A Stunning Confession Potentially Destroys Fairey's Fair Use Defense

By Dave Rein

Source of Poster:  Stephen Fairey; Source of Photograph:  Mannie GarciaDespite depictions in TV shows and the movies, most court cases do not involve dramatic confessions, cover ups and Presidential politics.  Of course, most court cases don't involve Stephen Fairey.  From pasting the Obey Giant (now his Twitter name) and other "Obey" posters on public property (much to the ire of city officials around the country) to talking smack with the Associated Press over the Presidential candidate Obama Hope poster, he seems to seek and thrive on controversey.

But the controversey with the AP over the Obama Hope poster may have seriously backfired on Fairey.  On February 9, 2009, Fairey filed a Complaint in the Southern District of New York saying that his use of a photograph claimed by the AP fell within the fair use defense and therefore, he owed the AP nothing for using the photograph to create the Obama poster.  One former blogger on this site thought that if Fairey's inspiration for the poster did come from the picture of Obama and George Clooney at a press conference as Fairey claimed, then Fairey might succeed.  It is unlikely that we will find out if he was right. 

On October 16, 2009, Fairey confessed that he used a different picture from the same press conference, one that more closely resembles the Obama poster.  A number of bloggers including Tom GralishPhoto District News and others had suspected as much, but Fairey had denied their claims until now.

An AP article appearing in the New York Times could barely conceal its delight of the confession and the news that Fairey's legal defense team from the Stanford Fair Use Project intend to withdrawal their representation because Fairey lied to them and tried to cover it all up. 

Fairey can likely afford to hire other legal counsel, but the legal arguments for his new defense team just got a lot more difficult.  One of the four fair use factors analyzes the amount of copyrighted work taken.  When the Obama Hope poster is compared to the picture that Fairey now confesses to using, this prong may now weigh against him where it may have helped in in the other picture.  

But beyond the simple analysis of the factors, it should be remembered that the fair use defense is an equitable rule.  Fairey's confessed dishonesty undercuts his ability to ask for equity, i.e. fairness.  In other cases, the courts have not looked kindly on those accursed of infringing a work who denied that he or she used the accuser's work and then later tried to invoke the fair use defense.  Further, should this case go to trial, the AP will likely be able to tell the jury that Fairey initially lied about the picture and that he lied because he thought that he would lose if the actual photograph was known.  Much of the jury sympathy that Fairey might have had has likely been lost.

While Fairey's case against the AP still raises interesting questions such as whether the AP or Mannie Garcia, the photographer, own the copyright to the photograph, it now looks like a much anticipated case analyzing the fair use defense will disappoint many.

Happy Birthday Barbie! Things I Learned From Barbie . . .

By Dave Rein

Barbie, the iconic doll who lines the shelves of big box and mom-and-pop toy stores everywhere, celebrates her 50th birthday today.  I was more of a G.I. Joe kid growing up, but I'll be the first to admit that Barbie has done more for teaching us the ins and outs of trademark and copyright law than tough Joe ever did.

While others have used her birthday to look back at her last 50 years to ponder whether she has been a good or bad influence on generations of kids, her power in the fashion world, or the enormous amount of money collectors will pay for her, I was curious as to how she has shaped our view of intellectual property.  Frankly, it is somewhat surreal that when I stand before a judge or jury to argue a point, some of my arguments have been shaped by an unusually shapely plastic doll.

There are a staggering number of cases involving Barbie or cases that refer to Barbie in courts' opinions, but the most obvious area in which Barbie's charms have had the strongest influence is on our notion of parody for both trademark and copyright law. 

Perhaps the most well-known of these cases involved the song "Barbie Girl" and probably the only song by the group, Aqua, to hit the charts in the U.S.  YouTube, probably at MCA Records' request, no longer allows users to embed video of "Barbie Girl", but you can still watch it here.

The maker of Barbie, Mattel, was not terribly happy with a song that makes fun of Barbie and sued for trademark infringement.  The Court of Appeals noted that Aqua would likely lose if it used Barbie to mock others, but because the song makes fun of Barbie herself and the values that the group claims she represents, the First Amendment compels a different result. 

