Some Answers Are Not So Hard In The Copyright Debate. Or Are They?

By Dave Rein

One of my favorite sports columnists is Joe Posnanski who writes for Sports Illustrated and periodically, for the Kansas City Star.  But, as insightful and funny as he is about sports and life, he's not the first place to turn for intellectual property issues.  I don't think Posnanski would disagree.  

So why am I reading a copyright article written by one of my favorite technology columnists, David Pogue?  I guess that I can't help myself.

One of Pogue's posts, "No Easy Answers In The Copyright Debate" highlights the never-ending debate about whether it is okay to download someone's creative work without their permission.  The blog post described a song writer's efforts to stop people from downloading his sheet music for free.

The song writer, Jason Robert Brown, was frustrated by the thousands of people who were trading his work for free when he was trying to make his living by selling the sheet music.  His correspondence with one teenager who had a different view is not only an interesting read in that it highlights many of the arguments made by both sides of the debate, but also sheds some light on the cultural issues as well.  A post by Digital Society provides another view supporting the song writer.  But, Pogue's post raises one argument that I had not heard before.  

In the post, he quotes a classical pianist who justifies his downloading of sheet music without permission as an effort to preserve works that would otherwise be lost to the ages of time.  Of course, anyone could justify illegal downloading on this basis.  Nobody would have to honor a copyright if all that he had to say was that his intentions were pure and he was simply acting as his own Library of Congress.

Yet, Pogue does end the post with an interesting question:  Is digital piracy justified if it is difficult or impossible to figure out if the item is for sale?  I think another way of asking the question is  should you be able to use a work if the copyright owner cannot be found?  

I don't think one gets to use a work for free just because it is difficult or even impossible to find the artist or copyright owner of the work.  It is frustrating, however, when a work does not identify the copyright owner.  Unfortunately, after several attempts, Congress has not been able to agree on Orphan Works legislation -- resolving how someone can use a copyrighted work when its owner cannot be realistically determined. 

The failure of Congress to act doesn't justify violating a copyright, but does this debate suggest the need to revisit passing Orphan Works legislation? 

Now For Something Completely Different: Mattel Licenses "Barbie Girl" From Aqua

By Dave Rein

commercial that played this Halloween promoting a new line of Barbie Fashionista dolls reminded me of an earlier blog post in which I wrote about some of the legal lessons learned from Barbie.  One of those lessons involved the parody of Barbie in the song "Barbie Girl" by the group Aqua to which Mattel did not take kindly and sued.  In 2002, the Ninth Circuit ruled against Mattel in an opinion written by Judge Kozinski and in the process, helped shape the contours of the First Amendment and the trademark fair use defense.

The commercial shows that it took seven years, but the parties have apparently heeded Judge Kozinski's admonition that the:  "parties are advised to chill."  In a "Now For Something Completely Different" moment, Mattel and Aqua have joined forces in a series of commercials to promote the Barbie line of dolls and Barbie's first music video by using a reworked version of the "Barbie Girl" song:

I am not privy to the licensing deal, but in answer to a number of commentators and bloggers, Mattel is not using the song for free.  Aqua and MCA Records were successful in their fair use defense because the song is a parody of Barbie.  The reworked song is not.  Nor could Mattel say that it was making fun of itself or of the song.  Instead, Mattel acknowledges that is is using the song because the song has become the "epitome of Barbie" and is now "iconic."

There may be those like Charlie Brown's sister, Sally, who decry that Aqua has "sold out" (7:25 into the video clip) to Mattel, but even Sally can agree that Aqua is getting its "restitution" through this licensing deal even if she lost out on trick-or-treating this Halloween.

Michael Jackson: The Music And Copyright Infringement Lawsuit Continues

By Dave Rein

While on a vacation in Northern Michigan recently, Michael Jackson's "Thriller" started playing in a local tavern.  The song seemed out of place in the northern woods, but as I looked around, I could sense that the conversation at a number of tables had changed once the song began playing.  It has been almost two months since Jackson's untimely death and yet, people across the country are still moved by his death.  It seems appropriate then to write a short piece before Jackson's burial sometime around September 3rd.

