A Legal Blog by Aaron | Sanders, PLLC


New DMCA Registration Regime Starts Today. Don’t Delay!

New DMCA Registration Regime Starts Today. Don’t Delay!

Today is the first day to take advantage of the U.S. Copyright Office’s new electronic registration system for DMCA agents Gone are the days of printing out a form, physically signing it, and physically mailing it in, usually accompanied by a fairly large check (over $100). Now, you just create an account (which means picking a user name and password, alas), fill out a fairly simple form, pay a very small fee—currently, $6.00—by credit card, and you’re done. The whole thing can be accessed here.

I just did it for my firm, and it wasn’t that hard. There are only a couple of tricky things. First, you (i.e., your organization or who you’re representing) is the “service provider,” not, for example, your internet service provider. In this context, “service provider” means anyone providing any type of service over the internet, not just traditional last-mile ISPs. Second, you’ll want to include, as “additional names,” any name by which you or your organization might be known. At present, there’s no additional fee for additional names, so there’s no reason to skimp.

Even if You’ve Registered, You Need to Re-register.

Now for the important bit. Today might be the…

Usually, DMCA takedown notifications don't have such nice handwriting.

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Is it Fair Use? Who’s on First (Copyright Fair Use Factor)?

Abbott and Costello Meet the Copyright Lawyer (1 1/2 Stars)

It’s time for another round of “Is it Fair Use?”, the fast-paced, heart-racing game that’s sweeping the nation. This episode of “Is it Fair Use?” features one of the classic skits of American Comedy: “Who’s on First?”

Pure gold. Most of us have this routine more or less memorized, and yet, even knowing all the jokes, the routine is never fails to make us laugh.

Along Came a Demonic Hand Puppet

Much more recently, a Broadway play, called Hand to God, about—if I’m understanding this correctly—a possibly possessed hand puppet, used about the first minute’s worth of routine. The play is about “an introverted student in religious small-town Texas who finds a creative outlet and a means of communication through a hand puppet, which turns into his evil or devilish persona.” It’s meant to be a “dark comedy.”

Early in the play, we get a sense of what we’re in for when the boy with the puppet tries to impress a girl by reenacting the “Who’s on First?” routine, between himself and the hand puppet. (The puppet naturally plays the Costello role.) After about a minute of the routine, pretty much verbatim, the girl…

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The Aftermarket Holy Grail: Using Software Copyrights to Control Replacement Parts

Intellectual Property and Personal Property: Two Great Tastes That Might Not Taste Great Together

When everything runs on software, then everything will be subject to copyright protection, and you might not like the consequences. Let’s take cars, for example. In the old days, if your car needed a new distributor cap, you’d go down the neighborhood auto supply shop, and you would have several different manufacturers competing for your money, which keeps the price for replacement parts low. One of the manufacturers might be “authorized” by the car manufacturer and appropriately branded. And that one might command a somewhat higher price because of that association and the sense that it will somehow work better with your car. That premium is the result of branding—and trademark law—and years of hard work building up the brand.

The Right to Distribute Distributors

Slap a little computer module on the distributor cap, and the car manufacturer has a lot more control over who can manufacture replacement distributor caps. That’s because the computer module requires software, and software is made up of characters, and that makes it a literary work that is subject to copyright protection. It doesn’t matter if the only characters involved are 0 and…

Plug and play! (But where does the software come from?)

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Pitching Buck Rogers: Trademarks and Future Use

Of course, Buck Rogers would be the one to teach us about trademark rights that exist only in the future.

 

In a case that spans almost as much time as Buck’s leap across the centuries, the heirs of Philip Francis Nowlan (the character’s creator) and the Dille Family Trust, purported successor-in-interest to John F. Dille, whose National Newspaper Service had distributed Buck to the masses beginning in 1924,  were most recently in court in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.1

Anyone who has dealt with legacy properties and heirs will recognize the facts of this dispute. They involve a poorly written release from 1942 in which Mr. Nowlan’s widow transferred all Buck Rogers copyrights to “John F. Dille Company” and all trademarks to “John F. Dille,” for a paltry sum. Nearly 70 years later, around the time other folks were starting to make katrillions of dollars on comic character movie franchises, the successors from both sides took notice, ran a race to the USPTO, and started canceling and opposing and applying like crazy, in an attempt to secure rights to get in on the summer blockbuster money making action.2

During the time that all the shots were being volleyed…

The comic book copyrights were not renewed , although the copyright status of the Buck Rogers is currently (and unsurprisingly) in dispute as well.