The same result occurred when Mattel challenged a photographer, Tom Forsythe, who displayed nude Barbies in not so flattering poses and situations.  His defense to a lawsuit for copyright and trademark infringement was successful because he was able to show that the use of Barbie in the photographs was fair use to parody and comment on his perception of Barbie's influence.  

Don't get the impression that Barbie has not done well in court.  Her $100 million win against Bratz  last year and a long string of other victories show that she is a formidable opponent in the courtroom. 

But, let's not dwell on the number of notches Barbie has on her stylish belt.  Instead, let's wish her a hearty "Happy Birthday!" and look forward to her future exploits in the courtroom over the next 50 years.


Fair Use or Copyright Infringement? Iconic Obama Poster Sparks Debate

By Pete Salsich III

Whether you view it as an iconic image for a hopeful progressive nation or nothing more than a thinly-veiled attempt at Soviet-style propaganda, you've almost certainly seen one of the now-famous Obama posters created by artist Shephard Fairey.  (above right)

Two weeks ago, the Associated Press accused Fairey of copyright infringement because the poster was based on a photograph taken in April 2006 by Mannie Garcia while on assignment for AP.  (above left)

Last week, Fairey countered by filing a declaratory judgment action in the Southern District of New York, claiming that his use of the original photograph is protected by the Fair Use Doctrine.  According to his Complaint (.PDF here), "Fairey used the Garcia Photograph as a visual reference for a highly transformative purpose; Fairey altered the original with new meaning, new expression, and new messages; and Fairey did not create any of the Obama Works for the sake of commercial gain."   

I think he's right.  Fair Use can be a notoriously slippery concept to apply, but in this case I think the transformative nature of Fairey's posters tips the case in his favor.  Moreover, he used only a portion of the original photograph--only as much as necessary to achieve his expressive purpose--and I think it unlikely that the AP could prove Fairey's posters have had a negative impact on the commercial market for the photograph.

In an added wrinkle, apparently the AP's claims of copyright ownership in the photograph are being questioned by Garcia himself.  This looks more like a PR blunder for the AP than anything else, but at least Garcia's work as a photographer is getting noticed along with Fairey's ubiquitous poster.

Owners, Borrowers & Thieves 2.0

By Pete Salsich III

Coming soon to a blogoshpere near you . . .

As regular readers of this blog know, we have often used this space as a means to follow and comment on the continuing tension that results from trying to fit new technologies, new types of content and new content delivery systems into old paradigms of intellectual property law.  Sometimes it's copyright -- for example, YouTube's assault on (or defense behind) the DMCA;  sometimes its trademark -- for example, whether Google Keyword ads constitute trademark use for purposes of an infringement claim; sometimes it's even Comics!

Recently we've realized that our mutual interest in emerging technologies and how the law practice can adapt to a changing IP environment has been prompting us to adapt our blogging to fit our own new paradigm.  We're very excited about some changes that will be coming shortly, including adding a fresh new voice or two.

We hope we've been "fairly useful" (to borrow Professor Sag's great blog title) so far, and hope you'll check in regularly as we go forward.

Stay tuned . . .  

Fair Use In a Realm of New Use: User-Generated Videos


The new year opened with an intriguing study by two American University professors that concludes that many online videos which use copyrighted materials do so in ways that are eligible for fair use consideration under copyright law.  These are, of course, the very same uses of copyrighted material under siege by a variety of "anti-piracy" measures online.

The study--Recut, Reframe, Recycle: Quoting Copyrighted Material in User-Generated Video--identifies nine kinds of uses of copyrighted material that are eligible for fair use consideration. They range from the incidental (such as a video maker’s family singing “Happy Birthday”) to parody (a Christian takeoff on the song “Baby Got Back”) to pastiche and collage (finger-dancing to “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger”).

Better yet, the study contains links to dozens and dozens of videos--many of which are brilliant and hilarious--that demonstrate these various kinds of uses. WARNING: For those of you who've lost an hour or so of office time to the lure of the Sirens of the Island of the YouTube Concert Videos, prepare to land on Calypso's Island of Transformative Use, where you will be tempted by the vicious satire of George Bush Don't Like Black People and the astounding tour de force of History of Dance and the marvelously clever Ten Things I Hate About Commandments. And many, many more.