As a pop star, Jackson was no stranger to copyright infringement lawsuits.  But, even with his death, Jackson will play a role in shaping copyright law.  The battle for his stake in the Sony-ATV Music Publishing catalog (which includes the Beatles, Elvis and contemporary artists) along with the catalog to his own songs has been discussed extensively and will likely be a topic worth following for sometime to come.

There is also the little issue of an ongoing copyright lawsuit.  The lawsuit by Cameroon sax man, Manu Dibango, against Michael Jackson and Rihanna received a flurry of attention when it was filed in February, yet except for a wonderful article in the New Yorker, it has received almost no attention since then. 

Dibango struck gold with his 1972 song, "Soul Makossa", that some credit as an early disco staple.  He reaped an additional pot of gold ten years later with his lawsuit against Jackson who admitted that he borrowed the phrase:  "ma ma se, ma ma sa, ma ma coo sa" in his song,"Wanna Be Startin' Something" on the Thriller album from Soul Makossa.  After reaching a settlement, Jackson and Dibango moved on happily ever after.

Actually, not happily ever after.  Fast forward to 2007 and things get interesting again.  Pop star Rihanna received Jackson's permission to use the "Ma ma se, ma ma sa, ma ma coo sa" phrase in what became one of her many hit songs:  "Don't Stop the Music".  But, she did not receive permission from Dibango and it it does not appear that she asked him for permission.   Dibango is suing for about $650,000 -- those who follow the exchange rate between the CFA (Communauté Financière Africaine) and the U.S. dollar can give us daily updates.

Absent Jackson's death, this battle of superstars with their millions of dollars would likely have been resolved quietly and quickly.  But because it is unclear who will control and ultimately act on behalf of Jackson's estate, a quiet and quick resolution does not seem to be possible.  For those of us curious about intellectual property issues, keeping the case moving towards trial will be enlightening.  Some unanswered questions:

  • Why were Rhianna's lawyers savvy enough to track down Jackson to get his permission, but not Dibango's?
  • What rights in the "ma ma se . . . " phrase did Jackson get in his settlement with Dibango?
  • If Jackson didn't acquire any rights from Dibango to the phrase other than a license to use it in the "Wanna Be Startin' Something" song, what rights did Jackson's lawyers represent he had in the "ma ma se" phrase to even give Rihanna?

We may never find out the answers to these questions if the case does not go to trial.  Perhaps the bigger shame would be that we would never see Jackson jumping out of his casket and moonwalk to the witness stand one last time to the beat of Thriller:

"That this is thriller, thriller night
'Cause I can thrill you more than any ghost would ever dare try
Thriller, thriller night . . . "
 

A $1.92 Million Win For The Music Industry. Now What?

By Dave Rein

As I read Ben Sheffner's tweets about the Capital v. Thomas case with interest, I was struck by how quickly the jury issued its decision to award the record companies $1.92 million -- about $1.7 million more than the original jury awarded.  I instantly thought of this picture as I think both Ms. Thomas and her attorney are going to need plenty of this and some lucky lottery tickets.  

From the music industry's perspective, this was an important win.  The stunning size of the verdict and the swiftness with which the jury came back with the award should please those who were tasked with the aggressive campaign against copyright infringement.  

I agree with Sheffner that the judge will likely slash the jury's award, but it shouldn't come to that.  As I mentioned in a previous post, winning the case is only the first step for the music industry.  It has won the case and now it needs to win the public relations battle by not overreaching.  

The music industry has every incentive to keep the decision from spinning into a public relations circus like what happened in the Pirate Bay case.  It appears that Thomas and her attorney want to quietly put an end to this case so the record companies now have the opportunity to win the public relations battle.  They can do so by not insisting on a settlement that results in financial ruin for Thomas, but instead reaches a confidential settlement that Thomas can live with.

