Yamashita v Scholastic
Second Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Photographer’s Copyright Infringement Complaint Against Scholastic
On August 28, 2019, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (Second Circuit) affirmed the dismissal of Michael Yamashita’s complaint against Scholastic Inc. for copyright infringement (Yamashita v. Scholastic Inc., 936 F.3d 98 (2d. Cir. 2019)).
Professional photographer Michael Yamashita, who is the sole owner of Michael Yamashita, Inc., authorized Corbis, a stock photo agency, to grant limited licenses to publishers for use of his photos. Corbis licensed Yamashita’s photos to Scholastic. Yamashita sued Scholastic in the United Stated District Court for the District of New Jersey (District of New Jersey), alleging that Scholastic infringed his copyrights in 82 photos by exceeding the terms of its license with Corbis. Scholastic motioned to dismiss Yamashita’s complaint, or in the alternative, to transfer venue to the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (S.D.N.Y). The District of New Jersey granted Scholastic’s motion to transfer venue to the S.D.N.Y.
The S.D.N.Y. ruled that Yamashita’s complaint did not sufficiently plead facts beyond speculation because it only stated the various ways Scholastic may have infringed Yamashita’s copyrights. The S.D.N.Y. granted Scholastic’s motion to dismiss Yamashita’s complaint with prejudice. With the exception of an image (in Row 80 of Exhibit 1) added to the proposed amended complaint, the S.D.N.Y. denied Yamashita’s motions for reconsideration and leave to file an amended complaint.
The S.D.N.Y. ordered Yamashita to file a revised amended complaint that contained only the single image (Row 80 of Exhibit 1). Yamashita did so, and Scholastic answered. The parties stipulated to a Rule 41 dismissal with prejudice of the Row 80 infringement claim. The S.D.N.Y. then dismissed the case concerning the Row 80 infringement claim and ruled otherwise in favor of Scholastic. (Yamashita v. Scholastic Inc., 2017 WL 74738 (S.D.N.Y. Jan 5, 2017)). Yamashita appealed to the Second Circuit.
The Second Circuit stated that Yamashita’s copyright infringement pleading turned on its answer to whether a plaintiff who has authorized the licensed use of its work to an alleged infringer must allege with specificity facts concerning the limits and asserted breaches of the licenses by the alleged infringer.
The complaint here alleged that Scholastic exceeded the license’s limits by using Yamashita’s photos in a greater number than it had a right to do, possibly in publications outside the license’s territory, and possibly after licenses expired, among other ways. However, the complaint failed to identify any license limitations that were breached for any photograph, except the Row-80 image. Rather, the complaint offered a list of license limitations that may have been imposed that may have been violated for several photos. In addition, Yamashita would need a license limitation included in the license covering the specific photo to have an actionable copyright infringement claim. However, Yamashita’s complaint did not contain such factual allegations, and he Second Circuit held that Yamashita’s complaint did not survive Scholastic’s motion to dismiss.