A Legal Blog by Aaron | Sanders, PLLC


Is it Fair Use? Photography and Creative Commons Edition

Rick is an experienced Nashville intellectual-property litigator and an erstwhile part-time professor at Vanderbilt University Law School whose writing and teaching focuses on copyright issues but whose law practice involves a wide variety of IP-related disputes.

Does Distributing a Work Under Creative Commons Mean That Your Work Has No Economic Value?

A professional photographer finds a political website has used his photographs of celebrities in concert to show that the celebrities agree with the website’s viewpoint. He licensed the photographs under Creative Commons, but the website violated the terms. Can the website escape under fair use?

The plaintiff is a photographer. He took this photograph of Kenny Chesney performing in concert:

And this photograph of Kid Rock performing in concert:

Although the plaintiff is a professional (which is evident from the quality of the photography), he decided to upload these photographs to Wikimedia under the Creative Commons attribution license (the “CCL”). Anyone may use the photographs for any purpose, without payment of any kind, so long as the photographer gets credit for it. The photographer says he uses CCL for marketing purposes and is, thus, valuable to him.

The defendant is non-profit that promotes a certain religious-political belief. I’m not going to tell you what it is because it’s irrelevant. The non-profit wanted to tell the world, through its website, that Kenny Chesney and Kid Rock also share this belief. To make the webpage look better (or perhaps more…

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If Goliath Goes After David in a Copyright Case, Does it Matter that David Is a Cheater?

Rick is an experienced Nashville intellectual-property litigator and an erstwhile part-time professor at Vanderbilt University Law School whose writing and teaching focuses on copyright issues but whose law practice involves a wide variety of IP-related disputes.

How Far Should a Publisher Go to Stop Cheating in a Massively Multiplayer Game?

How I wish I had time to play computer games. Heck, how I wish my children had time to play them (other than Minecraft, of course, which remains very popular with my younger child), because then I could play computer games with them. The other day, I wondered out loud to my elder child whether she’d like a Nintendo “Switch,” and she sort of shrugged. Between homework, orchestras, role-playing games, horror films, bad movies and death metal, who had time for computer games, Dad? I was a little crushed, but I take her point.

But, hey, there’s always the law of computer games. And, hey, this case involves the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), one of my favorite laws. And, hey, this case also involves a David slinging back at Goliath, which looks like about 90% of my practice.

But first, some sympathy for Goliath. The computer game in question is Fortnite by Epic Games (that’s your plaintiff). It’s a massive, multiplayer shoot-em-up. Imagine dozens of players dropped in a terrain, each trying to pick each other off with interesting guns, explosives, etc., with the last one standing…

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

Rick is an experienced Nashville intellectual-property litigator and an erstwhile part-time professor at Vanderbilt University Law School whose writing and teaching focuses on copyright issues but whose law practice involves a wide variety of IP-related disputes.

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

Rick is an experienced Nashville intellectual-property litigator and an erstwhile part-time professor at Vanderbilt University Law School whose writing and teaching focuses on copyright issues but whose law practice involves a wide variety of IP-related disputes.

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

Rick is an experienced Nashville intellectual-property litigator and an erstwhile part-time professor at Vanderbilt University Law School whose writing and teaching focuses on copyright issues but whose law practice involves a wide variety of IP-related disputes.

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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