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Falkner v. GM, LLC

United States District Court for the Central District of California

September 17, 2018, Decided; September 17, 2018, Filed





I. Introduction

On January 22, 2018, Plaintiff Adrian Falkner filed this civil action, seeking relief for (1) copyright infringement and (2)  [*929]  falsification, removal, and alteration of copyright management information in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act ("DMCA"). Defendant's Statement of Uncontroverted Facts, Dkt. 30-1 ("DSUF"), ¶ 25; First Amended Complaint ("FAC"), Dkt. 22, at 7-8. Based on his allegations that Defendant General Motors LLC's conduct was "intentional, deliberate, willful, wanton, committed with the intention of injuring Plaintiff, and depriving Plaintiff of Plaintiff's legal rights," Plaintiff seeks an award of punitive [**2]  damages. FAC at 7, 11.

On June 25, 2018, Defendant filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment, or in the Alternative, Partial Summary Judgment ("Mot."). Dkt. 30. Defendant moves for summary judgment on the two claims asserted against it or, alternatively, for partial summary judgment on either claim and for partial summary judgment on Plaintiff's claim for punitive damages. Id. at 1-2.

II. Factual Background

The relevant facts of this case are generally undisputed. Plaintiff is an artist, producing works under the pseudonym "Smash 137." DSUF ¶ 1. In 2014, Plaintiff was invited by a Detroit art gallery to create an outdoor mural as part of a marketing project of murals to be displayed throughout a parking garage located at 1234 Library Street in Detroit, Michigan. DSUF ¶ 2. Plaintiff created such a mural on two perpendicular walls located in that parking garage. DSUF ¶¶ 3, 5. In so doing, Plaintiff placed his pseudonym, "SMASH 137," on the left side of one of the walls that displayed his mural. DSUF ¶ 4. Plaintiff was allowed to choose where in the garage to paint his mural, and was afforded complete creative freedom with respect to the mural. Plaintiff's Submitted Undisputed Facts ("PSUF"), Dkt. 32-1, ¶¶ [**3]  14-15. Plaintiff was given no aesthetic to match and was not told of any function that the mural should play. PSUF ¶ 15. Ultimately, Plaintiff chose to create the mural using themes and motifs that were similar to those used on the paintings that had been exhibited at a solo show long before he had heard of the mural project. PSUF ¶ 18. In addition, the architecture of the parking garage and accompanying building were already complete before Plaintiff started painting. PSUF ¶ 16.

In August 2016, Alex Bernstein, a professional automotive photographer, traveled to Detroit. DSUF ¶¶ 6, 8. Knowing that automotive companies generally maintain press fleets of vehicles for publicity purposes, Bernstein borrowed a car from Cadillac.1 DSUF ¶¶ 9-10. During his trip, Bernstein took several photographs. DSUF ¶ 13. One of them captured a portion of Plaintiff's mural. DSUF ¶ 14. The photograph showed only one of the two walls constituting the mural, and the wall that was not included was the wall on which Plaintiff had placed his pseudonym. DSUF ¶ 22. Bernstein claims that he did not see Plaintiff's name or pseudonym on the mural. DSUF ¶¶ 18, 20; Declaration of Alex Bernstein, Dkt. 30-2 ("Bernstein [**4]  Decl."), ¶ 8. Bernstein declares that he chose to frame his photograph in this particular manner because he liked the composition; it permitted him to include a portion of the Detroit skyline. DSUF ¶¶ 19, 21; Bernstein Decl. ¶ 8. The mural wall that was included in the photograph does itself include a plaque that contains some copyright management information about Plaintiff, although it cannot be read in the  [*930]  photograph because of the distance from which the photograph was taken. DSUF ¶ 26.

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393 F. Supp. 3d 927 *; 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 225991 **

Adrian Falkner v. General Motors LLC


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