Category: Intellectual Property

8

Blog Post Piracy

piracy1b.jpgSteve Rubel of Micro Persuasion writes:

Two weblogs are republishing my content without permission. One is called “Advertising, News & Information.” This site is profiting off my content by running Adsense. The other is called Podcast Rebroadcast.

This appears to be a common problem. Jason Calacanis wrote in June that we should call these people out. I am doing my part. Beyond going to partial text RSS feeds – which I am loathe to do – I have really no other course of action right now other to email the site operators, which I have done.

There is, of course, copyright law. The creative commons license for Rubel’s blog states that the work must be attributed to its author and it cannot be used for commercial purposes. The pirated post doesn’t contain his name on the post or the name of his blog, but it does at least have a link to the original post on Rubel’s blog. Is this sufficient enough attribution? As for commercial purposes, the blog copying Rubel’s posts is displaying Google Ads.

The Advertising News & Information blog appears to go by the name of Surferdiary.com Advertising Blog, and it appears to contain copied posts from a variety of different blogs. All say “Posted on [date] by Administrator” at the top, and all seem to have a link called “Source” that links back to the original post.

surferdiary2.bmp

One of the ironies is that the Surferdiary.com blog contains Rubel’s very post complaining about the piracy of his postings.

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7

Jennifer Aniston’s Cease and Desist Letter

confidential2.jpgEric Goldman has a very interesting post about the cease and desist (C&D) letter that Jennifer Aniston’s attorneys sent to the paparazzi who took her photograph. The letter is posted on The Smoking Gun website. The letter states several times that it is to remain confidential, and it has this language:

This letter is a confidential legal communication and is not for publication. Any publication, dissemination or broadcast of any portion of this letter will constitute a breach of confidence and a violation of the Copyright Act, and You are not authorized to publish this letter in whole or in part absent our express written authorization.

Goldman observes:

How can a lawyer claim that a cease-and-desist letter is a confidential communication? In general, sending the letter to a third party without any confidentiality assurances should blow any legal confidentiality protections. . . . . I don’t see how the confidentiality demands/instructions are anything more than hyperbolic and low-efficacy scare tactics.

The copyright issue is more complex. The letter should qualify as an original work of authorship, and posting the letter online should violate at least 2 of the 106 rights (reproduction and distribution).

But is there some legal defense that nevertheless permits the reposting of C&D letters? The most obvious one is fair use, but fair use analyses are always tricky. . . .

Senders of C&D letters should be accountable for their actions. They seek legal redress and the letters themselves are legally significant (i.e., they could create the basis for willfulness determinations; they may be the basis for the recipient seeking a declaratory judgment). To fully understand what is taking place in the field, information about these C&Ds has to enter the public discourse. And simply reporting the receipt of a C&D isn’t enough–to understand the letter and its potential impacts, external observers have to read the precise words used.

Therefore, I would strongly favor a statute that exculpates C&D letter recipients from republishing the letter. Because such a statute is unlikely, I am hoping the courts will create a defacto per se fair use exclusion for republishing C&D letters. Meanwhile, kudos to the Smoking Gun for not letting the repeated exhortations keep the letter off the Internet.

I wholeheartedly agree. There’s more at Eric’s post, which also discusses how Google goes about publicizing the C&D letters it receives.

Related Posts:

1. Solove, Jennifer Aniston Nude Photos and the Anti-Paparazzi Act

4

File-sharing & Social Capital

In the intellectual property / cyberlaw niche of the legal academy, I think it is fair to say that the litigation over Napster and Grokster has resulted in so much spilled ink that it is hard to keep up with the commentary. Indeed, while these are cases in my bailiwick, I never finished reading through the panoply of Grokster amicus briefs, much less all the law review articles on file-sharing.

