Sunday, September 28, 2008

Encyclopedias of Facts About Fiction: J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter

Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. v. RDR Books, --- F. Supp.2d ---, 2008 WL 4126736 (9/8/2008) S.D.N.Y., Patterson, J.
A Harry Potter fan created a lexicon, available on the internet. The lexicon was popular with everyone, including J.K. Rowling and the people who made films about her books. Rowling wrote on her website "This is such a great site that I have been known to sneak into an internet cafe while out writing and check a fact rather than go into a bookshop and buy a copy of Harry Potter (which is embarrassing)." But when the fan published a book with the website's contents, Rowling sued, claiming copyright infringement. The defense was "fair use".
The court found that the defendant copied from the Harry Potter books, and indeed, copied too much and too clumsily to qualify for the fair use. The defendant failed to properly use quotation marks to indicate "borrowed" text. Also, the defendant borrowed too much expression from the originals. Significantly, Rowling had already prepared two lexicon-type works "Fantastic Beast & Where to Find Them" and "Quidditch Through the Ages", and the defendant had borrowed verbatim many of Rowling's own definitions relating to her Harry Potter fantasy world.
The court noted that there is a usefulness and a demand for reference guides to fictional worlds written by third parties, such as Paul F. Ford's Companion to Narnia: A Complete Guide to the Magical World of C.S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia.
After closely weighing the "fair use" factors, the court issued a permanent injunction pursuant to Rule 65 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure against publication of defendant's book. The court found that where a prima facie showing of infringement was made, irreparable harm is presumed, but questioned whether that presumption had survived the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in eBay Inc. v. MercExchange LLC, 547 U.S. 388 (2006).
From the decision, it appears that the court was quite sympathetic to the defendant's apparent underlying goal of publishing a reference guide without Ms. Rowling's consent and was cognizant of the social utility of this type of publication. If the publisher had done a better packaging and editing job, had worked with the plaintiff to remove the more extensive borrowings, provide better citations and added a bit more "scholarly" commentary, it appears that the court would have found fair use.
As in most of these fair use cases, the devil is in the details.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Film Production, Rights of Publicity and Borat

Lemerond v. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp., 2008 WL 918579, 87 U.S.P.Q.2d 1219 (S.D.N.Y.)(LAP). Psenicska v. Twentieth Century Fox, 07 Civ. 10972 S.D.N.Y, September 3, 2007 (Preska, J.) found here courtesy of How Appealing.
When you make a film, do you need a person's permission before you put that person's image in your film? Can you "commercialize" the person's image without their consent? And if you do obtain a "release" from the person, are there limits to what you can use the image for?
Not surprisingly, Sacha Baron Cohen of Borat and Da Ali G Show fame has pushed everyone's limits on these issues.
In making the film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, Cohen went out into the streets dressed up as his fictional Borat character, accosted a man in the streets of New York City, and included the footage of the encounter in both the film and the trailer. Is that ok?
New York's Civil Rights Law Section 51 creates a cause of actions for "[a]ny person whose name, portrait, picture or voice is used within [New York] for advertising purposes or for the purposes of trade without" their written consent. There is a broad "newsworthiness" exception to the statute. In dismissing plaintiff's claims, Judge Loretta Preska found that Borat's childish and vulgar character was engaging in a commentary on American society and was accordingly, newsworthy.
In the Psenicska case, numerous plaintiffs executed releases that were sprung on them at the last minute before filming. The releases were detailed and indicated a consent to participate in a "documentary-style" film. During each segment, each plaintiff was subjected to offensive, humiliating and outrageous behavior from Cohen. Analyzing the question under New York contract law, the court found the term "documentary-style" - to accurately portray the Borat film's content. The court dismissed the fraudulent inducement claims, noting that such claims were specifically waived by the language in the release.
In producing a copyrighted work such as a film, one must take care to ensure that it consists of underlying content that is obtained properly. Had these issues not been litigated in New York, or release not been obtained, the result would surely have been different. The broad language of New York's Civil Rights law is narrowed substantially by the case law.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Direct Infringement and Digital Video Recorders: Catch as Cache Can