Kudos to the study's authors, Pat Aufderheide and Peter Jaszi, for shedding some coherent light on this vital new realm of fair use.  Pat Aufderheide is a professor in American University’s School of Communication and the director of the school's Center for Social Media.  Peter Jaszi is a professor in American University’s Washington College of Law and co-director of the law school’s Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property.

Judicial Ideology and Right of Publicity Cases


William Patry, the Mack Daddy of Copyright, has a fascinating post entitled, "The Effect of Judicial Ideology in IP Cases," on his eponymous blog.  (Ah, I finally found a way to use "eponymous.")

Patry discusses an empirical study by Professors Matthew Sag, Tonja Jacobi and Maxim Stych, posted here on the Social Science Research Network, in which the authors present the results of their examination of the past 22 years of Supreme Court decisions in the fields of patents, copyrights and trademarks.  According to the abstract of their article, their analysis shows "that ideology is a significant determinant of cases involving intellectual property rights."  Even more interesting, ideology seemed to dictate different results depending upon the type of intellectual property involved, e.g., the Justices were more likely to vote against a trademark owner but for a copyright owner.

On a less scholarly basis I have noticed similar -- and similarly unexpected -- ideological divides in lower courts in the field of right of publicity.  Given that the right of publicity is a property right, judges from which end of the political spectrum are more likely to protect it?  Wrong.

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Fantasy Baseball 2, Real Baseball Zero


The Eighth Circuit handed down its much awaited fantasy baseball decision in CBC Distribution & Marketing, Inc. v. Major League Baseball Advanced Media, L.P., the appeal of the district court's summary judgment in favor of CBC.  CBC had brought a declaratory judgment case in St. Louis to establish its right to use -- without license or compensation -- the names and statistical information of real major league baseball players in its fantasy baseball products.  The players had counterclaimed, maintaining that CBC's fantasy baseball products violated their rights of publicity.

Although the Eighth Circuit concluded that use by CBC of the names and statistics of the players in its commercial fantasy baseball operations satisfied all three elements of the Missouri tort -- namely, (1) use of the player's name as a symbol of his identify, (2) without his consent, and (3) with the intent to obtain a commercial advantage -- it held that this use was nevertheless a "fair use" under the First Amendment.

But of more interest to me -- and to those concerned that right-of-publicity has become the tort of choice for celebrities seeking to avoid the First Amendment barriers to libel and privacy claims -- is the Eighth Circuit's treatment of the controversial  First Amendment test created by the Missouri Supreme Court in the Tony Twist case, which is also the same case that articulated the three elements of the tort claim set forth in the preceding paragraph.

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Contracting Away Fair Use Rights: Amazon's MP3 Store, Lucasfilms and Blanket Licensing

By Pete Salsich III

It used to be pretty simple.  You went to a record store (or mailed in your record-club form), bought an album or CD, and you owned it.  As the owner, you had certain rights--under the First Sale and Fair Use doctrines, you could make a copy for your own personal use, give it away,  share it, even sell it.  Easy, right?

Well, the times they are a'changin'.  Like many people, I haven't bought a new CD in a long time -- I have all my music on my iPod and download it from iTunes (legally, of course).  Now I'm excited about Amazon.com's new MP3 Store, which promises cheaper music downloads, better sound, and--most importantly--the music is DRM-free, meaning I can play it on any device.  Great! 

But not so fast . . .


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James Brown "Live": Papa's Got a Brand New Claim


While death has ended James Brown's reign as Hardest Working Man in Show Business, his post-mortem litigation may yet snatch from Elvis the title Hardest Work Corpse in Lawsuits.  His latest appearance was in the Illinois Appellate Court, where he was the headliner in the appeal of a right-of-publicity claim against a company that licenses copyrights for stock photographs.  The case presents an intriguing and somewhat confusing fair-use struggle along the border between right of publicity and copyright law.

The basic facts are straightforward: The main defendant, Corbis Corp., licenses the use of stock photographs and images. Its customers range from newspapers and magazines to advertising agencies.  It had, for example, given Rolling Stone Magazine a license to use certain photographs of James Brown in a profile the magazine published under the title Being James Brown.

