But. . . they did it on TV: What Glee teaches about copyright

The fictional high school chorus at the center of Fox’s Glee has a huge problem — nearly a million dollars in potential legal liability. For a show that regularly tackles thorny issues like teen pregnancy and alcohol abuse, it’s surprising that a million dollars worth of lawbreaking would go unmentioned. But it does, and week after week, those zany Glee kids rack up the potential to pay higher and higher fines.

Check out the rest of Christina Mulligan’s post at Balkanization.


A Victory for Open Source Software

Novell recently won a 7 year battle against the SCO Group over the copyright to UNIX source code. A jury in Utah found that Novell was the owner of the copyrights in question. Its a victory for open source software generally, because it was probably the most serious legal threat to development of Linux, an open source UNIX-like operating system. SCO had alleged that Linux infringed copyrights it held in UNIX. Though Novell’s offerings have changed over the years, currently it offers SUSE Linux and related software and services.

The blog Groklaw has been following this case in great detail over the years. There is an unbelievable amount of information there which illustrates how much work can go into litigating a case of this scale.


Pink Floyd Wins and the Album Lives Another Day

Pink Floyd recently won a case in the UK against its record company EMI over the rights to sell copies of Pink Floyd songs as individual digital downloads. The contract which was signed in 1999 limited EMI’s ability to sell singles of the songs and Pink Floyd successfully argued that that should apply to digital downloads as well. This case raises a potential moral rights issue in the age of the digital downloads.

While albums were still the norm ten years ago, increasingly people are looking for their music by the track. Apple’s iTunes store prices by the album, but you are still left with individual files that are downloaded to your computer. Should artists like Pink Floyd be able to sell their music only in the form of an album? US Copyright law is distinctly economic in nature and the idea of “moral rights” or droit d’auteur play a very small role here. While artists in many countries can control how their works appear well after the works are sold; here in the US, artists are limited to rights granted under copyright law such as reproduction, public performance, etc.

Perhaps we will see more one track albums in the future. Or perhaps its time to move past the album, a format that exists largely due to the technical specifications of LPs (60 minute capacity) and to some extent Compact Disc (80 minute capacity). Not all music needs to be one hour divided into 10 songs. Digital downloads can be just about any size. The only effective limitations are what a person might want to listen to and what an artist feels is appropriate*. Perhaps now is a good time to rethink the album.

*There is at least one song that could cause problems for digital downloads. As Slow As Possible by John Cage has been performed since 2001 in Halberstadt, Germany and the performance is expected to continue for another 639 years.


What is Theft?

I found this article by Chris Hartman amusing because the word “theft” is used so frequently outside of its literal legal definition. The article searches Google for instances when people write “_______ is theft” with the rankings shown below.

Its a brilliant example of how people distort the truth by using a vague or general definition of a word with a lot of emotional weight. Like “theft.” When you use a word like “theft” to mean any general sort of taking or use of a right, it ceases to mean theft. Its also interesting to note that publishers appear four times in that list, including the top spot, but in none of those cases do they mean actual theft. Infringement is bad, but its also hard to conceptualize. Theft is immediate and visceral.

Hat tip to Marginal Revolution.


They Don’t Make Computer Manuals Like This Anymore

Actually, I don’t think they even make computer manuals any more. At least not ones that come with your computer. Either way, this manual from a Franklin Ace 1000 is seems so foreign, so unlike any documentation you might get today that its almost amusing. Its part rant, part manifesto and it breaks up the world into “THEM”, “US” and “YOU.” From the manual:

“Program manufacturers are natural paranoids. In their zeal to “copy protect” their programs, they tend to regard all customers as potential thieves”

Interestingly enough, Franklin made Apple computer clones and was successfully sued by Apple for copyright infringement of Apple’s operating system. Natural paranoids indeed.

Full article at Ironic Sans. HT to BoingBoing


Copyright Czar wants your input

Victoria Espinel the Copyright Infringement Czar for the Obama Administration, wants to gather public input as to how the US should enforce copyright infringement. Here is part of the official summary of the request:

This request for comments and for recommendations for an improved
enforcement strategy is divided into two parts. In the first, the IPEC
seeks written submissions from the public regarding the costs to the
U.S. economy resulting from intellectual property violations, and the
threats to public health and safety created by infringement. In the
second part, the IPEC requests detailed recommendations from the public
regarding the objectives and content of the Joint Strategic Plan and
other specific recommendations for improving the Government’s
intellectual property enforcement efforts. Responses to this request
for comments may be directed to either of these two parts, or both, and
may include a response to one or more requests for information found in
either part.

Comments are due by Wednesday, March 24,
2010, at 5 p.m.

The full text of the request can be found here.

Send your comments to: intellectualproperty@omb.eop.gov

HT to boingboing.net for publicizing this.


Judge Reduces Award in Jammie Thomas-Rasset Filesharing Case

On Friday, the court reduced the damages in the Jammie Thomas-Rasset filesharing case from $80,000 per song to $2,250 per song. The total now stands at $53,000 which is much less than the the jury awarded. Here is what Judge Michael Davis had to say at page 15:

Although Plaintiffs highlight valid reasons that Thomas‐Rasset must pay a statutory damages award, these facts simply cannot justify a $2 million verdict in this case. Thomas‐Rasset was not a business acting for profit. Instead, she was an individual consumer illegally seeking free access to music for her own use. Congress set a high maximum for statutory damages in order to ensure that damages awards could be large enough to outweigh the potential gain from infringing. As the Court noted in its September 2008 Order, in the case of commercial actors, the potential gain in revenues is enormous and enticing to potential infringers. In the case of individuals who infringe by using peer‐to‐peer networks, the potential gain from infringement is access to free music, not the possibility of hundreds of thousands – or even millions – of dollars in profits. The need for deterrence cannot justify a $2 million verdict for stealing and illegally distributing 24 songs for the sole purpose of obtaining free music.

It will be very interesting to see if this reasoning is applied in future copyright statutory damages rulings.

A copy of the Order can be found at Copyrights and Campaigns


Capitol Records Sues Vimeo for Lip-Dub Videos

While ordinarily an ISP or web service like Vimeo could get off the hook under section 512 of the DMCA, it does complicate things when your staff creates and posts a video that is allegedly infringing.

Link to the Trademark Blog which includes both the video in question and the complaint.


Top 10 Cyberlaw Developments of 2009

Great post by John Ottavianni on Eric Goldman’s Technology and Marketing Blog recaps some of the more consequential developments in cyberlaw this past year.


Innacurate Copyright Enforcement

From the Freedom to Tinker blog, Mike Freedman gives a good description of how BitTorrent works as well as how some companies are handing out Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) notices without much proof of any actual infringement.

“I am not arguing that copyright owners should not be able to take reasonable steps to protect their copyrighted material. I am arguing, however, that they should take similarly reasonable steps to ensure that any claimed infringement actually took place. When DMCA notices are accompanied by oaths under “penalty of perjury” and these claims are accepted as writ, as they have de facto become, there should some downside for agencies that demonstrably do not act in “good faith” to verify infringement.”

If you receive DMCA takedown that you believe is inaccurate, you can and often should push back. The linked story confirms my suspicions that many companies do not review notices of alleged infringement before they send them. It isn’t yet entirely clear to what extent the sender of a wrongful DMCA notice would be liable, but certainly there is a good case to be made that if they must act in good faith.

UPDATE: There is now a part two to the initial post