California Anti-SLAPP Statute / Copyright Act
The panel affirmed the district court’s order granting T3Media’s special motion to strike, pursuant to California’s anti-SLAPP statute, the action brought by plaintiffs/former student-athletes Patrick Maloney and Tim Judge, alleging that T3Media exploited their likenesses commercially. Plaintiffs alleged that T3Media exploited their likenesses by selling non-exclusive licenses permitting consumers to download photographs from the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Photo Library for non-commercial use. Plaintiffs asserted statutory and common law publicity-right claims and an unfair competition claim under California law. The California anti-SLAPP statute, Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 425.16, was enacted to allow for early dismissal of meritless first amendment cases aimed at chilling expression though litigation.
Section 301 of the federal Copyright Act adopted a twopart test to determine whether a state law claim was preempted by the Act; first, whether the subject matter of the state claim fell within the subject matter of copyright, as described in 17 U.S.C. §§ 102 and 103; and second, if so, whether the rights asserted under state law were equivalent to the rights contained in 17 U.S.C. § 106.
At step one of the Copyright Act test, the panel held that the subject matter of the state law claims fell within the subject matter of copyright. Specifically, the panel held that a publicity-right claim may proceed when a likeness is used non-consensually on merchandise or in advertising; but where a likeness has been captured in a copyrighted artistic visual work and the work itself is being distributed for personal use, a publicity-right claim is little more than a thinly-disguised copyright claim because it seeks to hold a copyright holder liable for exercising his exclusive rights under the Copyright Act. The panel concluded that plaintiffs’ publicity-right claims and the derivative Unfair Competition Law claim challenged control of the artistic work itself, and accordingly, the subject matter of the state law claims fell exclusively within the subject matter of copyright.
At step two, the panel held that the rights plaintiffs asserted were equivalent to rights within the general scope of copyright.
The panel concluded that plaintiffs’ state law claims were preempted by section 301 of the federal Copyright Act because plaintiffs sought to hold T3Media liable for exercising rights governed exclusively by copyright law. The panel further held that plaintiffs could not demonstrate a reasonable probability of prevailing on their challenged claims; and the district court did not err in granting the special motion to strike, and dismissing without leave to amend.
Download Maloney v. T3Media Inc.