Category: Intellectual Property

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Metabranding

On Wednesday, I had the pleasure of participating in a conference sponsored by the Harvard Negotiation Law Review that considered two case studies: the Oracle-Peoplesoft deal and the forthcoming MasterCard IPO. Vic Fleischer presented his thoughts on, among other things, the branding effect of certain aspects of the MasterCard IPO structure, and I was part of a group of IP folks who offered comments.

In my comments (which will be published later this year in the HNLR along with the other papers), I referred to the “metabranding” by the media that necessarily takes place when the audience for the branding message is outside the stream of communication in which the message is delivered. (In the MasterCard example, I posited that if MasterCard is indeed trying to contribute to its brand image through its IPO structure, it needed to rely on the media to carry that message to consumers (i.e., cardholders) who were not among the audience for the IPO’s regulatory documents in which that structure was described.) Because the media is not beholden to the branding entity, it is free, like any consumer, to accept or critique the branding message; the process is both inherent in the branding effort and necessarily works the deconstruction of the brand. More broadly, I see “metabranding” as a type of discourse about the branding effect itself, a discussion in which the participants deliberately and openly contribute to brand meaning. (Given that trademark meaning is always ultimately created by consumers, metabranding brings that discussion out in the open.)

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Blogger sued for trade libel

From the Boston Globe:

A coastal Maine blogger who criticized the state’s tourism office has been hit with a lawsuit seeking potentially more than $1 million in damages for allegedly making false statements and posting on his website, Maine Web Report, images from proposed tourism advertisements a New York agency prepared for Maine officials.

. . .

The advertising agency is suing Dutson on three counts: copyright infringement, defamation, and trade libel/injurious falsehood. It seeks statutory damages of $150,000 for each of six images it alleges were infringed upon, as well as unspecified punitive damages and legal fees.

This suit has various elements, and it’s hard to say how much of it would go forward in the absence of the (more conventional) copyright claims. This is not purely a trade libel suit based on blog content. But it contains that claim, and as such, it’s a sobering data point. In particular, if these kinds of suits (trade libel over blog content) become a broader trend, that will have serious effects on blogs. After all, a good deal of the blogosphere is dedicated to criticism of some industry or other. There is the classic “I had a bad experience with X airline” post; there are series of posts criticizing a business or industry; and so on.

Trade libel requires (as far as I’m aware, in every jurisdiction – though I’m not an expert) actual falsehood, so that is a potential defense. But even a successful defense can be costly and time-consuming and stressful, and I suspect that few bloggers would want to risk a lawsuit. Thus, the real effect of such lawsuits is the chilling effect — that bloggers will become more hesitant in their criticisms. This may be a good thing in some cases — Heaven knows thablogs often generate more heat than light — but is certainly not an unalloyed good.

In the mean time, let me say that my New York trip has been great. Loved the food. Even the subways smelled nice. Please don’t sue me, Mayor Bloomberg. Or the blog. I was just kidding when I complained about that stale bagel. And I deleted that post, anyway. What post? I didn’t see any post about a stale bagel. Did you, guys? Didn’t think so. Carry on. Nothing to see here.

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!

gursky.jpg

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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