Sega Enterprises Ltd. v. Maphia

948 F. Supp. 923 (N.D. Cal. 1996)

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[NOTE: This case has been edited for classroom use by the omission of text, citations, and footnotes. See this alternate source for the full opinion.]

U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken

Plaintiffs Sega Enterprises, Ltd. and Sega of America, Inc., (collectively "Sega") filed this action for copyright infringement under 17 U.S.C. §§101 et seq. , federal trademark infringement under 15 U.S.C. §§1051 et seq., federal unfair competition for false designation of origin under 15 U.S.C. §1125 (a), California trade name infringement under California Business and Professions Code §§ 14401 et seq. and California unfair competition under California Business and Professions Code §§14210, 17200-17203 against Defendant Chad Sherman and several other individuals operating on-line bulletin boards, and MAPHIA and other bulletin boards as businesses of unknown structure.

. . . .

After careful consideration of the parties' papers and the record as a whole and good cause appearing, the Court GRANTS summary judgment regarding Sherman's liability for copyright infringement, federal trademark infringement, federal unfair competition for false designation of origin, California trade name infringement and California unfair competition. The Court also GRANTS Sega's request for a permanent injunction prohibiting further copying of SEGA games by way of the MAPHIA electronic bulletin board, or any bulletin board run by Sherman.


I. Sega's business

Sega is a major manufacturer and distributor of computer video game systems and computer video game programs which are sold under the SEGA logo, its registered trademark. As part of its development process, Sega takes care to ensure the quality and reliability of the video game programs and products sold under SEGA trademarks.

Sega also owns the copyright for the game programs that Sega develops and has federal copyright registrations for several video games, including Jurassic Park and Sonic Spinball.

The Sega game system consists of two components, the base unit game console and software stored on video game cartridges which are inserted into the base unit. The base unit contains a microcomputer which, when connected to a cartridge and a television, permits an individual to play a video game stored on the inserted cartridge. The cartridge format is not susceptible to breakdown or erasure. Defective Sega cartridges are replaced by Sega.

Sega's game system is designed to permit the user only to play video game programs contained in Sega cartridges. The system does not permit the copying of video game programs. Sega does not authorize the copying or distribution of its video game programs on other storage media such as floppy disks or hard disks.

Sega takes steps to keep its methods of developing video game programs, its works-in-progress, and the codes of its released products confidential, and the employees and contractors who work with Sega sign non-disclosure agreements regarding their work. Video game programs which are in development are referred to as "pre-release" programs. During the development period, pre-release software may be stored on cartridges, floppy disks or hard disks for internal use by Sega Upon completion of the program, however, the program is distributed only on cartridges.

II. MAPHIA Bulletin Board

Sherman is the system operator for MAPHIA, an electronic bulletin board. An electronic bulletin board ("BBS") consists of electronic storage media, such as computer memories or hard disks, which are connected to telephone lines by modem devices, and are controlled by a computer. Users of BBSs can transfer information from their own computers to the storage media on the BBS by a process known as "uploading." Users can also retrieve information from the BBS to their own computer memories by a process known as "downloading." Video game programs, such as Sega's video game programs, are among the kinds of information that can be transferred in these ways.

The software and computer hardware Sherman used to run MAPHIA is owned by him and located at his residence in San Francisco, California. The MAPHIA bulletin board is open to the public and has approximately 400 users who routinely download and upload files from and to the MPPHIA BBS. The users of this BBS are identified by a handle and a password. A handle is a pseudonym by which individuals are known to other users of the system. The password is not displayed to other users and is known only to the system operator and the authorized user.

The evidence shows that "Brujjo Digital" is the alias used by Sherman as the system operator of the MAPHIA BBS, and in communicating with others. For example, Sherman admitted that he was the system operator of the MAPHIA BBS, and the MAPHIA BBS indicates the Brujjo Digital is its operator.

III. Evidence collected from the seizure

This action was initiated after Sega allegedly received an anonymous tip that Sherman was a operating computer BBS which contained and distributed pirated and unauthorized versions of Sega's video game software. Sega collected evidence of these activities by having a Sega employee gain access to the MAPHIA BBS under a pseudonym, using information supplied by an authorized user who was an informant.

