Pokemon v Redbubble: the DMCA doesn’t apply Down Under

Pagone J has awarded Pokémon $1 in damages and 70% of its costs from Redbubble for misleading or deceptive conduct and copyright infringement. An interesting aspect of the case is that Redbubble’s implementation of a notice and take down scheme under the DMCA didn’t save it from liability, but did influence the ruling on remedies.[1]

Redbubble provides a print on demand online market place by which artists can upload their works to the Redbubble website and purchasers can then buy the artworks or designs applied to desired products such as t-shirts, cups and the like. A person uploading a work to the marketplace warrants that he or she has the relevant intellectual property rights and indemnified Redbubble against infringement claims.

The evidence showed Google searches in which paid (sponsored) and organic search results listing “Pokémon” products such as t-shirts bearing Pokemon’s Pikachu character[2] which could be ordered from the Redbubble site. The sponsored links were paid for and arranged by Redbubble through the Google Merchant Centre and the products themselves were offered for sale through Google Shopping. From the tenor of the judgment, I think that the designs were uploaded by third parties, but Redbubble arranged the “fulfillers” who printed and shipped the t-shirts (and other products) with the designs printed on them.

Pagone J found that Pokémon owned the copyright in the images of the Pokémon characters depicted on the various products in evidence. Further, the images were uploaded without Pokemon’s consent.

Pagone J found therefore that Redbubble had infringed Pokemon’s copyright and misrepresented, contrary to sections 18[3] and 29(1)(g) and (h) of the Australian Consumer Law, that the products were official or authorised Pokémon products.

In finding that there had been misrepresentations that the products were sponsored or approved by Pokémon, Pagone J referred, amongst other things, to the fact that the “sponsored” links did include the word “sponsored” (although this meant in fact that the products were sponsored by Redbubble, not Pokemon). His Honour also found significance in the fact that:

There was nothing on the Redbubble website to inform the consumer that there was no connection, authorised or otherwise, between Redbubble on the one hand and [Pokemon] (or any other entity authorised to exploit Pokémon products) on the other.

Copyright subsistence and ownership

Pokémon was able to prove it owned the copyright in the artistic works through the evidence of its attorney responsible for obtaining copyright registration in the USA. Although the attorney, Mr Monahan, had not been personally present when any works were created, Pagone J considered his evidence sufficient. At 36, his Honour said:

…. He conceded in cross?examination that he had not stood over the shoulder of any creator and, therefore, that he did not have direct eyewitness, or other direct, knowledge beyond that gained from “detailed consultation with the client” but that “with respect to each series of the cards, [he had] consult[ed] with the client to determine which – for instance, which Japanese card they derive[d] from, or [… where] the artwork comes from”. His specific and direct evidence was that of consulting with the client to determine that the works were made by the Japanese company and were made as the Japanese card, although, as mentioned, he did not fly personally to Japan and had not been witness to the creation process. It had been his specific professional responsibility to obtain and secure registrations in accordance with lawful entitlements and requirements. He was confident in that context of his conclusion that the Pikachu work was not a copy based upon an animation cell because of his experience over many years of consulting with the client as his professional obligations and legal duties. In specific response in cross?examination about being confident in giving evidence that the pose of Pikachu was not derivative of any other pose already published, Mr Monahan said that every investigation he had done about the card making process enabled him to say that the cards were generated on their own and were not derivative of the animation, “common poses notwithstanding”.[4]

Further, unlike Perram J in Dallas Buyer’s Club, Pagone J also accepted that the certificate of copyright registration in the USA identifying Pokémon as the claimant to copyright ownership was sufficient to enliven the presumption under s 126B(3) of the Copyright Act. (Given the history of the provision recounted by his Honour, one might think this should not be too controversial: afterall, how many other countries out there have a copyright registration system?)

Copyright infringement

Pagone J then held that Redbubble had infringed the copyright in three ways. First, his Honour held that Redbubble infringed by communicating the infringing images from its website. Although the images were uploaded by third parties, Redbubble made the communication for the purposes of [s 22(6)][22]: Pagone J distinguished Redbubble’s position from that of ISPs like iiNet at [48]:

In the present case Redbubble does not provide the content of the communications in the sense of being the originator of any of the 29 images on its website said to be infringements of the Pikachu work. In each case the originator was the artist who had placed the image on the Redbubble website. Redbubble, however, was responsible for determining that content through its processes, protocols and arrangements with the artists. Redbubble’s position is not like that of an internet provider. Redbubble is the host of the website with the infringing material. It has a user agreement with artists which deals with matters including the possibility of infringing materials, an IP policy, and a team dedicated to deal with impermissible content.

Secondly, offering the products for sale online was sufficient to enliven s 38 which, amongst other things, extends to exhibiting “infringing” articles in public by way of trade.

Although there appear to have been some rather unspecific complaints about copyright infringement by Pokémon between 2012 and 2014,[5] Pagone J found that Redbubble knew, or ought reasonably have known, that the products were infringing from the date of the letter of demand from Pokémon’s external solicitors on 25 November 2015.[6]

Thirdly, Pagone J held that Redbubble had infringed Pokemon’s copyright by authorising the manufacture of the infringing products when orders for their purchase were placed.

