Ellison v. Robertson

357 F.3d 1072 (2004)

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Ellison v. Robertson

United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
357 F.3d 1072 (2004)

Facts

Harlan Ellison (plaintiff) wrote and owned the copyright to various short stories. Stephen Robertson (defendant) copied the stories and posted them to the USENET newsgroup. The stories were then transmitted all over the world, including to subscribers of America Online, Inc. (AOL) (defendant). AOL generally stored files posted on USENET on its servers for two weeks. In compliance with the copyright-notice procedures under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA), Ellison sent an email to AOL notifying the company of the infringement. AOL claimed to have never received the email. In fact, AOL changed the email address it assigned for these DMCA notifications and did not provide for forwarding from the old email address. Ellison sued AOL for contributory copyright infringement and vicarious copyright infringement. AOL moved for summary judgment, arguing that it did not commit copyright infringement and, alternatively, that its conduct qualified for liability protection under a safe harbor in the DMCA. First, the district court found that AOL was entitled to summary judgment on the claim for vicarious copyright infringement. Second, the court found that AOL was not entitled to summary judgment on the claim for contributory copyright infringement because there were issues of fact as to whether AOL’s storage and provision of access to the stories materially contributed to the infringement. However, the court also found that AOL was eligible for a safe harbor under the DMCA for mere conduits of infringing material, due to its storage of the stories for only 14 days. Accordingly, the court granted AOL summary judgment. Ellison appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Pregerson, J.)

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