Is Hachette Being Hoisted by Its Own DRM Petard?

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booksRebecca Tushnet points to this column by Cory Doctorow arguing that Hachette is being held hostage in its fight with Amazon over e-book versions of its books because of its “single-minded insistence on DRM”: “It’s likely that every Hachette ebook ever sold has been locked with some company’s proprietary DRM, and therein lies the rub.” Doctorow argues that because of the DMCA Hachette can no longer get access, or authorize others to get access to, its own books:

Under US law (the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act) and its global counterparts (such as the EUCD), only the company that put the DRM on a copyrighted work can remove it. Although you can learn how to remove Amazon’s DRM with literally a single, three-word search, it is nevertheless illegal to do so, unless you’re Amazon. So while it’s technical child’s play to release a Hachette app that converts your Kindle library to work with Apple’s Ibooks or Google’s Play Store, such a move is illegal.

It is an own-goal masterstroke.

Everyone loves irony, but I can’t figure out how to make Doctorow’s argument work. First, I can’t figure out what the anticircumvention problem would be. Second, I can’t figure out why Hachette wouldn’t be able to provide other distributors with e-book versions of its books. Read more »

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Why Isn’t Aereo a Cable System?

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Category: Intellectual Property Law, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
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Aereo tiny antennaThe Aereo case was argued this morning, and before Paul Clement could even get rolling on his introduction on behalf of the broadcaster plaintiffs, Justice Sotomayor hit him with this:

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: Why aren’t [companies like Aereo] cable companies?

MR. CLEMENT: They’re not ­­–

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: I’m looking at the — everybody’s been arguing this case as if for sure they’re not. But I look at the definition of a cable company, and it seems to fit.

I’ve been wondering this too. The question presented in Aereo is whether Aereo is engaged in a “public performance” when its servers automatically save and transmit recorded broadcast television programs to subscribers at their request, or whether that activity is properly understood as only the users’ activity. (Scotusblog has a good backgrounder on the case.)

In debating that issue, both the broadcasters and Aereo have at separate points analogized Aereo to a cable system — the broadcasters in the course of claiming that Congress intended to define what Aereo is doing as a “public performance,” just as it did with cable retransmission; Aereo in claiming that it is engaged in disruptive innovation, just as the early cable operators did. But that raises a somewhat different question: why isn’t Aereo subject to Section 111 of the Copyright Act? If it is, then the Court could avoid the entire debate over public performances; the text of Section 111 provides a direct route to liability for certain retransmissions without even mentioning the words “public performance.” And yet, as far as I can tell, it has not been raised by the broadcaster plaintiffs as a basis for a preliminary injunction. Read more »

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Disney and Phase 4 Films Settle Lawsuit over Frozen Logo

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Earlier this year, Disney and Phase 4 Films settled a lawsuit over Phase 4′s attempts to capitalize on Disney’s latest animated success, Frozen. Phase 4′s film was originally titled The Legend of Sarila. According to the complaint filed by Disne​y, it was released November 1, 2013, a few weeks before Frozen’s release, to dismal box office revenues. Phase 4 then changed the film’s name to Frozen Land, and redesigned the film’s logo to mimic that of Disney’s Frozen. For a side-by-side look at the logos, see the complaint filed by Disney here. 

In the settlement, Phase 4 agreed to immediately stop marketing and distributing its film under the name Frozen Land, and pay Disney $100,000. At first I was skeptical of Disney’s claim, but after comparing the separate logos, it seems highly unlikely that this was anything but a blatant attempt to profit off of Frozen‘s success. The logos contain the same color scheme, the same shape, and almost identical fonts.

As far as the Lanham Act violation claim, it seems almost certain that consumers would be confused as to the relation between the two movies, perhaps reasonably assuming that Frozen Land is a spin-off of Frozen. They also settled an unfair competition claim that was based on Disney’s claims that Phase 4′s Frozen Land caused irreparable damage to Disney’s goodwill and reputation.

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My Official Super Bowl Television Post

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Category: Intellectual Property Law, Public, Sports & Law
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kitten bowlThe 48th annual Super Bowl is tomorrow, which means of course that people are thinking about intellectual property law. (Doesn’t everyone?) No, I’m not going to talk about whether your local grocery store infringes on the NFL’s trademark when they advertise “Super Bowl Savings,” except to pose the question of whether a single person ever has been actually confused about whether that indicates a relationship between the NFL and the grocery store. Or the makers of this thing. Rather, I’m going to talk about television. Specifically, what size television can you watch the Big GameTM on?

