DRAFT: a work in progress; will be updated as I review more cases (or find typos) …
Well, according to NPR, Judge Sam Alito from the Third Circuit is nominated. I’m sure that everyone will be all over his record on every conceivable issue in no time at all, but I’m looking at his copyright etc. for a few minutes just to see what’s out there.
I haven’t found much in the 3rd Circuit case law that suggests Alito has dealt with a lot of the most pressing copyright questions or the constitutional copyright questions, beyond originality. He has been good on originality, and in general he appears to be careful and thoughtful about copyright. So far, I’ve found:
Four opinions signed or written by Alito relate to originality: Alito wrote one opinion (Southco) and signed two (Southco en banc and R&B v. Needa (unpublished)) finding that part numbers lack sufficient originality for copyright protection. Alito also signed the troll doll opinion (Dam Things) which basically said that a derivative work needed to be carefully parsed for originality.
Two opinions on copyright registration technicalities. Alito signed a per curiam in Gallup v. Kenexa, and dissented in Raquel; the Raquel majority opinion was specifically criticized by the Copyright Office and then reversed by Supreme Court. In both instances Alito was critical of technical readings of registration requirements that stripped registrants of their copyright protections.
Two opinions on copyright preemption in Orson v. Miramax: Alito dissented in Orson I, and then signed the 3rd Cir en banc opinion, reversing Orson I, and holding that the a Pennsylvania film distribution statute was preempted by the Copyright Act.
Alito signed an unpublished copyright licensing opinion in Operating Systems Support v. Wang. I’ll have to read it very closely, but at a quick glance, it looks like a business-to-business software licensing agreement. Looks mostly like a close contractual reading of the terms of the various licensing agreements, without much analysis of the Copyright Act. As Seth Finkelstein pointed out on copyfight, business-to-business licensing cases don’t give a good sense of a judge’s opinion of consumer issues in contracting. But, Ideoblog looked at Alito’s contract cases, and said that
Alito has displayed a marked tendency to enforce contracts as written, specifically including choice of law/forum and arbitration provisions that are intended to mitigate litigation costs.
That could bode ill for any shrinkwrap cases that make it to the Supreme Court, including anti-reverse engineering clauses, anti-resale/First Sale clauses, or other consumer-unfriendly clauses.
copyright cases with brief cites & descriptions:
Alito wrote the first 3d Circuit opinion in Southco v. Kanebridge, 258 F.3d 148 (3rd Cir. 2001) holding that part numbers are not copyrightable. He also signed the en banc opinion that also held part numbers are not copyrightable. [I discussed Southco; William Patry did a detailed analysis; and madisonian.net promises analysis later today]
Gallup v. Kenexa Corp, 2005 WL 2271271 (3rd Cir. 2005) – A very recent per curiam opinion from Sept. 19, 2005. Reversing summary judgment to defendant Kenexa on a copyright infringement claim, because the District Court erred in declaring Gallup’s copyright registration invalid on a technical reading of the registration requirements.
Orson v. Miramax, 189 F.3d 377 (3rd Cir. 1999) – Alito joined the majority en banc holding that a Pennsylvania statute was preempted by Copyright Act. The statute (Pennsylvania Feature Motion Picture Fair Business Practices Law) restricted movie distributors use of exclusive first run licensing contracts. Alito dissented in the reversed 3rd Cir. ruling, 174 F.3d 377 (3rd Cir. 1999), which held that the Pennsylvania statute was not preempted.
Raquel v. Education Management Corp., 196 F.3d 171 (3rd Cir. 1999). Alito dissented in another copyright registration case. Taken with Gallup, Alito really doesn’t like technicalities getting in the way of copyrights (at 182):
I believe that the majority’s decision elevates form over substance and works a forfeiture of a valid copyright because of a misstatement that the trial court had already labeled inadvertent.
This is another instance in which Alito has a good record with the Supremes: Cert. was granted & judgment was vacated by 531 US 952 (2000) which simply said:
Petition for writ of certiorari granted. Judgment vacated, and case remanded to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit for further consideration in light of the position asserted by the Solicitor General in his brief for the United States, as amicus curiae, filed September 20, 2000, and the Copyright Office’s July 5, 2000, Statement of Policy, 65 Fed.Reg. 41,508.
Basically the Copyright Office wrote that the 3rd Cir had gotten it wrong (65 FR 41508-01):
[T]he court appears to have misunderstood the Copyright Office’s longstanding published practices relating to the “nature-of-work” space.
Alito was on a (the?) troll doll court! Dam Things from Denmark a/k/a Troll Company ApSm v. Russ Berrie & Company, Inc., 290 F.3d 548 (3rd Cir. 2002). The troll dolls from the 60s fad had copyright restored by 104A. The court held that the copyright qualified for restoration and was not abandoned, but that the District court had not properly considered the 104A safe harbor for derivative works, or properly done the infringement analysis. After spanking the District Court for its “somewhat conclusory treatment of the issues” and for not carefully distinguishing which troll was which, the 3rd Cir. remanded “for further consideration in light of this opinion.” (at 552) The 3rd Cir. went on to strongly suggest there was infringement, then said that the District Court needed to closely evaluate each work for infringement AND for originality to see if the minor differences noted between the various trolls constituted sufficient originality to qualify for the derivative works exception to 104A.
