Safeguard Your

Photo of Ronald J. Tong

Burden of proof is on the defendants to show that their copying was authorized

Jesus Muhammad Ali v. Final Call, Inc.

In 1984, plaintiff Jesus Muhammad Ali painted a portrait of Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam, and registered and recorded a copyright in the painting, titling it “Minister Farrakhan”. The Final Call is a newspaper that circulates to roughly 70,000 readers including the sale of copies of the portrait. In response, the plaintiff sued The Final Call in 2013 for copyright infringement. The main complication in this case arose because Ali worked for The Final Call between 2010 and 2013 including a contract where Ali authorized The Final Call to produce and sell lithographs of his work.

At its basics, to have a successful claim of copyright infringement, the plaintiff must prove that they had a valid copyright and that copying of the registered piece took place. What this court clarified was the reliance on “unauthorized” copying that some courts apply.

Effective, the court found that “a plaintiff is not required to prove that the defendant’s copying was unauthorized in order to state a prima facie case of copyright infringement… Rather the burden of proving that the copying was authorized lies with the defendant.” Effectively, the burden in such cases is on the alleged infringer to prove that their copying was in fact authorized. While the district court found for the defendant, based on the revised standards for the burden of proof, the appeals court reversed.

This article is provided for informational purpose only and is not intended as a form of legal advice. If you have any questions on the subject matter of this article, call Roland Tong, at 949-298-6867 or email Mr. Tong at [email protected]. Mr. Tong has been obtaining patent, trademark, copyright, and trade secret protections for his clients since 2001. He has represented a wide range of clients from start-up companies to Fortune 500 companies in a wide range of industries.