Pursuant to the ex parte Temporary Restraining Order and Seizure Order issued by Judge Fern M. Smith of this Court on December 9, 1993, a search of Sherman's premises was conducted. Pursuant to the Order, Sherman's computer and memory devices were seized, the memory was copied, and the computers and other seized hardware were returned to Sherman, with the Sega games deleted.

Data from the MAPHIA BBS indicates that it is linked to another BBS called PSYCHOSIS, whose system operator is called Caffeine. This data also indicates that Sherman and the MAPHIA BBS are part of or linked to a network of BBSs, called PARSAC (also spelled "PARSEC" by Sherman), for business purposes. A newsletter displayed on the MAPHIA BBS refers to MAPHIA as the "WorldHeadquarters" for a group called "PARSEC" of which PSYCHOSIS is the "USHQ." Sherman is the "acting world leader" of PARSAC. . . .

At the time it was seized, the MAPHIA BBS contained unauthorized copies of 12 Sega games developed by Sega, ten Sega-licensed games, and six Sega pre-release or "beta" version games, developed in-house by Sega. The copies of Sega's programs uploaded to and downloaded from the MAPHIA BBS are substantially similar to Sega's video game programs as stored in the cartridges sold by Sega. Prior to the seizure, each of the Sega-developed and beta version games on the MAPHIA BBS was available for downloading by MAPHIA users who access the board through their own computers by modem telephone connections. Sega had U.S. copyright registration in at least two of the games found on the MAPHIA BBS, namely Jurassic Park and Sonic Spinball.

Sega games are generally listed on the MAPHIA BBS in a file area entitled "<<< !MAPHIA! >>> SEGA CONSOLES <<<" The games are identified by a "file descriptor" which includes the title of the game, the manufacturer, and either the word "SEGA" or "Sega," the same word that is in the SEGA registered trademark. Additionally, the SEGA trademark appears on the screen whenever a Sega game which has been downloaded from the MAPHIA BBS is subsequently played. Sherman acknowledged that the SEGA trademark is displayed when the downloaded games are played.

The directory of video game programs available on MAPHIA also contains numerous references to video game programs containing "patches" or "fixes." These words refer to user to user-introduced changes to problems which may have been introduced in the copying process or which existed in beta version games.

Printouts of the data on Sherman's BBS seized pursuant to this Court's Order and on-line data captured from Sherman's BBS show that the uploading and downloading of unauthorized copies of Sega's copyrighted video games was known to Sherman. Sherman acknowledges that users of the MAPHIA bulletin board were allowed to upload and download Sega games with the authorized password. A screen printout of user uploading and downloading statistics from his MAPHIA BBS shows that Sherman tracked, or at least had the ability to track, user uploads and downloads. Additionally, another message authored by Brujjo Digital and located on Sherman's BBS states:

Please UPLOAD *ALL* the missing CONSOLE Files NOT HERE from the time I closed the !MAPHIA! Oct 17th until up to now!! Time to get some free credits for someone if you get them all in here and get me caught up.

Sherman also sold video game copiers, referred to as "Super Magic Drives" ("copiers"), through the MAPHIA BBS in collaboration with the PSYCHOSIS BBS, collectively known as PARSAC. Sherman's business plan as described by his alias "Brujjo Digital," states:

As you know we have PARSEC TRADING CO. as our business that sells everything from Copiers to Modems to Hard Drives to Calling Cards (off the record, hehe), and even Pentium Chips now. So, the next step is a MEDIA BLITZ! ... I'll have some Advertisements ready ...

Also, we are selling Super Wild Cards, Pro Fighter Q's and Super Magic Drives for AKIRA and that part of PARSEC will be dedicated for him but me and CAFFEINE will handle all the business side of that and paying him the money and dealing with the customers, etc.

According to a data file found on Howard Silberg's computer, Parsec Trading has the following policy:

As You know, if you read the policies of PARSEC TRADING, each customer receives free-downloads up to ten (10) megabytes. This is so you can use your back-up unit and enjoy it! After your ten megabytes has been used up, you can donate $35 per month for a month of free-downloads, $200 for a year of free-downloads, or $500 for unlimited free-downloads.