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On behalf of the INTA® Academic Committee: Call for Papers

As the co-chair of the Trademark Scholarship Symposium run by the INTA® Academic Committee, I am pleased to share the following opportunity to present at the upcoming INTA Annual Meeting in Barcelona.  Please feel free to share this information with your colleagues in trademark, publicity, unfair competition and design law:

Call For Papers: Eighth Annual INTA Trademark Scholarship Symposium
The International Trademark Association (“INTA”) is pleased to host the Eighth Annual Trademark Scholarship Symposium during the 139th INTA Annual Meeting in Barcelona, Spain. The annual meeting is scheduled to take place May 20-24, 2017, and the Symposium itself will be held on Tuesday, May 23. The symposium is an opportunity for trademark academics and scholarship-minded practitioners from around the world to participate in small group discussions of scholarly works-in-progress.

Each selected participant will present their project in a workshop setting, receive comments, and engage in a dialogue with other academic scholars and accomplished trademark practitioners.

Please send an abstract (approximately 300 words) describing a current trademark, unfair competition, or right of publicity scholarship project to Peter Karol at pkarol@nesl.edu and Tara Aaron at tara@aaronsanderslaw.com by October 31, 2016. The subcommittee will then select a maximum of 8 projects to be presented at the…

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What Two Hamburger Commercials Tell Us About Early Dismissal of Copyright Cases

Sealing in the Juices While Sealing Out the Lawsuits

It’s sadly true that many copyright cases are garbage, and obviously so, even at a glance. In many circuits, fortunately, trial courts are permitted to subject copyright claims to a kind of smell test. Before the case even really gets going, the defendant may move to dismiss the case under “Rule 12(b)(6).” With this kind of a motion, the court assumes everything in the complaint is true, and limits itself to just what is in the complaint. This rule is a kind of filter, where hopeless lawsuits can be thrown out before the parties really start spending money.

Most Rule 12(b)(6) motions fail because most lawyers can write a complaint well enough to avoid dismissal. You just have to make sure you allege facts that, if true, would have a decent chance of convincing a jury of your client’s claim. That one of your key allegations might rest on some shaky evidence is a problem for another time, so long as you have a good-faith basis that you’ll be able to prove the point.

Tests for “Substantial Similarity” Are Themselves Not Substantially Similar. How Ironic.

But in many circuits copyright claims are a bit…

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Does Actual Knowledge Kill or Merely Suppress the Sony-Betamax Rule?

Court: Actual Knowledge Kills Sony-Betamax Dead, and That Might Make a Difference

Hey, I sort of called it. In my last blog post, I embarked on a journey of self-discovery in which I learned that ISPs were not effectively immune to claims for constructive copyright infringement. In this journey, I had to come to terms with the real possibility that the Sony-Betamax rule—that a product cannot create contributory copyright liability if it has substantial non-infringing uses—applies only where the claim is based on “constructive” knowledge (i.e., you should have known, as opposed to, you knew). This explained something that had puzzled me: why was Cox Communications even liable for the claims of contributory copyright infringement brought by Rightscorp? After all, internet service has a tremendous number of non-infringing uses. The answer (in my analysis) was: because Cox had actual knowledge of its customers’ infringement, for the same reason its repeat-infringer policy was such a hilarious shambles.

Actual Knowledge + Current Continuing Relationship

Earlier this week, the court in the Cox Communications case ruled on some post-judgment motions and followed very much the same reasoning in denying Cox’s motion challenging the jury verdict. Regarding the application of the Sony-Betamax rule, the court this…

A Sony Betamax video tape recorder. Weighed about 36 pounds. Copyright owners tried to stop it & lost (barely). Ended up giving copyrighted properties a second life as home video. Ironic, dontchya think? Groundbreaking. Lost out to JVC's VCR. Then VCRs stopped being a thing. Time marches on.

