DOJ: Google book settlement better, but not yet good

5 02 2010

Google’s competitors aren’t the only ones who think that the revisions to the Google book settlement are insufficient—the US Department of Justice has reached the same conclusion. The DOJ has filed a statement of interest with the judge handling the case in which it argues that although the revisions to the initial settlement are substantial, they fall well short of eliminating the antitrust and copyright concerns that it had raised previously. As a result, the DOJ argues, the best solution is to send the parties back to the negotiating table to try again.

As with its previous filing, the DOJ recognizes that the settlement might ultimately provide a public good. “Realities make it difficult if not impossible to engage in lawful large-scale book digitization projects, thereby denying the public the full corpus of 20th century books and, perhaps, unknown benefits of future creativity and economic innovation,” the statement reads. “The parties to the ASA [Amended Settlement Agreement] should be commended for their efforts to find a solution to these challenges.”

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feature: Studios crushed: ISP can’t be forced to play copyright cop

4 02 2010


In a definitive defeat for film studios—and in a first case of its kind worldwide—Australia’s Federal Court has ruled that ISPs have no obligation to act on copyright infringement notices or to disconnect subscribers after receiving multiple letters. If copyright holders want justice for illegal file-sharing, they need to start by targeting the right people: those who committed the infringement.

The ruling handed down today by Judge J. Cowdroy aims to be nothing less than magisterial: in 200 pages, it examines the issue from every possible angle because of the “obvious importance of these proceedings to the law of copyright both in this country and possibly overseas.”

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Italy preparing to hold YouTube, others liable for uploads

3 02 2010

User-generated content sites have always resisted the idea that they should be regulated like traditional broadcasters, but Italy has been the democracy that has gone furthest in that direction. The move toward regulation continues with a new policy that could force sites like YouTube to obtain TV licenses from the Italian government. Such sites could also be fully liable for copyright infringement and libelous or illegal material posted by users.

The Italian government has already gone after Google in a highly public fashion, suing several top executives over a YouTube video that showed classmates abusing a student with Down’s Syndrome. In that case, the argument was that Google had a duty to screen such material and keep it from appearing on the site—a claim that Google and others have always said would make user-generated content sites almost impossible to run.

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The sequel stinks: critics trash new Google Books settlement

29 01 2010

With everyone from authors to librarians upset about the initial settlement of the Google Books copyright lawsuit, and the US Department of Justice hinting that it was likely to be illegal, the parties involved withdrew it from consideration. After some modifications, it was resubmitted to the court; the deadline for comments on the new version passed yesterday, and many of the same parties submitted new briefs. But anyone who read the initial round may feel like they’re experiencing déjà vu when reading the new batch. For most of the settlement’s critics, very little has changed, and their initial complaints remain.

To be sure, Google has now won over a number of authors groups, including groups from Australia, Canada, and the UK. But in the list of filings tracked by the public index, objections abound. Some of these come from the authors themselves. Ursula K. Le Guin, for example, organized over 350 authors who objected to the fact that the agreement would apply to anyone who didn’t opt out of it, a condition that most observers consider a major change in US copyright policy.

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BitTorrent census: about 99% of files copyright infringing

29 01 2010

It has never been a secret that the majority of files being shared over BitTorrent are movies and music that are likely being shared illegally. (Sorry, Linux distro nerds.) Princeton senior Sauhard Sahi confirmed this recently after setting out to survey the content available on BitTorrent and, although there are caveats to his findings, they highlight the relationship DRM has with illegal file sharing. As in: the more DRM there is on the legit versions of the content, the more popular it is on P2P.

Sahi chose a random sample of 1,021 files from the trackerless Mainline DHT and classified them by file type, language, and apparent copyright status. He found that nearly half (46 percent) of files were nonpornographic movies and TV shows—the largest single category of content. 14 percent of the files were porn, tied with the 14 percent dedicated to games and software. Just 10 percent of the files were classified as music, and one percent were books and guides.

