168 F.3d 1282 (11th Cir. 1999), 95-3000, Montgomery v. Noga

Docket Nº:95-3000.
Citation:168 F.3d 1282
Party Name:Robert MONTGOMERY, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Rebecca NOGA and Florida Lion's Den, Inc., Defendants-Appellants.
Case Date:March 05, 1999
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
 
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Page 1282

168 F.3d 1282 (11th Cir. 1999)

Robert MONTGOMERY, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

Rebecca NOGA and Florida Lion's Den, Inc., Defendants-Appellants.

No. 95-3000.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

March 5, 1999

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Michael K. Gray, Gray Law Firm, Vero Beach, FL, for Defendants-Appellants.

Stephen D. Milbrath, Lydia R. Annunziata, Allen, Dyer, Doppelt, et al., Orlando, FL, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

Before TJOFLAT, DUBINA and CARNES, Circuit Judges.

TJOFLAT, Circuit Judge:

The jury in this case found the defendants liable for infringing the plaintiff's copyright in a computer program and for violating section 43(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1125(a). The district court entered judgment against the defendants, awarding both actual damages and attorneys' fees to the plaintiff. On appeal, the defendants challenge numerous rulings of the district court. We affirm. In so doing, we endeavor to bring a small measure of clarity to certain "rather swampy" 1 areas of copyright and unfair competition law.

I.

Plaintiff Robert Montgomery is the author of VPIC, a computer software program that enables users to view pictures on a computer screen. Montgomery integrated several computer programs that he previously had written--each of which was capable of reading different picture file formats--to create the initial version of VPIC in December 1988. VPIC went through several versions during the course of its development, including version 1.3, released on February 2, 1989, and version 1.4, released on March 15, 1989. Montgomery did not register his copyrights in the early versions of VPIC and did not affix a copyright notice when he marketed these early versions on computer bulletin boards. On August 8, 1990, Montgomery registered his copyright in VPIC version 2.9a. VPIC 2.9a and subsequent versions did contain a copyright notice when Montgomery marketed them on computer bulletin board systems. 2

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The defendants, Florida Lion's Den, Inc. ("FLD") and Rebecca L. Noga (FLD's president and sole shareholder), produce CD-ROM discs that are largely pornographic in nature. In 1992, the defendants and FLD vice-president Blaine Richard downloaded VPIC version 4.3 3 from a bulletin board and incorporated it as a utility on four of FLD's CD-ROM titles without obtaining a license from Montgomery. Because the defendants had activated a certain feature of VPIC, the VPIC closing screen that contained Montgomery's copyright notice did not appear when users viewed the pictures on the defendants' discs.

Upon learning of the defendants' unauthorized use of VPIC, Montgomery--acting through his licensing agent, who sent a letter to the defendants on June 3, 1993--demanded that the defendants cease and desist from using VPIC on FLD products, recall all unsold products containing VPIC, and pay damages for their unauthorized use. The defendants did not comply with these demands; Montgomery therefore filed a complaint against them in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida on October 25, 1993. The complaint sought damages and injunctive relief for infringement of Montgomery's VPIC copyright in violation of 17 U.S.C. § 101 et seq., and for a violation of section 43(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1125(a). 4 The defendants raised a number of affirmative defenses and impleaded Richard as a third-party defendant. Montgomery obtained a preliminary injunction on November 30, 1993, that enjoined the defendants from utilizing VPIC in FLD products. 5

Both Montgomery and the defendants moved for summary judgment on Montgomery's two claims, but the district court denied these motions on January 24, 1995. The case went to trial before a jury on March 20, 1995. At the close of Montgomery's case in chief, the defendants moved for judgment as a matter of law on both claims; the court denied their motion. At the close of all the evidence, Montgomery moved for judgment as a matter of law and the defendants renewed their motion; the court denied these motions as well. The case was then submitted to the jury, which found in favor of Montgomery on both claims and awarded actual damages in the amount of $80,000 for the copyright infringement claim and $30 for the Lanham Act claim. 6 The jury also found that, with regard to the copyright claim, the defendants' infringement had been "willful" and that, with regard to the Lanham Act claim, the case was "exceptional."

