Upcoming Copyright Office Event on 2/17/2021 to Honor RBG

This should be well worth attending. Sadly, I will miss the live stream, but I look forward to the YouTube event.

From the Copyright Office’s blog post:

“To celebrate Justice Ginsburg’s impact on copyright, join the Copyright Office on February 17 from 1:00 to 2:30 p.m. eastern time for “Copyright Office Presents: The Enduring Legacy of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.” This virtual event will feature a conversation between Paul Goldstein of Stanford Law School and Jane Ginsburg of Columbia Law School on Justice Ginsburg’s jurisprudence. Cohen, West, and Wang will also discuss how Justice Ginsburg inspired their own copyright-protected works. While the advanced registration to attend the Zoom event has closed, the Copyright Office will also live stream the event on its YouTube Channel. No registration is required to view the live stream. If you miss the event, the video will later be available on the Office’s YouTube Channel.”

A Touch of the Public Domain

On 1 January 2021, the works that were published and protected by copyright in 1925 entered the public domain. These works are now free for the public to use as the public wishes to use them.

The US Copyright Office’s blog says, “The critical role of the public domain in human culture is easily illustrated by the fact that so many new works are based on public domain works, such as the works of William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Bram Stoker, Louisa May Alcott, the Brontë sisters, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.”

Copyright is about protecting not an idea (we are not, after all, the Thought Police), but the EXPRESSION of an idea. For example, there are piles of ways for star-crossed lovers to get themselves into trouble; “Romeo and Juliet” expresses one way; “West Side Story” expresses another way. The idea … star-crossed lovers … is the same, but Romeo never sang “Maria … I just met a girl named Maria …” and Maria never told her man “Deny thy father and refuse thy name!” The two expressions of the star-crossed lovers theme are very different.

The public domain Shakespeare work inspires the musical. The musical is protected by copyright to the extent that the work is actually original expression of its authors and not taken from Shakespeare.

Oh, The Places You Shouldn’t Boldly Go!

Dr. Seuss sued Star Trek because Dr. Seuss wrote a book entitled “Oh, The Places You’ll Go!” It’s a popular graduation gift. Star Trek did what they called a “parody” of that book, calling it “Oh, The Places You’ll Boldly Go!” and using Star Trek characters in a Seuss-like literary environment. The drawings evoke Seuss; the text evokes Seuss; certainly the title evokes Seuss. The Spock character’s pointed ears and the uniforms evoke Star Trek.

The US District Court where the trial was held found in favor of Star Trek; the parody was indeed a parody. However, it seems the 9th Circuit, which is the intermediate court between the District Courts and SCOTUS in several western states, disagrees. They held, on review of the evidence, that “Boldly” is not transformative enough for a parody and thus it is infringement, not “fair use.”

I’ve said many times that fair use is the murkiest of all murky areas of law. When is it ok to use others’ work in your own? Well, you can license the use of the original work; getting permission to use the original is the clearest path through the fair-use jungle. Or you can roll the dice and hope the courts agree with you. That’s not always the best option.

To determine fair use, the court weighs four factors, each on a sliding scale:

The purpose and character of the use, including whether it is of a commercial nature or for nonprofit educational purposes

Here, the work is of a commercial nature, definitely written for profit. That leans AWAY from fair use.

The nature of the copyrighted work

Is it fiction or fact? Facts can’t be protected by copyright, fiction is highly protectable. Clearly, this is a work of fiction. That the original work is highly protectable leans AWAY from fair use.

The amount of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole

Well, Star Trek clearly did a take-off on the title, and it clearly did a take-off on Theodor Seuss Geisel’s writing and drawing styles. This new work invokes the original. The actual text is not the same, but the tone and feel sure are. That one also leans away from fair use.

Had Star Trek used just the title without the drawings or text in the style of Seuss, that may have been ok; had they used the title and either the writing OR the drawing style, that would have been less likely to be ok. But they did all three. The Star Trek work clearly takes off on the Seuss work. That was not ok.

