Who’s Afraid of ProCD?

Posted on Categories Computer Law, Intellectual Property Law, Seventh CircuitLeave a comment» on Who’s Afraid of ProCD?

It’s a prevalent meme in contemporary copyright scholarship that the public domain is being “enclosed” by expansions in copyright law. Scholars point to many examples of this alleged expansion, including term extension, anticircumvention laws, and court decisions rejecting certain attempts to claim fair use. But one widespread source of complaint among copyright scholars is the idea that contracts are somehow being used to expand copyright owners’ rights. And the chief villain in this story is the decision that allegedly started it all, the Seventh Circuit’s own ProCD v. Zeidenberg, authored by Judge Frank Easterbrook.

I should note right off the bat that I am not quite so enamored of form agreements as Judge Easterbrook is. That much I probably share with my fellow copyright specialists. But I’ve come to the tentative conclusion that the case for contracts somehow expanding copyright rights is vastly overstated, and perhaps illusory. ProCD–with the exception of one overlooked wrinkle–is not the threat everyone seems to think it is.

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Copyright Catch-22

Posted on Categories Intellectual Property LawLeave a comment» on Copyright Catch-22

With the closing of Bill Patry’s Copyright Blog, there’s a distinct absence of copyright wonkery on the web. So I will occasionally do my best to chip in. Today’s case raises the following possibility: Suppose you run a business heavily dependent on a certain software program. And suppose the owner of that program keeps writing you cease and desist letters, saying that your copy is infringing and that each passing day accumulates more actual damages, as well as your profits attributable to the infringement. You want to clear this cloud from your business, and heaven forfend, if you are found to be infringing, put a cap on the damages. But let’s suppose the owner hasn’t gotten around to actually registering the copyright yet. Can you sue for a declaratory judgement action?

In Weitzman v. Microcomputer Resources, the Eleventh Circuit said no. That intolerable situation can persist until the owner finally decides to sue you instead.

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Court Finds First Amendment Right to Forge E-Mail Headers

Posted on Categories Computer Law1 Comment on Court Finds First Amendment Right to Forge E-Mail Headers

On Friday, the Virginia Supreme Court handed down its revised decision in Jaynes v. Commonwealth, an appeal of a criminal conviction under Virginia’s anti-spam statute. The defendant, Jeremy Jaynes, was at the time of his arrest one of the most prolific spammers in the world, sending at least 10 million e-mails a day using 16 high-speed data lines, according to prosecutors. He used his e-mails to sell dubious software products, raking in $400,000 to $750,000 per month.

Jaynes argued that Virginia’s anti-spam statute violated the First Amendment. The statute prohibits sending “unsolicited bulk electronic mail” after having intentionally falsified the e-mail header information, i.e., the information indicating the source of the e-mail. That’s a little different than your average spam statute, which typically prohibits only “unsolicited commercial e-mail.” According to the unanimous Virginia Supreme Court (four members of which switched their votes on rehearing), prohibiting non-commercial bulk e-mailers from forging the header information violates the First Amendment right to speak anonymously.

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Breaking News: Harry Potter Lexicon Found Infringing

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Judge Patterson in the Southern District of New York issued his opinion today in the Harry Potter Lexicon case, which involved an attempt by the defendants to convert their very popular website into print form and sell it. J.K. Rowling and the studio behind the Harry Potter films sued, and the court held that the Lexicon was not protected by fair use.

I’ve only had time to skim the decision, but my quick take is that a district court in the same circuit that decided the Seinfeld Aptitude Test case (Castle Rock Entertainment v. Carol Publishing Group, 150 F.3d 132 (2d Cir. 1998)) would have had a hard time finding fair use here. If multiple choice questions based on “Seinfeld” infringe on the show, then encyclopedia entries based on Harry Potter probably do, too. That’s not an endorsement, just a syllogism.

Do People Who Investigate Websites Need P.I. Licenses in All 50 States?

Posted on Categories Computer Law, Legal Practice2 Comments on Do People Who Investigate Websites Need P.I. Licenses in All 50 States?

MediaSentry Logo

The techie blogosphere is abuzz with the news that Michigan amended its private investigator licensing laws in May to add “computer forensics” to the list of activities that require a P.I. license in Michigan. This may not sound like big news, but it raises the possibility that MediaSentry, a company that gathers information on peer-to-peer filesharers for use in the RIAA’s lawsuits against online infringers, may be violating the law in several states. Given the general antipathy to the RIAA among the technorati, suddenly a large number of bloggers are interested in the arcane details of P.I. licensing requirements.

But the issues raised by the law go well beyond the RIAA lawsuits, and potentially affect any investigation of online misbehavior. Any lawsuit against an anonymous online individual begins with an attempt to identify that person. Furthermore, the definition of “computer forensics” in the Act is so broad that it includes printing out a web page for use in a lawsuit. Attorneys need to pay attention here too: the Michigan law exempts attorneys, but only if they are “admitted to practice in this state.” And other states have similar laws. So do you need a P.I. license or a bar admission in all 50 states before you can sue that defamatory blog poster?

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Lawyers and the Economic Red Shift

Posted on Categories Legal Education, Legal Practice7 Comments on Lawyers and the Economic Red Shift

Dalton Conley, a sociologist at NYU, has an op-ed in today’s New York Times arguing that something novel has happened to the life of leisure: it isn’t very leisurely anymore. “[I]t is now the rich who are the most stressed out and the most likely to be working the most. Perhaps for the first time since we’ve kept track of such things, higher-income folks work more hours than lower-wage earners do.”

Conley hypothesizes that this intriguing development is the result of greater disparity in incomes at the top end of the scale — what he calls an “economic red shift.” That is, the richer you are, the faster people at the wealth level just above you seem to be pulling away. Combine that with the fact that people usually define their socioeconomic status in relative terms — i.e., how they compare to the Joneses — and you have an explanation for why hours increase with income. Or, as Conley puts it, at higher income levels, “the opportunity cost of not working is all the greater ( … since the higher we go, the more relatively deprived we feel).” Continue reading “Lawyers and the Economic Red Shift”