Category: Intellectual Property

But Certainly Everyone Has $200 to Donate?

Michelle Cottle has a delicious critique of the NYT Thursday Styles Section, aptly titled The Gray Lady Wears Prada. Cottle juxtaposes the “high-minded liberal sensibility” that the Times’s bobo readers aspire to cultivate with the breathless high-end consumerism of Thursday Styles’ Hermès scarves and Jimmy Choo mules. The most revealing quote comes from Times editor Bertram “Trip” Field III, who insists that “we’re [not] trying to serve only those readers who can afford a $10,000 watch.” When Cottle examines the egalitarian timepieces Trip’s claimed to have covered, it turns out the cheapest one is an $890 Prada.

I’m not going to tsk-tsk consumerism here—been there, done that. But I do think Cottle’s insightful piece discloses another aspect of elite journalism—a class bias so pervasive that it’s not even noticed. I think such biases also work their way into scholarship. For example, the bien-pensant consensus on campaign finance reform has long held that we want races funded by a large number of “small donors”—presumably those who donate less than $500. But really, with median family income around $65,000 and average household savings near zero, how many of these small donations are going to come from those at the bottom half of the income scale?

Thankfully, Bruce Ackerman and Ian Ayres’s “Patriot Dollars” proposal addresses this issue by proposing donation vouchers of equal size for all voters. But I’m wondering where else implicit class biases inform a scholarly consensus…any ideas?

Single-Payer Music Care?

Les bon temps roulez! It appears the French legislature has picked up on the conversation started by one of Christine Hurt’s posts here a few weeks ago on the iPod, and wants to do something about Apple’s iTunes lockout of rival music sellers and players. The IP blogosphere is abuzz over the move, which directly challenges Apple’s aggressive efforts to leverage dominance in the portable-player market into a monopoly over digital music retailing.

Libertarians are likely to applaud moves like this, as this Cato Institute Report demonstrates. But I want to push the dialogue in an even more market-oriented direction. Since we’re thinking big here, why don’t consumers take some self-help measures? The recording industry is extraordinarily concentrated, provoking antitrust investigations left and right. So why don’t consumers form buyers’ cooperatives? If the “big four” own 90% of the music, why don’t consumers form four or so buyers’ groups that will negotiate access to music? Each would manage a library with about one-fourth of recordings. That seems to be the model behind Europe’s efforts to hold down health care costs—have one or a few big players form a monopsony (or oligopsony?), and bargain down the price.

Now I’m not saying that’s always the best solution for health care—as Cutler, DiMasi, and others have noted, a lot of innovation is funded by the fragmented buying pool in the U.S. system. But while I care a lot about innovation in health care, I’m a bit agnostic about innovation in music. Can we reliably say that the whole lot of music composed and performed after 1980 is worth more than J.S. Bach’s oeuvre? I don’t know. So I don’t care if “single-payer music care” ends up reducing revenues to the culture industries. Admittedly, in the end, I think it would actually help those industries, as William Fisher so skillfully documents in his Promises to Keep. But that’s another post…

Three Cheers for Categorizers!

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Dan mentioned an indefatigable blogger who’s now taxonomizing over 600 law-related blawgs. I’ve heard a lot of critics of bloggers complain about “navel-gazing” in this field. But this type of work is exceedingly valuable, as I try to demonstrate in a recent piece on “information overload externalities.”

In my view, categorizers are a uniquely beneficial “genus” in the information ecosystem, and they deserve special solicitude from copyright law. Categorizers should be able to provide small samples or clips from whatever works they organize or index, without begging for licenses from the copyrightholders who own the sampled work.

Unfortunately, categorizers have been getting some rough treatment by courts lately. For example, Google recently lost a battle against “erotic image purveyor” Perfect 10 because the low resolution images on its “image search” might reduce Perfect 10’s sales to the “cell phone viewing” market. The Author’s Guild (which appears neither to represent all authors nor to be a guild) is suing to stop Google’s digital book indexing project—even though Google permits any aggrieved copyright owner to opt out! They believe Google should have to work out, individually, permissions for each of the millions of books they want to index.

Imagine if uber-taxonomizer 3L Epiphany had to ask permission to quote or cite to any of the blawgs he compiled. Are we really going to let a few cantankerous holdouts veto an effort to archive and index the world’s expression? I hope not, for a couple reasons…

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And a Fashionista Shall Lead Them

fashionattitude.jpgIn honor of Chloe’s triumph on Project Runway (design at right), I thought I’d blog about Chris Sprigman’s and Kal Raustiala’s brilliant paper, The Piracy Paradox: Innovation and IP in Fashion Design.

“Soft IP” rights (as copyright and trademark are often called) have grown enormously. In many industries, copyrightholders are insisting on the right to control even fragments of works. Trademark holders can protect not only their marks, but also aspects of the packaging and design of their products. Promoters of this trend claim that without strong rights, no one would invest in music, books, marks, or other easily copiable expression.

But IP protection apparently isn’t that necessary in the fashion industry. In couture, “copying is rampant . . . [y]et innovation and investment remain vibrant.” The authors attempt to solve this “piracy paradox” by describing how the “snob value” of high fashion is preserved via “induced obsolescence.” As a design gets copied, its value falls precipitously–driving early adopters to buy newer designs.