Settlement will not undermine its message that although the Pirates of the Caribbean would have considered the copyright code to be more like  "guidelines" than actual rules, the music industry politely and firmly begs to differ.  "Welcome aboard the Black Pearl", Ms. Thomas.

The Music Industry Will Need To Win More Than Just The Legal Arguments In Capital v. Thomas

By Dave Rein

They do things differently in Sweden.  If there was an RSS feed for all the political news happening in Sweden, I think I would subscribe.  I remember in college hearing that Donald Duck beat out several political parties in the Swedish elections.  You know it is time to give it up and run for the dog catcher position when you lose to Donald Duck.  

The independent streak seems to continue today.  For most of us, the only way last week's European Union parliamentary elections were going to catch our attention was if another Donald Duck episode occurred.  Sure enough, the voters in Sweden obliged. 

In a reaction to the landmark file-sharing case (i.e. sharing of music, movies and books) popularly known by the file-sharing site's name, the Pirate Bay, the voters elected a member of Sweden's Pirate Party to the European Parliament. For those who are not up to speed with the Pirate Bay case, take a look at the the Wall Street Journal post for background or just know that Sweden's tolerant view on copyright infringement changed when a court announced that the Pirate Bay defendants were liable to the record companies to the tune of $3.6 million.  Apparently, the Swedish voters were not pleased with the court's decision and voted in protest for the Pirate Party.

But, don't just file this under:  "Funny Things That Happen In Sweden."  Of the thousands of copyright litigation cases that the music industry filed here in the U.S., only one ever made it to trial.  And that case returned to the courtroom this week.  

The case is Capital v. Thomas and involves six record companies suing Jammie Thomas for allegedly using a peer-to-peer network to share and download music.  To learn the details of the case, I recommend reading Ben Sheffner's posts.  He has been blogging extensively about the case and is covering each blow-by-blow during the trial. 

I don't predict that the outcome of the trial will launch new political parties in the U.S. who send representatives to Washington D.C. under a pirate flag.  But, managing the public's perception of the case will be important.  The voters who sent the Pirate Party to Parliament were largely 18-24 year olds -- an important demographic for the music industry and a group that will soon move on to positions where they will make policy decisions on copyright issues for years to come. 

Right or wrong, the music industry needs to not only win the Thomas case, but also the public relations battle as well.  If it does, the music industry will be able to quote one of our favorite pirates, Captain Jack Sparrow, who said:  "I think we’ve all arrived at a very special place. Spiritually, ecumenically, grammatically."  "Savvy?"

 

Before Revealing Your Masterpiece On Facebook, Read The Terms Of Use

By Dave Rein

Either this week or next, Facebook will make it official that it will follow its new terms of use -- the legal stuff buried in a link at the bottom of the homepage entitled "Terms".  Who cares?

If you are a writer, photographer, musician or other creative type, you are likely to have a Facebook page and you definitely should care.

But, you don't need to be a writer or other artist to care.  What you post today may be worth something tomorrow -- whether by design or dumb luck.  If you are reading this blog and are under the age of 106, you are likely to be on Facebook or some other social networking site.  Facebook alone claims to have 200 million users and there seem to be enough social networking sites to fill a Costco-sized grocery cart.

Still, many creative people are using the enormous popularity of social networking sites to tap an international audience in hopes of creating a buzz that will promote his or her creations.  It is not uncommon for photographers, for example, to post pictures such as this one -- albeit much cooler -- on their page to generate interest.  Of course, this is not unique to photographers.  Writers, musicians and others who develop creative material regularly post their creations on social networking sites.  

Perhaps because there are so many people who have posted their creative works on Facebook, a mini-revolt took place when Facebook announced that it was changing the terms of use.  As the Consumerist reported, bloggers discovered that Facebook had changed its terms to arguably grant itself significant new rights to the creative works that users posted.  The change led several artists such as photographer, Jim Goldstein of San Francisco, to announce that they were removing their work from Facebook.

