A Legal Blog by Aaron | Sanders, PLLC

My Response to Prof. Menell Part 3-Supreme Court Disrepsects Legislative History in Kirtsaeng

Kirtsaeng’s Near-Contempt for 1960’s-Era Legislative Materials

This post continues my response to Prof. Menell’s contention that, based on the Supreme Court’s use of 1960’s-era legislative materials to construe the Copyright Act of 1976 (the “1976 Act”), it is appropriate to use such materials to help resolve the knotty question of whether merely making a copyrighted work available (for download or whatever) violates the distribution right. I had previously criticized Prof. Menell for relying on such materials when courts have generally limited the use of legislative materials to those generated by the Congress that enacted the legislation in question. For more background, see my first post in this series.

After reading the Supreme Court decisions cited by Prof. Menell, I came to the conclusion that most of them are irrelevant, referencing the 1960’s-era materials in passing or for context, but three of them—CCNV, Kirtsaeng and Stewart v. Abend—had something of relevance to say on the subject. Last time, I discussed the decision that most supports Prof. Menell’s, view, CCNV. This time, I’ll discuss the decision that most supports my view, Kirtsaeng.

At a minimum, CCNV seems to accept the possibility 1960’s era legislative materials could be used to construe the Copyright Act of…


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My Response to Prof. Menell, Part 2: Community for Creative Non-Violence

(Part 2 of 5) The Fine Line Between an Alternative Basis and Simple Dicta

The question we’re asking is whether it’s appropriate to rely on legislative materials generated by Congresses who did not enact but did oversee the drafting of the legislation in question. Prof. Peter Menell thinks it is, at least where the Copyright Act of 1976 (“1976 Act”) is concerned. I’m pretty sure it’s not. The question matters because Prof. Menell’s re-write of a crucial passage of Nimmer on Copyright relies on such materials. I have criticized this re-write on several grounds, including this unexamined reliance on pre-enactment legislative materials. See the last post for further details.

Ordinarily, you can’t rely on pre-enactment legislative materials. Ordinarily, when this issue arises, Congress has drafted but failed to pass a bill, but the next Congress manages to pass substantially the same bill. This is not unusual. In these situations, the courts have been clear that it is inappropriate to rely on the previous Congress’ legislative materials when construing the statute. Normally, this doesn’t pose a problem because the later (enacting) Congress will simply adopt the previous Congress’ work—why reinvent the wheel?

But the 1976 Act was not typical. First, it might’ve been…

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My Response to Prof. Menell Regarding the Propriety of Relying on Pre-Enactment Legislative History of the Copyright Act of 1976

Prof. Menell Comments on 15% of My Article; I Respond.

This is the first of a series of blog posts in which I respond, in detail, to the following assertion by Prof. Peter Menell in a recent blog post post made on the Media Institute’s website:
Mr. Rick Sanders also questioned my exploration of legislative history, suggesting that it is improper to consult legislative history predating the enacting Congress. His assertion overlooks Supreme Court opinions in Kirtsaeng, Tasini, CCNV, Abend, Dowling, and Sony [a/k/a “Betamax”] adverting to 1976 Copyright Act legislative history predating the enacting Congress.
Prof. Menell was, indirectly, responding to one (of several) arguments I made in an article I wrote on whether the distribution right includes a “making available” right, i.e., whether just making something (a book or digital song file) available (for sale or download) violates the distribution right. I was, in turn, responding to Prof. Menell’s re-writing of the section of the authoritative treaties on copyright law, Nimmer on Copyright. Prof. David Nimmer, who maintains (and mostly writes) Nimmer on Copyright had previously either (depending on whose recollection you’re using) taken no position on the issue or was leaning against the existence of a “making available” right…

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Is Nimmer & Menell’s “Lost Ark” of Copyright Just a Prop?

Spoiler: Yes.

So, I’m talking about this article of mine that was kindly published by the Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment and Technology Law (“JETLaw”). See part I here. The issue has to do with one of copyright law’s “exclusive rights”—i.e., things only the copyright owner and his or her authorized licensees may do with a copyrighted work—the right to distribute copies of the work to the public, which we’ll just call the “distribution right.” The question is whether the distribution right includes only consummated acts of distribution, or can also include attempts and offers to distribute.* Most (but not all) courts have held that the right is limited to consummated distributions, but rights holders would very much prefer the broader interpretation. The issue used to be academic, but with file-sharing, it matters now because it’s very difficult to detect consummated downloads**, but it’s easy to prove that the unlicensed works were “made available” for download on the file-sharer’s computer.

* Remember that the distribution right has an important exception: the first sale doctrine. Once you legally obtain a physical embodiment of the work, you may dispose of it as you see fit.

** Putting aside what I have…

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Checking the Sources: Why I Questioned Nimmer on Copyright

Practitioner’s POV: Treatises Must Be Reliable

So, I’m very grateful to the Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment and Technology Law (“JETLaw”)* for publishing my article on Nimmer on Copyright’s about-face on the “making available” theory of the distribution right**. You can read the whole thing here.

* Better known in my day as “JELP”: Journal of Entertainment Law & Practice.

** I explain what this is about near the end of this post.

Oh, are you back so soon? Well, yeah, I guess I failed to mention that it’s about 20 pages of formal prose (but the margins are so big!), there really are 169 footnotes,* and there are zero snarky asides. But you’re still interested, perhaps because you’ve heard this issue directly affects internet-based commerce**. Since you’re not a legal scholar*** and you don’t have tons of time, would I mind summarizing?

* Did I mention that I was grateful to JETLaw? I threw those footnotes together, but do you see how neat and perfect they are, and that they probably actually support the proposition they’re footnoting? You need to thank the JETLaw student editors for that. Since I was once a professional authorities editor, I know what…

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