A copier is necessary to play games which have been downloaded from the BBSs. The Super Magic Drive copier consists of a connector which plugs into the video game console, a receptacle which accepts video game cartridges, a main unit which contains a random access memory (RAM) to store games, and a floppy disk drive. A MAPHIA BBS user can download video programs through his or her computer onto a floppy disk and make copies with his or her computer or play those game programs through the adaptor drive. To play a downloaded game, the user can choose the "run program" option and run the video game program from the floppy disk without a video game cartridge.

The adaptor drive also allows the user to copy the contents of a game cartridge onto a floppy disk. The user plugs the video game copier into the game console and places a video game cartridge into the receptacle of the video game copier. The user then turns on the adaptor drive. Through a menu screen, the user can select the "dump" option which will permit the user to copy the contents of the cartridge to a floppy disk.

Sega has attempted to obtain additional information from Sherman through deposition and discovery. Sherman was deposed on March 1, 1994, at which time he refused to answer substantive questions by invoking his Fifth Amendment privilege.

. . . .


Summary judgment is properly granted when no genuine and disputed issues of material fact remain, and when, viewing the evidence most favorably to the non-moving party, the movant is clearly entitled to prevail as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56.

The moving party bears the burden of showing that there is no material factual dispute. Therefore, the Court must regard as true the opposing party's evidence, if supported by affidavits or other evidentiary material. The Court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the party against whom summary judgment is sought.

Material facts which would preclude entry of summary judgment are those which, under applicable substantive law, may affect the outcome of the case. The substantive law will identify which facts are material. If the party moving for summary judgment meets its initial burden of identifying for the Court the portions of materials on file which it believes demonstrate the absence of any genuine issue of material fact, the nonmoving party may not rely on mere allegations in the pleadings in order to preclude summary judgment.


I. Copyright Infringement

Sega contends that Sherman is liable for copyright infringement under direct, contributory, and vicarious liability theories. Sherman admits that users of the MAPHIA BBS were allowed to upload and download Sega games with the authorized password, but maintains that this copying fits under the fair use defense because it was nothing more that the use of the games at people's homes, and that any copyright violation was de minimis.

A. Direct Infringement

To establish a prima facie case of direct copyright infringement, Sega must prove (1) ownership of a valid copyright in the infringed work, and (2) "copying" by the defendant.

A certificate of copyright registration establishes a presumption that the copyright is valid. 17 U.S.C. § 410(c). Sega has submitted several certificates of copyright registration for its video games, including certificates for Jurassic Park and Sonic Spinball. These certificates establish a presumption that Sega owns a valid copyright in those video game programs.

The Ninth Circuit has held that "copying," for the purposes of copyright law, occurs when a computer program is transferred from a permanent storage device to a computer's random access memory. Mai Systems Corp. v. Peak Computer, Inc., 991 F.2d 511, 529 (9th Cir. 1993). In this case, copies were made when the Sega game files were uploaded to or downloaded from Sherman's BBS. Thus, copying by someone is established.

This does not end the inquiry, however, because it does not establish whether Sherman, as the BBS operator, is directly liable for the copying. In Religious Technology Center v. Netcom On-line Communication Services, Inc., the court found that the Internet provider was not directly liable for copyright infringement of a copyrighted work posted and distributed through its system. Netcom, 907 F. Supp. 1361, 1368-70 (N.D. Cal. 1995). The Netcom court held that "[a]lthough copyright is a strict liability statute, there should be some element of volition or causation which is lacking where a defendant's system is merely used to create a copy by a third party." Id. at 1370. "Where the infringing subscriber is clearly directly liable for the same act, it does not make sense to adopt a rule that could lead to the liability of countless parties whose role in the infringement is nothing more that setting up and operating a system that is necessary for functioning of the Internet," even where the Internet provider has knowledge of potential copyright infringement by its subscribers. Id. at 1372-73.