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Polyvoracious: The Sony-Betamax Rule Lives!

So Why Didn’t it Apply to Cox Communications?

One thing that had been gnawing at me about Rightscorp’s victory over Cox Communications: why didn’t the Sony-Betamax rule apply to Cox Communications’ plain-vanilla ISP service? The answer, I realize now, is obvious, but only after you’ve stepped back for a moment. A recent decision where the rule did apply helps to explain why Cox Communications wasn’t eligible, although plain-vanilla services are generally going to be covered by Sony-Betamax. It’s the same reason why Cox Communications managed to lose its DMCA safe-harbor protection: its colossally horrible implementation of repeat-infringer policies.

The Common Sony-Betamax’s Natural Habitat

As typically explained, the Sony-Betamax rule is that providers of a service are not liable for contributory copyright liability merely for providing the service, if the service has “substantial non-infringing uses.”

In BWP Media USA v. Polyvore, the owner of copyrights in photographs sued Polyvore, the operator of a website that “allows users to create free online accounts to upload, create and share photographs and other images.” But that’s not all Polyvore does. Polyvore also “offers a online tool called the ‘Clipper’ that allows users to ‘clip’ images from other webpages and collect these images on Polyvore’s platform.” The use of…

Stand back a bit, and you begin to see the problem. Photo by Bit Boy, of a 2006 installation by Banksy titled "Barely Legal," licensed under Creative Commons 2.0 License. (This is meant to be a statement about global poverty. I guess the joke is that it's not that obvious. Also, that's a real elephant.

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Is it Time to Furl the DMCA Red Flag?

Did the Second Circuit Just Kill “Red Flag” Knowledge?

Oh, DMCA caselaw, I can never quit you. Even though you really don’t affect my practice much, you’ve become my hobby, such that I can’t resist commenting on every appellate-level decision involving you.

The Basics of “Red Flag” Knowledge

The basics of the DMCA safe harbor are that, if you are an “internet service provider,” you are immune to claims of (civil) copyright infringement under four different circumstances—there are thus four different flavors of DMCA safe harbor—if you meet qualifications specific to the flavor you seeking protection under, and you have and reasonably implement a repeat-infringer policy. The most popular flavor is that the content you are accused of infringing was placed on your computer system at the “direction” of one of your users. This flavor is known as § 512(c). This covers a wide range of common internet services, from comments, to videos uploaded to YouTube or Vimeo, or even stuff stored in the “Cloud.” Although Congress had in mind the first and last of these scenarios, it’s been user-uploaded content to public sites, like YouTube, where the action has been.

To qualify for protection under § 512(c), you need to prove three…

In Soviet Union, you don't see red flags—red flags see YOU! And deprive you of your safe harbors!

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Google v Oracle (Part 3): Why Copyright Is a Bad Fit for Software

NOTE: This is the third (and final) in a series. Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here. See Part 1 for my sources for information about the trial.

But it’s All We’ve Got

After two trials, one appellate reversal, another appeal on the way, millions on millions of dollars in attorney’s fees, thousands on thousands of attorney hours, thousands on thousands of pages of testimony, and we are no closer to understanding whether, and when, APIs are copyrightable? Wasn’t that the whole point?

Precedent, Bright Lines & Justice

Lawsuits are often disappointing to interested observers, even when their “side” wins. Lawsuits resolve disputes between parties. They only incidentally—and haphazardly—make law. Courts make law through precedent, which means a lower court cannot diverge from a “holding” of the court. By definition, trial courts, like the one that just heard Oracle v. Google fair use trial, cannot make law, since there are no courts below it. Still, decisions rendered by trial courts can still be powerful “persuasive” authority. Another trial court, faced with a lack of precedent, can read how other trial courts handled the question and say, “That looks like the right way to handle it.” They can also say, “No, that’s…

Coding as art? (From Oracle's slides used in its closing arguments.)

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