Posts In "Copyright"

Copyright




A New Page for Google Books

In 2004, Google announced a project that, at the time, seemed audacious: a universal library, searchable online.  Book lovers rejoiced. “This is our chance to one-up the Greeks!” one archivist said (echoing what the rest of us were all surely thinking).  But lawyers did what we do best: worried.

Sure, the idea—now known as Google Books—was cool. But was it legal? After all, some of the books were copyrighted.  Google planned to show only snippets of the books, something its lawyers described as a “fair use.”  But the publishing industry had another name for the snippets: copyright infringement.

Continue reading the full story . . . »




U.S. Supreme Court Leaves Important Fair Use Ruling Undisturbed

More than a century ago, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes warned that it would be dangerous for people trained only in the law to decide the worth of a work of art—at least outside of the narrowest and most obvious limits.  As Holmes said:  “At the one extreme some works of genius would be sure to miss appreciation. Their very novelty would make them repulsive until the public had learned the new language in which their author spoke.”

Perhaps anticipating the arrival of such works as Tom Forsythe’s “Barbie Enchiladas” and Jeff Koons’ “Balloon Dog (Orange),” Holmes’ statement rings particularly true in today’s “appropriation art” scene.  Indeed, the growth of appropriation art, which the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) defines as “the intentional borrowing, copying, and alteration of preexisting images and objects,” has been stunning.  As just one example, when Andy Warhol premiered his Campbell’s Soup Cans work back in 1962 (which is a painting of a bunch of soup cans in a row), the canvasses only sold for only $100.  But in 1996, (at what must have been the height of America’s craze for salty soups), the paintings sold for $15 million.

Earlier this week, the debate over judges deciding the worth of works of art was reinvigorated as the United States Supreme Court decided not to hear an appeal of an extremely high profile fair use case called Cariou v. Prince.  In Cariou, a federal court of appeals in New York ruled, in a 2-to-1 decision, that 25 out of 30 paintings by Richard Prince made fair uses of copyrighted photographs by Patrick Cariou.  With respect to the other five Prince paintings, the appellate court sent the case back to the district court for a closer examination.  But as the dissenting judge recognized:  the line between the 25 fair uses and the five questionable ones is very thin—and might be better left to art experts to define rather than judges.

Continue reading the full story . . . »




Requiem for a Ridiculous Lawsuit

Last month, I wrote about some notable examples of film and television producers being sued or threatened for using other peoples’ creations without permission.  Examples included Emerson Electric suing NBC after Claire from Heroes stuck her hand in an “InSinkErator” brand garbage disposal; Coca Cola Company threatening legal action against an Italian film distributor over a film in which Jesus drinks a can of Coke in the desert; Louis Vuitton suing Warner Brothers over the unauthorized use of their luggage being used by a character who pronounced it “Luis” Vuitton in The Hangover Part II;  and Mattel suing MCA Records over the song “Barbie Girl.”  As if on cue, another such example has just arrived.

This month, a judge ruled on a lawsuit brought by Faulkner Literary Rights, LLC against Sony Pictures, Inc. for the studio’s use of a single line from the book Requiem for a Nun (written by that Nobel Prize winning William Faulkner guy) that was paraphrased and attributed to the author in the movie Midnight in Paris (directed by that controversial Woody Allen guy):

 

Original quote from Requiem for a Nun

Paraphrased quote in Midnight in Paris

“The past is never dead.  It’s not even past.” “The past is not dead.  Actually it’s not even past.  You know who said that?  Faulkner, and he was right.  I met him too.  I ran into him at a dinner party.”

Continue reading the full story . . . »




Happy Birthday…You’re Being Sued!

Have you ever noticed how people rarely sing “Happy Birthday to You” in movies and television?  Instead, people usually sing “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow,” even though no one actually sings that song in real life.  Nevertheless, this falsification of reality happens all the time.  My favorite example was when the crew of the Enterprise sang “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” to Worf on his birthday (in Klingon, naturally).  At the end of the song, Worf observed, “that is not a Klingon song.”  Worf’s observation is ironic, of course, because even humans don’t really sing “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” to each other on their birthdays.  (Well, maybe the humans who speak Klingon do….)