The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work

Seuss’ book is a popular gift for graduations. Lots of high school and college graduates have a dusty copy sitting on their shelves because some aunt gave it to them when the kids collected their diplomas. Now, though, fewer kids have the original sitting on their shelves; its corner on the market has been eroded by the Star Trek version.

Seuss claims the Star Trek work cut into the market for Seuss’ book; in other words, the new work competes rather than complements. Definitely, that leans AWAY from fair use.

Muddy the waters

When that weigh-in is complete, things get really muddled. The court then takes the totality of the circumstances surrounding each of the works and adds in the weight that individual judge chooses to give each of the four factors and determines whether the new work infringes the old.

Basically, a fair use determination can spin on the whim of the federal judiciary. And therein, my friends, lies the silt floating up from the bottom of the basin of fair use jurisprudence.

Seuss-Star Trek Mash-Up Crashes and Burns at Ninth Circuit

Sojourner Truth and Copyright Innovation

Sojourner Truth Portrait
Sojourner Truth

I refer you to the Copyright Office’s blog, on which is an interesting post about Sojourner Truth’s contribution to copyright law.

Interesting stuff! I never knew this about Sojourner Truth. I knew she was a powerhouse in  history, especially black history, I knew she was enslaved as a child and young adult, I knew she was a strong advocate against slavery. I never, ever knew she was an innovator in copyright law.

Privacy and Home Base in COVID-19

So. You’re being a good citizen of the world and sheltering in place. Your employer actually allows you to work from home and you’re accessing your employer’s information over your home-based wi-fi. You have a password on your router, a password on your local computer, your  and you have never seen a neighbor lurking on your internet system.

But now you’re accessing your employer’s sensitive and private intellectual property using your home-based internet. Is your home-based security sufficient?

My guess is that no, it is not.

Hackers love a challenge. And a home-based internet security system is usually not set up to handle a hacker’s attack. There are resources available on the internet to help you beef up your home’s internet security; the Federal Trade Commission provides these tips; here’s ZDNet’s article; Digital Guardian lists 101 Data Protection Tips; and there are other references available. You must be proactive in keeping your and your employer’s data secure.

The best advice, though, is to follow your employer’s internet security protocols. If they have a PITA VPN, use it. If they want you to use the Tor browser rather than your favorite Internet Explorer or Firefox or Safari, use it. Be careful about email, especially email that can travel across the open internet; you can simply assume, de facto, that emails are open communication with the world. And if you or your employer don’t want something forever on the internet, don’t put it there.

If you want to keep something private, you must keep that something private. Remember, not everything belongs on the internet.

 

Why Do YOU Need a Lawyer?

You’re forming a business. You need a lawyer because you need to do it right. You need the magic words that form the business you want to form in the formation documents (do you know what those magic words are?).

Or maybe you’re developing a brand for your new business. You need a lawyer because you need to do it right. Yes, a lawyer is expensive, but a trademark infringement action brought by a senior user of the mark you adopt … without knowing there even IS a senior user … gets mighty pricey mighty quickly.

Or you’ve invented something and you want to get your invention out to the public immediately. But wait; do you want to profit from your invention? You need to take steps to protect that invention. Do you know what steps are available to you? And do you know how steps that seem to be diametric opposites and never able to work together can actually allow you to effectively extend the term of protecting your invention? You need a lawyer because you need to do it right.

Or maybe you’ve written something. Let’s say you’re J.K. Rowling and you’ve just completed your very first “Harry Potter” book. You want all the protection you can get for that book. Do you know the ins and outs of obtaining and using that protection? You need a lawyer because you need to do it right.

Or you want to … ooh, ooh, ooh … start up a company that franchises its business methods and trademark (i.e., you’re Ray Croc) out to others. What do you need to do to start that franchise and comply with the state and federal laws that govern franchises? What business and legal models do you need to have in place? You need a lawyer because you need to do it right.

