Intellectual Property and Pinterest

By Jeremy Smith *

Pinterest LogoThe popularity of Pinterest has exploded over the past year.  The online platform, which allows users to post or “pin” images that they find interesting, is viewed by some as a creative community platform and by others as a serious threat to copyright holders.  While some businesses have chosen to use the platform to launch marketing campaigns, independent photographers and graphic artists are increasingly wary of how their work might be used by members.  Some Pinterest members have also become concerned about how the site’s terms of service (TOS) allocate responsibility for use of copyrighted materials.

photo credit: Kristiewells (

photo credit: Kristiewells (

Given the ephemeral nature of internet law, it is as yet unclear what long-term impact Pinterest might have on debates about digital rights ownership.  At the heart of the potential copyright problems associated with Pinterest is the intricate field of intellectual property law.  Courts have struggled to reach a consensus about what does—and does not–violate the rights of intellectual property holders.  The field is largely precedent-driven, meaning that website developers may not fully understand the repercussions of the platforms they launch.  It is certain that users of Pinterest may be liable to legal action thanks to legislation that allows law enforcement agencies to obtain the IP addresses of copyright infringers.  Such concerns may be alleviated for now, as SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) has been blocked on the house floor. Continue reading »

Pink and Yellow, Pink and Yellow?

By Pierce Haar *

Wiz Khalifa Black and Gold coverA Pennsylvania man has sued Wiz Khalifa for copyright infringement related to the rapper’s hit song “Black and Yellow.”  Max Warren, also known as Maxamillion, filed a lawsuit in Philadelphia federal court seeking $2.3 million for copyright infringement.  Warren also named production duo Stargate, EMI Music Publishing, and Warner Music Group as defendants in the lawsuit.  In his complaint, Warren claimed that Wiz Khalifa stole elements from his song “Pink and Yellow,” which he claims was copyrighted in 2008.  Wiz Khalifa’s song “Black and Yellow” was obviously released later and was not copyrighted until 2011.  Max Warren is from Sharon, Pennsylvania, about an hour and a half drive from Pittsburgh, where Wiz Khalifa is from.  Mr. Warren claims that Wiz Khalifa heard his song “Pink and Yellow” back in 2008 and used parts of it to create “Black and Yellow.” Continue reading »

Grooveshark Cannot Escape Legal Woes “Without Paying a Dime”

By Sarah R. Riedl *

Grooveshark LogoWhy does Spotify limit free music streaming to ten hours per month and limits repeat playing of single songs to only five times per month, while Grooveshark users stream to their hearts’ content?  Unfortunately for Grooveshark, the unlimited streaming may cost the company a pretty penny.

Escape Media Inc. LogoOn Wednesday, January 4, 2012, EMI Music Publishing became the fourth major music label to file suit against Escape Media Inc., parent company for Grooveshark, for copyright infringement.  EMI’s suit came only one month after Universal Group, Sony Corp, and Warner Music Group filed a federal suit accusing Grooveshark of piracy in violation of copyright law.  Just three years prior to this most recent lawsuit, Grooveshark’s parent company Escape Media Group negotiated a licensing agreement with EMI, providing for payment of royalties.  EMI’s complaint alleges that Grooveshark has failed to pay any royalties since that agreement solidified. Continue reading »

Art Appropriation: Fair Use or Piracy

By Chris Hewitt *

Artist paint brushes in containersArt is a simple yet broad term.  One need not examine the various forms of art to determine that that realm of creation is anything but clear and form fitting.  The word itself is cryptic.  Art can take various forms, including audio, visual, or a combination of the two.  What qualifies as art?  If an individual appropriates another artist’s images and uses those images to form his own work of art, is this art or is it piracy?  Specifically, can this art form bypass copyright protections through the fair use doctrine?  This question is at the center of many copyright controversies being heard by courts throughout the world, including the case against Richard Prince and his “Canal Zone” series.

This issue has become even more important in recent years as works of art, whether visual or audio, can be accessed and copied with the swipe of a finger or a click of a traditional mouse.  It has become even easier with the introduction of the iPad art app named Mixel, which allows users to hoist images from the Internet and create their own collages or works of art.  Artists that use appropriation to develop their own works of art view such images as part of a “shared digital space” and that the images are available for them to change, to improve, or to elaborate on.  Using another’s work without permission or compensation, however, can have drastic copyright implications, as evidenced by Prince’s recent experiences. Continue reading »

Does the Stop Internet Piracy Act (SOPA) Really Signal “The End of the Internet as we know it”?

By Jason Weber *

FBI Anti-piracy WarningIn the past year, the Internet has been used to do some amazing things.  Pro-democracy advocates used social networking to further populist uprisings during the Arab Spring.  Iron-fisted governments manipulated the same tools to silence dissent and isolate citizens seeking freedom.  While the United States has consistently portrayed itself as a voice for a free and open Internet, SOPA, a bill circling in the House of Representatives, is sending a different message to tech giants and human rights activists around the world.

