Posted October 31st, 2007 by Kurt X. Metzmeier
At this time of year it is impossible to turn the channel without a reminder of Bram Stoker's most famous character, Dracula. However, Mr. Stoker's taste for eerie tales did not end with with that classic. Two years after his death in 1912, Stoker's wife published a collection of his gothic short stories entitled Dracula's Guest.
One of the stories, "The Judge's House," concerned a mathmatics student studying for exams in a house haunted by the spectre of a cruel and vengeful judge embodied in a bell rope fashioned from the very hangman's noose that the old jurist had so often set in fatal motion. While it would have been more satifying (to me) if it had been a student reading for the bar, it nevertheless is a "ripping good yarn."
Posted October 29th, 2007 by David J. Ensign
On Oct. 26, ABC News reported the story of 18-month-old Holden Lenz, whose mother Stephanie had videotaped him dancing as the Prince song "Let's Go Crazy" played on a CD in the background. She posted the 29-second video on YouTube and within four months, twenty-eight people had viewed the video. Universal Music Publishing Group, which owns the rights to the song, filed a take-down notice and Lenz received a warning from YouTube that further copyright infringement could lead to cancellation of her account. She also received a threatening letter from Universal. According to the ABC story, Prince is especially aggressive in searching the Internet for unauthorized use of his music. Lenz appealed the takedown notice, and YouTube has reinstated the video. Because of its notoriety, the video has now been viewed 100,000 times. Lenz has filed a lawsuit against Universal for abusing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Regardless of the outcome of that lawsuit, this and other recent stories makes it clear that in the foreseeable future videos on YouTube will be more closely scrutinized for infringement. It will be interesting to see how the nature of the site will change as a result.
Posted October 29th, 2007 by David J. Ensign
Prof. Metzmeier brought to my attention an article in the Oct. 15 issue of The National Law Journal ("Litigation Clues Are Found on Facebook," p.1) The impact of social networking is a subject we have discussed for quite some time, but in a different context. We have long been warning students that anything they place on Facebook or MySpace can be accessed by potential employers. When employers find incriminating photographs or descriptions of bad behavior on these sites, they often refuse to hire applicants who they see as unstable or using poor judgment. The article in NLJ describes how postings on these sites have influenced the outcomes of trials. The article says that one father succeeded in securing joint custody because his wife had posted sexually explicit comments on her boyfriend's MySpace page. "In another case, a husband's credibility was questioned because, on his MySpace page, he said he was single and looking." The article recounts enhanced sentences for defendants accused of DUI, because their pages on social sites contained photos of them drinking, or comments about getting drunk after arrest. Many times, people assume there is a cloak of confidentiality surrounding their sites and those of their friends. They don't appreciate the public nature of the sites or understand how the information might be regarded by people who are not within their group of online friends. This article makes it clear that everyone should be aware of the potential consequences of placing personal information on a social network site.
View the ABC News story at http://abcnews.go.com/TheLaw/story?id=3777651
Posted October 26th, 2007 by Kurt X. Metzmeier
From the Georgia judiciary website:
"Atlanta, October 26, 2007 -- The Supreme Court of Georgia today ordered that Genarlow Wilson be released from prison. In a split 4-to-3 decision, the state’s highest court has upheld a Monroe County judge’s finding that Wilson’s 10-year-prison sentence constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment” under the Georgia and U.S. Constitutions. Wilson was convicted in 2005 of aggravated child molestation for engaging in consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old girl when he was 17. Under the law at the time, the crime was punishable by a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison with no chance of parole, followed by registration as a sex offender. The law was amended July 1, 2006 making conduct such as Wilson’s a misdemeanor punishable by no more than a year in prison and no sex offender registration. But the legislature did not make the law retroactive, and the change did not apply to Wilson."
Posted October 25th, 2007 by David J. Ensign
I like Judge Judy. She has to resolve a case within 10 minutes or so, so she cuts through the formalities, drags out her "preponderance of the evidence" yardstick, and cautions litigants not to pee on her leg and tell her it's raining. Most of the cases involve jilted lovers, former roommates, and family members with loans that have gone bad. Last night, she heard a case where a school teacher hired a man with a sound studio to record some children's songs. The man agreed to do so, was paid the price he originally quoted, but then didn't produce the recordings. The copyright issue was kind of murky. The plaintiff school teacher made it sound like she had written the songs. The defendant claimed that he "obtained the copyrights" and that he wanted to use them himself, which suggested that maybe he had obtained licenses to use songs that the teacher had not written. Judge Judy decided the case based on contract; the teacher had paid $650 to obtain recordings, the defendant took the money but did not produce the recordings, and so the teacher was entitled to the return of her payment. Judge Judy said that the teacher was just seeking the return of her payment, so there was no need for her to determine who was entitled to use the copyrights (sic). Obviously, this case was really not about copyright law. I liked it because it brought to people's attention that the use of music requires some sort of permission. I know that many teachers assume that any educational use is fair use. In reality, I know that many of the things they want to do with copyrighted works, while being class-related and not benefitting them personally, don't qualify as fair use. Maybe next week Judge Judy will tackle an antitrust action.