While Sherman's actions in this case are more participatory than those of the defendants in Netcom, the Court finds Netcom persuasive. Sega has not shown that Sherman himself uploaded or downloaded the files, or directly caused such uploading or downloading to occur. The most Sega has shown is that Sherman operated his BBS, that he knew infringing activity was occurring, and that he solicited others to upload games. However, whether Sherman knew his BBS users were infringing on Sega's copyright, or encouraged them to do so, has no bearing on whether Sherman directly caused the copying to occur. Id. at 1372. Furthermore, Sherman's actions as a BBS operator and copier seller are more appropriately analyzed under contributory or vicarious liability theories. Therefore, because Sega has not shown that Sherman directly caused the copying, Sherman cannot be liable for direct infringement.

B. Contributory Infringement

Just because Sherman is not liable for direct infringement, however, does not mean that he is free from liability. Although the Copyright Act does not expressly impose liability on anyone other than direct infringers, courts have long recognized that in certain circumstances, liability for contributory infringement will be imposed. Fonovisa, Inc. v. Cherry Auction, Inc., 76 F.3d 259, 261 (9th Cir. 1996) (citing Sony v. Universal City, 464 U.S. 417, 435 (1984). Contributory copyright infringement stems from the notion that one who directly contributes to another's infringement should be held liable. Id. at 264. Such liability is established where the defendant, "with knowledge of the infringing activity, induces, causes or materially contributes to the infringing conduct of another." Id. (quoting Gershwin Publishing Corp. v. Columbia Artists Management, Inc., 443 F.2d 1159, 1162 (2nd Cir. 1971)); see also Religious Technology Ctr. v. Netcom On-Line Communication Serv., Inc., 907 F. Supp. 1361, 1372 (N.D. Cal. 1995) (quoting Gershwin, 443 F.2d at 1162).

To impose liability on Sherman for contributory infringement, Sega must first establish that the users of Sherman's MAPHIA BBS directly infringed Sega's copyright. Second, Sega must establish that (i) with knowledge of the users' infringing activity, (ii) Sherman induced, caused, or materially contributed to their infringing activity.

1. Direct infringement by MAPHIA BBS users

As discussed above, Sega has established that copies were made when unauthorized copies of Sega game files were downloaded from, or uploaded to, Sherman's BBS users. Therefore, Sega has established direct copyright infringement by Sherman's BBS users.

2. Sherman's knowledge of his users' activities

The standard for the knowledge requirement is objective, and is satisfied where the defendant knows or has reason to know of the infringing activity. Here, it is undisputed that Sherman had knowledge that his users were copying the games. Sherman admits that users were allowed to upload and download Sega games from his MAPHIA BBS. Moreover, evidence of a screen printout of user uploading and downloading statistics from the MAPHIA BBS shows that Sherman tracked, or at least had the ability to track, user uploads and downloads. Thus, Sega has established that Sherman knew of the infringing conduct by MAPHIA BBS users.

3. Sherman's participation in his users' activities

The Ninth Circuit has recently stated that "providing the site and facilities for known infringing activity is sufficient to establish contributory liability," at least in a swap meet context. Fonovisa, 76 F.2d at 264. In this case, Sherman provided the BBS as a central depository site for the unauthorized copies of games, and allowed subsequent distribution of the games by user downloads. He provided the facilities for copying the games by providing, monitoring, and operating the BBS software, hardware, and phone lines necessary for the users to upload and download games.

However, even under an alternative and higher standard of "substantial participation," Sherman is liable. Under this standard, Sherman is only liable if he knew of the users' infringing actions, and yet substantially participated by inducing, causing or materially contributing to the users' infringing conduct. Netcom, 907 F.Supp. at 1382. In this case, Sherman did more than provide the site and facilities for the known infringing conduct. He actively solicited users to upload unauthorized games, and provided a road map on his BBS for easy identification of Sega games available for downloading. Additionally, through the same MAPHIA BBS medium, he offered copiers for sale to facilitate playing the downloaded games. Another court has found that the sale of such copying devices constitutes contributory infringement. Nintendo of America, Inc. v. Computer and Entertainment, Inc., 1996 WL 511619, *4 (W.D. Wash. 1996). Moreover, Sherman's business, Parsec Trading, had a policy of providing limited free downloading of games and thereafter selling downloading privileges to customers who had purchased copiers. Thus, Sherman's role in the copying, including providing facilities, direction, knowledge, encouragement, and seeking profit, amounts to a prima facie case of contributory copyright infringement.