Facebook did back off of its broad terms and agreed to allow the Facebook community to chose whether to adopt the old set of terms or a revised set of terms.  Last Friday, Facebook announced that the tenative results (presumably subject to an inspection for hanging chads) showed that its users voted to approve the revised set of terms that are somewhat less broad that the ones that set off the mini-revolt.  I expect that we will hear an official confirmation of the vote soon.

So is it now safe to post your creative work on social networks?  I count myself as one who takes Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at his word when he says that there was no intent to make a mass grab at the intellectual property rights stemming from user generated content.  But, you still need to get the terms of use right else a court may listen sympathetically and then rule:  "So sorry, too bad."

I am still puzzled by the expansive language that has been adopted.  One who posts anything on Facebook still gives Facebook a license to use the work for almost any purpose.  This is in stark contrast to terms on MySpace, Xanga and Bebo for example that more narrowly restrict the purpose for which the social network receives a license to use posted content.  Even better, Twitter expressly states that it does not claim any intellectual property rights over the material provided to Twitter.

For now, I think that someone who posts work that he or she created on Facebook should be cautious.  I don't think that there is anything sinister going on at Facebook, but the legal language still does not match its public statements.  The terms are better at several other social networking sites, but they are still fairly broad so read the terms of any social networking site before posting your work and check periodically to see that the terms have not changed.  Take these precautions before you post and avoid hearing the judge rule:  "So sorry, too bad!"

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

By

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.

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

By

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

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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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"Hey! (hey!) You! (you!), I wanna be your lawyer!"

By Pete Salsich III

That might be an increasingly popular refrain heard by Canadian pop star Avril Lavigne, who is getting a lot of attention right now for her songwriting practices.  Last week, Lavigne was hit with a copyright infringement lawsuit over her song "Girlfriend."  The plaintiffs are the founder and former road manager of the '70's pop band the Rubinoos.  They claim that Lavigne's hit infringes their 1978 release "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend."  As you would expect, you can already find many comparisons on YouTube and elsewhere, including the Rubinoos own website.  (Of course, all those who posted snippets of both Lavigne's and the Rubinoos' copyrighted music on YouTube and elsewhere should have a fair use right to do so, as long as they only used as much of the songs as was necessary to facilitate their commentary.)  Eminent copyright scholars like William Patry and almost everyone else seems to have weighed in on whether the suit has merit. 

Lavigne publicly responded this week by essentially asserting a "no access" defense -- that is, she claims she never heard the Rubinoos' song, so couldn't possibly have copied it.  Curiously, Lavigne does not say whether her co-writer, producer/remixer Dr. Luke, ever heard the song.

The "never heard it" defense won't help Miss Lavigne out of her most recent copying flap, however.  In the last two days, similar copying claims have surfaced regarding another of her songs, "I Don't Have To Try."  This time Lavigne allegedly copied the song "I'm The Kinda" by Peaches, an artist (and song) that Lavigne recently publicly stated was one of her biggest influences. 

I'm no musicologist, but at first blush both claims appear to have some merit, and they can't be good for the young pop star's reputation.  It may be great to be in Rolling Stone and on Perez Hilton, but there are better ways to be noticed.

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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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. 

Copyrights and Music Downloads: Selling or Licensing?

By Pete Salsich III

Confused or conflicted about copyrights and music downloads and the RIAA's aggressive practice of suing its customers?  Me too.  In fact, I don't know how many times this has happened to me:  I'm talking with someone (old friend or brand new acquaintance, it doesn't matter) and it comes up that I am an attorney with a copyright and entertainment practice, and the other person says some version of  either "I can't believe the record companies are suing their customers over music downloads" or "I can't believe people think it's OK to just steal music", etc., etc.  I usually just make a serious face and say "well, of course it depends on several factors, and lawyerblah, lawyerblah, lawyerblah . . . "

I found this post today and I think it neatly sums up the two camps on this issue, and even offers a "modest proposal" for a future "annual license" model as a way to resolve the issue.  It's very interesting reading -- well written and thoughtful (along with the comments and internal links).  I'm not sure it would work, but it's an example of the kind of creative thinking that becomes necessary when new technology stretches the limits of old legal models.