Thoughts to ponder while camped out in front of the Apple store.

By Gary Pierson

Launch day for perhaps one of the most widely anticipated - and certainly one of the most wildly hyped - consumer electronics products in years seems an appropriate time to reflect on the state of the digital music revolution. Apple's iPhone combines, among other features, the high-end cell phone and the now ubiquitous iPod music player. (For deep background, see Marty Schwimmer's analysis of the brief trademark fight Apple stumbled into when it announced the name of the new product nearly six months ago here and here.) As such, it represents the convergence of the phenomenon often credited with pushing the music industry into its current state of plunging sales and the phenomenon much of the industry is looking to for salvation. Regardless of one's view of file-sharing web sites and CD-ripping laptops, the fact that the iPod has been a catalyst to major changes in the way consumers acquire and listen to music cannot be denied. Less certain is whether the practice of purchasing ring tones and other tunes for cell phones will provide the new and sustainable stream of revenue the industry so desperately needs.

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The Karaoke Case: Fair Use or Infringement To A Fair-Thee-Well?

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At some point early on in a copyright lawyer's career (or at least in this copyright lawyer's career), usually while you are seated in a chain restaurant listening to the waiters sing an unfamiliar birthday song to the beaming fellow at the next table, that mental lightbulb blinks on as you realize, "They aren't singing the Happy Birthday song because it's still covered by copyright, this is a commercial establishment, and they'd have to pay royalties."  And then you connect the dots to the "fair use" doctrine, realizing you can still sing it at home or at a friend's house without fear of a visit from an ASCAP goon.

Take that thought over to the realm of Karaoke, which is the subject of a fascinating recent decision by the Sixth Circuit in Zomba Enterprises, Inc. v. Panorama Records, Inc.  As Circuit Judge Karen Nelson Moore astutely observes in her opening paragraph:

Countless people have lined up at various venues to perform their favorite songs with, and in front of, their friends. But few participants (with the possible exception of IP lawyers) ever stop to consider the intellectual property regime governing karaoke.

While the decision offers important insights on various copyright topics, including calculation of statutory damages, the "fair use" discussion will, if nothing else, make you admire the moxie of the defendant's attorneys -- or at least make you sympathize with their plight.

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Dead Celebrities and Dead Presidents: Round 2

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Following up on Geoff's post on the recent New York federal district court decision finding that Indiana's privacy statute (and, in passing, New York's as well) does not grant celebrities post-mortem publicity rights, the New York State Assembly and Senate now have pending before them legislation to revive dead celebrities -- or, more precisely, to give heirs the ability to turn dear old mom into hard cash.  In my other life (which also includes the pen name Michael Baron), I am a member of the Authors Guild, which has launched a campaign opposing enactment of the legislation.  Check it out.

Carol Burnett and Fox TV: Who's Fair and Balanced Now?

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The rulings contained within District Judge Dean Pregerson's opinion dismissing Carol Burnett's lawsuit against Twentieth Century Fox could have been predicted the moment we heard about the case. If ever there were a textbook example of the "fair use" doctrine in copyright law and the "parody" exception in trademark and dilution law, this was it.

Burnett had sued over a short clip from Fox's animated television show, Family Guy. In the scene, Griffin family patriarch Peter Griffin and his pals visit a porn shop. Upon entering the store, Peter remarks that it is cleaner than he expected. One of his friends explains that "Carol Burnett works part time as a janitor."  The scene shifts to an animated figure resembling the Charwoman character from the Carol Burnett Show mopping the floor next to bin of life-size blow-up dolls and  a rack of XXX movies.  Judge Pregerson explains:

"As the 'Charwoman' mops, a slightly altered version of Carol's Theme from The Carol Burnett Show is playing.  The scene switches back to Peter and his friends.  One of the friends remarks, 'You know, when she tugged her ear at the end of that show, she was really saying goodnight to her mom.'  Another friend responds, 'I wonder what she tugged to say goodnight to her dad,' finishing with a comic's explanation, 'Oh!'"

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Hillary's Sopranos Spoof: Pretty Woman or the Candidate NOT in the Hat?