Because the Court finds that Sega has established a prima facie case of contributory copyright infringement liability, it need not address whether Sherman is also liable under the theory of vicarious liability.

C. Fair Use Defense

Sherman argues that the copying done by the MAPHIA BBS users was fair because there is no evidence that the users went beyond simply playing the games in their own homes, nor any evidence that the users further distributed the games.

Under the fair use defense, there is no infringement, even where a person violates one of the copyright holder's exclusive rights, if that person's use is a fair one. 17 U.S.C. § 107. In determining whether a use is fair, the following four, non-exclusive factors are considered: the purpose and character of the use; the nature of the copyrighted work; the amount and substantiality of the copyrighted work used; and the effect of the use upon the potential market for the copyrighted work. Title 17 U.S.C. § 107. Because fair use is an affirmative defense, Sherman carries the burden of demonstrating it.

In considering this defense, the Court will consider whether Sherman has shown that either his actions or the users' actions constitute fair use. If the users' actions constitute fair use, they will not be considered direct infringers. Then, Sherman cannot be contributorily liable because contributory infringement requires direct infringement by someone. If the users' actions do not constitute fair use, Sherman may still avoid liability if his contributing actions qualify as fair use.

1. Purpose and character of use

With respect to Sherman's activities, the evidence shows that Sherman encouraged uploading and downloading of Sega's games in order to induce sales of copiers. Such a use is clearly commercial. Sherman intended to profit directly from the content of the information made available on his BBS because his copier customers could use the game files to play the games rather than purchase Sega game cartridges. This distinguishes Sherman from the Internet provider in Netcom who did not gain anything from the content of the information available to subscribers. Id. at 1379 (fact that the Internet provider did not directly gain anything from the content of the information available to its subscribers on the Internet helps weigh this factor in its favor despite commercial character of Internet provider's use). This factor weighs against a finding of fair use with respect to Sherman's activities.

The BBS users were encouraged to download games from the BBS in order to avoid having to buy video game cartridges from Sega. Such a purpose weighs against the fair use defense. . . .

. . . .

2. Nature of the copyrighted work

This factor provides that the closer the copyrighted work is to the core of intended copyright protection, the more difficult it is to establish the fair use defense. In assessing this factor, one consideration is whether the copyrighted work is informational or creative. Because the Sega video games are for entertainment uses and involve fiction and fantasy, which are more creative than informational, consideration of the nature of the copyrighted work weighs against a finding of fair use.

3. Extent of the work copied

The third factor concerns both the percentage of the original work that was copied, and whether what was copied constitutes the "heart" of the copyrighted work. Although not a per se rule, the copying of an entire work will ordinarily militate against a finding of fair use.

Here, Sega has shown that the BBS users copied virtually entire copyrighted works by way of their uploads and downloads of Sega games, and that Sherman made these games available through his BBS. While this does not per se preclude a finding of fair use, Sherman has not shown any public benefit nor explanation for the complete copying. Therefore, this factor weighs against a finding of fair use.

4. Effect of the use upon the market

The fourth and final statutory factor concerns whether unrestricted and widespread conduct of the sort engaged in by the defendant would result in a substantially adverse impact on the potential market for the copyrighted work. While all factors must be weighed together, the fourth factor is the most important consideration.

By utilizing the MAPHIA BBS, users are able to download and distribute one or more copies of Sega video game programs from a single copy of a Sega video game program on the MAPHIA BBS, and thereby obtain unauthorized copies of Sega's copyrighted video game programs.

This unauthorized copying of Sega video game programs works to decrease Sega's sales of video game cartridges. The Super Magic Drives could be used for copying Sega's video game programs onto disks. Sherman admits users were allowed to upload and download Sega games through the MAPHIA BBS onto magnetic media like floppy disks, and that users who had Sega games on disks could play them directly using the copiers. The copiers sold and advertised by Sherman through his business Parsec Trading came with downloading privileges to the purchaser, giving the purchaser the ability to copy Sega copyrighted video game programs from the MAPHIA BBS. Copier purchasers were thus able to duplicate and play the games without purchase of Sega game cartridges. The copiers in conjunction with the MAPHIA BBS supplanted the need to purchase the genuine Sega video games.

