Go, Shorty, It's Your Copyright -- Not

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"The law is a seamless web."  Whether Oliver Wendel Holmes or Frederick Maitland first made that enigmatic claim, one way to put it to the test is to set aside the familiar cubbyholes we use to sort out legal issues -- antitrust, copyright, UCC, trusts & estates -- and instead pick a theme.  My fellow blogger Geoff Gerber has picked comic books as his theme.  Study the law of comic books, O Spidey, and you may indeed find yourself in a seamless web.  My current seamless -- or perhaps seamy -- web is the realm of dirty words and dirty pictures, a/k/a, "Censorship & the First Amendment," a course I teach at Washington University School of Law.

But if you'd prefer to earn a Juris Doctor Dre or would rather be sippin' on Gin & Jurisprudence, try the Law of Hip Hop, which traces its origins to the Mack Daddy of "fair use" cases, Campbell v. Acuff-RoseHow can you not love a U.S. Supreme Court decision that quotes these timeless lyrics from Luther "Luke" Campbell's version of the Roy Orbison classic, "Pretty Woman":

Big hairy woman, you need to shave that stuff
Big hairy woman, you know I bet it's tough
Big hairy woman, all that hair it ain't legit
Cause you look like "Cousin It"
Big hairy woman

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Valerie Plame Redux, Southwest Style

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While all versions of "fair use" share some of the same 1st Amendment genetic code, the doctrine has one meaning in copyright law, other meanings under trademark law (such as 15 U.S.C. Sections 1115(b)(4) & 1125(c)(4)), and yet other meanings in the field of right of publicity

But for those of us who toil in the journalism vineyards -- where the purest and oldest of those DNA strands are found -- the fair use defense actually travels, at least in invasion of privacy lawsuits, under the alias of "newsworthiness."  The scope of that doctrine took center stage in Alvarado v. KOB-TV, a recent 10th Circuit decision affirming a district court's dismissal of a lawsuit filed by two undercover cops against an Albuquerque TV station that broadcast their identities. The  plaintiffs were Albuquerque cops who were named on the news show as suspects in a sexual assault case; in addition, the station aired video footage of each man opening the door to his home after the reporter rang the doorbell.  The cops were eventually cleared of the sexual assault charge, although they continued to receive threats as a result of the broadcast. There was no defamation claim because the station's broadcast was entirely true: they had indeed been charged with a crime.  So instead, they (and their wives) sued the station for invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

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Comic-con Repackaged with Expanded Editorial Content

By Geoffrey Gerber

Back from Comic-con. With comic-book litigation absorbing the majority of my time, it is sometimes easy to forget that not everyone sues to protect their intellectual property rights. Comic-con is a case study in the practicality of IP protection and enforcement. Just walking the exhibition floor, you can locate pirated and bootleg merchandise (just because the TV network or movie studio has not released material on DVD doesn't mean that you can sell a DVD version without obtaining rights).

Individuals and companies that own valuable intellectual property could spend all of their time and resources suing people who attempt to benefit from the goodwill associated with that property. Therefore, they need to pick and choose which thefts, misappropriations, and infringements they will attempt to stop. Sometimes, they will let obvious infringement go. A great example was just two blocks outside the Comic-con door.

 

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