Data breach at video game developer exposes possible copyright infringement. JURACEK v. CAPCOM

Data breach at video game developer exposes possible copyright infringement. JURACEK v. CAPCOM

Copyright is a legal protection given to creators of works.  Creators may be painters, sculptors, photographers, musicians, authors or a member of one of the many other creative occupations. Copyright allows creators to prevent other people from copying their works.  Frequently creators are inspired by the works of other creators.  When a creator is inspired to create their own new work, that does not incorporate elements of the original work, then the new work does not infringe on the copyright of the original work.  This is because copyright law protects the expression of ideas, not the ideas themselves.

For example, if an artist creates a painting of a tree, the copyright only extends to the artist’s painting.  Other people are free to create their own painting for a tree without infringing on the copyright of the artist.  However, if a photographer takes a picture of the artist’s painting, the photograph of the painting would infringe on the copyright of the artist.  The photograph merely copies the painting with no added value.  Therefore the photographer’s picture is a derivative work of the artist’s painting.

A derivative work is a work based on or derived from one or more already existing works. Common derivative works include translations, musical arrangements, motion picture versions of literary material or plays, art reproductions, abridgments, and condensations of preexisting works. Another common type of derivative work is a “new edition” of a preexisting work in which the editorial revisions, annotations, elaborations, or other modifications represent, as a whole, an original work.

A compilation is a collection of material such as short stories, photographs or architectural designs that is copyright as a collection. The compilation is granted a separate copyright from any of the individual pieces in it. Even if the  individual contents aren’t copyrighted, the compilation can be copyrighted.

The copyright to a complication of works will  pay an important part of JURACEK v. CAPCOM CO., LTD., 3:21-cv-00775 (D.C.CT 2021).

Plaintiff has been a professional scenic artist, scene designer and photographer for much of her career, working on numerous well known film and TV productions.  During Plaintiff’s career she traveled around the world photographing various and unique decorative surfaces and features as part of her research related to set design.  Plaintiff complied a large number of her photographs into a book called “SURFACES” which was published in 1996.  Plaintiff is the owner of U.S. Copyright Registration Nos. TX4-442-862 which claims “text, photographs, and compilation in book; compilation on CD-ROM” as found in the book.  Plaintiff would license use of her photographs to people who requested a license.

Defendant is an internationally known video game designer and publisher.   Defendant has a popular series of games titled Resident Evil.  In November 2020 Defendant’s computer network was breached and various files on the network were made available to the public.  Some of the data released from Defendant’s network included high resolution images of artwork used in Resident Evil and other games.  Based on the names of files released in the data breach 80 or more of Plaintiff’s images appear in Resident Evil.

Plaintiff sued Defendant for Copyright Infringement and Removal of Copyright Management Information, because Defendant stripped the images of their copyright notices.  The Defendant has yet to answer the complaint.  When a data breach reveals files with names and contents identical to someone else’s copyrighted material, it is difficult to see a winning defense.

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