Cartoon Network LP v. CSC Holdings, Inc., --- F.3d ---, 2008 WL 252614 (August 4, 2008). Instead of taking a satellite signal and broadcasting it straight into your home at the time dictated by the broadcaster, your local cable company sets up a very fancy digital box (Digital Video Recorder or “DVR”). A DVR permits you to use your remote control, point it at the television, and program that digital box to copy a future broadcast. When the broadcast comes in, the digital box copies the broadcast for you. When you want to view the broadcast at a different time, you and your family can access the copy on the digital box.

Most of us think of a DVR as something we buy, put underneath the television, puff out our chests and think “fair use” as we make a personal use copy.

But what if the box is miles away from your home, is owned by your local cable company, and is a massive computer monster that invites everyone to make copies from it. Has the cable company made a copy? Or did you make a copy? And if you play your copy by hitting the remote and putting the copy in the digital box in motion, did you infringe?

Well, one would have guessed that the cable company had engaged in copyright infringement, one way or another. And that’s what the local district court found. But on appeal, in an August 4, 2008 decision that will make happy those who really dig the technological questions involved in litigation over devices that make copies, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals reversed.

Why? Well, most of us acting as a plaintiff who owned a copyright would have alleged that the cable company had engaged in both direct copying and indirect or contributory infringement. Really, that DVR seems like a very Napster-like infringing mechanism that permits people who pay the cable company to make infringing copies and for the cable companies to profit.

But in a very thoughtful decision that really delves into the technology involved and the legislative history involved, the Second Circuit really digs into the question of what constitutes a copy, what is necessary for fixation of the copy and how much time a copy must exist to be a copy, with a very thorough survey of the law related to various ephemeral copies, such as a copy of a program made that boots up into your computer’s RAM. The Second Circuit found that “fixation” of the copy imposes both an “embodiment” requirement and a “duration” requirement. The Second Circuit found that the machine’s buffering system, which made a copy of .1 seconds of each channel’s programming at any one time and such content did not last for more than 1.2 seconds. The Court found that the plaintiff’s copyrighted material was not “fixed” in the buffers for an amount of time sufficient to satisfy the "duration" aspect of fixation and therefore that the buffers did not make an infringing copy.

The most interesting part of the decision discusses the question of whether or not the cable company is directly liable for creating the copies. And in a discussion of copy shop cases and the Supreme Court’s Sony v. Universal Films case, the Second Circuit emphasized that the U.S. Supreme Court and the Copyright Act really make a distinction between direct copying and contributory liability for someone who actively induces an infringement.

So the court found that it is the actual consumer who makes the copy by pre-programming the digital box to capture the incoming broadcast for later use. In the case, the plaintiffs for some reason did not allege that the cable company engaged in contributory infringement, so the lower court’s decision was reversed. The Second Circuit explicitly kept open the question of whether the cable company was liable as a contributory infringer.

On the issue of whether playing the new copy at a different time by the consumer constituted a “performance” which required a license from the plaintiff copyright owners, the court’s answer was “no”.

This is an important, difficult and complex case, and worth reading. It is likely to be influential in litigations involving services that make potentially copyrighted materials available to consumers.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Creative Commons, Open Source, Copyright and Contract Law