The article hits some sublime points, such as Jean Cocteau’s observation that “art produces ugly things which frequently become more beautiful with time. Fashion . . . produces beautiful things which always become ugly with time.” But it sidesteps some normative questions about induced obsolescence that might point to new directions for IP scholarship…

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More re-edited movie trailers

A while back, we discussed issues arising from the re-edited Shining trailer. Now making the rounds: A new (and pretty funny) re-edited trailer, Brokeback to the Future. Given the proliferation of editing software (making re-editing easier and better), and the popular reception that the funnier trailers receive, I suspect that re-edited movie trailers are not going away any time soon.

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Epstein on Google

Richard Epstein criticizes Google’s book library feature, at Financial Times:

If Google can unilaterally put this burden on copyright owners, then so can all of its rivals, forcing both publishers and authors to expend valuable resources just to preserve the status quo ante. This “negative option” approach has been roundly rejected in traditional contexts, as with audacious publishers who send notices telling hapless addressees that they’re now subscribers for a year unless they return some opt out notice.

I’ll leave it to the IP experts around here to say whether he’s right or wrong on the details. If he’s right, it doesn’t bode too well for Google books.

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Privacy of Internet Search Records

subpoena1.jpgHere are some recent interesting links about the privacy of Internet search records:

Check out Patriot Search for a laugh. It’s a new search engine where your results are reported directly to the government: “Our mission is to provide the best possible search engine to you while at the same time, making sure the government is informed should you search for something obscure, illegal, or unpatriotic.” [Thanks to Scott Forbes for the link.]

CNET has interviews with Internet search companies about the kind of data they retain about their users. Of the many questions asked, the answers to these two questions are particularly interesting:

1. “Given a list of search terms, can you produce a list of people who searched for that term, identified by IP address and/or cookie value?”

AOL: “No. Our systems are not configured to track individuals or groups of users who may have searched for a specific term or terms, and we would not comply with such a request.”

Google: “Yes. We can associate search terms with IP addresses and cookies, but not with users’ names unless they are registered with Google.”

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Baseball Statistics as Intellectual Property?

baseball1a.jpgFrom the AP:

A company that runs sports fantasy leagues is asking a federal court to decide whether major leaguers’ batting averages and home run counts are historical facts that can be used freely or property that can be sold.

In a lawsuit that could affect the pastime of an estimated 16 million people, CBC Distribution and Marketing wants the judge to stop Major League Baseball from requiring a license to use the statistics.

The company says baseball statistics become historical facts as soon as the game is over, so it shouldn’t have to pay for the right to use them. . . .

Major League Baseball has claimed that intellectual property law makes it illegal for fantasy league operators to “commercially exploit the identities and statistical profiles” of big league players.

The LA Times has a more detailed article. The complaint is here.

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DRM, Copyright, and Contract

Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing discusses a post from a blogger about an insert in the new Coldplay CD from Virgin Records. The insert states that the CD contains extensive Digital Rights Management (DRM) restrictions:

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According to some of the restrictions, the CD cannot be copied onto a computer hard drive; songs cannot be converted into MP3 files; and it might not play in some CD players, such as portable CD players, car CD players, and others. I love the special rhetorical touches, such as that by purchasing the CD, you’re helping the anti-piracy cause and that the DRM is “special technology” added “for you to enjoy high quality music.” It reads as if the purchaser should be giddy with excitement that the CD contains this really cool technology that makes the CD less functional. Doctorow writes:

Coldplay’s new CD comes with an insert that discloses all the rules enforced by the DRM they included on the disc. Of course, these rules are only visible after you’ve paid for the CD and brought it home, and as the disc’s rules say, “Except for manufacturing problems, we do not accept product exchange, return or refund,” so if you don’t like the rules, that’s tough.

I’m not a contracts or commercial law expert, but since most CDs do not have such restrictions, it is reasonable for a purchaser to assume that the CD will have a similar level of functionality as other CDs. To the extent that a person is sold a CD with much less functionality, it would strike me that the purchaser would not be out of luck, but would have some potential legal remedies. Since the issue is beyond my range of expertise, I pose the question to readers more well-versed in this area of law: To what extent would a purchaser of the Coldplay CD have any right to return the CD notwithstanding the clause that prohibits returns absent a manufacturing defect?

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What If Copyright Law Were Strongly Enforced in the Blogosphere?

copyright3a.jpgSuppose the mainstream media, fed up with the buzz bloggers keep getting and with bloggers criticizing their stories, decided to exact revenge. They initiate a vigorous copyright enforcement strategy, launching a barrage of lawsuits against bloggers as the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has done to music file sharers. What would happen?

The blogosphere would be in for some tough times I bet. Bloggers frequently copy large chunks of mainstream media articles and some of us copy pictures we find on the Web. Bloggers don’t have a team of photographers and artists, so they snag images from the Internet. As for mainstream media articles, bloggers often quote very liberally because the mainstream media is notorious for creating dead URLs — articles often just disappear after a week or two. In other instances, articles get archived and can only be retrieved for a fee. The result is that a post discussing a mainstream media article with just a link or a small quote can become hard to understand when the article being referred to becomes unavailable. That’s why bloggers often copy significant portions of articles — so their posts can still be understood when the URLs to the articles go dead.

We bloggers have, to put it mildly, a very robust concept of fair use. Fair use of copyrighted material is a fuzzy concept, and judges use four factors to determine if a use is fair:

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