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Senator and Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton today unveiled her latest campaign video, the ostensible purpose of which is to reveal the theme song for her campaign.  But what makes it the cleverest campaign video this year also makes it the most interesting copyright "fair use" video this year because, in the words of Kate Philips of the New York Times,

[T]he entire video announcing her choice for a campaign song tracks so closely to the bizarre ending of “The Sopranos” less than two weeks ago - from the soundtrack (”some will win … some will lose”), to the diner, to Bill Clinton’s comment that Chelsea was outside “parallel parking” just like Meadow.

(The Clintons even have a little fun over the onion rings - Mr. Clinton picks up a carrot slice, longs for onion rings but the senator tells him she’s only looking out for him. How’s the campaign going? he asks. She replies, just like A.J., “Focus on the good times.”)

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Son of Tasini -- or Desperately Seeking Analogies

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Books published before tape recorders were invented are now on CD, movies made before television was invented are now on DVD, and newspapers--that most venerable of media formats--are now online.  Each new technology creates the same old headache for the courts, especially in copyright infringement cases: the need to find the appropriate analogy. We've seen it before as courts try to determine whether the contractual right to publish a book also includes the right to publish an ebook or, as in last month's ruling, whether the 1939 grant of "motion picture and television rights" to the distributor of Citizen Kane includes the right to make and distribute the movie in home video form.

And now the latest round in freelance photographer Jerry Greenburg's copyright battle with the National Geographic Society, which has taken an ominous turn for him in this, its tenth year in the federal courts.  His lawsuit is the latest skirmish along the borders of  Section 201(c) of the Copyright Act, which governs the allocation of copyrights in "collective works" such as magazines, anthologies and encyclopedias. His lawsuit--and especially this week's decision by the 11th Circuit in Greenburg v. National Geographic Society vacating his $400,000 judgment--is an excellent example of the judiciary's ongoing struggle to apply to new technology the legal principles that were forged on old technology.

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Parody without the porn - and without the parody

By Geoffrey Gerber

Hopefully some of you will be going to museums, book stores, and movie theaters this weekend. If you are in Olympia, Washington, you may want to check out the Olympia Comics Festival. I like this year’s poster. It reminded me of the famous scene from Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove (winner of the 1965 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation). You know, the one where Slim Pickens rides the nuclear bomb to earth. It also reminded me of the subtitle for the movie, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. In fact, it is just like it.

 

There was a similar image in today’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which collected a political cartoon by Cam Cardow from the Ottawa Citizen.

Mike’s explanation of copyright parody raises a question about whether these two cartoons infringe the copyrights in Dr. Strangelove or in the character Major T.J. “King” Kong. Neither is a parody.

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Porn Names, Part II

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Geoff's musings over porn star names aroused, er, got me thinking about a related  "fair use" issue, namely, the porn industry's unauthorized use of slightly altered titles of famous motion pictures.  Such as On Golden Blonde.  Breakfast on Tiffany. Inspect Her Gadget.  And any on the Top Ten list compiled by BBspot, which begins, at #10, with Forrest Hump.

Each use is an obvious commercial attempt to cash in on the widespread awareness and recognition of the original title.  Each use is also an obvious commercial attempt to capture the prospective buyer's attention, to stand out in a crowd of titles.

But are these uses "fair uses"?

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What is your porn star name?

By Geoffrey Gerber

Apparently you take the name of your first pet and add the name of the street on which you were raised. Sorry I couldn't find a safe link to cite for authority, but there is an R-rated monologue on point in YouTube.  -- Warning! If you do not employ this somewhat random name generation technique, you might be inviting a lawsuit.

No there isn't one yet, but the New York Post's Page Six reported that Katie Holmes, former Dawson's Creek ingenue, is considering available recourse (presumably legal) to pursue against Katee Holmes. Apparently Ms. Holmes ("ee" not "ie"), a self-proclaimed virgin, announced her intention to launch a career as a porn star by filming her first sexual encounter. I will  not provide the link to her website (with its countdown clock), but the Defamer blogs about it.

Normally the career choices and self-promotional efforts of eighteen-year-old fashion students do not merit much serious consideration for litigation. The difference in this case: the New York Post reports that the young woman in question "changed her name" to Katee Holmes to launch her direct-to-video career. Such a calculated move invites a right of publicity lawsuit, the crux of which is invoking a celebrity's identity to obtain a commercial advantage.

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