What use is “fair” under the law of copyright?

6 01 2010

Fair Use is one of those terms that can raise a lot of passion among people. Some people today say that all use should be more or less “fair” and it is unfair for big media companies to try and hassle people. The traditionalists in the crowd say that fair use is merely a small limitation on the rights of copyright owners so that others may use portions of their works for certain purposes.

This is truly one of the fascinating discussions of our times in IP law – but I am not going there today. Later on we will discuss these issues in some depth. Today, since I don’t want you to be charged with copyright infringement when you think your use is fair, I am going to give you the black letter traditionalist view of the law of fair use. Fair enough?

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What Could Have Been Entering the Public Domain on January 1, 2010?

4 01 2010

Current US law extends copyright protections for 70 years from the date of the author’s death. (Corporate “works-for-hire” are copyrighted for 95 years.) But prior to the 1976 Copyright Act (which became effective in 1978), the maximum copyright term was 56 years (an initial term of 28 years, renewable for another 28 years).  Under those laws, works published in 1953 would be passing into the public domain on January 1, 2010.

This includes:

  • Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451
  • C.S. Lewis’s The Silver Chair (the fourth book in The Chronicles of Narnia)
  • Walt Disney’s Peter Pan
  • H.G. Well’s The War of the Worlds
  • From Here to Eternity (starring Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Deborah Kerr, Frank Sinatra, and Donna Reed)

Click here for a full discussion and additional works.

Source: Center for the Study of the Public Domain

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A look at Apple’s love for DRM and consumer lock-ins

4 01 2010

Apple is a company known for many things, but embracing copyright freedoms has not been one of them. The company loves creating new and innovative products that challenge the world’s perception of what it thought it wanted, but it then turns around and aggressively protects those products from being poked or prodded too much by curious onlookers. Some believe Apple is in the right to do this, while others feel the company could set a better example when it comes to using (or abusing) copyright legislation for its own self-serving purposes.

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512(f) Claim Dismissed on Jurisdictional Grounds–Project DoD v. Federici

31 12 2009

By Eric Goldman

Project DOD, Inc. v. Federici, 2009 WL 4910320 (D. Me. Dec. 13, 2009)

17 USC 512(f) creates a cause of action for sending bogus copyright takedown notices. In a regulatory environment where service providers have itchy trigger fingers, it is crucial to suppress bogus takedown notices or the entire notice-and-takedown scheme becomes easily corrupted. Unfortunately, 512(f) cases have not fared well in the courts, and this one fails (at least temporarily) on procedural grounds. Nevertheless, the case illustrates the challenges faced by service providers dealing with copyright owners who freak out.

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Obama admin: Mandated exemptions can strengthen copyright

30 12 2009

The Obama administration has offered up a strange mix of copyright policies in its first year (both ACTA and Creative Commons, for instance), but it has at least made clear that “better copyright law” does not always mean “more copyright protection.” In the middle of December, for instance, the administration took a stand in support of a World Intellectual Property Organization treaty on copyright exceptions for the blind. The final bit of the US statement of support is worth quoting in full (emphasis added):

We recognize that some in the international copyright community believe that any international consensus on substantive limitations and exceptions to copyright law would weaken international copyright law. The United States does not share that point of view. The United States is committed to both better exceptions in copyright law and better enforcement of copyright law. Indeed, as we work with countries to establish consensus on proper, basic exceptions within copyright law, we will ask countries to work with us to improve the enforcement of copyright. This is part and parcel of a balanced international system of intellectual property.

It’s a call for “balanced” copyright taken directly to the WIPO—and it’s one opposed by the deepest-pocketed copyright holders. Here’s why.

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Torrent Sites Induce Infringement and Lose DMCA Safe Harbor–Columbia v. Fung

30 12 2009

By Eric Goldman

Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc., v. Fung, 2:06-cv-05578-SVW-JC (C.D. Cal. Dec. 21, 2009)

In a potentially significant ruling that got a little lost in the Christmas rush, a federal district court ruled on summary judgment that the “torrent site” Isohunt and related websites induced copyright infringement and were not eligible for the online safe harbors in 17 USC 512. This is one of only a few cases finding copyright inducement post-Grokster, and I believe it is the first to say that an inducement finding categorically eliminates any possible 512 safe harbor. While the loss of Isohunt from the marketplace may not be a big deal, it remains unclear if other, more “legitimate” websites will believe the court’s analysis also applies to them. If they do, this case could potentially affect the entire UGC industry.

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Apple Computer vs. The Beatles Trademark Dispute

30 12 2009

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Losing My Edge: The Copyright Implications of Audioblogging and Why Blogs Matter to the Music Industry

29 12 2009

In the past decade, the information distribution channels for music have changed dramatically. Not only has it largely moved from radio and print to online sources, but many audioblogs have formed to cover various niches according to the individual tastes of bloggers. This democratization of music criticism has been popular with listeners, as the information is easily and immediately available as well as tailored to a particular interest.

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Bedford Falls and copyright law

25 12 2009

Why It’s a Wonderful Life is still protected under copyright, and what this illustrates about what’s wrong with the system.

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isoHunt loses big: infringement “old wine in a new bottle”

24 12 2009

The movie studies have won another major legal victory in the ongoing war against file sharing, this one against an individual (Gary Fung) who ran a number of torrent search sites, including the popular isoHunt. Although the defendant had argued he was providing just another search engine, the judge has ruled that Fung’s legal team had neglected to rebut the studio’s primary arguments, and Fung himself had a history of statements showing that he encouraged copyright infringement. Although the ruling establishes liability, there’s no word yet on the sanctions that Fung will face.

Granting a summary judgement requires that the judge interpret all the arguments in favor of the losing party, and still find that their opponents have made a winning case, so it’s a pretty difficult standard to meet. Fung and his lawyers, however, seem to have made the job a bit easier.

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