Welcome to the Line

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Recently, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) took up and reversed net neutrality.  If you are unfamiliar with net neutrality, it is the principle that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are not allowed to discriminate against certain users, websites, content, or whatever else.  For example, Spectrum (formerly Time Warner) is not allowed to block its users from or charge them for accessing Facebook.  Or, for a real-life example, Madison River Communications was fined $15,000 by the FCC for restricting their costumers’ access to a rival service. John Oliver explains net neutrality here. (Language warning.)  In a way, you could think of net neutrality as an equal opportunity law for the internet.  Or, at least you could have.  On December 14, 2017, FCC chairman Ajit Pai and the FCC voted to repeal net neutrality, which leaves the internet in the United States in a fairly bad spot.

Luckily, in my opinion, the FCC has a gauntlet of lawsuits to go through now that it repealed net neutrality.  It also seems there is a fair number of people who share my viewpoint.  As it stands, the FCC had something around 22 million complaints filed against its ruling.  FCC Chairman Pai canceled his scheduled appearance at the to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas due to death threats.  On top of this, the Internet Association is bringing together powerhouse companies to join the fight against the unpopular ruling.  Companies like Google, Amazon, Etsy, and Alphabet have stated they are joining the lawsuit.  The Internet Association’s President and CEO Michael Beckerman stated, “The final version of Chairman Pai’s rule . . . dismantles popular net neutrality protections for consumers.  This rule defies the will of a bipartisan majority of Americans and fails to preserve a free and open internet.”    Netflix even took to Twitter and sent the message, “In 2018, the Internet is united in defense of #NetNeutrality.  As for the FCC, we will see you in court.”  Furthermore, a number of states have come forward stating their opposition to the repeal and have indicated that they, too, will join the fight.

Seeing this net neutrality issue unfold has solidified my choice to attend law school.  Continue reading “Welcome to the Line”

The Myth About Practicing IP

Posted on Categories Intellectual Property Law, Legal Practice, Pro Bono, Public1 Comment on The Myth About Practicing IP

I was recently visiting a relative in the hospital when the attending physician struck up a conversation with my family.  When he found out that I am an attorney, he asked about my area of practice.  I told him that I practice product liability defense and intellectual property litigation.  He then asked me the following question, a variation of which has been posed to me dozens of times over the past five years:  “What type of engineer are you?”

I am an English major, and I practice IP litigation.  Not only do I not have a science background, but I made a concerted effort to avoid science classes in college.  Law schools precipitate a myth that you can’t practice IP without a science background.  It’s a myth because it’s not true.  I’m proof.  (Disclaimer:  it is true that you can’t prosecute patents before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office without a science background.  But patent prosecution is only one part of IP.) Continue reading “The Myth About Practicing IP”

The Copyright Act: Standing and “Right to Sue” Assignments

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The symbol representing a copyrighted work, which is the letter "C" within a closed circle.Every now and then, plaintiffs attempt to leap into the shoes of a copyright holder by obtaining permission from the copyright owner to sue an alleged third party infringer.  But these type of bare “right to sue” assignments in many instances fall short of what is required under federal law.

Enforcement Action Rights under the Copyright Act

According to the federal Copyright Act, only “[t]he legal or beneficial owner of an exclusive right under a copyright is entitled, subject to the requirements of section 411, to institute an action for any infringement of that particular right committed while he or she is the owner of it.”  17 U.S.C. § 501(b) (emphasis added).

The Copyright Act lists the following exclusive rights of the owner of a copyright:

(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.

17 U.S.C. § 106. But “a person holding a non-exclusive license is not entitled to complain about any alleged infringement of the copyright.”  HyperQuest, Inc. v. N’Site Sols., Inc., 632 F.3d 377, 382 (7th Cir. 2011).  In order words, to have the requisite standing to sue, a plaintiff must exclusively own one of the enumerated rights listed above.  Consequently, enforcement actions are limited to the specific rights exclusively owned.   For example, a plaintiff who owns the exclusive rights to perform a literary work can only sue to enforce that specific rights. Such a plaintiff, cannot go after alleged infringers making unauthorized copies of the literary work. Continue reading “The Copyright Act: Standing and “Right to Sue” Assignments”

Cosplay Wars: The Legal Implications of Fan Costume Competitions

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This past weekend, I attended the annual Milwaukee Mighty Con, a local comic convention.  While there, I watched one of the cosplay competitions where competitors dressed in fantastical recreations of iconic characters such as Star Wars’ Kylo Ren.  Yet while observing the competition and enjoying the efforts of the competitors, I pondered the legal implications of these derivative works.