In this respect, it is worth noting that Redbubble had implemented and acted on a notice and takedown system under the (US) DMCA.[7] Pagone J recognised, therefore, that Redbubble did not expressly authorise infringement and took conscious, considered and reasonable steps, both proactively and responsively, to prevent infringements.[8] These, however, were not enough. At [67], his Honour said:

The business established by Redbubble carried the inherent risk of infringement of copyright of the kind complained of by [Pokemon]. It is true that Redbubble sought to mitigate the risk, but it was an inevitable incident of the business, as Redbubble chose to conduct it, that there were likely to be infringements. It could have prevented them by taking other steps but for business reasons Redbubble chose to deal with the risk of infringement by a process that enabled the infringements to occur. Such infringements were embedded in the system which was created for, and adopted by, Redbubble. There may have been a sound commercial basis for Redbubble to manage the risks of infringement as it did, but in doing so it authorised the infringements which occurred.

Remedies

Pokémon sought $44,555.84 in damages by way of lost royalties for the consumer law breaches and only nominal damages for copyright infringement. As already noted, however, Pagone J awarded only $1 in total.

The evidence did not establish that sales made by Redbubble were lost sales by Pokémon. There was, for example, no evidence that many of the sales were sales of kinds of products sold by Pokémon or its licensees. For example, his Honour said:

…. Many of the items sold through the Redbubble website involved a “mash up” of images, such as the combination of Pikachu and Homer Simpson. The finding of an infringing use of a work, or an impermissible representation in trade, does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that the sale made by the infringement or upon the misrepresentation was necessarily a sale that would have been made by the wronged party. The unreliability of such an assumption in this case can be seen from the fact that the infringements were in the use of the image in mash ups in, and in items that were not sold or authorised for sale by [Pokemon]. ….

Given the notice and take down processes put in place by Redbubble, Pagone J was not prepared to find the infringements were “flagrant”, warranting the award of additional damages under s 115(4)

Pokémon Company International, Inc. v Redbubble Ltd [2017] FCA 1541


  1. Implementation and compliance with the DMCA scheme explicitly affected the ruling on additional damages.  ?
  2. Even if you haven’t played it, you must have seen all those people milling around in parks at lunchtime trying to “capture” these imaginary Pokémon Go “critters”. Pokemon itself has an even longer history. There are also trading card games and a successful television series which has been broadcast in Australia since 2000 and distributed on over 57,000 DVDs.  ?
  3. If you are not sweltering in the southern summer sun, s 18 provides “A person must not, in trade or commerce, engage in conduct that is misleading or deceptive or is likely to mislead or deceive.” And s 29(1)(g) and (h) prohibit making false or misleading representations in trade or commerce about sponsorship, affiliation or approval.  ?
  4. Curiously, at [44] (when discussing ownership by proof of a certificate), his Honour also said Pokémon had not proved ownership on the basis of authorship.  ?
  5. In fact, Pagone J subsequently found that Redbubble did in fact remove listings when Pokemon notified it that they were infringing.  ?
  6. It is less than clear from the judgment what action Redbubble took in response to the letter of demand. Ordinarily, one would assume that it had continued engaging in the infringing conduct but that seems a bit surprising given Pagone J records that Redbubble did comply with other take down notices once the subject of complaint had been properly identified.  ?
  7. The DMCA, being US legislation, does not provide protection from infringement in Australia under the Australian Copyright Act 1968. Redbubble also purported to operate under the corresponding Australian provisions ss116AA – 116AJ but, of course, it is not a carriage service provider and so they do not apply either.  ?
  8. Cf. esp. Section 36(1A)(c)[s36].  ?

ISP gets DMCA win in USA

The Ninth Circuit has affirmed the trial court’s summary dismissal of UMG copyright claims against Veoh on the basis of §512(c) – the ‘hosting’ safe harbour. UMG argued 3 reasons why §512(c) did not apply:

First, UMG argues that the alleged infringingactivities do not fall within the plain meaning of “infringe-ment of copyright by reason of the storage [of material] at thedirection of a user,” a threshold requirement under§ 512(c)(1). Second, UMG argues that genuine issues of factremain about whether Veoh had actual knowledge of infringe-ment, or was “aware of facts or circumstances from whichinfringing activity [wa]s apparent” under § 512(c)(1)(A).Finally, UMG argues that it presented sufficient evidence thatVeoh “receive[d] a financial benefit directly attributable to. . . infringing activity” that it had the right and ability to control under § 512(c)(1)(B). We disagree on each count, andaccordingly we affirm the district court.

Each of these requirements has a counterpart in our US Free Trade Agreement ‘inspired’ – see s 116AH items 1 and 4 and therefore should repay consideration.