The district court subsequently entertained several post-trial motions. The court denied the defendants' motion for remittitur or a new trial, as well as their renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law. 7 The court granted Montgomery's motion for

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a permanent injunction and, in light of the jury's "willful" and "exceptional" findings, granted Montgomery's motion for costs and attorneys' fees. Montgomery also moved for an award of statutory damages pursuant to 17 U.S.C. § 504(c)(1), but the district court declined to award additional damages. Judgment was therefore entered in favor of Montgomery and against the defendants in the amount of $228,833.34: $80,000 for the copyright claim, $30 for the Lanham Act claim, $142,289.26 for attorneys' fees, and $6,514.08 for costs. 8 This appeal followed. 9

II.

The defendants contend that the district court erred in (A) denying their motion for judgment as a matter of law on the copyright infringement claim given that (1) Montgomery's copyright in VPIC 2.9a is invalid because earlier versions of VPIC were injected into the public domain, and (2) the scope of Montgomery's registered copyright in VPIC 2.9a, even if valid, does not extend to protect VPIC 4.3; (B) denying their motion for remittitur or a new trial on the issue of damages with respect to the copyright claim; (C) denying their motion for judgment as a matter of law on the Lanham Act claim; (D) precluding one of their witnesses from testifying as an expert; and (E) awarding Montgomery attorneys' fees on (1) the copyright claim and (2) the Lanham Act claim. We address these contentions seriatim.

A.

In evaluating the defendants' contention that the district court improperly denied their motion for judgment as a matter of law on Montgomery's copyright infringement claim, we proceed from certain basic principles of copyright law. The Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. § 101 et seq. (1994), provides protection for computer programs. See Cable/Home Communication Corp. v. Network Prods., Inc., 902 F.2d 829, 842 (11th Cir.1990); 17 U.S.C. § 102(a) (1994). The Act defines a computer program as "a set of statements or instructions to be used directly or indirectly in a computer in order to bring about a certain result." 17 U.S.C. § 101 (1994). For original computer programs and other original works of authorship created after 1977, copyright automatically inheres in the work at the moment it is created without regard to whether it is ever registered. See Arthur Rutenberg Homes, Inc. v. Drew Homes, Inc., 29 F.3d 1529, 1531 (11th Cir.1994); 17 U.S.C. § 102(a); Melville B. Nimmer & David Nimmer, 2 Nimmer on Copyright § 7.16[A] (1998) [hereinafter Nimmer ]. In order to bring an action for copyright infringement, however, the author must first register the copyright. See 17 U.S.C. §§ 411(a), 501(b) (1994); M.G.B. Homes, Inc. v. Ameron Homes, Inc., 903 F.2d 1486, 1488 & n. 4 (11th Cir.1990) (stating that "[t]he registration requirement is a jurisdictional prerequisite to an infringement suit"). Montgomery's claim of copyright infringement, therefore, necessarily is predicated on the defendants' infringement of VPIC 2.9a--the only version of VPIC that Montgomery had registered at the time he commenced this action.

Once a copyright infringement action has been properly commenced, the copyright holder must prove two elements in order to prevail: "(1) ownership of a valid copyright, and (2) copying of constituent elements of the work that are original." Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Tel. Serv. Co., 499 U.S. 340, 361, 111 S.Ct. 1282, 1296, 113 L.Ed.2d 358 (1991). Here, the element of copying is not in dispute. The defendants admit that, without obtaining a license from Montgomery, they downloaded VPIC 4.3 from a bulletin board and incorporated it as a utility on four FLD discs.

The defendants challenge the propriety of Montgomery's copyright infringement claim on two grounds. First, they argue that Montgomery does not own a valid copyright in VPIC 2.9a as required by Feist. According to the defendants, Montgomery's copyright in VPIC 2.9a is invalid because earlier versions of VPIC--components of which

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were contained in VPIC 2.9a--were injected into the public domain. Second, and alternatively, the defendants argue that the scope of Montgomery's copyright registration for VPIC 2.9a does not extend to support the commencement of an action for infringement of his unregistered copyright in VPIC 4.3--the version that the defendants incorporated.

The district court rejected these arguments, finding that the jury's verdict was in accordance with both the law and the evidence at trial. We review a district court's denial of a motion for judgment as a matter of law de novo, applying the same standards as the district court. In considering the sufficiency of the evidence that supports the jury's verdict, we review the evidence "in the light most favorable to, and with all reasonable inferences drawn in favor of, the nonmoving party." Walker v. NationsBank of Fla., N.A., 53 F.3d 1548, 1555 (11th Cir.1995). If reasonable and fair-minded persons in the exercise of impartial judgment might reach different conclusions based on the evidence presented, the motion should be denied. See Walls v....

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