The Next Era of Digital Media

By: Stephen C. Pritchard *

Kindle PicThe advent of digital media, including online music stores, e-books, and the ability to purchase and/or rent movies with one click, has resulted in an increase in individual copies of such media only previously seen with the invention of the printing press, the 8-track, and the VHS. None of those creations can come close to reaching the explosive upturn in media that the Internet has allowed, however. With this start comes the question of where digital media will go next in terms of growth and expansion.

One of the areas most likely to be successful is that of digital media reselling or lending. This raises major intellectual property issues and will also be of great concern to publishers, movies studios, and recording companies. Amazon and Apple, arguably two of the largest digital media providers, both recently began forays into the area by filing patents to essentially create systems or markets for their customers to resell or swap their digital media. Continue reading »

Horror in Fantasy Land: A Film Disturbs Disney’s Image

By: Claire Little *

591px-Walt_disney_portraitIn January, one of the most buzzed about movies at Sundance Film Festival was Escape from Tomorrow, a Disney-themed cinematic thrill ride. The debut film of writer-director Randy Moore, Escape from Tomorrow is a fantasy-horror film that follows a family on vacation at Walt Disney World. But the park is no magical kingdom for the family. Instead, its influence encourages the father’s collapse into insanity. Jim White, the father played by Roy Abramsohn, starts his wild ride after receiving a phone call from his boss announcing that Jim has been laid-off. The call sends him on a downward spiral complete with Jim longing for underage girls, hallucinations involving Disney characters and props, and a feigned suicide attempt at a Disney attraction. The movie culminates with a brainwashing scene underneath Epcot’s Spaceship Earth and Jim’s death at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, a Disney hotel. The movie leaves viewers with the message that perpetual happiness is unattainable, even at Disney World. Continue reading »

Ray Charles’ Children Reclaim Rights to Father’s Works Despite Previous Agreements

By: Rebeca Echevarria *

As we envision our future, we like to think that a well-crafted will can ensure that our will is carried out after we die. We rely on the idea that contracts will be upheld after we are gone and plan for the manner in which our estate will be handled after our passing. Like many of us, Ray Charles relied on this idea as well.Nancy_Reagan,_Ray_Charles,_Ronald_Reagan

Before his passing, Ray Charles entered into a signed agreement with his children that in exchange for half a million dollars each, they would relinquish any future claims on his estate. He then, in his last will and testament, donated the remainder of his estate to the Ray Charles Foundation, including the copyright royalties from approximately sixty of his songs under contract with various labels. Since 1986, the Ray Charles Foundation—then known as the Robinson Foundation for Hearing Disorders—has provided financial support in the area of hearing disorders and supported institutions and organizations for educational purposes. Continue reading »

Even Hedge Funds Love Comics – Stan Lee Comic Book Character Lawsuit Receives Unusual Support

By: Allison McCowan *

Stan_Lee_sigA lawsuit involving a company formerly tied to iconic comic book publisher Stan Lee remains afloat thanks to the financial backing of hedge fund managers who wish to cash in on potential winnings once the dispute is resolved.

In 2009, the Walt Disney Co. (“Disney”) purchased Marvel Entertainment (“Marvel”) and its roughly 5,000 characters for $4 billion. Since then, Disney has earned significant profits off the Stan Lee (“Lee”) creations in the form of merchandise – action figures, toys, costumes, and, of course, “The Avengers” film, which earned more than a billion dollars in global office revenue. However, one company claims Disney has no right to any of the characters. In October 2012, Stan Lee Media Inc. (“SLMI”), formerly affiliated with Lee, filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court in Colorado claiming SLMI, not The Walt Disney Company, owned the rights to any and all of Stan Lee’s characters, including the very profitable “Avengers” gang. Continue reading »

European Legislation Could Limit Users’ Google Search Experience

By: Lena Mualla *

Over the last few months, Google News service, which provides links to the websites of news publishers, has been feeling pressure from European lawmakers to pay for the right to continue linking to those news sites. Those links are provided alongside snippets, i.e., parts of the news article that are republished by Google. Those snippets allow Google to increase its advertising profits, profits that are not passed on to the original publishers.

Google's Eric Schmidt and French president Francois HollandeAfter Google chairman Eric Schmidt met in Paris with French president Francois Hollande on February 1, 2013, Google announced that it had reached a deal to avoid a law that would have required it to pay in order to link to news content sites. In return, Google will establish an $81.3 million fund to aid French newspapers in developing a web presence. Initially, Google had rebuffed demands for payment from French publishers, threatening to omit any references to French media altogether. Continue reading »

Exclusive Licensing: Netflix-Disney Deal Sets New Standard for Future Releases

By: Stephen C. Pritchard *

163px-Alice_in_WonderlandDespite logistical and financial setbacks in recent years, Netflix has reiterated its commitment to remaining a key player in the online streaming entertainment business by inking a deal with Walt Disney Studios, set to take full effect in 2016. The deal includes exclusive rights to all Disney films starting in 2016, with some older movies, such as Alice in Wonderland and Pocahontas, becoming available on Netflix immediately. Included in the deal are Disney, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Pixar Animation Studios, Marvel Studios, and Disneynature films, as well as Disney’s recent acquisition, Lucasfilm. Netflix already has a similar deal with The Weinstein Company and a limited one with DreamWorks Animation, and is expected to bid heavily to replace Starz as Sony’s exclusive distributor as well.

