A Legal Blog by Aaron | Sanders, PLLC


Poking Bears and Blocking ISPs

I’m going to post this and then go hide out in a bunker somewhere.  I’m not even sure I can get through the introductory paragraph before needing to take cover.

 

 

SOPA.

 

(Crawling back out from her hiding space under her desk…..)

 

You will all remember the Day the Internet Went Black in protest of the twin legislative boogey men, the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House and the Protect IP Act in the Senate.  The acts were secretly negotiated and quickly drafted attempts to curb piracy and counterfeit from foreign sites by prohibiting U.S. companies from advertising on those sites or processing payments to those sites, or from indexing those sites on search engines. We’re coming up on the 5th anniversary of Protest Day. The primary arguments against the bills were that the DNS blocking provisions would “break the internet,” that it was not narrowly tailored to avoid curbing free speech, that it would chill sites for user-generated content, and that it would generally stifle internet innovation.

The short history is that the bills came out, the Internet went berserk, the Internet went black, and the bill died.  Prior to the demise, those of us who moderated panels on the issue that…

dreamstime_m_48059685

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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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Catch Downtown Fever! Why Trademark Ownership Disputes Are the Worst

Who Owns the Jelly Nailed to the Wall?

There are few legal holy messes like a dispute over trademark ownership. Sure, copyright and patent ownership disputes can be messy, but nothing like trademark ownership. And, sure, copyright ownership can be tricky, but it’s a walk in the park compared to trademark ownership. Here are some reasons why:

There can normally be only one owner of a trademark for a given set of products in a given market. Why? That’s because a trademark serves as a link between products and a single source. In contrast, copyrights and patents can have multiple owners.
But there can be multiple legitimate owners of trademarks for the same or similar products, if (a) they are geographically remote from each other AND (b) the later (“junior”) user isn’t on notice about the earlier use (which is often the case). Why? Because the point of a trademark is to prevent confusion, and there’s chance of confusion if different owners are far enough away from each other. Copyrights and patents, by contrast, automatically have national scope.
The owner of a trademark is the one who “actually uses” it for the products in the market. But often many hands are involved in…

WE WANT DOWNTOWN FEVER! WE WANT DOWNTOWN FEVER! (Even if we would have to go to a different club to see them?) By Asroma - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6746532

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Crying in Your Beer: With Trademarks, Get Clearance Before Falling in Love

Applications to Register a Trademark Can Give Away Your Position

BLACK OPS is a great name for beer. It suggests (and doesn’t merely describe) the beer as dark, secret and elite. It’s as though only you and a select few know about this beer.

The thing about excellent trademarks is that great minds often think alike, and more than one person is likely to independently hit upon the same clever trademark. But, usually, there can only be one—the one used in commerce first. This is known as priority.

There Can Only Be One! (But Where?)

In the old days, it was not unusual for similar trademarks for similar goods to co-exist, provided they were far enough away from each other. But increasing mobility, the development of national markets and distribution systems, the internet and, most of all, federal trademark registration have changed that. Nowadays, it’s actually pretty uncommon for a product’s market to be geographically limited. You can sell nearly any moveable product nationwide, and even services are increasingly available to remote customers.

The way it used to work is like this: Say Xena started selling NOS HABEBIT hummus in Florida in 2000, and Yanni independently started selling NOS HABEBIT hummus in Oregon in…

Plaintiff's BROOKLYN BLACK OPS on the left (only $29.00 a bottle!), Defendant's BLOCK OPS BREWERY on the right.

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NAACP and WD-40: A Primer on When We Need, and Don’t Need, Fair Use in Trademark Cases

Fair Use Has a Weird Relationship with Trademark

By now you know that fair use is a squishy, fact-intensive, unpredictable but absolutely necessary feature of copyright law. But at least fair use’s role in copyright law is well understood. It’s just hard to apply.

Fair use in trademark law, however, is another matter, as two recent appellate-level decisions involving the NAACP and WD-40 demonstrate. We don’t always even know how it works within the context of trademark law. In theory, it’s an “affirmative defense.” With an affirmative defense, even if you’ve broken the law, we say it’s still OK, often because we recognize some greater social good. In the context of copyright, we’re saying that, even if you copy stuff that’s protected by copyright, it’s OK because what you’ve done is more socially good than holding you liable for copying.

It’s Confusing Because of Confusion

But with trademark, applying fair use as an affirmative defense requires us to say something a little weird. The key concept in trademark law is confusion. Trademark law exists to prevent consumers from being confused and buying one product when they thought they were buying another, or thinking one product had a quality that it doesn’t really have. So,…

Sometimes confusion is fun, but not when you're thinking about buying stuff. "From Confusion Hill" by Hitchster, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

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