What becomes quickly apparent from a skim of the literature, though, is that the policy questions entertained by lawyers in relation to file-sharing aren’t as interesting as they might be. Copyright is a doctrinally complex regime of statutes and caselaw. However, at its core, it presents a fairly simple policy story, one of economic incentives for greater production and distribution. In other words, through our legal policy lens, the song becomes a widget and the accepted policy goal becomes the production and distribution of more and more widgets. Thus, to the extent a complex legal doctrine permits it to come to the surface, the relevant policy question for file-sharing is whether it will provide the public with more or fewer song-widgets. It’s a bit disheartening that our intellectual property policy equates songs like American Pie, Hey Ya, and Toxic with three fungible barrels of crude oil–but perhaps judges, as Justice Holmes once opined, shouldn’t really be in the business of making artistic policy judgments.

As a result, though, what often gets left out of the myriad legal ponderings on file-sharing is the social dimension of the activity. This isn’t true across the board by any means — Rosemary Coombe, Mike Madison, and recent guest-blogger Joe Liu, for example, have written law review articles with a clear interest in how popular content “consumption” is actually something much more interesting than the term suggests. But because the legal doctrine of copyright rests on that reductive incentives story (with a constitutional basis), it likely seems to many legal scholars that there is little reason to pay attention to the cultural dimensions of intellectual property law.

That’s all by way of background to why I found this paper, presented at the CHI conference in April of this year, so interesting.

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1

Sony DRM: Singing the Blues

sonybmg2.jpgTalk about a backfire. A brief update on a story I previously blogged about a week ago. Sony attempted to install hidden DRM software into the computers of its CD users. A blogger criticized the software, setting off a firestorm of attention that has had Sony reeling ever since. The latest news:

1. Hackers and virus makers have been exploiting the Sony software as a vulnerability because it’s hidden.

2. Sony has stopped using the software.

3. Microsoft will update Windows to delete the Sony software.

4. Lawsuits are on the way.

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1

Grokster R.I.P.

grokster.gif The recent news of the Grokster settlement has generated only modest discussion, and I suppose that’s not surprising. The Supreme Court’s decision in the case came out months ago, and the big open questions left by that decision are unaffected by the settlement. Moreover, there appeared to be sufficient evidence in the record of “actual inducement” to make Grokster’s shut-down unsurprising.

Still, I would note that, according to the reports, the recording industry got Grokster to agree to pay $50 million in damages, even though they don’t expect to be able to collect. This gives the industry a big number it can use to deter future such technologies, and it’s consistent with the broader strategy of publicly signalling (through public announcements, lawsuits against end-users, education efforts, and even movie previews) that these activities are, in the industry’s view, infringing.

To some extent, this is the flip side of an earlier post I made about information regarding fair use rights. Just as some would like individuals to have greater information about their fair use rights, the copyright industries would like users to have greater information about the restrictions imposed by copyright. (Jason Mazzone has an interesting proposal about what to do when the industry overstates such restrictions).

All of this is to suggest that there seems to be a need to give individuals clearer and better information about what they can or can’t do under the copyright laws.

8

Sony’s Secret DRM and the Power of the Blogosphere

CD2.jpgSony BMG Music Entertainment placed Digital Rights Management (DRM) software onto its CDs in order to prevent people from copying the music on their computers. The software restricts the number of times that a person can copy a CD on his or her computer. According to a BBC article:

About 20 titles are thought to be using the XCP software and in May 2005 Sony said more than two million discs had been shipped using the technology. XCP is just one of several anti-piracy systems Sony is trying.

XCP only allows three copies of an album to be made and only allows the CD to be listened to on a computer via a proprietary media player. The hidden files are installed alongside the media player.

Sony had been using the software for about 8 months, until Mark Russinovich, a computer expert and blogger, discovered it and blogged about it on October 31, 2005.

According to an article in USA Today:

The controversy started Monday after Windows expert Mark Russinovich posted a Web log report on how he found hidden files on his PC after playing a Van Zant CD. He also said it disabled his CD drive after he tried to manually remove it.

Russinovich made the discovery while running a program he had written for uncovering file-cloaking “RootKits.” In this case, the Sony program hid the anti-piracy software from view. Similar technology also has been used by virus and worm writers to conceal their code.