This is a marked shift from the norm with major studios, which typically consists of partnering with the bigger names in “pay TV” such as Starz, HBO, and Showtime for non-theater and non-DVD distribution. Starz itself has the rights to Disney films through the end of 2015, but was outbid by Netflix for the future licensing rights, meaning that it will lose almost half of its current content. An exclusive licensing agreement like this one is the first where a major studio has chosen online streaming over traditional pay TV. The agreement does not seem to bode well for premium pay TV and could very well signal the beginning of a move towards streaming all major content, especially if Netflix continues its quest to obtain similar licensing contracts with major studios, such as Sony. Continue reading »

Yoga For All: Can a Sequence of Exercises be Copyrighted?

By: Rebeca Echevarria *

Kamakura-buddha-1“Yoga should be for everyone.” That’s what Yoga to the People’s founder, Greg Gumucio, believes and the federal courts seem to agree with him. As a student of Bikram Choudhury, Gumucio, the millionaire fonder of Bikram Yoga, regularly practiced a 26-pose hot yoga sequence that Choudhury had arranged. Hot yoga consists of doing yoga in a room heated to 105°. The poses themselves were all thousands of years old, yet Choudhury had his particular sequence copyrighted, arguing that the arrangement was his own intellectual property.

Bikram hot yoga classes cost approximately $25 per class and anyone wishing to open an Bikram Yoga studio must have Choudhury’s permission and take a $7,000 yoga course with him. In 2006, Gumucio left Bikram Yoga to open his own affordable hot yoga studio, Yoga to the People. Gumucio charges only $8 per hot yoga class and offers room temperature yoga classes charging only optional donations. Gumucio incorporated the same 26-pose sequence he practiced at Bikram Yoga, and Choudhury sued for copyright infringement. So is a yoga sequence a copyrightable expression of intellectual property? The Federal Circuit thinks not. Continue reading »

The Notorious Markets List: Top Foreign Sites / Locations for Intellectual Property Rights Infringements

By: Lindsey Chessum *

Silk_Street_Market_logoIn simple terms, the two major international threats to intellectual property (IP) rights in the U.S. are free stuff and fake stuff. Free stuff is stuff that is taken for free when it costs money. This includes peer-sharing of movies, books, and music. Fake stuff covers knock-offs and counterfeits. These are products sold as name brand products when in fact they are made without the brand company’s approval or expertise.

The problem in the international context is that the U.S. cannot enforce its IP rights in other nations. As with any area of law, nations want to apply their own law in their own nation, not the law of another nation. IP law is no exception. When a knock-off is manufactured in another nation, the U.S. has no jurisdiction until it comes onto U.S. soil, usually through the import process (enforced by the USITC under Section 337). But this is not even equivalent to a slap on the hand. The perpetrators are miles away under the law of another nation. Knock-offs are still being manufactured, and the knock-offs are not always caught by import inspections. Continue reading »

How a Few Quick Downloads Could Bring Your Internet Browsing to a Crawl

By: Lena Mualla *

Individual screaming at laptop computerRIAA and MPAA representatives have been eager to roll out its latest attempt at curtailing rampant (to say the least) illegal downloading on the internet. Since the plan has been in the works for at least one year and will be rolled out over the next two months, it remains an open question whether this will be the latest in a string of failures in the entertainment industry’s quest to stamp out illegal downloading over the last thirteen or so years. In fact, this new approach of progressive penalties is a noteworthy departure from the industry’s old strategy of filing attention-grabbing, big-ticket lawsuits against random downloaders, with the intention of frightening ordinary downloaders by example.

The new progressive penalty plan, dubbed the Copyright Alert System (CAS), was first announced in July 2011, by the Center for Copyright Information (CCI). In that initial announcement, NYT had reported that the CCI asserted that the plan might involve having internet service providers (ISPs) terminate a user’s access to the internet. However, CCI emphasizes that this is inaccurate; termination of service is not a part of the current plan. The plan entails the following, in CCI’s own words: Continue reading »

Warner Bros. Contract Proves to be Kryptonite for Copyright Claim

By: Stephen C. Pritchard *

Superman Fleisher LogoJoe Shuster (Shuster) and Jerry Siegel (Siegel) became friends in 1931 and began working together on science fiction and their concept of superheroes. Over the next seven years, they solidified the creation of Superman, and eventually sold the rights, including the new copyright, to DC Comics, owned by Warner Brothers, in 1938. Warner Brothers has since reaped over $500 million solely from films, not to mention revenues from other sources such as television, product licensing, and comic books. Since that sale, the two friends and their heirs have sought to reclaim their rights under § 304 of the Copyright Act of 1976, although Shuster died in 1992 and Siegel in 1996.

That section of the Copyright Act applies to pre-1978 works and allows for heirs to terminate any copyright agreement, including written agreements, beginning at the end of 56 years after the initial assignment was made and for five years after. It also allows the same termination period beginning at the end of 75 years, within the following five years, allowing heirs to capture the final 20 years of copyright if they have not already done so. Notice of termination may be sent ten years before the beginning of either period, but not later than two years before the end of either period. Since “Superman” was officially copyrighted between 1923 and 1963, it is entitled to a total 95-year term of protection. As a result, the heirs’ termination periods are 1994-1998 and 2013-2018. Continue reading »