So far, so good.  Entirely proper, no cause of action.

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


"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


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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Beckham Beckons: Using Real People's Names In Movie Titles


The recent explosion of media coverage over the California arrival of David Beckham got me thinking about the use -- or more precisely, the "fair use" -- of his name in the title of the motion picture Bend It Like Beckham.  When I first heard that title back at the time of the movie's release in 2002, I had only the vaguest knowledge of David Beckham and made no connection between him and the rest of the title.  Indeed, to this ignorant American the title had mysterious and vaguely erotic connotations, as if it referred to a position in the Kama Sutra.  But the rest of the world, of course, knew immediately that the Beckham in the title was THE most famous athlete on the planet and that the title itself referred to Beckham's amazing skill at scoring on free kicks by “bending" (curving) the ball, which makes it veer out of the goalie's reach.

Knowing Hollywood, we can assume that all of the necessary permissions were signed in triplicate long before the first scene was shot.  But what if Beckham had refused to give permission?  Could you still include the name of the most famous athlete on the planet in the title of your motion picture?  Could you use for free a name that had a commercial endorsement value worth tens of millions of dollars?

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


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

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?


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?


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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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


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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Making Sense of Fair Use: A Scientific Approach


When it comes to the doctrine of fair use, Mark Twain said it first and said it best: "Only one thing is impossible to God: to find any sense in any copyright law on the planet."  I've shared my fellow Missourian's sentiments more than once as I've tried to help clients navigate the murky waters of copyright fair use.  Is it a parody?  Or just a satire?  Is it "transformative"?  Is there a discernible "effect" upon the "potential market" of the original? The legal waters of fair use are almost as muddy as the waters of Mississippi River that I can see from my office window.

When I teach copyright fair use to my law school students, I stress how hard it is to pin down the key legal concepts or to make reliable predictions from past decisions.  For example, can you really draw a meaningful distinction between 2 Live Crew's use of all of the music and most of the key lyrical phrases from the song "Pretty Woman" in Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc., 510 U.S. 569 (1994), and Penguin Books' use of some of the art and some of the language from the works of Dr. Suess in The Cat NOT In the Hat, its witty riff on the O.J. Simpson trial in Dr. Suess Enterprises, Inc. v. Penguin Books USA, 109 F.3d 1394 (9th Cir. 1997)? The Ninth Circuit thought it could draw that distinction.  Penguin's pre-publication lawyers apparently did not.

But perhaps the science of statistics can provide the remedy to Mark Twain's complaint.  As I learned in William Patry's excellent copyright blog, Professor Barton Beebe of the Cardozo School of Law has completed an empirical study of all 306 U.S. copyright fair use opinions during the 28-year period from 1978 (the effective date of the new Copyright Act)  through 2005.  Although the results of that study will be published later this year in the Pennsylvania Law Review, you can read the article at Professor Beebe's website.  As he explains in his summary, his study "shows which factors and subfactors actually drive the outcome of the fair use test in practice, how the fair use factors interact, how courts inflect certain individual factors, and the extent to which judges stampede the factor outcomes to conform to the overall test outcome.  It also presents empirical evidence of the extent to which lower courts either deliberately ignored or were ignorant of the doctrine of the leading cases, particularly those from the Supreme Court. "  It is, indeed, a fascinating new look at how the various "fair use" factors affect the the outcomes of the cases.  Although Professor Beebe's work would not have satisfied Mark Twain, it does help the rest of us, including our clients, find a little more clarity in those muddy waters.

Naked Women, Farting Dolls and Fair Use, Oh My


Some days, keeping watch along the fair use border makes you feel like Paris Hilton inside the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.  Other days you feel like a pledge at a wild Delta House frat party in Animal House.  Today is a Delta day, brought to you by the good jurists of the Seventh and Ninth Circuit.  To paraphrase Herman Melville, Call me Flounder.

