Google’s Recent Settlement Agreement with American Publishers Does Not End its Copyright Woes

By: Cory Howard *

Image depicting ebooksAlthough traditionally printed books have not yet become obsolete, America and most of the developed world has begun its transition from printed materials to electronically available media. Recent studies have verified that e-reading is on the rise and as a result, e-book providers such as Google are under pressure to increase the amount of digital content that it offers through its electronic stores. However, the process by which print sources are scanned and converted to electronic form, called digitization, has been a consistent source of litigation for Google and has slowed the process of digitization considerably in markets throughout the world. Authors of out-of-print books that are still under copyright have opposed the unapproved (and uncompensated) digitization of their books by Google. Both the United States and France have seen publishing coalitions, such as the Authors Guild (U.S.) and the French Publishers Association and the Société des Gens de Lettres (France), bring suit against Google to stop the digitization of books in this category. Continue reading »

Political Song and Dance

By: Stephen DeGrow *

Musicians and First Lady Michelle ObamaOccupy Wall Street marked its one-year anniversary in September with events across the country. In the east, New Yorkers chanted, while Chicago residents walked through the Loop. Out West, Oregon protestors petitioned on behalf of fired employees, as silent marchers walked in Seattle. The protesters were diverse. But now, with the help of Tom Morrello and friends, everyone can play a common tune – “We Are The 99 Percent.”

“We Are The 99 Percent” is one of many ties between music and politics this fall. Randy Newman, a Grammy winning songwriter, also gave a free song to the public in September. His satirical work, “I’m Dreaming,” jokes about a man who wants a white president. (Although the song is available for free, Newman hopes listeners will donate to the United Negro College Fund.) Continue reading »

ALL THINGS BANANA: Velvet Underground v. Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts

By: Lindsey Chessum *

Ripe Banana

bunch of ripe bananasOn January 11, 2012, The Velvet Underground brought a claim against the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the recipient of Warhol’s copyrights and trademarks upon his death. The complaint sought declaratory relief based on an alleged copyright infringement and a separate claim of trademark infringement.

The copyright issue has recently ripened to resolution as Judge Alison Nathan dismissed the Partnership’s claim without prejudice on September 7, 2012.

Wrought Banana

Andy Warhol, a mainstay of the pop art movement and creator of the Marilyn Diptych (1962) and the Campbell’s Soup Cans (1962), managed a band in the mid-1960s called The Velvet Underground. The Velvet Underground broke up only a few years after it produced its first album in 1967, but, despite its short life, in 2003 Rolling Stone declared their album to be one of the “greatest of all times”, not far behind the Beatles, the Beach Boys, and Bob Dylan. Arguably, of more significance today, is the album cover. Warhol himself created the cover which is now a distinguished image of a mundane object: a banana. Continue reading »

Pirate Bay Founder Arrested in Cambodia on Charge that Isn’t Copyright Infringement Related

By: Lena Mualla *

Gottfrid Svartholm Warg, co-founder of the Pirate Bay27-year-old Gottfrid Svartholm Warg, co-founder of The Pirate Bay along with fellow Swedes Fredrik Neij, Carl Lundstrom, and Peter Sunde, was arrested in Cambodia based on his 2009 conviction for copyright crimes. The Pirate Bay (TPB) is the most popular file-sharing site, with over 30 million users worldwide. The site allows users to download music, games, and movies. For example, the current top 100 downloads list on the site includes hit movies such as Ice Age 4, The Hunger Games, The Avengers, and Men In Black 3.


Since TPB is a P2P file-sharing site, only users themselves actually infringe on copyrighted content by sharing it with each other, while the site merely makes all uploaded content available. Actually, the site technically doesn’t host the content at all, but simply points users in the direction of the content using small files called torrents; in this way, the site simply acts as a search engine. Started in 2003, TPB served the same function as Napster and Limewire, popular file-sharing programs that came before it. Unlike those programs, TPB’s service operates on the BitTorrent protocol, which allows for large files to be shared. Continue reading »

Picture Imperfect: News on Images in the Public Domain

By: Stephen DeGrow *

A dimeA folk singer recently used images of a Canadian penny for his album titled, “No More Pennies.” Meant as a tribute to the dated coin, his album created controversy when Canadian officials claimed copyright infringement.

In Canada, the government owns copyrights to its works and requires permission to use reproductions when they are distributed for commercial purposes. Because an album is commercial, the government requested a $1,200 payment for 2,000 albums after waiving its fees for the first 2,000 already produced. In a cute protest, the singer planned to pay this charge with fan-donated pennies. But his efforts became unnecessary when the Canadian Mint got some sense and waived its fee. Officials even offered to review copyright policy.

The folk singer’s saga may worry aspiring idols in the United States. Fear not. The United States is different from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and other countries with Crown copyrights. The United States government’s works remain in the public domain. Coins can even be photographed or filmed; however, rules are stricter with dollar bills due to counterfeit concerns. Continue reading »

The Sweet Smell of Victory: Car-Freshener Corp. Wins Licensing Case Against Getty Images

By: Andrew Powell *

Little Trees Air FreshenersGetty Images, Inc., a major stock photography company, licenses out over 80 million still images and illustrations to creative professionals, media publications, and advertising firms alike. While Getty Images is known for fiercely protecting the photographs in its portfolio from theft or misuse, the company recently found itself on the other end of a licensing lawsuit filed against it by Car-Freshener Corporation over images that contained depictions of the Freshener’s famous Little Trees air fresheners.

