Category: Intellectual Property

8

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:

coldplay2.jpg

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?

43

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:

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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?

Read More