But first, a little backTwo people dressed in costumesground information is in order.  The term “cosplay” was created by Takahashi Nobuyuki in 1984. Nobuyuki attended a science fiction convention in Los Angeles, and he was so impressed with the fans’ costume competition that he wrote about his experiences upon returning to Japan. Yet, no word in the Japanese language accurately represented the costume competition Nobuyuki saw. To remedy this predicament, Nobuyuki combined the Japanese equivalents of “costume” and “play” to describe what he saw.  This created the word “kosupure,” which in English roughly translates into cosplay. Today, this term universally refers to a fan’s wearing of costumes, props, and accessories to represent a character often originating from video games, comics, movies, and TV shows.  By extension, the individual who imitates the character is known as a cosplayer. Now, some cosplayers, like the competitors at Milwaukee Mighty Con, can have a monetary benefit from winning cosplay competitions.  Such monetary gains naturally bring up concerns regarding the copyrights and trademarks on the imitated characters.

Continue reading “Cosplay Wars: The Legal Implications of Fan Costume Competitions”

Microsoft President Calls for Protecting Privacy as the Cloud Reshapes Lives

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You only needed to read the title of the 2016 Nies Lecture in Intellectual Property presented Tuesday at Marquette Law School to know that Brad Smith was offering a generally positive view of the future of technological innovation. “A Cloud for Global Good: The Future of Technology—Issues for Wisconsin and the World” was the title.

Indeed, Smith spoke to the potential for what he called the fourth industrial revolution to improve lives across the world. But he also voiced concerns about the future of privacy and security for personal information in a rapidly changing world, and he called for updating of both American laws and international agreements related to technology to respond to the big changes.

All of this came from a standpoint of unquestionable knowledge of the subject matter. Smith is the president and chief legal officer of Microsoft. The Appleton native has been with the company since 1993 and his duties include overseeing corporate, external, and legal affairs for the global technology giant. Continue reading “Microsoft President Calls for Protecting Privacy as the Cloud Reshapes Lives”

Legal Issues and Pokémon Go

Posted on Categories Computer Law, Intellectual Property Law, Popular Culture & Law, Public, Tort Law2 Comments on Legal Issues and Pokémon Go

20160727_135932Okay, I admit it. I’m playing Pokémon Go. It’s frustratingly addictive.

For those who don’t know, Pokémon Go is an app for smartphones; the app is free, but players can make in-app purchases. The idea is for each player to “catch” creatures known as Pokémon, which the player does by “throwing” what is called a Pokéball at them. Once you catch the creatures, each of which has its own special powers and abilities, you can “evolve” them into stronger, more powerful creatures and you can go to gyms to “battle” other players.

Pokémon Go uses GPS to figure out where a player is located and presents the player with that “map.” Pokéstops (where players can go to get free goodies they need to play the game) and gyms are represented on the map as actual places, usually public places like parks, sculptures, or churches. To get to a Pokéstop or to battle at a gym, a player needs to physically move herself to that location. For example, the Marquette University campus is full of Pokéstops—e.g., a few sculptures on the southeast side of campus, one of the signs for the Alumni Memorial Union. Dedicated players certainly get some exercise.

Pokémon Go is also interesting because of how it mixes your real-life location with the mythical creatures. When a creature appears, you can take its picture, as if the Pokémon is right there in your real world. (See the pictures in this post.)IMG_20160722_084109

But Pokémon Go has been at the root of a number of accidents and incidents and it raises a number of interesting legal issues.

Continue reading “Legal Issues and Pokémon Go”

Silicon Valley’s Challenge to Intellectual Property Law

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Ted Ullyot titled his Helen Wilson Nies Lecture at Marquette Law School on Tuesday, “Innovation, Disruption, and Intellectual Property: A View from Silicon Valley.” He made it clear which two of those three elements are looked on favorably within that bastion of high-tech culture: innovation and disruption. That leaves one not looked on so favorably: intellectual property law, if you define that as protecting creative work through patents, copyrights, or trademarks.

Ullyot has gained great insight into what goes on between technological visionaries on one side and corporate lawyers on the other. From 2008 to 2013, he was general counsel of Facebook. That covered a period in which Facebook grew at an amazing pace, its stock went public, and it was sued by Yahoo! for patent infringement. Ullyot described the Yahoo! case in detail in his lecture, including the way that many of the leading figures in Silicon Valley who had no connection to Facebook were rubbed wrong by the Yahoo! suit because the culture of innovation was so oriented against asserting intellectual property rights. Continue reading “Silicon Valley’s Challenge to Intellectual Property Law”

Mapping Out the Copyright Semicommons

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Plan of a Mediaeval ManorMy previous two posts on the upcoming Nies Lecture (Thursday, April 16, at 4:30pm — it’s not too late to register!) attempted to sketch out where I think Prof. Smith is headed, based on the abstract and his previous work. In this post I want to reflect for a moment on the implications of viewing copyrights as a type of semicommons.

