A Legal Blog by Aaron | Sanders, PLLC

Is it Fair Use? Information Wants to Be Free, but Copyright Is at the Turnpike

We Took the Whole Thing, But it Was for Journalism!

I blogged about Swatch’s dispute with Bloomberg a couple of years ago. At the time, Bloomberg’s motion to dismiss had just been denied, but the trial court explicitly did not address fair use, mostly because it couldn’t at that early stage.

One of the lucky 333 analysts invited to the Swatch earnings call. Photo taken by Eric Danley under this Creative Commons license.

The Secret Pleasures of Earnings Calls

Swatch is a Swiss watch-maker. You may have heard of its products. More important (for our purposes), it’s a major, publicly-traded international corporation. And like most such companies, it routinely holds an “earnings call” (or “analyst call”) right after it files (with the SEC) and release (to the public) its earnings report. The earnings report is required of public companies so investors know certain basic information about the company. The earnings call is optional, but it gives the company a chance to explain the earnings report, while potentially opening itself up to awkward questions from some pretty sharp and skeptical folks.

As you might expect, Swatch doesn’t like the awkward questions, so it tries to limit the audience of the conference call to…


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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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Is it Fair Use? (Appellate Edition): Transformers in the Art Gallery

Parody ≠ Transformative Use

I know you’ve been playing Is it Fair Use? the fast-paced, brain-teasing game that’s sweeping the nation. That means you’ve already played the very first installment, which involved an “appropriation artist,” some photographs of Rastafarians, and a cancelled art show. If you haven’t, or you want to refresh your recollection, go play that round, then come back here. Meanwhile, here’s the main image I focused on in that case, Prince’s Graduation (right), and the Cariou photograph he borrowed:

Left: Patrick Cariou, Photograph from Yes Rasta, p. 118. Right: Richard Prince, Graduation

So it wasn’t fair use, right? And I said that the decision (read it again here) was about as well-reasoned as you’ll find? I thought the two most important facts were (1) that Cariou had an exhibition planned but it fell through when Cristiane Celle, the gallery owner, found out about Prince’s exhibition; and (2) that this, a work called Graduation, was a typical example of Prince’s “transformation” of Cariou’s work. I expressed concern, however, that the case seemed to turn on how well the artist was able to explain himself.

Is his Case More Appealing Than his “Art”?

Let’s play again, but at the…


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More Artist-on-Artist Fair Use Action: An Iconic Scream, a Rap Icon

Can Green Day Exit Through the Gift Shop?

Are you ready for another installment of Is it Fair Use?, the fast-paced, action-packed game in which I give you a fact pattern, and you take a blind stab at whether the court found or didn’t find fair use. Today’s installment is brought to you by Green Day, and also by the Oscar-nominated documentary, Exit Through the Gift Shop.

Our story begins with the artist Los Angeles artist Derek Seltzer, who created a work of art, which he called, Scream Icon. I’d show it to you, but it’s impossible to find an image that isn’t part of a story that gives away the ending! It consists of a black-and-white portrait of a fanged man in a rictus of a huge, well, scream. AAAAAAARG! Sort of like that.

Seltzer put this image onto posters and stickers, and then posted those images on walls, telephone poles and what-not around town. It doesn’t appear from the opinion that Seltzer had much success selling copies of Scream Icon, though he did license it once to a rock band for use in a music video.

One day, another artist, Roger Staub, happened across what he thought was a pretty cool…

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