So Easy a Monkey Can Do It

To the delight of copyright lawyers everywhere, yesterday the infamous Monkey Selfie debate of 2011 revived itself in the wake of a transparency report issued by Wikimedia revealing that the organization refused a request by photographer David Slater to remove the photo from Wikimedia Commons. Slater traveled to Indonesia in 2011 to photograph macaque monkeys. By Slater’s own account, a monkey grabbed one of his cameras and began snapping photos, including this one . Slater apparently licensed the image for distribution, and later discovered that it had been uploaded to the Wikimedia Commons database. He demanded that Wikimedia remove the image, and the organization refused on the ground that Slater did not create the image himself and therefore does not own copyright in it. Slater’s demand, and Wikimedia’s refusal, came to light when the organization issued its transparency report. Copyright Twitter feeds everywhere immediately lit up like a Christmas tree.

Under U.S. copyright law, the author of a work is the one who created it. In wonky copyright terms, it is the person who fixed an original expression in a tangible medium. Here, Slater has publicly admitted that he did not create the photograph; the monkey. The United States Copyright Office takes the position that only human beings can be “authors.” Animals need not apply. Accordingly, this gives rise to the somewhat unusual situation where there appears to be no author as a matter of law, and thus no copyright ownership.

Of course, U.S. copyright law generally does not apply extraterritorially, and the image in question was created in Indonesia. Although both countries are signatories to the Berne Convention, which requires member nations to give each others’ nationals equal treatment under copyright law, the question of who owns the copyright in the image in the first instance may be governed by Indonesian law.

Slater has reportedly consulted with a U.S. attorney, and is supposedly considering pursuing an infringement action.

Last Call: Orphan Works and Mass Digitization

The Copyright Office is now accepting further public comments on the issue of orphan works and mass digitization. The Office held public meetings earlier this month, which, by various accounts, were heated at times. Interested members of the public wishing to submit comments can find more information and the electronic submission form here. Comments are due by April 14, 2014.

Now Playing:
the Bob & Tom Show!

 

The Copyright Office is hosting an excellent, *free* Copyright Year in Review program on December 4 at 2 p.m. It is open to the public – and did I mention it’s *free*? The panelists are the always knowledeable and witty Bob Clarida and Tom Kjellberg. Bob and Tom have been killing it at the annual Copyright Society meetings for well over a decade (as long as I’ve been in attendance) and their presentation is always a highlight of the meeting. This program is definitely worth your while if you’re going to be in DC on the 4th and would like to brush up on recent copyright developments. Alas, the rest of us will have to wait until next June at the Copyright Society Annual Meeting. Sign up now, thank me later!  http://www.copyright.gov/copyrightmatters/copy_litigation.html

Round One to HathiTrust – Wins fair use ruling

This lawsuit stems from the Google Book Project, an ambitious program launched by Google in 2004 to digitize the library collections of the University of Michigan, Harvard, Stanford, the University of Oxford and the New York Public Library and make the collections available for searching online. In 2008, a group of universities established HathiTrust as a repository to combine, archive and share their digital libraries, and make the collection available to the public. At the time of the commencement of suit, the repository reportedly contained 10 million volumes. The Authors’ Guild, an authors’ trade association, and other authors’ groups sued HathiTrust for copyright infringement and swiftly moved for a judgment on the pleadings that HathiTrust could not rely on the fair use defense to the claim of copyright infringement.

First the Court addressed the issue whether the fair use defense is available to library institutions, or whether such institutions are limited to the separate defense to infringement found in Section 108 of the Copyright Act and known as the “library exception.” The court concluded that “fair use does not undermine Section 108, but rather supplements it.” The court then addressed the four fair use factors: purpose and character of the use; nature of the copyrighted work; amount and substantiality of the portion taken in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and the effect on the market for or value of the copyrighted works. The court found:

1. Purpose and character of the use. The court found that the use that HathiTrust is making of the works is transformative because it serves an “entirely different purpose than the original works.” The purposed is “superior search capabilities rather than actual access to copyrighted material.”

2. Nature of the copyrighted work; amount and substantiality of the portion used. The second and third factors were not considered important, though the court rejected the plaintiffs’ contention that the uses could not be fair because they made use of the entire works at issue.

3. Market effect.  The court found that this factor weighed in favor of fair use for a number of reasons. The plaintiffs could not identify any specific quantifiable harm to the market to exploit their works, or any documents relating to such harm. The court noted that HathiTrust has implemented security measures in place to prevent wholesale infringing copying. Finally, the transformative nature of the use undercut any actionable market harm, as a copyright holder cannot preempt a transformative market.