On the knowledge / awareness point:

At [11], Judge Fisher noted that UMG had not notified Veoh of any infringing material under the DMCA before commencing proceedings. After noting at [12] that Congress placed the burden of policing infringements on copyright holders, Judge Fisher continued at [13]:

[13] UMG asks us to change course with regard to§ 512(c)(1)(A) by adopting a broad conception of the knowl-edge requirement. We see no principled basis for doing so.We therefore hold that merely hosting a category of copy-rightable content, such as music videos, with the generalknowledge that one’s services could be used to share infring-ing material, is insufficient to meet the actual knowledgerequirement under § 512(c)(1)(A)(i).
Then at [14], Judge Fisher rejected UMG’s arguments that Veoh should be held to have sufficient awareness of infringing activity:
…. For the same reasons, we hold that Veoh’s general knowledge that it hosted copyright-able material and that its services could be used for infringe-ment is insufficient to constitute a red flag.
In Section 2, Judge Fisher dismissed UMG’s other evidence of awareness. One point of interest was that an email from Michael Eisner CEO of Disney would have been sufficient if from a third party, but was rejected since it was from a copyright holder and did not follow the DMCA process.

The 1709 blog has a good summary and links here.

As Techdirt points out, however, the costs of the litigation drove Veoh out of business.

Next up, presumably, the Ninth Circuit’s decision in the appeal from Viacom v Youtube.

Although, as noted above, the decision has potential ramifications for the corresponding Australian provision, I am not convinced it has much to say on Roadshow v iiNet (which concerned Category A activity, not Category C anyway) where the AFACT Notices seemed to provide specific notice (once properly explained).

UMG Recording Inc v Shelter Capital Partners LLC., Case: 09-55902, 9th Cir. December 20, 2011

New DMCA exemptions

The Librarian of Congress has announced 6 new categories of exemption from the prohibitions under US law against circumventing DRM mechanisms (what we call TPM and ERMI).

The (Australian) Copyright Council has a nice bullet point summary.

Jonathon Bailey, at Plagiarism Today, looks at the politics and the ramifications from a practical perspective. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he didn’t spend a fair bit of time on the issue in his weekly podcast, so check back to his site on, say, Monday.

Now, the Librarian of Congress’ exemptions are applicable under US law only. Our law does contemplate the introduction of additional, so-called “ad hoc” exemptions against circumventing access control tpm, by means of the Regulations: s 116AN(9), Sch. 10A of the regs has 6 nice categories of exemption. These were added way back in 2006 around the time we had a review to find out if we should have some more. Wonder if someone, somewhere is thinking we should investigate some more?

Selected microblog posts (w/e 11/09/09)

Selected microblog posts from the past week:

  • RT @VogeleLaw: Found: Mary Beth Peter’s testimony (via @cathygellis – thanks!) http://bit.ly/Cijau #gbs_hearing [US Copyright Register opposes Google Book Settlement]
  • Google Book in the EU? http://ff.im/-7OYfA
  • RT @MegLG: A Billion Dollar Test of the DMCA Safe Harbors in Viacom v YouTube http://ow.ly/om66 via Cyberlaw Cases
  • RT @michaelgeist: Microsoft wins stay of injunction on Word. Case arises from patent claim by Toronto’s i4i.http://bit.ly/oDmLU
  • IP Think Tank Blog looks at i4i v Microsofthttp://ff.im/-7zfKp
  • AAR on UWA v Gray – Universities and their employees: who owns developed IP? http://ff.im/-7RmgI
  • Hannahland: Ph D candidate on UWA v Gray http://ff.im/-7WcoR

Practical DMCA problems

Plagiarism Today’s list of top 5 DMCA mistakes (and some things to do to avoid them).

How to find whom to send DMCA notices to

Plagiarism Today outlines 6 steps to try and identify the person you should be sending “notice and take down” notices under the DMCA to.

Apart from complaints under the DMCA there could be some useful hints (apart from the inquiry to the Copyright Register) under our scheme. Although, of course, under reg. 20C the carriage service provider is supposed to publish those details in a prominent place on their website.

Read the suggestions here.

Notice and take down

If you have to send a take down notice to someone under the DMCA, send it to them and not their parent:

Prof. Goldman here; Plagiarism Today here.

Under our legislation, the notice must be sent to the carriage service provider’s “designated representative” (Reg. 20D) and the carriage service provider must publish a notice on its website prominently identifying the designated representative, and their contact details, to whom such notices should be sent: Reg. 20C.

Of course, all this begs the question, what on earth (or in cyberspace) is a “carriage service provider”? (Unhelpful) hint via s 10 of the Copyright Act, look at s 87 of the Telecommunications Act 1997.

Copyright infringement and Twitter

Plagiarism Today tries to unravel how Twitter (attempts to) deal with claims that material posted infringes copyright.

Short of the odd haiku or authorisation, shouldn’t there be some prize for  infringing in 149 characters or less?

Blogger (Google) and the DMCA

Plagiarism Today considers Google’s new Blogger contact form for DMCA notfications here.

A tool bar for detecting hosts etc.

If you are trying to work out who is hosting a website and where it is being hosted, you might be interested in this discussion of the Netcraft toolbar.

Note:

  1. this is only for those using Firefox or Internet Explorer.
  2. Use at your own risk!