Or you don’t want to franchise, but you do want to license your intellectual property for others to use. How do you license out your intellectual property without creating a franchise? You need a lawyer because you need to do it right.

Or someone has handed you a contract to sign. It’s long and full of legal jargon. What does it actually say? Remember, lawyers use words differently than most people do, and it’s lawyers who will interpret any contract you sign that goes south. You need a lawyer because you need to do it right.

You need a lawyer because you’re in business and you need to do it right.

Delain Law Office, PLLC

 

Fair Use and Social Media

According to an email I received today from Strafford CLE Webinars, “The number of active monthly users [of social media] worldwide are staggering–Pinterest (265 million), Instagram (one billion), Twitter (330 million), YouTube (2 billion), Facebook (2.4 billion), and WhatsApp (1.5 billion)–and increasing. Social media users are sharing, tweeting, pinning, and posting a variety of intellectual property, including pictures, videos, articles, and more, often without the permission of the owner.”

It’s a problem. What’s a copyright owner to do?

Copyright law gives the copyright owner the right to certain restrictions on the use of their works of authorship. 17 USC 106 says:

Subject to sections 107 through 122, the owner of copyright under this title has the exclusive rights to do and to authorize any of the following:

(1) to reproduce the copyrighted work in copies or phonorecords;

(2) to prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work;

(3) to distribute copies or phonorecords of the copyrighted work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending;

(4) in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works, to perform the copyrighted work publicly;

(5) in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, to display the copyrighted work publicly; and

(6) in the case of sound recordings, to perform the copyrighted work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission.

If anyone other than the copyright owner does any of these things without the permission of the copyright owner, that person is infringing and is liable to the copyright owner under 17 USC 501 et seq.

“Reproduction” includes copying and pasting from and to social media. That would be infringement. Infringement, under 17 USC 106, is actionable. Infringers can get themselves sued … for some pretty hefty sums.

However, 17 USC 107 codifies a concept called “fair use.” It says:

Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include—

(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;

(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and

(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.
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Fair use is the grayest of all gray areas of the law. The finding literally can spin on the whim of a judge. As to those who use social media to infringe, in 17 USC 107(4) lies the kicker that argues against the prosecution of copyright infringement for all those copied-and-pasted videos, graphics, works of art, musical numbers, old movies, text, and other works of authorship against anyone and everyone who has infringed the copyright holder’s rights. All that copying and pasting gets the copyright holder’s name and samples of their work out there, often virally. The market for the copyright holder’s work therefore expands far beyond the original reach of the work or the rights holder, which, de facto, has a positive “…effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.”
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These days, there are authors (and I use that as a term of art, not necessarily just as the author of text) who put their work up on Facebook, YouTube, InstaGram, wherever in an effort to cause the work to go viral. The work can only do that if the author does not squish the sharing of the work. The marketing effect of copy-and-paste is huge and growing. However, that effect can backfire; a work can be copied in very high resolution and the recipient of the copied work can then use that copy just as s/he would the original. That could kill the market for the work.
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So how does the copyright holder balance the wonders of viral marketing vs. the deleterious effect of too much copy-and-paste?
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I tell my clients:
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  • PUT A WATERMARK ON YOUR SHARED WORK in such a place that no one can remove that watermark without destroying the work. That makes it MUCH less desirable to copy and paste, yet the image on the internet retains the character of the original image
  • PUT A COPYRIGHT NOTICE ON YOUR SHARED WORK. Just do it. Copyright attaches the instant a work is affixed in a tangible medium. Give the world notice of that fact.
  • REGISTER YOUR WORKS WITH THE US COPYRIGHT OFFICE BEFORE YOU SHARE IT. It’s cheap. Just do it.

Or the copyright holder can donate the work to the public domain. If this is what the author wants to do, p with abandon … and consider any copyright in any posted work abandoned. Nothing wrong with that, and it saves all the angst and pain of not being able to enforce your unregistered copyright (you can’t enforce your unregistered copyright in the USA).

