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Evoqua Water Technologies LLC v. M.W. Watermark, LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division

March 26, 2018

EVOQUA WATER TECHNOLOGIES LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
M.W. WATERMARK, LLC et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          ROBERT J. JONKER CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Defendants Michael Gethin and M.W. Watermark, LLC have filed a motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 158) as to Counts II (trademark infringement), IV (false advertising), and V (copyright infringement) of the First Amended Complaint. On January 11, 2018, the Court denied the motion as to Counts II and IV, and took the motion under advisement as to Count V. The Court permitted the parties to provide further briefing regarding Evoqua's claim of ownership in the copyrights at issue. The parties have done so. After review of the briefs, the Court finds that Defendants are entitled to summary judgment on Count V.

         I. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate where there are no genuine issues of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). An issue of fact is “genuine” if a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 284. In considering a motion for summary judgment, the Court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

         The ultimate question is “whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52; see also Jones v. Potter, 488 F.3d 397 (6th Cir. 2007).

         II. Background

         Evoqua and Watermark are competitors in the de-watering business. In October 2015 and May 2016, Evoqua obtained copyright registrations for the following works:

. a presentation entitled “How Does a Filter Press Work?” (created in 2006);
. a presentation entitled “Filter Presses” (created in 2001);
. a sales brochure entitled “J-Press Liquids-Solids Filtration Equipment and Separation Equipment (created in 1985);
. a manual entitled “J-Press Filter Press 1200 MM Owner's Manual” (created in 1989);
. a manual entitled “J-Press Filter Press 630 MM Owner's Manual” (created in 1994);
. a drawing entitled “Automatic Pump Control System Cabinet Assembly” (created in 1994); and
. a drawing entitled “Automatic Pump Control System with Air Blowdown” (created in 1989).

         In Count V of its amended complaint, Evoqua contends that Watermark has infringed Evoqua's rights in these works. “The first element of a copyright-infringement claim is ‘ownership of a valid copyright.'” Star Athletica, LLC v. Varsity Brands, Inc., 137 S.Ct. 1002, 1008 (2017) (quoting Feist Publ'ns, Inc. v. Rural Tel. Serv. Co., 499 U.S. 340, 361 (1991)). As the plaintiff claiming copyright infringement, Evoqua has the burden of proving ownership. HiTech Video Prods., Inc. v. Capital Cities/ABC, Inc., 58 F.3d 1093, 1095 (6th Cir. 1995). The Court concludes that Evoqua cannot, as a matter of law, establish actual ownership of the copyrights on this record.

         Ownership of a copyright “vests initially in the author or authors of the work.” 17 U.S.C. § 201(a). Evoqua could not have been the author of the foregoing works because it did not exist until 2013, long after the works were created. Accordingly, Evoqua must stake its claim on having properly acquired ownership from the original authors through any intervening entities. For purposes of summary judgment, the Court will assume that the original human authors properly assigned the work to the entity for which they worked at the time of creation. The controlling question is then whether a reasonable ...


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