The reason for this falsification of reality is two-fold.  First, “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” is clearly in the public domain (which means you can use it for free).  Second, Warner/Chappell Music claims to own the copyright to the song “Happy Birthday to You” and charges $1,500 for a “synch license” whenever someone wants to use it on screen.

And until now, no one has ever formally challenged Warner/Chappell’s copyright to the Happy Birthday song.

Continue reading the full story . . . »




Who Owns Cute Girls in Pink Coats on Daddy’s Shoulders?

The Beatles crossing Abbey Road.  A nurse and sailor kissing in Times Square as the end of World War II is announced.  An African vulture patiently waiting for a starving toddler to die.  The 1968 Olympics Black Power salute.  Jack Ruby shooting Lee Oswald.  Rose and Jack on the bow of the Titanic (or, for movie fans of a different era, maybe Marilyn Monroe’s white dress billowing as she stands over a subway grate).

Iconic photographs capture an image and immortalize it.  Once seen, forever remembered.  Pictures worth a thousand words.  Other poignant clichés.  The point is, a photograph can take everything a historical moment symbolizes and preserve it for eternity — or at least until you accidentally throw out the pictures while moving, or maybe leave them unattended in your storage locker until you die.  (And if you haven’t seen the above photographs — other than the storage locker ones — stop reading this blog and look at them now or risk forever being a cultural ignoramus.)

Now think of a photograph of a little girl wearing a pink coat sitting on her father’s shoulders outside a church clutching a palm leaf.  Unless you spend a lot of time studying FBI manhunt posters, this photograph does not immediately spring to mind.  But it has one trait that the above photographs do not:  it was the subject of a recent lawsuit by its photographer against Sony Pictures, which used a photograph featuring a little girl wearing a pink coat sitting atop Eric McCormack’s shoulders in a television movie.  So, are these two photos “substantially similar,” such that the image on the right infringes the copyright in the image on the left?

According to Sony Pictures — and, now, the Boston-based federal Court of Appeals for the First Circuit — the answer is no. Continue reading the full story . . . »




This Is Our Super Bowl Blog Post. Now Come and Get Us, NFL!

[In honor of Super Bowl XLVII — because everyone knows that Roman numerals make everything very distinguished and significant — we're bringing back one of our most-read, and most personally-favored posts.  Enjoy your SUPER BOWL PARTY, everyone.]

Unless you live here, I’m assuming you’re aware of a little football game taking place this weekend between the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens.  (And maybe, just maybe, you might have heard something — but probably nothing original — about that whole Harbowl storyline.  Well here’s a little-known wrinkle about it.)

I’m as excited as anyone for the game, which is why, this Sunday, I might try to find a local bar hosting a Super Bowl party. But I’ll probably be out of luck, unless I’m willing to go to a “Big Game” party instead. And if I’m feeling spendthrift — the always-confusing word that sounds like “thrifty” but actually means “profligate” — I might try to pick up a new flat-screen TV at a Super Bowl sale. But unless I’m willing to settle for one of those ubiquitous “Big Game” sales, I’ll probably be forced to stick with what I’ve got.

Every year, while every sports yak in America is obsessing over Super Bowl scouting reports, every business in America is trying to capitalize on the game. But most of them aren’t using the words “Super Bowl” to do so, and the reason is fairly obvious: the phrase “Super Bowl” is trademarked by the NFL, which is famously protective of its intellectual property. Moreover, the privilege of using the phrase “Super Bowl” in advertising is one of the valuable rights bestowed by the NFL upon its advertisers and promotional partners — which gives the NFL extra incentive to keep freeloaders from poaching the phrase (thereby diminishing its value to potential paying promotional partners).

But what if the NFL is wrong? What if I really could check out the Super Bowl party at my favorite watering hole without them being subjected to the threat of legal doom?

Guess what, folks: I can. Continue reading the full story . . . »




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