The choice of how to proceed varies with each author … and it is, after all, the author’s choice.

Public Domain Expanded Nicely on 1/1/2019

For the first time in 20 years, the public domain for copyrighted works has expanded! Works that were copyrighted in 1923 were protected on 31 December 2018 but entered the public domain on 1 January 2019 … and that has happened now for the first time in 20 years thanks to the Sonny Bono Copyright Act.

Anyone can now re-publish the 1923 works, or use them in other projects, without asking permission or paying the former rights holders. Anyone can record new versions of the musical compositions; anyone can show the movies for a profit; anyone can even remake those movies. Project Gutenberg can give you the ebook of those 1923 works for free.

Works now in the public domain include some of the poetry by Edna St. Vincent Millay and Robert Frost; a couple of Agatha Christie mysteries; Khalil Gibran’s “The Prophet”; “The Ego and the Id” by Freud; writings by by Jane Austen, D.H. Lawrence, Edith Wharton, Jorge Luis Borges, Mikhail Bulgakov, Jean Cocteau, Italo Svevo, Aldous Huxley, Winston Churchill, G.K. Chesterton, Maria Montessori, Lu Xun, Joseph Conrad, Zane Grey, H.G. Wells, and Edgar Rice Burroughs; artwork by M. C. Escher, Pablo Picasso, Wassily Kandinsky, Max Ernst, and Man Ray.

Be careful with music, though. Some music published in 1923 is NOT in the public domain, and will not be until 2064 since rights over music recorded until 1972 is governed by state law.

Cheerleader Outfit Designs ARE Covered by Copyright

Star Athletica, L.L.C. v. Varsity Brands, Inc., et al., 580 US ___, a newly (22 March 2017) decided copyright case, finds that the design elements of a cheerleading outfit can be covered by copyright.

According to the syllabus of the case, SCOTUS holds: “A feature incorporated into the design of a useful article is eligible for copyright protection only if the feature (1) can be perceived as a two- or three-dimensional work of art separate from the useful article, and (2) would qualify as a protectable pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work—either on its own or fixed in some other tangible medium of expression—if it were imagined separately from the useful article into which it is incorporated. That test is satisfied here.”

This case is interesting because it tells us where lies the line between industrial design, which is not protected by copyright (it may be protected by patent), and artistic design, which is. Courts have disagreed where that line lies.

Here, the District Court held that the designs did not qualify for protection under copyright because the designs served the useful purpose of identifying the outfits as “cheerleading uniforms.” The designs are therefore utilitarian, cannot be separated out to stand on their own, and therefore cannot be protected by copyright (you can read the District Court’s opinion at 2014 WL 819422 (WD Tenn., Mar. 1, 2014)).

The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit disagreed; they held, with one dissent that upheld the District Court’s opinion, that the graphic designs are indeed “separately identifiable” because a cheerleading costume without design is still identifiable as a cheerleading costume, so the graphics on such a garment can indeed be separated out and separately displayed and are thus protectable under copyright (read the 6th Circuit’s opinion at 799 F. 3d 468, 471 (2015)).

The Supreme Court affirms the 6th Circuit.

So what does this case teach us? We now know that designs on clothing CAN be separated out from the clothing, making the design on the clothing, even if the design relates to the function of the clothing, protectable under copyright.

We know that “The statute … provides that the “design of a useful article” can include two-dimensional “pictorial” and “graphic” features, and separability analysis applies to those features just as it does to three-dimensional “sculptural” features.”

We know that “…a feature of the design of a useful article is eligible for copyright if, when identified and imagined apart from the useful article, it would qualify as a pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work either on its own or when fixed in some other tangible medium.”

Copyright remains one of the most case-by-case determinations around. The findings of this case have yet to be tested on utilitarian items other than clothing; we’ll watch this with some interest to see what, if anything, happens.