The NFL caused a bit of confusion on this score when they sent a cease and desist letter to an Indiana church back in 2007 that was planning on hosting a Super Bowl party for church members, with a fee for attendance and the game displayed on a “giant” TV. (I can’t find a description of the exact size.) In the letter and in subsequent pronouncements, the NFL took the position that it was a violation of copyright law to display the Super Bowl to a public gathering on a screen larger than 55 inches diagonally. In the face of likely congressional legislation in 2008, the NFL backed down and said it would not enforce its rule against church groups. But it still maintains that others cannot display the game publicly on sets larger than 55″.

News stories about the controversy have gotten some parts of the relevant copyright law correct, but are still a bit confusing on the 55-inch “rule” and where it comes from. So I’ll try to clarify. The short version: There is no 55-inch rule, at least not for the game itself. Read more »

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Redskins and Hog Rinds–Trademark Denied

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Category: Intellectual Property Law, Public, Race & Law, Sports & Law
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Pork RindsThe United States Patent and Trademark has recently refused to register the trademark “Redskins Hog Rinds” for a California food company on the grounds that the mark is “disparaging” and therefore prohibited by Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act, the federal trademark statute.

The ruling, handed down on December 29 by an attorney-examiner, can be appealed. The decision concluded that there was no reason to deny registration of the mark except for the fact that it was disparaging to Native Americans. The examiner reached this conclusion on the basis of dictionary definitions that identified the term as disparaging and by the opposition to the continuing usage of the term “Redskins” by a number of Native American groups, including the National Congress of American Indians and the Oneida Nation, as well as articles about Indian activist opposition to the term that appeared in the Washington Post and the magazine, Indian Country Today.

This is not the first time that the term “Redskins” has been ruled disparaging. In recent years the Washington Redskins football team has unsuccessfully attempted to register variations on its famous mark. Read more »

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It’s OK to Use the NSA Logo While Commenting on the NSA

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No, the NSA did not approve this.A couple of weeks ago Salon reported that the NSA had allegedly sent a request to self-printing site Zazzle asking that it take down a parody t-shirt that used an altered version of the NSA logo. When contacted, the NSA first claimed that “[t]he NSA seal is protected by Public Law 86-36, which states that it is not permitted for ‘ . . . any person to use the initials “NSA,” the words “National Security Agency” and the NSA seal without first acquiring written permission from the Director of NSA.’” But shortly after that, the NSA updated its statement to add that it had not contacted Zazzle to request the removal of any item since 2011, when it asked that a coffee mug with the NSA seal be removed from the site.

Putting the two statements together, it looked as though someone at Zazzle, remembering the earlier incident, mistakenly thought that all uses of the logo were forbidden. It seemed to be an isolated incident.

Except that now it’s happened again. This time, a computer science professor at Johns Hopkins, Matthew Green, received a request from his dean that he pull down a blog post on university servers that linked to some of the leaked NSA documents and contained the NSA logo. The university later confirmed that the reason for the request was that it “received information” that Green’s post “contained a link or links to classified material and also used the NSA logo.”

Before this emerging folklore about the NSA logo gets any stronger, let’s be clear: the NSA misquoted the statute in its response to the Salon story. Use of the NSA logo merely to criticize or comment on the NSA is not illegal; and even if Congress tried to make it illegal, it would likely violate the First Amendment, as Eugene Volokh has noted. Read more »

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Edward Snowden: Whistleblower or Traitor?

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Category: Civil Rights, Computer Law, Constitutional Law, Intellectual Property Law, International Law & Diplomacy, Public
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1371935280000-AP-NSA-Surveillance-Snowden-1306221711_4_3_rx404_c534x401Earlier this month, I learned that as a Verizon Wireless customer, my cell phone records, and those of family, may very well be sitting in some National Security Agency (NSA) analyst’s cubicle.

According to The Guardian, which first reported the story June 5, Verizon is under a court order to turn over on an “ongoing, daily basis,” information such as “the numbers of both parties on a call . . . location data, call duration, unique identifiers, and the time and duration of all calls,” and more.  However, no subscriber’s personal information or contents of a call are covered by the order.

Shortly after the story broke, Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former NSA contractor, came forward as the informant. Time Magazine quotes Snowden as saying, “The public needs to decide whether these programs and policies are right or wrong.” He has since been charged with theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information, and willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person.  Snowden may currently be in Moscow and is rumored to be heading to Ecuador to seek political asylum there.