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The RIAA’s Never-Ending Battle Over File Sharing

29 01 2010

On Friday, January 22, Judge Michael Davis reduced the jury award by ninety-seven percent in a case brought by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) against Minnesota mother Jammie Thomas-Rasset for copyright infringement of twenty-four songs obtained through illegal file sharing, calling the original fine “monstrous and shocking.” This case was the first file sharing case to make it past the settlement stages and into court, and has now been tried to a jury twice. The jury verdict of $222,000 in the first trial was thrown out when the case was declared a mistrial. In a second trial, the jury convicted Thomas-Rasset and assigned a $1.92 million verdict in favor of the RIAA, a fine of $80,000 per song. Last week this verdict was reduced to $54,000, amounting to $2,250 per song. The RIAA plaintiffs were given seven days to respond, either to accept the lower verdict or seek a new trial.

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RIAA offers to settle Thomas-Rasset case for $25,000

27 01 2010

The federal judge overseeing the Jammie Thomas-Rasset P2P case gave the recording industry a week to decide if it would accept his decision to slash Thomas-Rasset’s damages from $80,000 to $2,250 per song. But the labels haven’t decided yet, and they have just asked the judge for more time. In the meantime, they’re telling her that she can wipe her hands clean of the whole situation for $25,000.
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Do you need to send an copy of your online works to the Copyright Office for deposit? Interim regulations (Jan. 25) allow exemptions for most online works – for now.

26 01 2010

The Copyright Office issued an interim regulation in the Federal Register Jan 25, giving a qualified exemption to mandatory copyright deposit requirement for online works published in the United States.  The exemption does not apply to online works that are also published in physical form.

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Facebook User Agreement Upheld in Copyright Infringement Lawsuit Over Third Party App–Miller v. Facebook

23 01 2010

By Eric Goldman

Miller v. Facebook, Inc., 1:2009cv02810 (N.D. Ga. Jan. 15, 2010). Miller’s complaint filed in October 2009.

Miller makes the Adobe Flash videogame “Boomshine.” He alleges that defendant Yeo published a Facebook app, ChainRxn, that violates Miller’s “look and feel” copyright in Boomshine. In addition to suing Yeo, Miller sued Facebook for its role in providing access to the app. See Wendy Davis’ initial story on the lawsuit from October. Facebook defended on jurisdictional grounds, asserting that Facebook’s user agreement requires that the lawsuit should be heard in California, not Miller’s preferred venue of Georgia.

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On Being Relevant: Copyright Law and Higher Education

15 01 2010

By way of explanation and introduction, I have been given the opportunity and privilege of being a guest blogger on ©ollectanea for the next month or so. Some of you already know me through other CIP activities, including blogging several years ago. I’m really happy to be “on” with Peter Jaszi since I have long been a fan of his and of his work, particularly the work with the American University Center for Social Media (http://centerforsocialmedia.org) and its facilitation of Best Practices documents. (http://www.centerforsocialmedia.org/resources/fair_use_and_teaching)

What I find very interesting about the Center’s work and its development of best practices (that have already been widely accepted) is the way this group has facilitated and reinforced the belief that copyright is indeed relevant, in the world of documentary film studies as well as other areas. Of the many worthwhile objectives the Best Practices documents meets, unmasking copyright as relevant is a most remarkable achievement. Whether the Center affirmatively set out to establish the relevance of copyright or whether they were simply dealing with a uniquely “aware” group, I do not know.

I have come to the conclusion that the greatest challenge for campus copyright educators (as well as those trying to reach the general population) lies in helping individuals appreciate copyright’s intimate relationship to many of their daily activities, both at work and at play. If copyright is not understood and accepted as even being relevant to core campus activities – if it is viewed instead as optional or a “luxury”, educational efforts will not succeed. Indifference will rule the day and the campus will be unequipped to participate in the copyright debates and national discussions that currently dominate scholarly communication.

I have been involved in copyright education at higher education institutions for fifteen years; given and attended dozens and dozens of presentations and workshops all over the country; and developed several copyright educational web sites including the TEACH Act Toolkit and the Know Your Copy Rights. So I have spent some time in the various strongholds or centers of copyright expertise, understanding and appreciation. Being among like-minded colleagues is almost like a vacation. It’s at least a validation of your choice to spend your waking moments doing what others also consider a worthwhile venture. What a relief to be around people who understand the manner in which copyright has soaked into the very fabric of life in American – whatever their take on copyright law may be. For purposes of appreciating copyright’s role, its limitations, nuances, goals, and the opportunities present for shaping its evolution, it doesn’t even matter whether you are sitting amongst a group at the RIAA, MPAA, or AAP or at the EFF, Creative Commons, or Public Knowledge. Because in these groups, all are safe with the cocoon of consensus that copyright matters to the average person and has relevance to how various aspects of life are conducted.