Car-Freshener Corporation holds trademarks and product configuration registrations to the specific tree shape of its ubiquitous air fresheners. The company has engaged in previous lawsuits to protect its product trademarks, including a lawsuit with Old Navy when the clothing retailer used an image of the tree-shaped freshener on a line of t-shirts. In its latest suit against Getty Images, Car-Freshener’s central claim was unauthorized use of trademarks in at least eleven images that contained an image or likeness of Car-Freshener’s product. Freshener’s claims ranged from trademark infringement and dilution of trademark to assertions of unfair competition. Continue reading »

Joel Tenenbaum’s Unwavering War against the RIAA: The Appellate Decision

By Vlad Vidaeff *

Tenenbaum, Nelson, and Harvard legal counsel

Tenenbaum, Nesson, and Harvard legal counsel

Part 3: The Decision

On May 21, 2012, the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal regarding Joel Tenenbaum’s long fight against the RIAA over unauthorized file-sharing.  In short, this means that the case will continue.  The case will go back to U.S. District Court Judge Rya Zobel who will decide whether or not to uphold the $675,000 damages award on appeal.  In a brief statement, the RIAA stated, “we’re pleased with the decision.”  On the other hand, Mr. Tenenbaum is far from pleased.  He stated, “I can’t believe the system would uphold a six-figure damages amount for downloading 30 songs on a file-sharing system that everybody used.  I can’t believe the court would uphold something that ludicrous.”  Finally, the Obama administration urged the Supreme Court not to take the case as some issues remain unsolved, such as what the judge might do concerning the damages award. Continue reading »

The Black Keys File Suit as Pizza Hut and Home Depot Play a Familiar Tune

By: Rachel Waters *

Black Keys group members“Just a matter of time, before you steal it . . .” Those lyrics from The Black Keys’ “Gold on the Ceiling” proved to be prophetic when the duo along with Danger Mouse, a producer and the song’s co-author, filed a complaint in federal court in California last month. The song was another in a line of hits propelling the group’s members, Patrick Carney and Dan Auerbach, to popular fame – notably, the group scored the unique invite to perform on Saturday Night Live twice in one season. The complaint alleged that Pizza Hut (YUM) infringed on the group’s copyright by using portions of the song in one of its commercials for “Cheesy Bites Pizza.” Several days after the Cheesy Bites complaint was filed, the group initiated another infringement lawsuit against The Home Depot (HD). The Home Depot complaint contained similar allegations to those against Pizza Hut, but accused the construction megastore of using portions of the track “Lonely Boy” in commercials for a line of its power tools. Both songs were featured on the groups’ seventh album, “El Camino,” which debuted at number 2 on the Billboard 200 Chart to critical acclaim.

The complaints filed in both actions allege copyright infringement and, although an out-of-court settlement is likely, any judicial resolution of the duo’s claims will hinge on just how similar the original and commercial versions of the songs are. Both the Home Depot and Pizza Hut commercials are viewable on YouTube (clips were available as of the date this article was published). The Home Depot commercial uses an instrumental recording that sounds strikingly similar to the “Lonely Boy” track. The Cheesy Bites spot goes one step further by using sound-a-like instrumentals and ending with a familiar vocal snippet. Given the substantial similarity between the originals and the ad versions, it is difficult to see how a court would not find infringement. Still, past artists faced with similar music theft have turned to areas of the law other than copyright to enforce their claims. Continue reading »

Bitter “Suite”: Why the Fine Art Resale Royalty Act Should Not Expand

By: Emily Nahan-Krotki *

Oil paint paletteIn 1958, Robert Rauschenberg sold his painting Thaw for $960, but, only fifteen years later, Thaw resold for $85,000 at a Sotheby’s auction. Rauschenberg did not receive a penny of that profit. Outraged, Rauschenberg and many supporters of art started to lobby for fine art royalty rights. Although the concept of a fine artist receiving a share of re-sales has been widely accepted in Europe, where the mandate is known as droit de suite,” it remains controversial in the United States. Several state governments have contemplated enacting a droit de suite mandate but California is the first and only state to incorporate such a law. In 1977 California enacted the California Resale Royalty Act (CRRA), which requires 5% of the total resale price of all fine art sold for over $1,000 to be given to the original artist. While resale royalty acts have noble intentions these laws fail for many reasons. Two major issues surrounding the droit de suite laws are the failure to fulfill the legislative intent and the stifling complications of defining “art.” Continue reading »

War of the Words: Google’s French Copyright Battles Pave Way for European Market Share Expansion

By: Cory Howard *

mobile phone and booksTechnological innovations have created a dramatic increase in the demand for electronically available books, or e-books. The process of making these books accessible to the masses has created a flurry of legal activity, specifically over the digitization, or copying and scanning of books, by companies such as Google. In fact, Google’s digitization of many American books that were still under copyright resulted in a class-action lawsuit against Google by the Author’s Guild, an organization dedicated to protecting the copyrights of member authors and publishers.

These copyright concerns will only continue as Google expands its e-book business to other countries. However, it seems that Google has modified its expansion model as the company recently entered into a settlement agreement with The French Publishers Association and the Société des Gens de Lettres. These authors groups alleged that Google’s digitization of books violated French copyright law. To prevent a potentially costly lawsuit, Google entered into a 6-year settlement agreement with French publishers and authors that will allow Google to digitize out-of-print French works, but permit the publishers to retain control over the commercial use of books. Continue reading »