CoreLogic’s Copyright Win in Photo Metadata Spat Affirmed

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By Peter Leung

A California-based data analytics company didn’t violate the law when it stripped out metadata from copyrighted photos used in real estate listings, a federal appeals court ruled.

Two photographers who sued CoreLogic Inc. failed to prove the company’s actions would enable or help conceal copyright infringement, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said.

The June 20 precedential decision clarifies what copyright holders have to prove when suing someone for removing copyright management information, which is prohibited under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Real estate agents use CoreLogic’s software to upload photos to property listing databases. Photographers Robert Stevens and Steven Vandel complained that CoreLogic’s software stripped out the metadata from their photo files. The metadata included information that’s used to manage copyright licenses, such as the photographer’s name and licensing restrictions, they said.

The photographers accused CoreLogic of violating 17 U.S.C. § 1202(b). The section blocks the intentional removal or alteration of copyright management information without permission, or the distribution of works where the information was removed. To win such a case, the copyright owner must prove that the defendant stripped out the management information knowing that it would “induce, enable, facilitate, or conceal” infringement.

CoreLogic won on a summary judgment ruling. The trial court said the photographers had no evidence showing the company knew it was facilitating or helping to conceal infringement.

The Ninth Circuit upheld the ruling. The photographers argued CoreLogic’s removal of the information took away one way of identifying or tracking down infringers. The appeals court said that isn’t enough because the copyright owner has to show more than “the universal possibility of encouraging infringement.”

The photographers don’t have to prove a specific infringing act will occur. But they have to prove the defendant was aware that its actions would likely facilitate or hide infringement, such as by showing a pattern of past behavior, the court said.

The plaintiffs also never showed they ever used the stripped-out information to help prevent or detect infringement, undermining arguments that CoreLogic’s actions facilitated infringement, the court said.

Judge Marsha S. Berzon wrote the decision, which Judges A. Wallace Tashima and Robert E. Payne joined.

The Law Offices of Darren J. Quinn, Hulett Harper Stewart LLP, and Schneider Intellectual Property Law Group PLLC represented the photographers. Durie Tangri LLP represented CoreLogic.

The case is Stevens v. CoreLogic, Inc., 2018 BL 218172, 9th Cir., 16-56089, 6/20/18

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