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To Be Judged Not By the Color of Their Skin, But By the Content of Their Legal Briefs

[Ed. Note:  In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we'd like to re-run one of our favorite seasonal blog posts, thereby honoring Dr. King's legacy not only as a visionary and civil rights leader, but also as a copyright litigant.  Don't judge us; we're lawyers, we can't help ourselves.]

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

These words will be heard many times this week as we celebrate the birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. They are, of course, from King’s famous 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech. But as you celebrate his life and listen to his words, ask yourself this question: have you ever heard the whole speech? Not just the key excerpts that will be repeatedly broadcast on the news, but the entire, seventeen-minute address as it was given to a crowd of 200,000 in front of the Lincoln Memorial?

Ever wonder why it’s not shown on TV more often?

The answer, my friends, is copyright. Because while Dr. King may have dreamed of a world without racism, even he wouldn’t dare to dream of a world without lawsuits.

Yes, in addition to being a noted clergyman and civil rights leader, Dr. King was a copyright litigant. Continue reading the full story . . . »




“Where Are They Now”: Law Law Land Edition

This time last year, Law Law Land joined the hackneyed proud tradition of legal blogs offering year-end lists of cases to watch in the coming year (though in our defense, we did try to mix it up by reviewing totally absurd cases as well as totally important cases).  But “year in review” and “year to come” are cultural clichés that never held much appeal to me.  “Where are they now?” on the other hand?  That’s more my speed.  (Maybe that’s why I always adored the last five minutes of every episode of VH1’s Behind the Music, where the program would show the artist in their current, everyday life and tease the inevitable “impending comeback.”)  So what has become of those five big cases we told you to watch this year?  And did we pick good ones or not?  (Preview:  Yes, we did.  Oh shush, I don’t care if we’re biased.) Continue reading the full story . . . »




The Secret World of Copyright

What do Avril Lavigne cover songs, Dish Network’s AutoHop feature, celebrity sex tapes, apartment hunting websites, and ad-serving browser skinning programs have in common?

Each of them is a window into how copyright, an 18th century concept, drafted into a 20th century law, impacts the products we use and the way we experience life in a 21st century world.

The Simplest, Most Complicated Law You Know

Non-lawyers usually think of copyright as a pretty simple and intuitive area of the law, and in many ways, it’s one of the easiest areas to break down into easy, digestible (if somewhat oversimplified) terms.  What’s a copyright?  The exclusive right to control and exploit creative works.  How do you infringe a copyright?  Copy or perform a work without permission/payment, or steal it to create your own new, too-similar work.  Putting aside people’s chronic tendency to confuse copyrights and trademarks — helpful hint:  copyrights are for creative works, trademarks are for brand name, logos, and slogans — copyright is an area of law that, at least initially, the general public can intuitively “get.”

Of course, when the breakneck speed of technological development meets the languorous pace of national lawmaking, things can get a bit more complicated. For example, when the copyright infringement case against file-sharing service Grokster finally came before the Supreme Court in 2005, the Court’s nine justices required three separate opinions and the invention of an entire new theory of copyright liability to explain why Grokster was illegal, but other, less offensive services might not be illegal.  (Headline:  “Supreme Court Rules ‘Unanimously’ Against Grokster 3-3-3.”)

To be fair, though, things started getting wacky long before the Internet was invented.  For instance, most people know that any musician can cover any other musician’s song, without permission (for a small, statutorily-defined fee).  Why?  Because in 1909, Congress created a special “compulsory license” scheme to allow player piano roll makers to sell song rolls without having to separately seek permission from the original songwriters.  Somewhere along the way, some clever lawyer figured out the law was drafted broadly enough to allow for unauthorized cover songs, and now we all have to deal with Avril Lavigne defiling John Lennon’s “Imagine” in the name of Darfur relief.  (Miley Cyrus’s evisceration of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Celine Dion’s desecration of AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long” were, to my knowledge, only ever performed live, and so we have a different quirk of copyright law — the proliferation of blanket “public performance” licenses  managed by performing rights organizations ASCAP and BMI — to blame for those abominations.) Continue reading the full story . . . »