A firestorm quickly erupted over what appeared to be an attempt by the music company to retain control over its intellectual property by secretly installing hidden software on the PCs of unsuspecting customers.

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1

Who Pays for the Law?

A couple of posts discussing the Google Print case have mentioned how they see it as an opportunity to get a court decision clarifying the scope of fair use on line. This makes me wonder: is there a public goods problem with respect to fair use law itself?

Fair use is notoriously fuzzy. Judicial opinions reduce the fuzziness somewhat by providing additional data points. These opinions benefit a wide range of parties by providing them with more guidance. Yet the cost of producing a ruling is borne largely by the private parties engaging in the litigation. So, in theory, will the existing system under-produce fair use law?

Perhaps it’s not meaningful to talk about an “optimal” level of legal guidance. But it remains the case that: (a) many potential fair users (particularly small-scale users) operate with insufficient guidance about what constitutes fair use; and (b) these folks are dependent upon large companies like Google being willing to litigate these (or analogous) issues to a decision.

So, if we want more clarity regarding the scope of fair use, how do we best produce it? Should we somehow subsidize fair use litigation (for example, by fee-shifting)? Or should we rely on a regulatory mechanism, like fair use regulations promulgated by the copyright office? (Michael Carroll of Villanova has a very interesting draft, proposing an administrative solution). Or are we comfortable with the existing level of guidance?

I assume this issue is not unique to copyright, and would be interested to find out whether other areas of the law have adopted responses to this.

6

Liability for unauthorized picture use?

I recently heard about a blog scandal involving a “fake” blog. Some bloggers got together and, for kicks, created a fake blog. They created fake identities for the blog, and wrote fake stories about fake lives. They originally intended this to be an experiment in participatory fiction; when the ruse was discovered, many readers responded angrily.

An interesting legal question arises out of these bloggers’ use of photos. In order to create identities, the participants went online and searched through google images until they found realistic looking photos for their characters. The photos they used were of unknown provenance, and (with one exception) it is probably all but impossible for most people to trace them to their real source. Each photo was matched with a bio to create the fictional characters.Biographical information (“favorite move: Star Wars”) matched with the photo creates the illusion of reality.

The site’s participants have stated that no permission was ever sought (or obtained) from the photos’ real owners. Do the real people whose photos were used to create these fictional identities have any legal cause of action against the bloggers who appropriated their images?

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6

Short movie remakes

I just noticed the new Empire Strikes Back animated gif created by Folds Five. (via Boing Boing). empire.gif This is the latest in a series of modified movies that seem to be proliferating on the internet, ranging from the “movies in 30 seconds, as re-enacted by bunnies” of Angry Alien to the recent, hilarious redone trailer of “Shining” which recasts the classic horror movie as a Cameron Crowe style family comedy.

Many of these make me laugh. I’m not so sure about their legality, though. Parody? Maybe. (Are they clearly parodies?) Fair use? Again, maybe. But I wouldn’t really want to bet the farm on either of those. What do our IP experts think?

1

Google & Grokster

googleprint-thumb.jpg

Being new to the blogosphere, I missed out on the initial round of comments on the pending litigation between the Authors Guild and Google over Google Print, Google’s effort to create a searchable database of print books. My sympathies tend to be with Google, as I have yet to see a strong, non-circular argument that authors would be economically harmed by Google Print (at least as I have heard it described).

But even if you believe, as do I, that Google’s activities are or should be fair use, there’s an interesting separate question re: what efforts, if any, Google should be obligated to take to keep the digitized books secure from third parties. For example, what if third parties could use Google Print to easily reconstruct full digital versions of print books (e.g. by sending a series of overlapping queries to Google Print and reassembling the search results)?

Presumably, Google could implement all sorts of technical measures to make this kind of activity more difficult (and indeed, there is some indication that it has implemented them). But what if it didn’t implement any of these measures? Should it be obligated to?

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