Operating System Support, Inc. v. Wang Laboratories, Inc., 52 Fed.Appx. 160 (3rd Cir. 2002) (not published). Alito joined an unpublished copyright license opinion. At a quick glance, it looks like a business-to-business software licensing agreement, with some close contractual reading of the terms of the various licensing agreements, and little analysis of the Copyright Act. Business-to-business is not very informative for consumer rights by itself, but see above, where I mentioned Ideoblog’s analysis of Alito’s contract cases that do implicate consumer rights. (Thanks to Seth Finkelstein’s comment on copyfight for making it clear that I needed to be a bit more descriptive about why I was distinguishing the case as a business-to-business contracts.)
R&B, Inc. v. Needa Parts Mfg., Inc., 50 Fed.Appx. 519 (3rd Cir. 2002) (not published). Per curiam. Another parts number copyright case affirming District Court finding that part numbers not copyrightable and plaintiffs not likely to succeed on trademark infringement claim.
The picture that emerges from looking broadly at consumer rights and interests is not a good one. Alito appears to be quite concerned with enforcing the letter of contracts and working through the nuances of textual interpretation. However, consumer interests are protected in contract law through broad policies that inform the interpretation of clauses and doctrines. If Alito is, as he appears to be, very concerned with the trees, he may miss the forests. [The NYT 11/5 had a good review of his business opinions, including antitrust law; also covering arbitration decisions, employee discrimination, environmental law and investor claims.]
Ooh, TCPA. ErieNet, Inc. v. Velocity Net, Inc., 156 F.3d 513 (1998). Alito dissented from a holding that the TCPA (Telephone Consumer Protection Act) did not create right to bring action in federal court. A close reading of a negative implication case.
- Ethical Esquire pulls together some of the antitrust commentary & suggests that Alito is not a fan of private enforcement of antitrust.
Operating System Support, Inc. v. Wang Laboratories, Inc., 52 Fed.Appx. 160 (3rd Cir. 2002) (not published). Analysis copied from above: Alito joined an unpublished copyright license opinion. At a quick glance, it looks like a business-to-business software licensing agreement, with some close contractual reading of the terms of the various licensing agreements, and little analysis of the Copyright Act. Business-to-business is not very informative for consumer rights by itself, but see above, where I mentioned Ideoblog’s analysis of Alito’s contract cases that do implicate consumer rights. (Thanks to Seth Finkelstein’s comment on copyfight for making it clear that I needed to be a bit more descriptive about why I was distinguishing the case as a business-to-business contracts.)
Alito seems to be involved in a lot of First Amendment caselaw, both speech and establishment/free exercise. I imagine this will be reviewed closely elsewhere but I started going through some of decisions. [New World Man looked at Alito's First Amendment speech clause jurisprudence, as did the First Amendment Center. The FAC says
A preliminary examination of his First Amendment opinions suggests that Alito is: (1) quite protective of several categories of expression, including religious and commercial expression; (2) far less protective of First Amendment claims raised by prisoners; (3) guardedly protective of First Amendment rights in defamation cases, and (4) generally concerned about prior restraints on expression.
which seems about right to me. Prisoners' 1A rights are not significantly protected; that fits in with a general conservative law-and-order perspective.
Saxe v. State College Area School District, 240 F.3d 200 (3rd Cir. 2001). First Amendment; struck down school anti-harassment policy.
Tucker v. Fischbein, 237 F.3d 275 (3rd Cir. 2001) - a defamation case. Alito wrote opinion that "held that: (1) statements were capable of a defamatory meaning under Pennsylvania law; (2) fact issue existed as to whether attorney acted with actual malice with respect to statements made after he was served with amended complaint naming him as party in prior action; and (3) fact issue existed as to whether statements made by attorney to reporters, and published in articles, were false; but (4) magazines and reporters did not act with actual malice sufficient to support recovery."
Pitt News v. Pappert, 379 F.3d 96 (3rd Cir. 2004) - First Amendment
White v. Communication Workers of America, AFL-CIO Local 1300, 370 F.3d 346 (3rd Cir. 2004) - labor / First Amendment
Edwards v. California Univ of Pennsylvania, 156 F.3d 488 (3rd Cir. 1998) - Alito wrote court's opinion in an academic freedom case. Professor challenged public university's restrictions on curriculum & teaching material. This one should make the "academic bill of rights" people happy: the professor was teaching instructional methods and included as examples information about religion, censorship, etc. The university restricted his teaching methods, and he claimed retaliation; Alito held that the university "the University can make content-based decisions when shaping its curriculum" (at 492). This is interesting (at 493):
In sum, we conclude: (1) that Professor Edwards does not have a First Amendment right to choose classroom materials and subjects in contravention of the University's dictates; (2) that Edwards failed to state a procedural due process liberty claim because he did not allege a deprivation of employment; and (3) that the district court properly dismissed Edwards's equal protection claim after Edwards's own counsel conceded that the complaint failed to adequately state such a claim. We find Edwards's remaining arguments on appeal to be without merit. Accordingly, we affirm. We emphasize that we only pass on the narrow legal issues presented to us. Nothing in our opinion should be read to mean that we condone all of the conduct of the University officials that was revealed at trial.