Copyright was born, in the eighteenth century, with a focus on who had the right to print, publish, and reprint works of authorship. That is, the concern was to exclusively reserve the manufacture of complete works — books, maps, and nautical charts — to the person who created them, or any downstream purchaser of those rights. Although the copyrighted work is intangible — it is the particular creative expression that is embodied within a book, map, or chart — for the first century or so of its existence that expression as a practical matter had a one-to-one correlation with physical objects. In that realm, it is easy to conceive of the property rights assigned by copyright, and the open access rights to the public domain, as dividing lines dividing up an imaginary space — this tract over here is the book Moll Flanders, which is owned by X; that tract over there is public domain, and thus can be used by anyone.

Over the course of the nineteenth century and into the early twentieth, that early, simple framework broke down as courts embraced the notion that the intangible object protected by copyright could be infringed in ways other than reprinting physical copies of the original. Continue reading “Mapping Out the Copyright Semicommons”

The 2015 Nies Lecture: IP as Semicommons

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cows-on-meadow-1410432-mThe title of the 2015 Nies Lecture, being given by Harvard Law Prof. Henry Smith on Thursday, April 16th, at 4:30pm (register here), is “Semicommons in Fluid Resources.” What’s a “semicommons,” and what does it have to do with intellectual property? (I should note that I haven’t talked to Prof. Smith about his lecture; Tuesday’s post and today’s are based just on the abstract read in light of Prof. Smith’s previous scholarship.)

Before I go further, let me recap Tuesday’s post. Prof. Smith has, in a series of articles, laid out a theory of property law that takes into account the informational costs of assigning property rights in various ways. Some ways of describing who has a certain right, and monitoring whether that right is being respected, are very concise: “Kerry owns that red ball.” “Hey, that’s not your ball, it’s mine!” I called these object-based rules, but Prof. Smith calls them “exclusivity rules.” The idea is the same: saying Kerry has the exclusive right to use the red ball for any purpose is a short and easily comprehended way of assigning all uses of that particular object to Kerry. It’s easy to identify who Kerry is, what the object is, and what Kerry (or anyone else) can do with it.

But that’s not the only way to assign rights to objects. Instead of giving all uses of a particular object to one person in an undivided lump, we could instead specify various uses of the object under various conditions, and say that different people can engage in those uses. In other words, we could manage access to the ball. Continue reading “The 2015 Nies Lecture: IP as Semicommons”

The 2015 Nies Lecture: What Is “Intellectual Property,” Exactly, and How Does It Relate to Water Law?

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Fall StreamI’m very excited about this year’s Nies Lecture, which will be delivered by Prof. Henry Smith of Harvard Law School in just a little more than a week — Thursday, April 16th, at 4:30pm. (Register now to attend!) The title is “Semicommons in Fluid Resources,” but that only hints at the depth of the waters, so to speak, that Prof. Smith is likely to explore. As I understand it, the topic is nothing less than the nature of property itself, and how some forms of it — rights to water, and intellectual property — occupy a “middle ground” between communal governance and individual ownership. That has important ramifications for copyright law in particular, in which the dividing line between common goals and individual incentives lies at the heart of numerous doctrines.

The issue is this: suppose you have some sort of resource that multiple people want to use. Say it’s a particular piece of land. As Smith has written previously, there are two basic ways of specifying rules for what people can do with that resource: you could draw lines around objects, or you could draw lines around uses. That is, you could identify a particular object, such as a plot of land, and say that one person has the right to decide all permitted uses of it. (Or that everyone has the right to decide what they will do with it, turning it into a commons, or no one does, turning it into a forbidden zone.) Alternatively, you could draw lines around uses, not objects, and say that person X has the right to engage in activity A using the piece of land in question, and spell out rules governing each person or set of persons and telling them what uses they can make of the land and which they can’t, and under what conditions.

As Smith has argued, these different methods are best viewed as lying on a spectrum. Continue reading “The 2015 Nies Lecture: What Is “Intellectual Property,” Exactly, and How Does It Relate to Water Law?”

Congratulations to Marquette’s 2015 Giles Sutherland Rich Moot Court Teams

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Congratulations to 3Ls Ariel Dade and Keith Reese-Kelly for reaching the quarterfinals of the Giles Sutherland Rich Memorial Moot Court Competition regionals in Atlanta. 3Ls Brian Brockman and Nathan Cromer also competed, and Professor Kali Murray served as the teams’ faculty advisor. The teams were coached by Attorneys Ryann Beck, Garet Galster, and David Hanson. This year’s competition problem involved two issues: first, the proper definition of a claim, and second, the public availability status of a printed publication.