We begin with the magical opening paragraph of Circuit Judge Diane Woods' opinion in the Seventh Circuit's recent copyright decision in JCW Investments, Inc. v. Novelty, Inc.:

Meet Pull My Finger Fred.  He is a white, middle-aged, overweight man with black hair and a receding hairline, sitting in an armchair wearing a white tank top and blue pants.  Fred is a plush doll and when one squeezes Fred's extended finger on his right hand, he farts.  He also makes somewhat crude, somewhat funny statements about the bodily noises he emits, such as "Did somebody step in a duck?" or "Silent but deadly."

And we continue with a bevvy of beautiful babes in the buff, delivered compliments of a Google "Image Search" for the phrase "Perfect 10" that is the subject of the Ninth Circuit's recent copyright opinion in Perfect 10 v. Amazon.com.  These two cases -- whose fact patterns could have been selected by the cast of Porky's -- shed important light on two fair use issues.

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Fair Use Victory Costs Defendant Over $1 Million

By Geoffrey Gerber

This past Fall, the Second Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Jeff Koons in a claim against him for copyright infringement. You can read a good analysis of this opinion at the Patry Copyright Blog. Be sure to check out the concurring analysis at the Art Law Blog as well. For a brief, but straightforward summary, look at the Fair Use Network’s post.

Here is an image of Koons’s challenged work, “Niagra” from the Court record (see the Guggenheim Museum’s website for the work in color).

You can compare that with the plaintiff’s appropriated work “Silk Sandals by Gucci” from Avedon protégé Andrea Blanch in the Allure advertisement from the Court record.

A good and fair result.

However, last Wednesday, the District Court in Blanch v. Koons, Case No. 03-cv-8026, (S. D. N.Y., Doc. 71, entered May 9, 2007), announced that his “fair use” cost Koons over $1 million in attorneys’ fees and costs.

As the District Court wrote:

17 U.S.C. § 505 provides in copyright actions that:

In any civil action under this title, the court in its discretion may allow the recovery of full costs by or against any party other than the United States or an officer thereof. Except as otherwise provided by this title, the court may also award a reasonable attorney’s fee to the prevailing party as part of the costs.

The standard for determining whether a party is entitled to attorneys’ fees is the same whether the prevailing party is the plaintiff or defendant. Fogerty v. Fantasy, Inc., 510 U.S. 517, 534 (1994). The following factors may be used to guide a court’s discretion so long as they are faithful to the purposes of the Copyright Act: “‘frivolousness, motivation, objective unreasonableness (both in the factual and in the legal components of the case) and the need in particular circumstances to advance considerations of compensation and deterrence.’” Id. at 534 n.19, quoting Lieb v. Topstone Industries, Inc., 788 F.2d 151, 156 (3d Cir. 1986).

The District Court seems to have relied heavily on the fact that Koons is an “appropriation artist” who has been sued before for copyright infringement. Appropriation art has a long lineage in the visual arts, extending back at least as far as Picasso and Duchamp, but it raises very difficult copyright issues, including derivative works and fair use. For an interesting discussion of the appropriation art intersection with law and economics, see William M. Landes, Copyright, Borrowed Images and Appropriation Art: An Economic Approach, (December 2000). University of Chicago Law & Economics, Olin Working Paper No. 113. Koons has been sued — and lost — several times for copyright infringement over his use of pre-existing images in his work: Rogers v. Koons, 960 F.2d 301 (2d Cir. 1992) (use of photograph of couple with puppies as basis for sculpture “String of Puppies”); United Features Syndicate, Inc. v. Koons, 817 F. Supp. 370 (S.D.N.Y. 1993) (use of Garfield comic strip character “Odie” in sculptures entitled “Wild Boy and Puppy”); and, Campbell v. Koons, Case No. 91-cv-6055, 1993 WL 97381 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 1, 1993) (use of photograph of boy with pig as basis for sculpture “Ushering in Banality”).