These are great and stimulating places to spend time and I thoroughly believe in and applaud the work they do. However, I spend most of my time outside that cocoon, in the “trenches”, if you will. So do you, unless you’re one of the lucky few who get to skip that first great big hurdle – the one that consistently leaves most universities at the starting line on a horse that won’t run.

That hurdle is the complacency evident where copyright is concerned; the pervasive apathy that prevails in all (including, at times, the very upper administration) but a few areas or groups at the university; the belief that copyright plays no role in teaching and outreach activities. The conviction that copyright considerations are optional and that it is ridiculous, if not delusional, to suggest that permission might be necessary when all that is being done is using the best resources available to teach – a noble and worthy cause. Academia doesn’t make money from its works and is, in fact, happy to share them; ergo, the creators that are being “borrowed” from no doubt share that same attitude.

It becomes virtually impossible to convey copyright information and assistance to those who believe it has no current relevance to anything they do and has never had any relevance or inhibited their manner of presenting material to their students. They assert that the correctness of this attitude is evident in the lack of any negative consequences resulting from the practice of completely ignoring copyright law when teaching in the past. In that same past, when the copyright and distribution of copyrighted material was in “analog” form and face2face teaching was the norm, nothing happened if copyright was ignored by faculty (coursepack permissions were handled and paid for by copy shops and costs passed to the students). Now, in the digital world, they believe nothing has changed. Those who handle their own online courses or online components of courses generally believe that fair use and access controls suffice and copyright remains irrelevant.

Although I did not personally attend the 2009 Annual EDUCAUSE conference this past fall, I was able to view the keynote address by Lawrence Lessig online and it was fascinating. See “It is About Time: Getting Our Values Around Copyright” http://blip.tv.file/2827842. I recommend taking the time to listen to his presentation.

I mention it here because Dr. Lessig made several initial points, sometimes using quotes from Jessica Litman, that resonated powerfully with my growing observation that for most people, including or particularly those in higher education institutions, copyright is perceived as having no significant relevance to the core teaching mission of the university. Dr. Lessig refers to copyright as the huge elephant in the room but I would suggest that in many places, the elephant has left the building.

Dr. Lessig stated that, in the past, copyright played a tiny role in the way people engaged with their cultures. Quoting Dr. Litman, “At the turn of the century {19th to 20th}, U.S. copyright law was technical, inconsistent and difficult to understand but it didn’t apply to very many people or very many things… If you were an author or publisher,..playwright or producer of plays, or a printer, the copyright law bore on one’s business… But … booksellers, record publishers, motion picture producers, musicians, scholars, members of Congress, and consumers could go about their business without ever encountering a copyright problem.” Then, according to Dr. Lessig, things changed radically because of technology and the current context is one where copyright reaches across the spectrum of ways in which we engage in our culture.

Continues Litman, “Ninety years later, U.S. Copyright law is even more technical, inconsistent and difficult to understand; more importantly it touches everyone and everything…Technology, heedless of law, (emphasis added) has developed modes that insert multiple acts of reproduction and transmission – potentially actionable events under the copyright statute – into commonplace daily transactions. Most of us can no longer spend even an hour without colliding with the copyright law.” (emphasis added)

As I stand with a foot in each world, I wonder what hybrid copyright law creature will emerge from such incompatible versions of reality – those who recognize that a great deal of what they do is affected by copyright and those who barely give it a second thought. Where do you even begin? How can you possibly convince our children, our students, of the illegality of P2P music file sharing when their role models run digital music audio reserves or place entire music tracks in their online courses? That you cannot copy large portions of works when private companies are allowed into their library to scan entire library collections? How do you split those hairs in a way that is meaningful and credible to the average student?

In a world of scanning, burning, streaming, and ripping, how does copyright achieve relevance when campus leadership, down through the levels of the faculty pyramid, are satisfied with a courteous, but dismissive, nod in the direction of copyright? How can copyright be anything but ignored when educational institutions consider copyright education and guidance optional?

How does copyright achieve and maintain relevance in an atmosphere that acknowledges only that which threatens to cost a lot of money?

You got me.
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