With its Recent Megaupload Indictment, the Government Gets Aggressive in its Efforts to Curtail Copyright Infringement

By Lena Mualla * now redirects to this FBI anti-piracy warning now redirects to this FBI anti-piracy warning

The recent indictment of the owners of, a Hong Kong based-file-sharing site that is incredibly popular in the U.S. and throughout the world, is noteworthy because of its timing.  The indictment, coupled with a site seizure, occurred on the very next day after citizens vocalized their outrage over the SOPA/PIPA legislation in a nationwide day of concerted activism, causing Congress to back away from the bill.  SOPA/PIPA would have allowed the government to take down sites with infringing content without demonstrating any wrongdoing on the part of the host site.  Currently, the government must first issue warnings called takedown notices to establish knowledge on the part of the site before any site seizure takes place.  So, why is the timing questionable?  The very provision that citizens fought against, and ostensibly prevailed in defeating, still remained: the government was able to seize the site,, based on a mere charge.  The 2008 PRO-IP Act and civil asset forfeiture laws serve as the legal basis for such site seizures. Continue reading »

So Much for the Public Domain: Supreme Court Broadens Congressional Copyright Powers in Golan v. Holder

By Jason Weber *

copyrights symbolChina and Russia are once again at the top of a U.S. list ranking countries with the worst records of preventing copyright theft.  The list, published annually by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, attempts to encourage other countries to strengthen their copyright laws and crack down on piracy through what essentially amounts to public shaming.  If a similar list had been published 100 years ago, however, the United States would have been the one blushing.

Up until the 1890s, the U.S. refused to give any copyright protections to foreign authors.  In fact, the practice of publishing foreign works without paying royalties was so rampant that the U.S. was known as the “Barbary coast of literature” and “the buccaneers of books.”  While subsequent copyright laws granted limited protections to foreign authors, Congress refused to join a 100-year-old international treaty extending full copyright protection to authors in other countries until 1989.  By that time, however, millions of foreign works had already entered the public domain in the U.S. Continue reading »

A Man With Grand Ideas

By Pierce Haar *

Newt GingrichAlways one for “grand ideas,” Newt Gingrich surely felt right at home playing “Eye of the Tiger” at various rallies in recent months, including during a speech on the night of the Iowa caucus.  The song was the theme for “Rocky III” and topped the charts in 1982.  However, a member of Survivor, the band who famously wrote and performed the song, did not feel the same way about Gingrich’s use of the song.  Survivor’s guitarist-songwriter, Frankie Sullivan, sued Newt Gingrich on January 30, 2012 for copyright infringement.  The lawsuit seeks to enjoin Newt Gingrich from using the song during his campaign and also seeks damages from the court for past infringement.  Mr. Sullivan claims that he is not suing Newt Gingrich for political reasons, but rather to enforce the copyright of Survivor’s famous hit.  Mr. Sullivan’s attorney claims that they tried to reach out to Newt Gingrich’s camp for months in order to resolve the issue outside of court, but to no avail. Continue reading »

SOPA/PIPA, Foe to Internet Content Providers: Gone for Good, or Making a Comeback?

By Lena Mualla *

Stopsopa Standard news release "Internet goes on Strike"Supporters of bolder anti-piracy legislation, led by Hollywood, are dissatisfied with the current safeguards enacted to combat internet file-sharing.  The current legislation in place, the 1998 DCMA, requires sites to remove pirated materials upon any request made within the safe harbor period.  Beyond the safe harbor period, a service provider is no longer liable.  SOPA/PIPA (respectively, the House of Representatives’ Stop Online Piracy Act and the Senate’s Protect IP Act) are the recent failed attempts at extending the reach of the government when it comes to alleged copyright infringements on the internet.  Instead of a simple obligation to take down infringing content after a request, called a “takedown notice,” is received, there would be an obligation for each site to proactively keep an eye out for an infringing content; once the infringing content is posted, the site owner, for example, YouTube, would risk being shut down entirely.

Therein lies one of the chief criticisms of SOPA/PIPA: by having the government remove non-infringing content along with the infringing material, the constitutional guarantee of a right to free speech is violated. Continue reading »

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 »