A Legal Blog by Aaron | Sanders, PLLC


Who Owns the Goldmine? Bob Marley’s Missing Copyright

The Mysteries of Copyright Ownership

If there were a goldmine in your town—one that produced a worthwhile amount of gold every year and wouldn’t run out for many, many years—you’d probably expect any dispute about who owns it to have long since been resolved. It’s true that the folks who sell you real estate might not actually own it, which is why you buy “title insurance,” but real estate transactions are pretty well-recorded, so such awful surprises are pretty rare, which is why anyone would dare to offer “title insurance.” At a minimum, you wouldn’t expect two different people to be mining the gold without, you know, their coming to blows.

But this sort of thing happens with copyrights and royalty streams with surprising frequency. It can be very difficult to tell who owns a copyright. Copyrights can be sold just like real or personal property can, but you don’t need to record the sale anywhere.* True, transfers of copyright have to be in writing, but many industries that deal with copyright—I’m looking right at you, music industry—suck at keeping records.

Jamaica, where, apparently, they didn’t do paperwork in the 1960’s.

Copyright ownership vests initially in the author, or…

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Descent into Madness: Publicity Rights and Free Speech

Did the Ninth Circuit Contradict Itself?

A few days ago, we got two opinions handed down by the same court, written by the same judge, on essentially the same subject, involving the same defendant that reach seemingly contradictory results. On July 31, the Ninth Circuit handed down two decisions about the use of likenesses in video games: Brown v. Electronic Arts, which went defendant’s way, and Keller v. Electronic Arts, which went the plaintiffs’ way.

In both cases, football players sued video-game maker EA for using their likenesses in EA’s football video games. Jim Brown, perhaps the greatest football player ever*, objected to the use of his likeness in EA’s Madden NFL**. In Keller, several former college football players, none of whom will ever be considered one of the greatest of all time, objected to the use of their likenesses in EA’s NCAA Football.

* Before even my time, though.

** EA licenses with the NFL and NFL Players Association for the rights to use players’ likenesses, but Brown has been far too long retired to be covered by those licenses.

These guys might be suing next, when EA comes out with Old-Timey College…

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Transform my Hart: Publicity Rights in Expressive Material

Divided Third Circuit Reverses in EA v. Hart

Way back in September 2011, I blogged about Hart v. EA, mostly as an introduction to publicity rights. Hart was a former NCAA quarterback (and former teammate of Ray Rice at Rutgers) whose image (like many other former NCAA players’) is used in EA’s NCAA Football. The NCAA (whose reputation has not gotten any better since then) licenses collegiate athletes’ images and physical statistics to EA, but at the same time forbids collegiate athletes from profiting from their own images.* When you play NCAA Football, you can actually play a simulacrum of Hart—his image and certain physical and football statistics. If you’re a Rutgers alumnus, you might be pretty excited to play Rutgers’ powerful 2006 team (with Hart as quarterback and Rice as tailback) and relive the high-water-mark of Rutgers football.

* I’ll make no secret of my disgust at this state of affairs. Universities are able to profit mightily from young men to risk their health and long-term prospects to play a game they love. A university education is a very valuable thing, and most student-athletes get a great deal, but it’s on the backs of the football players, who…

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In Dark Knight Rises Trademark Case, Judge Works from Clean Slate

Fake Website Selling Fake Software Doesn’t Infringe Real Trademark

I’m taking a short break from the posts about my all-important, earth-shattering article because this legal opinion is too awesome not to. Read it here (Fortres Grand v. Warner Bros.). It involves: Dark Knight Rises, “Catwoman*,” fake software, real software, viral marketing, and the First Amendment. So, yeah, I kind of have to blog about it. Now.

* Before you ask: Eartha Kitt.

In The Dark Knight Rises, an important plot point is some fictional software called “Clean Slate” that can completely remove your criminal history from every database in the world—except in places that still keep paper files, I guess. Actually, “fictional” doesn’t do it justice. Perhaps “fantastic” or “outlandish” or “magical” are better.

Don’t you hate it when your slates are not clean? Try Clean Slate brand slate cleaner.

Not terribly coincidentally, CLEAN SLATE is also the name of a software product published by the plaintiff. This product erases all record of your doings on a computer so that subsequent users can’t tell what you’ve been up to on the computer. The idea is that each user starts with a “clean slate.” The reason that this doesn’t…

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Space Amazons, Space Marines and the Non-Existant Trademark Takedown Notification

Caught Between the Heartless and the Cowardly, Does an Indie Author Stand a Chance?

Update (Feb. 8, 2013): It appears that Spots the Space Marine is available once again from Amazon’s Kindle store, as of this morning. I don’t have any details about the change, e.g., whether it’s permanent, who relented (Amazon or Games Workshop), or why. (Since this post didn’t go up until last night, we can feel confident that this post had nothing to do with it!)

Further Update (Feb. 14, 2013): It appears Amazon voluntarily put the back up. Apparently, the EFF asked Amazon to, Amazon took an actual look at the notice, gagged, reached the same conclusion outlined below, and put the book back up. The EFF’s report paints Amazon as somehow so overwhelmed with notifications that they can’t spot (as it were) an obvious stinker like this. But taking something down like this isn’t being “neutral.” It’s being a tool (in the old sense of the word). EFF is correct, however, to identify providers like Amazon as the “weak link” in the chain of free speech.

Further Update Cont’d: For its part, Games Workshop claimed that it “had no choice” but to cause the removal of Spots the…

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