Translations of Product Labels Written in Russian Used in Copyright Infringement Case
The need for legal translation from Russian, Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, Korean, Japanese to English often arises in litigation disputes stemming from international business endeavors and transactions. In Abro Industries, Inc. v. 1 New Trade, Inc., the court was presented with motions for summary judgment filed by the parties stemming from a complaint for copyright infringement. As discussed below, Russian to English translators translated the text on the products in dispute, and these certified translations were submitted to the court in conjunction with the motions for summary judgment.
In Abro, the plaintiff was a manufacturer of automotive parts and supplies, including consumer hardware goods. One of the plaintiff’s products included a carburetor and choke cleaner called “Carb & Choke Cleaner.” In 1994, the plaintiff began a business relationship with defendant Zorin, which began as a buyer-seller relationship. The following year, the plaintiff and defendant Zorin entered into various agreements by which the defendant agreed to promote the plaintiff’s products in Russia.
In 1996, defendant Babenchik began a relationship with plaintiff and began selling and distributing the plaintiff’s products. That same year, the parties set sales goals, and agreed that defendant Babenchik, along with defendant Zorin, were responsible for developing new products and seeking new distributors in Russia.
In 2013, defendant Zorin and Babenchik incorporated their own company for the purpose of importing and selling products in Russia.
In 2014, the plaintiff filed suit in federal court alleging claims for copyright infringement related to the plaintiff’s carburetor and choke cleaner packaging. The plaintiff claimed that the defendants had created their own company as an attempt to compete directly with the plaintiff by selling their own version of a “Carb and Choke Cleaner.” The plaintiff alleged that the defendants wrongfully promoted their own “Carb & Choke Cleaner” which, the plaintiff claimed, looked identical to the plaintiff’s product. In response, the defendants filed a number of counterclaims against plaintiff including breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract, and tortious interference with existing business relationships. The defendants argued that they initially formed their company to sell other items that the plaintiff did not sell (such as wallpaper and adhesives for hardwood floors), and that they only decided to compete with the plaintiff after the plaintiff breached its agreements with defendants.
In considering the parties’ respective motions for summary judgment, the court first analyzed whether any of the elements of the plaintiff’s label on its “Carb and Choke Cleaner” were copyrightable. The court found that the image displayed on the plaintiff’s label for its Carb & Coke Cleaner was copyrightable because The Copyright Act covers the protection of pictures and graphic works. The court noted that, according to 17 U.S.C. § 102(a)(5), “[f]ederal courts have historically applied a generous standard of originality in evaluating photographic works for copyright protection.” However, the court found that the plaintiff’s product name “Carb & Choke Cleaner” was not copyrightable on the grounds that The Copyright Act specifically excludes short phrases. According to 17 U.S.C. § 102(b), “Copyright does not protect…words and short phrases such as names, titles, and slogans…”.
Russian to English Certified Translation of Text on the Products
In addition to the images on the products, both the plaintiff and defendants submitted to the court English translations of the Russian text on the products. The court held that although there were some discrepancies between the translations, that it was evident that there were differences between the warning labels. The court also held that although both labels used the colors red, white, and blue in their labels, that this was hardly an uncommon color scheme. Moreover, the court found significant differences in the manner in which the carburetors were portrayed by each company.
In addition, the court noted that the Copyright Office had refused to issue a registration to plaintiff for its label on the grounds that its request for a copyright amounted to a claim in layout or format, which cannot be protected by copyright. Accordingly, based on a number of factors, the court held that the defendants were entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the plaintiff’s copyright infringement claims as the court could not find enough similarity between the two labels. In essence, the court found that the plaintiff’s label as a whole was not copyrightable. As such, the court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment as to the plaintiff’s claim for copyright infringement.
The court also denied the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment as to the defendants’ counter-claims for breach of fiduciary duty and breach of contract and granted and denied several other motions involving other parties. The plaintiff had claimed that there was no evidence that the parties behaved as partners and denied that it ever intended to enter into a partnership with either defendant Zorin or Babenchik in support of the plaintiff’s motion to dismiss the defendants’ counter-claims.
However, the court noted that the parties referred to themselves as “partners” and developed marketing plans for Russia together. In addition, the court found that even though the plaintiff claimed that it had no knowledge of the defendants’ China-based suppliers the defendants used for their company, there was evidence that the plaintiff asked the suppliers not to do business with the defendants. The court did grant the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment as to defendant Babenchik’s tortious interference claim because it held that there was no evidence that defendant Babenchik had any business relationships with which the plaintiff interfered.
The case is Abro Industries, Inc. v. 1 New Trade, Inc., Case No. 3:14-CV-1984-LK, decided on October 30, 2017 in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana.
This legal translation blog article should not be construed as legal advice. You should always consult an attorney regarding your specific legal needs.