Posts In "Legislation"


Steve Smith Discusses California’s Anti-Video Game Law on Bloomberg News

Last week, Bloomberg’s Lee Pacchia interviewed Law Law Land’s Steve Smith about the Supreme Court case of Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Association, which will decide whether a California law barring the sale of violent video games to minors violates the First Amendment. Steve’s views on the subject, of course, are no secret. But we think his podcast makes for one of the most cogent and interesting breakdowns of the issue yet. Check it out here (more Bloomberg Law podcasts here).

The Doctrine Formerly Known as Fair Use

There’s been a new development in the Troubling Tale of the Two-Steppin’ Toddler — or, as it is more commonly known in legal circles, the Lenz v .Universal case. Our regular readers are familiar with the facts: back in 2007, loving mom Stephanie Lenz posted a 29-second YouTube clip of her adorable tot dancing, with Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” blaring in the background (I actually think he’s just running around the kitchen pushing a Fisher Price walker, but I’m no Carrie Ann Inaba). A few months later, Universal Music had the video removed, claiming copyright infringement. Lenz fought back (Hell hath no fury like a mother scorned), claiming fair use of the copyright, and filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California for misrepresentation of a DMCA claim. Since then, Mega-Mom has scored several victories, surviving a motion to dismiss in 2008 and knocking out certain of Universal’s affirmative defenses earlier this year. Continue reading the full story . . . »

Now Playing at a Theater Near You: Lessons About the Law

Works of entertainment have a lot to say — and a lot to do — about the world around us. Whether a movie is fiction, non-fiction, or falls into that precarious and uncertain space in between, movies have valuable lessons to teach us about not only the challenges facing our world, but also how we can start to face them.

Erin Brockovich

Category: Fictionalized True Story

In One Sentence: Unemployed-single-mother-turned-paralegal champions the cause of hundreds of residents of a small town who seem to be getting sick because of chemical dumping by the local power company, and wins them a multimillion dollar settlement.

Realism: 4 out of 5. While the portrayal of events in the film generated some controversy, most of the issues seemed to be disputes about reality itself, not the film’s depiction of reality. Hate to the be one to break this to you, though: the cleavage-for-information thing probably never happened.

Cinematic Quality: 4 out of 5.

Key Lesson: Sometimes empathy and committed doggedness are more important that pure resources and legal prowess.

Fun Fact: The real Erin Brockovich and Ed Masry both make cameo appearances in the film. Continue reading the full story . . . »

My Brush with Lawlessness: Jailbreaking iPhones and the DMCA

I thought I was breaking the law. Okay, it was breaking the law in the dorkiest way possible, but still, breaking the law is always kind of cool (wait, I’m a lawyer — am I allowed to say that?). After hours of research, I put my brand new first generation iPhone into the hands of some rogue programming genius with a vitamin D deficiency. The plan was to jailbreak and unlock my iPhone. In simple terms, jailbreaking allows you to modify the iPhone operating system in ways that Apple doesn’t allow. At the time, the App Store was just a gleam in Steve Jobs’ eye; jailbreaking would enable me to download games and other apps iPhone owners now take for granted. But I was more interested in unlocking the iPhone, which would allow me to run the phone on T-Mobile instead of AT&T (and avoid AT&T’s ungodly rates). Somehow I wasn’t deterred by the dozens of horror stories online about failed jailbreaking attempts, stories about “bricked” iPhones that never worked again. I certainly wasn’t going to drop another $400 on a new iPhone, so I knew I only had one shot at breaking out of jail. I downloaded the program and, like magic, I was playing Super Mario Bros. 3 in a matter of minutes — never a doubt. Continue reading the full story . . . »

Modern Family and the Lincoln-Douglas Debates

On Wednesday of last week, I engaged in two seemingly disparate acts that I only later realized were directly connected to each other. At 3:00 p.m., during work (sorry, Management Committee), I read the just-released legal opinion in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, which held that California’s Proposition 8 outlawing same-sex marriage was unconstitutional under the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Then, at 9:00 p.m., at home, I watched a rerun of Modern Family.

I had never seen the show before and did not intend to watch it. But I got home late with a McDonald’s extra value meal in hand, sat down on the couch, turned on the tube, surfed the channels and, without any destination in mind, stopped on Modern Family. I had heard that it was a good show and decided to see for myself. Watching the show, I did not have any deep thoughts, legal or otherwise. I was in a high-fat, high-carb-induced stupor. I did notice that the characters included a same-sex couple. But mostly I just thought the show was very funny.

Two hours later I was reading in bed, when I realized that I could not remember anything from the last two pages I had supposedly just read. I was distracted. I was thinking about Modern Family…and then I was thinking of Perry…and then I realized that the television show and the legal opinion were making the same point. Continue reading the full story . . . »

Finally, a DMCA Exception for Documentary Filmmaking

Documentary filmmaking is an intellectual property minefield. The entire undertaking is imperiled by the potential for copyright and trademark infringement. Then there are numerous state law pitfalls such as violating someone’s right of publicity or invading someone’s privacy.

And until recently, documentarians could also run afoul of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) for circumventing the digital locks on DVDs that prevent copying in order to access and incorporate high-quality film clips into their documentaries.

Last week, the Copyright Office made headlines by expressly legalizing the jailbreaking of iPhones. But over the excitement generated by 1337 hax0rs and tech geeks everywhere, you may not have heard the quiet sigh of relief emanating from documentary filmmakers everywhere, as the Copyright Office also finally granted a DMCA exception for documentary filmmaking. (Other sounds that may have resulted from the Copyright Office’s ruling: tittering giggles over the fact that one of the new regulations applies to something called a dongle.) Continue reading the full story . . . »