Enforceability of Foreign Law More Complex Than Mere Translation

Yves Sicre de Fontbrune owns the copyright in the Zervos Catalog, considered a complete photographic catalog of Pablo Picasso’s artworks and containing more than 16,000 photographs. De Fontbrune successfully sued American art editor Alan Wofsy in France for copyright infringement for reproducing some of the images in two volumes on Picasso. Wofsy continued to use the copyrighted photographs, despite being ordered by the Paris Court of Appeal to stop. De Fontbrune later sued Wofsy to enforce the Paris Court of Appeal astreinte in California under the California Uniform Foreign-Court Monetary Judgment Recognition Act.  After the district court granted Wofsy’s Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, de Fontbrune appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Ninth Circuit framed the issues:

The enforceability of the French award turns on whether, in this case, the astreinte functions as a fine or penalty—which the Uniform Recognition Act does not recognize—or as a grant of monetary recovery—which is statutorily cognizable. The answer to this question is not a simple matter of translation, but, as we explain, requires a broader look at French law to understand the nature of the astreinte remedy in this case, in conjunction with an analysis of California law regarding the enforcement of foreign judgments.

(Opinion pdf page 5).

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