In an important decision enforcing copyright protections for artists, poets and other innovators, the U.S. Supreme Court today backed the arguments of an Orrick appellate team in restoring a copyright infringement case brought by Unicolors against fashion giant H&M. Doniger/Burroughs was co-counsel in the case.
The 6-3 decision, written by Justice Stephen Breyer, overturned a Ninth Circuit decision which reversed an $800,000 copyright infringement verdict secured by Unicolors in a jury trial. Unicolors, a fabric designer, sued H&M for infringing the designs on its jackets, but the Ninth Circuit found that the company could not assert copyright infringement because of mistakes in the company’s copyright registration.
The Supreme Court disagreed, finding that a lack of legal knowledge, just like a lack of factual knowledge, can excuse an honest mistake in the copyright registration process, given that many people don’t understand how the often-complicated provisions of copyright law apply to their situation. Partner Josh Rosenkranz, who argued the case for Unicolors, stressed that the decision has major ramifications for lay people “who can now enforce copyrights without fear that blatant infringers will skate on a technicality.”
“The Court recognized that poets and artists are not copyright scholars and should not be penalized for failing to appreciate legal esoterica, or worse, failing to predict where the law might go,” Josh said.