For a number of years, activists dismayed at how commercial enterprises exploited copyright agitated to change the nature of how copyrighted works affected creative collaboration. They imagined a world of greater creative collaboration where everyone would still be able to make a living.
Authors, artists and musicians who wished to have their works used in others' materials could signify their interest.
Information and tools to understand this movement, including the "creative commons" marking and sample licenses are available at the Creative Commons website.
Wikipedia is a stunning example of this type of creative collaboration.
But what about the making money part? If you put your work on the internet and tell everyone that they can use it, are these very creative "creative commons" licenses going to eventually help you make a living? Can these licenses be enforced? And if someone ventures beyond the terms of the license, is that a breach of contract or is it copyright infringement?
The issue went from an interesting and hotly debated academic question to a tremendous commercial reality with the advent of the "open source" software movement, which adopted a creative commons-type license. Essentially, software programmers put up programming code that anyone can download, modify, use and distribute for free, as long as the "borrowed" or "open source" code is clearly indicated and enabled for the distributee to copy, download and use.
On August 13, 2008, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit decided Jacobsen v. Katzer, 2008 WL 3395772, a decision that reviewed a district court's denial of a preliminary injunction to the owner of programming code who sued a person who downloaded his code, removed the identifying materials, and sold a new software package commercially.
The district court found that the open source license was an intentionally broad non-exclusive license unlimited in scope. Rather than being a matter of "copyright infringement", the issue became one of "breach of contract". The district court's holding meant that the owner of the open source code would be stripped of powerful rights and remedies available in federal court to copyright owners who are victims of copyright infringement, including the right to injunctive relief.
Generally, a copyright owner who grants a nonexclusive license to use copyrighted materials waives the right to sue the licensee for copyright infringement. But where a license is limited in scope and the licensee acts outside the scope, the licensor can sue for copyright infringement.
The Court of Appeals framed the issue as follows: if, under California law the terms of the open source license were "conditions" for the use of the copyrighted materials, then use outside such conditions would be copyright infringement. If, however, the terms of the open source license were "covenants" under state contract law, then the open source owner would be limited to remedies for breach of contract.
Analyzing the terms of the open source license, the Court of Appeals found that its provisions were "enforceable copyright conditions" for the use of the copyrighted material and that copyright remedies would be available to the owner.
The Court of Appeals decision contains an excellent discussion of the commercial benefits flowing from open source collaboration that cannot be measured in terms of traditional royalties. This is a well-reasoned opinion that is a strong victory for the owners of these copyrighted works. According to Creative Commons, it is estimated that approximately 100,000,000 works are licensed under various Creative Commons licenses. The court noted that both Creative Commons and the Wikimedia Foundation filed friend of the court (amicus curiae) briefs in support of the appeal.
While the question of how or if many of these copyright owners will seek or achieve returns on their investments is an open one, this case is a clear victory for the rights of copyright owners who want to make their works available through the digital commons.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Associated Press v. Moreover: Hot News, Linking and Getting Legal Documents From Pacer

Associated Press v. Moreover, a recently-settled copyright infringement and "hot news" misappropriation case in the Southern District of New York, brought up the issue of what search engines can take when displaying the content of others. Moreover is a news aggregator that searches 3.5 million blogs and news sources for content and delivers links to its clients. When Moreover links to AP's content (without asking), Moreover includes 255 characters from the underlying content with the link.

Moreover filed a motion to dismiss on November 7, 2007. A review of the docket sheet shows that AP never responded to the motion and apparently after many extensions of time, agreed on some undisclosed basis to dismiss the action. In the memorandum of law in support of the motion to dismiss, the hot case cited was Perfect 10 v. Amazon, 487 F.3d 701 (9th Cir. 2007), a case I have discussed previously that extolled the virtues of a video engine search.

In this age of Electronic Case Filing, anyone can search a federal court's docket sheet for a civil action through and pull down electronically-filed documents. The documents are in PDF format, and by hitting "Save As" you can copy a document to your computer's directory. There is a modest charge associated with getting an actual document (I think that the Moreover memorandum cost me $2.97). But if you want the blow-by-blow on a case, checking a docket sheet doesn't cost anything and can quickly let you know if you've missed anything.

According to AP's 8/18/2008 press release: "AP is pleased to have resolved the litigation in an amicable manner and appreciates VeriSign and Moreover's efforts to resolve AP's concerns," said AP Vice President and General Counsel Srinandan Kasi.

I looked at the filings dismissing the Moreover case and there was nothing to show how or why it settled.