Balancing all the factors, the court found the use fair.  The case has been appealed.  A more detailed discussion of the Google Book project can be found in my paper, “Fair of Foul? Mass Digitization and the Fair Use Doctrine,” submitted in connection with the AIPLA’s 2012 Spring Meeting and available at http://www.shadesofgraylaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/AIPLA-Paper-2012.pdf

Patently Fair or Patent Nonsense? Prior Art Submissions, Copyright and Fair Use

Last week I had the privilege of addressing the Dallas Bar IP Section on the subject of the current controversy over copyright and prior art submissions in patent prosecution. Four lawsuits have been filed by publisher John Wiley & Sons and the American Institute of Physics against law firms alleging copyright infringement for reproducing and distributing various scientific articles in the course of preparing and submitting patent applications. The lawsuits allege that the law firms violated copyright in the articles at issue by (1) making and distributing copies of the articles to the USPTO in connection with patent applications; (2) making additional copies of articles cited in patent applications; and (3) making copies of articles that they neither cited nor submitted to the USPTO for internal purposes. One of the cases apparently settled over the summer. In two of the remaining cases, the plaintiffs have amended their pleadings to drop the allegations concerning submissions to the USPTO, leaving only the allegations regarding internal law firm copying.

The copyright and patent communities have taken note of these lawsuits, and there is an ongoing discussion regarding whether the practices at issue constitute fair use of the articles in question. In January of 2012, the General Counsel of the USPTO issued a memorandum asserting that the accused practices constitute fair use, and the USPTO has intervened in two of the cases as a defendant and counterclaimant, seeking a declaration of noninfringement. In this post, I will give an overview of the fair use doctrine and apply it to the copying at issue in the prior art cases. Continue reading

2nd Circuit Finds the Beef – Reverses Summary Judgment Grant in YouTube

On April 5, the Second Circuit issued its highly anticipated opinion in Viacom v. YouTube, reversing the District Court’s grant of summary judgment and remanding for further proceedings.  Significantly, the opinion marks the first time that a court has drawn a meaningful, substantive distinction between actual and “red-flag” knowledge under the DMCA.  This sets it apart from earlier DMCA opinions, including that of the Ninth Circuit in UMG Recordings, Inc.  v. Shelter Capital (involving the Veoh videosharing service) and, notably, the lower court opinion in Viacom.  Practitioners and ISPs now have some judicial guidance as to how to construe their rights and responsibilities under the DMCA.

Ominously for YouTube, the Second Circuit held that a reasonable jury could find that, under DMCA Section 512(c), YouTube had actual knowledge or awareness of specific infringing activity on its website.  Moreover, the Second Circuit ruled that the District Court had incorrectly construed the DMCA’s control and benefit provisions in holding that the “right and ability to control” infringing activity required that the ISP have knowledge of specific, identifiable instances of infringement.  Finally, the court affirmed the District Court’s holding that three of YouTube’s software functions fell within the safe harbor for infringement occurring “by reason of user storage,” and remanded for further fact-finding with respect to a fourth software function.  Continue reading

They Built This Lawsuit on Rock ‘n Roll – Thomas-Rasset oral arguments available

On June 8, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeal heard oral argument in the Capitol Records v. Thomas-Rasset filesharing case. The oral argument addressed two issues: (1) whether the Copyright Act grants a copyright owner the exclusive right to “make available” works to the public; and (2) whether a statutory damages award that is within the range set by Congress can nonetheless be constitutionally excessive. The (third) jury in the case rendered a verdict of $80,000 per song infringed, for a total of $1.92 million, which the District Court remitted to $2,250 per song (three times the statutory minimum).

I will post the opinion when it is available. In the meantime, diehards can listen to the oral argument here.

Partial verdict in Oracle v. Google – The party’s not over

Today the jury issued a partial verdict in the Oracle v. Google copyright infringement lawsuit.  In that suit, Oracle accuses Google of infringing elements of its Java programming platform in developing its Android mobile software.  The jury found that Google infringed 37 Java API packages.  The jury did not reach a result on the issue whether Google’s use of the API packages constituted a fair use.  Google is reportedly seeking a mistrial.  The trial is now moving into a phase involving Oracle’s claims that Google infringed certain Java patents.

Trademarks Make the World Go ‘Round
Can’t-Miss Program on Nuts and Bolts of Trademarks

LJS headshot My esteemed partner, Lawrence Siskind, will be delivering his annual talk, “Nuts and Bolts of Trademark Law,” at the San Francisco Bar Association on July 12, 2012 from 12:00 – 1:30 p.m.  It doesn’t get any more fun than this!  I’ve attended before, and the program is both entertaining and informative.  Register now and tell Larry that Shades of Gray sent you!

Eldred Conquers Golan’s Heights
Supreme Court Upholds Copyright Restoration

Last week, the Supreme Court issued its eagerly awaited ruling in Golan v. Holder, holding that Congress acted within its authority in passing legislation that restored copyright in certain foreign works that were previously in the public domain in the United States.  The Court found that its earlier opinion in Eldred v. Ashcroft largely disposed of the petitioners’ claims.  Though reactions to the case seemed muted in contrast to the raging debate over SOPA – which initially overshadowed news of the opinion – it is an important opinion with significant ramifications for those who use content in the public domain. Continue reading