Because the information that Verizon turns over is considered metadata and not communications, the NSA needs no warrant to access it. Even so, by putting together enough metadata, one can fairly easily put together a profile of who is calling whom, for how long, and from where.  While no actual content is turned over to the NSA, the breadth of this program—code named PRISM—should frighten any American because the information is handed over wholesale; no probable cause or suspicion of wrongdoing needed.  And, boom.  The NSA is keeping tabs on you. Read more »

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United States Supreme Court Cites the Marquette Intellectual Property Law Review

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Law professors, like everyone else, have good days and less good days. Then, sometimes, law professors have special days. In these days, something truly unique happens, something that makes law professors especially grateful for their roles as mentors and educators. This past week, I had probably one of the most special days in my law professor career, and it was not about getting tenure, getting promoted or the like (all very special days I can promise!). It was about the success of a student I had the privilege to mentor and supervise, who was one of my very best students, and who made me so very proud. So what happened? An academic dream: the Supreme Court of the United States cited the comment that my former student Lina Monten wrote in 2005, and that we published in the Marquette Intellectual Property Review.

Here is a little more “technical” background. The Supreme Court recently issued its opinion in Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, a closely-watched copyright case concerning the issue of whether the “first sale” doctrine of copyright law applies to imported works. Justice Breyer wrote the majority opinion holding that it does, and Justice Ginsburg wrote a dissent (on behalf of herself and Justices Scalia and Kennedy) arguing that it does not. In the course of her dissent, Justice Ginsburg argued that the United States has long taken the position in international negotiations that copyright owners should have the right to prevent importation of copies of their works that they manufactured and sold in another country. (Slip op. at 20-21.) In support of her argument, Justice Ginsburg cited two items, one of which was the comment published in the Marquette Intellectual Property Law Review, written by then-student, now-Marquette Lawyer Lina M. Montén, entitled The Inconsistency Between Section 301 and TRIPS: Counterproductive With Respect to the Future of International Protection of Intellectual Property Rights? (9 Marq. Intellectual Property L. Rev. 387 (2005)). I supervised the comments, which started as a paper that Lina wrote for the International Business Transaction class that I taught during spring 2005.  Read more »

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First Sale, “Lawfully Made,” and Copyright Stalking-Horses

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The Supreme Court heard oral argument this morning in Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., despite Hurricane Sandy’s imminent arrival and the fact the entire federal government in Washington DC is shut down today. Kirtsaeng is a copyright case raising the issue, argued two years ago in Costco Wholesale Corp. v. Omega, S.A., of whether the first sale doctrine applies to third-party imports of goods manufactured under the authority of the copyright owner abroad. (Costco resulted in a 4-4 affirmance due to Justice Kagan’s recusal.) In more plain English, if someone in the United States purchases legitimate copies of some item abroad that has a copyrighted work somewhere in it, can they import those items into the United States and resell them here without violating the Copyright Act? The specific issue in Kirtsaeng involves used textbooks, but it could just as easily apply to watches with a copyrighted logo on the back (the good at issue in Omega), shampoo with a copyrighted label on the bottle (Quality King v. L’Anza), or any product with copyrighted software in it.

Costco indicates the mischief that could come about from a holding saying that the first sale doctrine does not apply to imported goods. There is zero chance that Omega was actually concerned about the redistribution of its copyrighted logo, located inconspicuously on the backs of its watches, as opposed to the grey market arbitrage of the watches themselves, which of course are not copyrightable. But mischief that does not rise to a constitutional level doesn’t tell us what the law is. The arguments in Kirtsaeng focus on the meaning of the phrase “lawfully made under this title.” Section 109(a) provides that:

Notwithstanding the provisions of section 106(3), the owner of a particular copy or phonorecord lawfully made under this title, or any person authorized by such owner, is entitled, without the authority of the copyright owner, to sell or otherwise dispose of the possession of that copy or phonorecord.

Kirtsaeng, the petitioner, argues that “lawfully made under this title” means “made with the authority of the copyright owners as required by Title 17, or otherwise authorized by specific provisions of Title 17,” a theory Kirtsaeng borrows from the Solicitor General’s brief back in Quality King. Wiley argues that because Title 17 does not have extraterritorial application, “lawfully made under this title” must mean “lawfully made in the United States pursuant to Title 17.”

That’s the question that cert. was granted on, but the whole debate strikes me as off-target. As a result I don’t think either side’s briefs really grapple with the problem here. Read more »

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Seventh Circuit to Form 19: Drop Dead!