Koons clearly pushes the fair-use envelope, but if it costs over $1 million dollars to defend a victorious fair use, how many people will risk it. If Blanch had prevailed, would she have recovered her attorneys’ fees and profits? Although fair use is now codified, it implicates the First Amendment. When the costs of litigation chill First Amendment expression, it certainly seems that attorneys fees and costs should be paid. Compare this in light of the Supreme Court concurrence recently noted at the Volokh Conspiracy regarding fee shifting in a First Amendment political speech case. Koons’s past cases may suggest that little would chill his speech, but what about other artists. If there is a post-modern/consumer-culture comment to be made with appropriation of a visual image, won’t the commentator think twice about making the comment before incurring the risk of substantial defense costs? If most commentators agree that in this particular instance, the fair-use defense was clearly right, then should the defendant bear the costs of the defense? It seems that the attorneys’ fee shifting provision in the Copyright Act would have remedied any past misjudgments and that each instance of speech should be examined on its own merits.

It strikes me that the litigation pendulum has swung back and forth in its appreciation of the First Amendment litigant. Some champions of the First Amendment have been heralded as heroes and others reviled as villains. As Larry Flynt is depicted as saying in The People v. Larry Flynt, “ If the First Amendment will protect a . . . scumbag like me, then it will protect all of you . . . ‘cause I’m the worst. Certainly some might place Koons into the same category as Larry Flynt. (Koons created sexually explicit artwork with his former wife Ilona Staller in arte Cicciolina, in a series entitled “Made in Heaven — this website has links to galleries of several of Koons’s series of works, including “Made in Heaven”). Regardless, I question whether the right to recover defense fees and costs should be based upon a judge’s subjective determination of the societal value of the challenged expression. I wonder whether the fee decision in Blanch v. Koons would have been different if fair use were a First Amendment action rather than a statutory defense? Should fair-use defendants assert a First-Amendment declaratory judgment counterclaim to increase their chances of recovering their defense costs as a prevailing party?.

Copyright Class Action: YouTube and Google Face Another Legal Front

By Pete Salsich III

Is YouTube guilty of massive copyright infringement?  Or is it protected by the so-called "safe harbor" of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. 512(c)?  Yet another lawsuit now seeks to determine the answer to that question. 

(For a good primer on the DMCA's Safe Harbor provisions, see this very helpful FAQ at the internet law collaborative Chilling Effects Clearinghouse.)

The first big copyright challenge to YouTube's business model came last summer with a lawsuit filed by Robert Tur, a Los Angeles photojournalist whose video footage of the beating of Reginald Denny in the post-Rodney King verdict riots in 1992 became world-famous.  See Robert Tur v. YouTube, Inc., No. 2:06-cv-04436-FMC-AJW, United States District Court for the Central District of California, July 14, 2006.  Tur alleged that his Denny footage, along with copyrighted footage of the OJ Simpson chase and other events was posted on YouTube without his consent and viewed more than 1,000 times.  YouTube has defended by claiming that it is an Online Service Provider (OSP) protected by the DMCA safe harbor because it is not aware of and does not receive a financial benefit from the presence of infringing works on its site and its notice and take-down provisions meet the statute's requirement that infringing works be quickly removed.  YouTube filed a motion for summary judgment on the basis of this defense, which is currently set to be heard on May 21.  Tur has also filed a motion for summary adjudication on more narrow grounds, specifically challenging YouTube's claim that it does not receive a financial benefit from the presence of infringing works on its site.  This motion is also currently scheduled to be heard on May 21. 

The second front opened up in March of this year, when Viacom filed suit against YouTube and its parent Google, alleging massive copyright infringement of hundreds of thousands of Viacom properties.  See Viacom International, Inc. v. YouTube, Inc., No. 1:07-cv-02103 (LLS), United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.  Like Tur, the Viacom case will likely turn on whether YouTube's business model fits within the safe harbor provisions of section 512(c).     

Most recently, just days after filing its Answer in the Viacom lawsuit, and while it awaits the summary judgment ruling in the Tur case, YouTube and its parent Google were hit with another legal challenge to its highly successful but highly controversial business model.  This time it comes in the form of a class action complaint filed by the Football Association Premier League Limited (the top division of English soccer) and Bourne Co. (an independent music publisher in New York). 

Many of the contours of this lawsuit are similar to Tur and Viacom, but the class action approach is a new angle.  For one thing, you too might be a class member if you own the copyright or relevant exclusive rights in a registered copyright or certain sound recordings that have appeared on YouTube any time after December 15, 2005.  Obviously, that potential class is enormous, and probably renders many of YouTube's most fervent devotees potential plaintiffs against it.  I'm not going to try to address all the class certification issues that may come up, but suffice to say that will be a battle in itself.

