Judge Rules Apple Must Face ‘Austin Powers’ Copyright Suit

A Manhattan federal judge has refused to release Apple Inc. from a copyright suit filed by a German man who says he’s the owner of the film “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.”

Austin Powers carPhoto Credit: Shutterstock

U.S. District Judge Gregory H. Woods ruled that Ralf Hartmann had sufficiently pled that he legally owned the rights to the blockbuster 1997 spoof comedy — and that Apple had infringed those rights by selling the movie on its iTunes platform.

“The popular film ‘Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery’ lies at the center of this case,” the judge wrote. “Hartmann sufficiently alleges that he owns registered copyrights in the films and that Apple infringed those copyrights.”

Hartmann claims ownership to the movie through a so-called chain of title, which saw the rights transferred from New Line Cinema, the film’s original distributor, to a pair of other companies and then eventually to him.

In addition to Apple, he’s also sued Amazon and Google for infringing rights related to the film, each of those cases remain pending.

Hartmann’s suit against Apple also involves another movie — a 1999 Japanese film called “After The Rain” — that he claims to own through a similar sequence of transfers.

Apple made various arguments challenging the validity of those transfer agreements, but Judge Woods ruled Monday that Hartmann had cleared the low hurdle to avoid an early-stage dismissal.

“Drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of Hartmann, as the court must do at the motion to dismiss stage, Hartmann has plausibly pleaded ownership of the copyrights as a result of the 2001 written assignment agreements,” the judge wrote.

Judge Woods did dismiss one of Hartmann’s claims: That Apple was liable for secondary copyright infringement based on initial infringement committed by iTunes buyers. He called the allegations “too conclusory” and that Hartmann had not shown Apple had motivation to know its users were doing anything wrong.

Judge Woods did say Hartmann would be allowed to replead those claims. An amended complaint is due for consideration within the next two weeks.

Last month, a different Manhattan federal judge issued a similar ruling to the one handed down Monday by Judge Woods, refusing to dismiss infringement accusations against Amazon.

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