While Sherman contends that the copiers have other non-infringing uses, the Court is unpersuaded by this argument. It is unlikely that customers would pay $350 to back up the Sega game cartridges, which are not susceptible to breakdown and which sell for between $30 and $70. The Court finds that the only substantial use of the copiers is to avoid having to buy video game cartridges from Sega by copying the video game program and playing such unauthorized, copied games.

Sherman also argues that, because there are only a limited number of BBS users that have copiers, and these users would likely play the games only in their own homes, their use should be considered de minimis. He contends that because there is no evidence that these users are further distributing the games, these users' actions cannot be considered to have a tendency to dilute Sega's sales.

The Court finds this argument unpersuasive. Even if the users are only playing the games in their own homes and even if there are currently only a limited number of users that have copiers, unrestricted and widespread conduct of this sort would result in a substantial adverse impact on the market for the Sega games. By downloading the games from the BBS, users avoid paying for the games. Sherman's conduct in providing the BBS for uploading and downloading games, and offering for sale the copiers on which to play these unauthorized games, facilitated the users' conduct. This conduct, if widespread, would adversely impact the market for Sega games.

5. Analysis

All of the factors discussed above weigh against the application of the fair use defense. Because the fair use defense does not apply, and Sega has met its burden to show contributory copyright infringement by Sherman, the Court GRANTS Sega's motion with respect to its copyright claim.

D. Willfulness

Sega contends that Sherman's actions show that he willfully infringed upon their copyrights, which would entitle it to greater damages under 17 U.S.C. §504(c)(2).

Infringement is willful if the responsible party acts with knowledge that he or she is infringing a copyright. Willfulness may also be found where the defendant's infringing actions are undertaken with reckless disregard for the copyright holder's rights. Such knowledge may be inferred from the defendant's conduct. Generally, a determination as to willfulness requires an assessment of a party's state of mind, a factual issue that is not usually suspectible to summary judgment.

Here, however, the evidence shows that Sherman willfully infringed upon Sega's copyright. . . .

. . . .

[Ed.: Discussion of state and federal trademark and unfair competition claims deleted.]


A. Injunctive Relief

Sega is entitled to injunctive relief under copyright . . . law.

. . . .

B. Monetary Damages For Copyright Infringement

1. Statutory damages

The Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. §504, provides that the copyright holder may elect either actual damages or statutory damages as a remedy for copyright infringement. Sega has elected to seek a statutory damage award under 17 U.S.C. §504(c)(2).

The Copyright Act providers that where the infringement was committed "willfully," as is the case here, the court in its discretion may award statutory damages in a sum of not more than $100,000 for the infringement of each particular work. 17 U.S.C. §504(c)(2). The court has wide discretion in determining the amount of statutory damages to be awarded.

. . . [T]he Court finds that a statutory award of $5000 per infringed work is appropriate. Here, Sega has established that at least two of its copyrighted video games were infringed, namely Jurassic Park, and Sonic Spinball. Therefore, the Court awards statutory damages in the amount of $10,000.

2. Attorneys' fees and costs

Under 17 U.S.C. §505, the Court may in its discretion award the prevailing party reasonable attorneys' fees and costs. In determining whether to grant attorneys' fees, the Court may consider the degree of success obtained by the prevailing party; frivolousness; motivation; objective unreasonableness in both the factual and legal arguments of the case; the need in the particular circumstances to advance considerations of compensation and deterrence; and promotion of the Copyright Act's objectives. Exceptional circumstances are not a prerequisite to such an award. Additionally, while willful infringement is an important factor favoring an award of fees, it does not, in itself, compel an award.

In this case, the factors weigh in favor of granting costs and attorneys' fees. . . .

. . . .

The Court GRANTS Sega's request for an award of attorneys' fees with respect to its copyright infringement claim. . . .

. . . .

[Ed.: Discussion of monetary recovery for state and federal trademark and unfair competition claims deleted.]


For the reasons previously stated, the Court GRANTS Sega's motion for summary adjudication of liability on all of its claims. The Court also GRANTS Sega's request for a permanent injunction prohibiting further copying of Sega games by way of a BBS run by Sherman.



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