One of the main substantive challenges brought by the plaintiffs in all three of these cases focuses on YouTube's claim that it does not derive a financial benefit attributable to the presence of infringing material on its site.  YouTube sells advertisements that run along side its video clips, including infringing clips, but these ads are not directly triggered by or connected to any particular video clip, infringing or otherwise.  There can be no doubt that YouTube has made huge amounts of money from these ads, and the plaintiffs all argue that YouTube would not be making the money it has but for the presence of so much infringing material on its site.  This could ultimately be a decisive factor in these cases, in part because a court could find YouTube outside of the safe harbor without having to address the propriety of its notice and take-down procedures.

It will be interesting to watch if any more suits are filed, or if other potential plaintiffs will wait for a key ruling in one of these cases.  The Tur case could lead the way depending on how the court rules on YouTube's pending summary judgment motion.  While the Central District of California's ruling will not be binding on the Southern District of New York, it will likely carry significant weight. 

Almost certainly aware of this, and obviously interested in the pending motions on YouTube's assertion of the DMCA's safe harbor defense, last week Viacom and NBC Universal asked permission to file an amici curiae ("friends of the court") brief in support of Tur's claims on this issue.  According to the court's electronic filing database, however, on Tuesday the court denied this request, finding that the brief was not offered to aid the court in its decision-making (as required for submission of such briefs), but was in reality "an effort by parties engaged in similar litigation against Defendant, to intervene in this case for their own benefit."  Like the rest of us, Viacom and NBC will just have to watch from the sidelines.

We'll be watching these cases closely, and should have more analysis of some of the specific legal issues later. 

Fair Use of Presidential Debates: Scorecard Update

By Pete Salsich III

Since Professor Lessig and a large bi-partisan group of others issued their call to the Repubican and Democratic National Committees to require television networks to make the video recordings of all Presidential Debates available to the public for free -- either by placing the videos in the public domain or issuing them under a Creative Commons (Attribution) license (see earlier post here) -- several candidates and two networks have weighed in.

According to Lessig's blog, Democrats Barack Obama, John Edwards and Chris Dodd have all written strong letters to the DNC announcing their support for this proposal.  Apparently there is nothing yet from any of the Republican candidates, and Democrat Hillary Clinton has also remained silent. 

Among the networks, CNN has come out in support of this proposal and has announced that it will place no restrictions on presidential debate footage:

Due to the historical nature of presidential debates and the significance of these forums to the American public, CNN believes strongly that the debates should be accessible to the public. The candidates need to be held accountable for what they say throughout the election process. The presidential debates are an integral part of our system of government, in which the American people have the opportunity to make informed choices about who will serve them. Therefore, CNN debate coverage will be made available without restrictions at the conclusion of each live debate. We believe this is good for the country and good for the electoral process.

By contrast, Lessig and USA Today's OnPolitics blog are reporting that Fox News Channel will not follow CNN's lead and will not make its video footage available for all to use. 

No word  yet from either the RNC or the DNC.  Check with Lessig for regular updates -- he's keeping a good scorecard . . .

Fair Use of Presidential Debates, please.

By Pete Salsich III

Professor Lessig (and a long list of other prominent people) are calling on the Republicans and the Democrats to eliminate unnecessary regulation of political speech, particularly when it comes to Presidential debates.  Lessig talks about the increasing uncertainty surrounding the application of copyright laws -- and the confines of the "fair use" defense -- to internet-based forums such as YouTube, and the potential temptation for some politicians to use copyright law as a club to block critical commentary. 

While some might view this as simply an extension of Lessig's well known views in favor of less restrictive copyright laws in general, I think his key point is right here:

"I am confident that I won’t like much of what this freedom will engender. But if that were a legitimate reason to regulate political speech, this would be a very different world. We should all, regardless of our political persuasion, be encouraging a wide ranging debate about our political future. And we all need to hear more from those with whom we disagree."

I could not agree more, especially in today's world.  Read the whole post and consider adding your voice by contacting the RNC and the DNC directly.