Robert Gordon wrote a good piece for Slate laying out Alito's conservative jurisprudence with respect to Fourth Amendment search and seizure cases, and individual liberties cases generally. He found:
At least in my research, Lexis/Nexis revealed exactly one case in which Alito protected individual rights more vigorously than colleagues. That wasn't really an individual-rights case at all; it was the states' rights case in which Alito would have vacated the conviction for owning a machine gun. So, for example, Alito sat on a dozen panels in which judges disagreed regarding a citizen's Fourth Amendment rights. ... In each of those cases, Alito adopted the view most supportive of the government's position. Of course, caveats apply. All of the cases are more complicated than short summaries can capture. In any given case, Alito's position often seems reasonable; it is the accumulation of consistent results that surprises.
US v. Williams, 124 F.3d 411 (3rd Cir. 1997) – Federal Wiretapping Statute, video surveillance
The corker is the Doe v. Groody case in which Alito thought it okay for a 10-year-old and her mother to be strip-searched. That will be well covered elsewhere, I suspect.
- Toys’R’Us, Inc. v. Step Two, S.A., 318 F.3d 446 (3rd Cir. 2003). Alito signed opinion reversing District Court’s refusal to grant limited jurisdictional discovery and granting dismissal for lack of personal jurisdiction. Question was whether Step Two’s websites were cybersquatting, trademark infringement, unfair competition, etc. Step Two is a Spanish company with web presence in the US. the court looked to Zippo‘s purposeful availment test; also cited ALS Scan (4th Cir) and Cybersell (9th Cir). The court noted that the evidence thus far didn’t look like it met the Zippo purposeful availment test but said the District Court had erred in not granting jurisdictional discovery, by focusing solely on the website and ignoring other Internet and non-Internet contacts. The court dismissed the contention that Step Two met New Jersey’s ‘express aiming’ test.
other IP & cyberlaw issues: trademark & unfair competition
Marshak v. Treadwell, 240 F.3d 184 (3rd Cir. 2001). Alito wrote opinion. Trademark & common law mark case.
Times Mirror v. Las Vegas Sports News, 212 F.3d 157 (3rd Cir. 2000)
A&H Sportswear, Inc. v. Victoria’s Secret Stores, Inc., 166 F.3d 197 (3rd Cir. 1999) – en banc trademark.
Iberia Foods Corp. v. Romeo, 150 F.3d 298 (3rd Cir. 1998) – trademark
The individual liberties versus institutional rights (business, government) framework, laid out by Robert Gordon in Slate, appears to be a helpful one in examining Alito’s jurisprudence.
Ideoblog looks at Alito’s contract cases; New World Man provides an Alito primer which sums up and links to a variety of other analyses. New World Man also looked at First Amendment speech clause and religion. ThinkProgress does a press-release style rundown of some of Alito’s hot-button civil liberty cases.
SCOTUSblog has some other notable cases, including a dissent on the abortion husband-consent statute from Casey. We’ll all be verrrry familiar with that one before long. The quick read I gave it said that Pennsylvania legislators could have reasonably thought that forcing a woman to discuss her medical options with her spouse was permissible because she might be mistaken about whether they could afford the baby or not … Paraphrased for heightened sarcasm.
news.com reviews some of the tech decisions & has some commentary from attorneys on copyright and electronic surveillance. On the electronic surveillance, the only discussion seems to support the notion that Alito is a law-and-order kind of guy; no surprise there. My take is that he is law & order, and will support police technologies generally. Purely private surveillance will be more interesting. On employment, I would bet he finds employer surveillance of employees permissible.
IPTA Blog Blawg Review nicely wraps up a lot of coverage of Alito.
Kurt Opsahl @ EFF Deep Links summarizes the cyberlaw / 1st Amendment / 4th Amendment privacy caselaw, and links to other coverage.
- Child Evangelism Fellowship of NJ v. Stafford Tp. School Dist., 386 F.3d 514 (3rd Cir. 2004) – an establishment clause case.
- Blackhawk v. Pennsylvania, 381 F.3d 202 (3rd Cir. 2004) – a free exercise clause
- ACLU-NJ v. Township of Wall, 246 F.3d 258 (3rd Cir. 2001) – establishment (public display) case
- ACLU-NJ ex rel. Lander v. Schundler, 168 F.3d 92 (3rd Cir. 1999) – establishment (public display) case
- FOP Newark Lodge No. 12 v. City of Newark, 170 F.3d 359 (3rd Cir 1999) – Alito wrote court’s opinion holding that refusal to grant religious exception to no-beard policy violated Sunni Muslim employees’ free exercise rights.
- Reynolds v. Wagner, 128 F.3d 166 (3rd Cir. 1997) – charging inmates for medical care does not violate the 8th Amendment; failure to translate it into Spanish does not violate Spanish-speaking inmates’ rights