Posted October 23rd, 2007 by David J. Ensign
Those who are convinced that the ebook is the shape of things to come should check out the new Sony Portable Reader System pictured on p. 148 of the latest issue of Wired (Nov., 2007). It boasts enough memory (192 meg) to hold 160 books and is thinner than a CD jewel case, according to the description. It has simple controls, a four-way navigation button and a page turner. Retail price is listed at $299. In the photo, it is VERY slick-looking -- the kind of gadget that anyone with an ounce of techno-lust would be anxious to try. Will it replace the book? My prediction is that it will not in the foreseeable future. For one thing, the book is still an incredibly efficient way to package information. For another, there is still fear among information providers that digital media are too prone to mass reproduction and distribution. They are more comfortable with the control they exercise over print media.
Posted October 22nd, 2007 by David J. Ensign
An article in today's New York Times ("Libraries Shun Deals to Place Books on Web," by Katie Hafner) reports that many libraries are reluctant to subscribe to Google's program to digitize books and upload them to the Internet because they don't like the idea that one commercial enterprise might control so much information content, and because Google's agreements have been somewhat restrictive. Instead, some libraries are signing on with the Open Content Alliance, a nonprofit effort. There are copyright implications to these projects, of course. The article doesn't mention the lawsuit filed against Google by the AAP, but it does say that most efforts to digitize print are aimed at books in the public domain, and that Google plans to provide limited access to materials that are still protected by copyright. Open Content Alliance plans to concentrate on materials in the public domain, but the end of the article says something curious. Internet Archive, which appears to be a parent organization to Open Content Alliance, has announced "that it would start scanning out-of-print but in-copyright works to be distributed through a digital interlibrary loan system." Copyright duration is not determined by availability. In sec. 108, limitations on the rights conferred to copyright owners in sec. 106 anticipate that libraries will not reproduce works if the reproduction is systematic. It must be "isolated and unrelated." Clearly, establishing a central repository of copyright protected works for interlibrary loan purposes suggests a systematic effort. There are at least two other problems with this scheme. Needless to say, the Internet Archive will find at the wrong end of an infringement suit before too long.
Posted October 19th, 2007 by Kurt X. Metzmeier
Viacom, owner of cable's Comedy Central channel, took a lot of flak from netizens when it forced Google to pull videos from its popular Daily Show with Jon Stewart from YouTube. Yesterday, it debuted its creative answer: a website with every episode of the show from its inception in 1999. The website, sponsored by Hyundai, is free, requires no log-in, and (like YouTube) allows fans to embed clips into their email, web pages, blogs, as well Myspace and Facebook pages.
This represents a surprisingly sensible approach to an intellectual property challenge. Viacom controls the usage of its property, while giving users much of the usability of YouTube with higher quality footage. And they pick up a little change (Hyundai's mini-ads) that wasn't realistically available through silly per-use schemes. Let's hope they extend the principle to other programs (like the Colbert Report)...
As an example, here's Jon's practical method of predicting how the Supreme Court will rule in a case:
Posted October 19th, 2007 by David J. Ensign
A recent article in BNA's Patent, Trademark & Copyright Journal reports a case (Kelley v. Chicago Park District, N.D. Ill., No. 04 C 07715, 9/14/07) that presents several interesting issues related to copyright law. Kelley is a "noted artist" who created a display of wildflowers in a Chicago park. For several years, he maintained the display under a permit, and continued to maintain it after the permit expired. Eventually, the park district fenced the area and removed the plantings. Kelley claims that his wildflower display qualifies as a sculptural work, and is protected by the Visual Artists Rights Act. The main issue, of course, is whether an arrangement of living plants can qualify as a sculptural work. One issue that might influence this determination is whether the display is a continuing work -- one in being since inception -- or whether each year Kelley created a new work, because it required extensive "cutting, trimming, and replanting" in order to maintain. Reading the article, I wondered if the threshold issue of whether plantlife qualifies as a tangible medium of expression was considered. If, instead of a public park district, this garden had been maintained on private property, the case would illustrate an important conflict between property rights and intellectual property. If Kelley prevails, would it mean that private property owners might lose their ability to exclude others from land, if such a work is established there. The article can be found on p. 694 of the Oct. 12, 2007 issue of Patent, Trademark & Copyright Journal (Vol 74, number 1838).
Posted October 17th, 2007 by Kurt X. Metzmeier
Not being a daytime TV watcher, I would not have normally seen the footage of Ellen Degeneres' tearful story of how a Pasadena animal shelter had taken back a dog she had given the children of a co-worker. That is, I wouldn't have except NBC chose to include it in last night's Nightly News with Brian Williams. Besides being confused as how this fit in with the ominous story that preceded it concerning a mutual defense pact between Iran and Russia, I also wondered about what kind of contract would allow the Mutts and Moms animal adoption agency to do this? Luckily Access Hollywood--a legal resource almost as reliable as YouTube--has posted the contract between Ellen and the animal rescue/adoption agency.
In a conversation around the coffee pot before either of us had seen the actual instrument, Professor David Ensign, who teaches copyright, surmised that the contract was likely more of a license than an agreement to transfer property, analogizing it to a shinkwrap license for software. On reading it, I think he was quite right, although it is an odd document and was certainly not copied from West's Legal Forms.