SOPA stands for the Stop Online Piracy Act.  Along with its sister bill in the Senate, the Protect IP Act, SOPA has laudable goals: to protect intellectual property rights and stop online piracy.  To accomplish these goals, Section 102 of the bill gives the U.S. Department of Justice broad power to force U.S.-based online search engines, payment providers, and advertising networks to stop doing business with, and block access to, any foreign website guilty of infringing on a U.S. copyrights or patents.  Any U.S.-based internet company that fails to use “technically feasible and reasonable measures” to remove infringing content within five days of receiving a court order can be subject to monetary sanctions. Continue reading »

Is It Worth the Work? (In)Ability of Pop Stars to Procure Future Rights

By Rob Abb & Matthew McClellan *

Michael Jackson Walk of Fame starAs I discussed in a previous blog, there is a looming battle between the major recording companies and prominent performing artists regarding who will own the copyrights to some of the most valuable albums produced in the last 35 years.  The issue will be whether the performing artists, including Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson, and Bob Segar, among others, may exercise their termination rights.  Congress passed the Copyright Act in 1976 and granted authors a new property right – a right to recapture ownership and control of copyrights by terminating past assignments or licenses of those works following a set number of years.  The right is granted to authors, including songwriters, poets, novelists, painters, etc., and ensures that grants of even the entire copyright can be terminated, regardless of consideration or what the contract specifies. Continue reading »

Adriannnnnnn: Stallone and Co-writer Sued Over “The Expendables”

By Pierce Haar *

Expendables posterDrago and the other villains from the Rocky movies have some company now as the enemies of “Rocky” a.k.a. Sylvester Stallone.  A Connecticut screenwriter has sued Sylvester Stallone and his co-writer of the 2010 action film for copyright infringement.  Marcus Webb claims that the screenplay for “The Expendables” is “strikingly similar and in some places identical” to his screenplay for “The Cordoba Caper.”  Mr. Webb claims to have filed the screenplay for the work with the U.S. Copyright and Patent Office in 2006.  According to him, “there can be no dispute that Stallone had access to and copied portions of the screenplay.”  Webb shopped the script around Hollywood between 2006 and 2009 to various producers, but it was ultimately not picked up. Continue reading »

Who’s Not Ready?: Lionsgate Entertainment Sued for Copyright Infringement for Music in the LeBron James Documentary

By Tierryicah D. Mitchell *

The King and His Courtship The Pursuit of LeBron James



Kings in Court Series: Part II



Commonly referred to as King James for his superior skills on the basketball court, LeBron James is the perfect subject of the second edition in the Kings in Court Series. The Kings in Court series was created to highlight individuals, who are deemed to be royalty in their own right, that have found themselves in court for some sort of intellectual property violation.

On or around September 6, 2011, songwriter-producer Mason “Big Mace” Hall filed suit in a Georgia federal court against Lionsgate Entertainment (the distributor of the documentary) and Interscope Records (LeBron James’ label) for copyright infringement for the inclusion of unauthorized music in Liongate’s documentary, More Than A Game. Mr. Hall alleges that the song at the center of the controversy entitled, “We Ready,” was used at several points during the documentary without his permission.  During the documentary, which highlights the high school basketball careers of LeBron James and his high school teammates, the young players can be heard performing a pre-game motivational chant also entitled, “We Ready.” Interviews conducted during the documentary with several players explained that this song-chant, which was performed ritually during the warm-up of each game, became the “rallying cry” of the team. Continue reading »

Trial Date Set for Next Year in Google Digital Library Case

By Lena Mualla *

Google LogoGoogle aims to create the world’s largest library.  Depending on the outcome of its pending litigation with authors and publishers, we may see the realization of that goal sooner rather than later.  The benefits are obvious: making a massive array of books available, including books from all over the world as well as books that are currently out of print, would improve access to knowledge.  In fact, as part of an earlier, unsuccessful attempt to resolve the litigation, Google announced it would offer at least one terminal in each public library, allowing free access to its digital library.  In addition, Google further committed to providing accommodations for those who are visually impaired.

However, authors have been up in arms over Google’s alleged copyright infringement of their works in its quest to form its digital library.  Specifically, Google had used snippets of authors’ works without obtaining the right to do so.  Moreover, Google came under fire for its scanning of orphan works.  An orphan work is a copyrighted work whose copyright owner cannot be found.    That is why the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers brought suit against Google in 2005 for copyright infringement.  Yet, Google is seemingly in a good position, despite the ongoing litigation.  Attorneys for both the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers indicate that progress is being made, hinting that a settlement may be reached before the trial date. Continue reading »

The Savory Jazz Collection: When Will These Orphan Works Find a Home?

By Christian Stoffan *

Benny Goodman

Benny Goodman

Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman, Teddy Wilson, and Coleman Hawkins were great jazz musicians, but some of their most spectacular recordings are not fully available to the public.  Why?  The recordings of the impressive Savory Collection are “orphan works.”

A work is legally an orphan work where it is difficult or impossible to identify or contact the copyright owner.  This legal phenomenon occurs because of the evolutionary nature of copyright law.  Orphan works are the byproduct of three decades of change that has relaxed the obligations of copyright owners to assert and manage their rights.  The U.S. Copyright Office recognized the detrimental effect of the potential copyright liability of orphan works and suggested a legislative solution when they published a Report on Orphan Works in 2006.  The proposed legislation, the Orphan Works Act of 2008, creates a limitation on remedies available for copyright violations of works that meet the criteria of an orphan work.  The controversial criterion is a “reasonable search” for the copyright owner.  The purpose of the legislation is to protect good faith users of orphan works without eliminating remedies for copyright owners. Continue reading »