883 F.2d 275 (4th Cir. 1989).
Some of you may remember twin martial artists Billy Lee or Jimmy (who also went by Hammer and Spike). For those not familiar with the duo, they can be found in the 1987 beat ‘em up game “Double Dragon.” Hammer and Spike were the subject of this 1989 lawsuit. Taito is a Japanese corporation that sells video games and electronic printed circuit boards used in coin-operated video game units. Taito is the owner of United States Copyright Registration No. PA-327-710, issued June 26, 1987, for the video game audiovisual work Double Dragon.
Red Baron operated arcades where it allowed the public to play games. Red Baron, without license from Taito or Taito America, purchased circuits of Double Dragon from Japan and fitted them into their already existing game units, making the game playable to the customers. Taito took offense, arguing that they had intended the Double Dragon game to be sold in the United States as a complete video game unit, not just its circuit board. Taito claimed that each of the boards displayed the following restrictive note: “This game is for use in Japan only. Sales, exports, or operation outside this territory may violate international copyright and trademark law and the violator subject to severe penalties.”
The question in the case was whether Red Baron infringed Taito’s copyright in “Double Dragon,” when Red Baron imported the game from Japan and installed it in its video arcades for public enjoyment. The district court ruled that Red Baron did not infringe upon Taito’s copyright. This, of course, led to an appeal to the Fourth Circuit . . .
On appeal, Taito argued that it had a separate and distinct right to “perform” Double Dragon, and that it had not conferred this right on Red Baron. As a result, Red Baron infringed Taito’s copyright by its activities in making use of the circuit boards available to the public for a fee.
The court had to determine the following: 1. whether Red Baron’s use of Double Dragon constituted a public performance within the meaning of § 106 (4) and if so to consider 2. whether the first sale doctrine has any application to the performance right as distinguished from actual ownership of the copyrighted work.
A Public Performance
To “perform” a work and to perform it “publicly” are defined by the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 101 et seq.
“Perform” is defined as: “to recite, render, play, dance, or act [a work], either directly or by means of any device or process or, in the case of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, to show its images in any sequence or to make the sounds accompanying it audible.”
“Public” performance is defined as: “To perform . . . a work ‘publicly’ means- (1) to perform . . . it at a place open to the public . . . .”
The court concluded that Red Baron publicly performed Double Dragon because once a coin was inserted into the machine the television monitor displayed a series of images while the speakers made audible accompanying sounds. Also, because Red Baron’s video arcade was open to public and it was Red Baron’s aim to attract members of the public to its establishment, Red Baron’s arcade was considered a public place.
B. The First Sale Doctrine and the Performance Right
The second issue the court ruled on was Red Baron’s assertion that by selling the circuit boards, Taito intended to transfer the performance right. The court concluded that the first sale doctrine did not apply to the performance right and that Taito America possessed and retained a valid copyright in the public performance of Double Dragon in the United States. They also concluded that since Taito had not granted a performance license to Red Baron, the latter was guilty of copyright infringement.
In this early gray-market goods case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed the judgment of the district court and remanded the case for further proceedings.