A Legal Blog by Aaron | Sanders, PLLC


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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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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