following the mini-trial, but prior to a new trial of all remaining claims in the 2012 Action, the Court granted Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment on the issue of statutory damages, thereby precluding Plaintiff from pursuing statutory damages for any of its claims in that case. In doing so, the Court concluded that all infringement by Defendant had commenced prior to the photos' registration dates. That Motion addressed fifty-five photos, nineteen of which are the subject of allegations in the 2016 Action.

         On March 2, 2016 (the “Settlement Date”), the parties reached a voluntary settlement of all remaining claims in the 2012 Action. However, on October 14, 2016, Defendant disclosed by letter to Plaintiff that it had continued to infringe on Plaintiff's copyrights after the Settlement Date. In that letter, Defendant claimed its post-settlement infringements were inadvertent. Plaintiff subsequently filed this suit for copyright infringement in the Northern District of California, on December 23, 2016. (ECF 1). The case was transferred to this District on February 14, 2017. (Id.).

         The Complaint contains only one cause of action, for copyright infringement, for which Plaintiff seeks monetary damages, injunctive relief, and interest. Plaintiff also seeks statutory damages, pursuant to 17 U.S.C. § 504(a).

         The present Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, seeking a ruling that Plaintiff's claims are ineligible for statutory damages, was filed on May 9, 2017 (ECF 18, “MSJ”), renewed on September 15, 2017 (ECF 29, “RMSJ”), responded to on November 3, 2017 (ECF 40, “Pl. Resp.”), and replied to on November 21, 2017 (ECF 45, “Def. Rep.”). Consistent with this Court's Rules, the parties submitted statements of undisputed facts (ECF 19, 41), which the Court drew upon in laying out the factual background above.

         II. Relevant Statutory Language

         The relevant statutory provision is 17 U.S.C. § 504(a), which states, in pertinent part,

(a) IN GENERAL.-Except as otherwise provided by this title, an infringer of copyright is liable for . . . (2) statutory ...

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