“No SOPA For You!” Why SOPA Led to Such an Acrimonious Fight and What We Can Learn From It

If you read the paper, watch TV, listen to the radio or use the Internet, it’s been tough to avoid SOPA recently.  (If you don’t, well, you’re probably hand-writing angry missives in a cabin and not reading this.)  What we’ve seen thus far are two widely-popular, well-funded industries passionately going toe-to-toe with one another, with one widely-unpopular but well funded group of politicians playing referee.  After some low blows, eye gouging and hair pulling, the anti-SOPA team has prevailed, at least temporarily.

Unfortunately, after listening to both sides of the debate, I’m convinced the vast majority of the debaters and their audience lacked a strong understanding of exactly what SOPA says and what its true implications would be.  Because we’re dealing with powerful industries with enormous soap boxes, the majority of the “discussions” presented to the public have been severely slanted by the presenter’s personal stake in the contest.  As with most heated political topics, this is great for sound-bites and overbroad, black-and-white ways of looking at things, but not so great if you actually want to understand the proposed legislation.  So as any good humanitarian should do, I’m going to attempt to sum it up from a relatively-neutral legal perspective.  Even if SOPA itself is no longer on the table (for now), the fight it started can give us insight into the sides’ respective concerns and the future skirmishes we’re likely to see. Continue reading the full story . . . »




5 Important Cases You Should Watch in 2012…and 5 Totally Unimportant Cases You Might Not Be Able to Stop Watching Even if You Tried (Part 1 of 2)

‘Tis the season.

‘Tis the season to be jolly.  ‘Tis the season to go shopping.  ‘Tis the season for political gaffes.  ‘Tis for hilarious gifting of intentionally awful presents.  Yes, ‘tis the season for lots of things, but most of all, ‘tis the season for top-ten lists.

Ten best movies.  Ten best dressed.  Ten best pet gifts.  Ten best of everything.  Ten best top-ten lists.

It seems only fitting, then, to embrace the spirit of the season, and look ahead to 2012 in obligatory list form.  But let’s mix it up a little by breaking up our list into two parts.  Today, we bring you five important cases you should watch in 2012.  On Friday, we’ll follow up with five totally unimportant trainwrecks of cases you might not be able to pry your eyes away from. Continue reading the full story . . . »




Q&A: How Do I Get My Film Off YouTube?

Q: I created a short film in film school that I’m trying to turn into a full-length feature. I set up a website that allows people to watch the film (I’m sending potential investors there instead of handing out DVDs). A buddy just sent me a YouTube link that shows my film. After some searching, I found that a few different people have posted it. I want my site to be the only place you can go to see the film. Am I out of luck because pretty much anything can get posted on YouTube?

A: There’s a few things in life I’m obsessed with.

Whoops. Let me say that again.

There are a few things in life with which I am obsessed (I must keep up appearances): (1)Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job! (my mission is to keep mentioning their show in this blog until they hire me to be their lawyer or obtain a restraining order); (2) Charlie Sheen quotes (at first they were awesome, then every annoying frat guy coworker started over-using them and I no longer wanted to be associated with them, then I got tired of pretending they’re not perfect and bitchin’ so I started using them again); and (3) YouTube.

If you’ve ever read this blog, you have probably realized that I’m a little too quick to link to a YouTube video. For no apparent reason, I’ll often throw in a hyperlink to a Troll 2 clip, even though it has nothing to do with my brilliant legal analysis. I am incapable of having a lunch with friends that doesn’t end in me immediately e-mailing everyone the five YouTube clips I spent the whole lunch trying ineffectually to describe. I get downright giddy over the fact that you can find just about any weird thing you’re looking for on one site.

The fact that you can find just about anything, however, doesn’t mean that you should necessarily be able to do so. Not too long ago, every hipster college kid with a computer was “sharing” music via Napster. Now the RIAA is suing hospitalized teenagers and young teens think Napster’s founder is kinda cute in a Mickey Mouse Clubboy band sort of way. Continue reading the full story . . . »




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