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Last week I bemoaned how the Seventh Circuit had thoroughly botched the already confusing state of affairs that is the elements of a prima facie copyright infringement claim. But as a bonus, the Peters v. West opinion also had troubling things to say about what is now required to successfully plead a copyright infringement claim under the new “plausibility” regime announced by the Supreme Court in Twombly and Iqbal.

As a refresher, here’s how the Peters court defined the element of infringement (the other element for a claim of copyright infringement being ownership of a valid and registered copyright):

Fundamentally, proving the basic tort of infringement simply requires the plaintiff to show that the defendant had an actual opportunity to copy the original (this is because independent creation is a defense to copyright infringement), and that the two works share enough unique features to give rise to a breach of the duty not to copy another’s work.

Note that the court is discussing what the plaintiff must ultimately prove, which even after Twombly and Iqbal is not necessarily what the plaintiff must allege. Swierkiewicz v. Sorema, which distinguished between those two, is still good law; Iqbal simply requires that the plaintiff allege enough to make a claim plausible, which may or may not require pleading specific facts. Nevertheless, many courts even pre-Twombly have been requiring plaintiffs to march through the elements in their complaints, and now post-Iqbal, each of those elements must be “plausible.”

So what does a plaintiff, according to the Seventh Circuit, now have to plead in order to plausibly allege infringement? Read more »

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Peters v. West: Three Strikes

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In my previous post, I dissected the problematic recent Seventh Circuit copyright decision in Peters v. West. I won’t recap that long post here, except to say that the Seventh Circuit appears to have collapsed the traditional two-part inquiry for infringement in the prima facie case for copyright infringement to one part, with proof of access as a weird (and optional?) hanger-on. As the Peters court summarizes the test that will govern going forward: “[P]roving” — and, I guess, pleading — “the basic tort of infringement simply requires the plaintiff to show that the defendant had an actual opportunity to copy the original . . . , and that the two works share enough unique features to give rise to a breach of the duty not to copy another’s work.”

There are at least three bad consequences to this: it gives jury determinations to the judge; it makes the already controversial “sliding scale” doctrine incoherent; and it sounds the death-knell for substantive limits on liability for copying outside of fair use.

First, the two different sub-elements of the infringement half of the prima facie case have been understood at least since 1945, and even in the Ninth Circuit’s jumbled version of the test, to allow a division of labor between judge and jury in a copyright infringement case. Actual copying, including (if necessary) a showing of “probative similarity,” is a merely forensic task, one that stands at the gate of the field where the ultimate liability determination will be fought out. The issue is to determine whether there’s been any copying at all as a factual matter. It is to copyright law as “causation” is to negligence law. I may have been speeding, but if I didn’t actually hit your car, the case is over. As a forensic rather than policy determination, courts have long allowed the component works to be examined in microscopic detail for evidence of actual copying, including hearing from expert witnesses. After receiving this evidence, the judge can determine that there’s no genuine issue of material fact as to actual copying and grant summary judgement for the defendant — or nowadays, I suppose, can determine on a motion to dismiss that the complaint does not adequately plead a plausible case of actual copying.

The other “substantial similarity” test is supposed to be much different than that, one that the jury is especially adept at determining, at least in a music case like this one. Read more »

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There Is No Joy in Mudville

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At least, not if Mudville is populated by copyright professors; for the mighty Seventh Circuit has struck out. In Peters v. West (Kanye West, that is, or as LEXIS is now abbreviating the case name, “W.”), the Seventh Circuit, in an opinion written by the highly regarded Judge Wood, has badly bungled the already confused test for establishing a copyright infringement claim. I’ma let you finish, Judge Wood, but Judge Newman had one of the best explanations of this test of all time.

The elements of a prima facie copyright infringement claim have long been confusing to students, lawyers, judges — pretty much everyone. (A brief copyright lesson follows; if this is old hat to you, skip 4 paragraphs down.) Essentially, there are only two elements: ownership and infringement. But the second element is broken down further into a set of sub-elements, and courts have long had difficulty explaining the content and the relationship of the various sub-elements clearly. The basic idea, however, long ago expressed in Second Circuit opinions by Judges Learned Hand and Jerome Frank, is that proving infringement is supposed to be a two-part process: proving that the defendant actually copied material from the plaintiff’s work, and proving that the amount copied passes some sort of threshold for materiality.

There are two significant points of confusion with the test. Read more »

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