25 June, 2015

Words Reinterpreted - Copyright and Translations

As has been well-established for years, copyright protects the expression of ideas rather than the ideas themselves (more on which can be found here), no matter what your expression for that idea may be. Words especially are a very nuanced, often unique way of conveying similar ideas or stories, making them the most malleable out of all forms of more direct expression (when images can be much more subjective, at least in this writer's opinion). Although similar stories have been told for centuries, basing themselves on old folk lore or mythologies, their specific expression has always varied drastically, tacking onto the societal make-up of their time and their respective overarching themes. Translations take those works and make them available to people who otherwise would not be able to access them. With this in mind, can you translate a story and not infringe its copyright, and can a translation be a new form of expression of the same story, potentially being protected by copyright itself?

Under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 in the United Kingdom, copyright holders have a specific set of rights in their protected works, which includes literary works. Under section 16 of the Act only the copyright holder is able to make an 'adaptation' of the work, which specifically includes translations. Should you choose to make a translation of a work, without seeking a proper license to do so from the copyright holder, you would be infringing their copyright (specifically section 21 of the CDPA). This follows Article 8 of the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works that gives authors "...the exclusive right of making and of authorizing the translation of their works throughout the term of protection of their rights in the original works".

Is there any way for an individual to translate a work without infringing copyright then? Under the CDPA there are certain exceptions for the use of copyright protected materials that translations could potentially fall under, specifically criticism, review and news reporting and research and private study. Both exceptions provide avenues for a legitimate use of materials so far as the use is for that specific purpose and not merely done under the fa├žade of the exception in order to create an infringing copy. Arguably, translating a copy for criticism, review or news reporting provides a sufficient reason to do so, as the understanding of the underlying material and using it in that task can be said to be fair and a proper use of copyright protected material for that purpose. The same goes for research and private study, especially when no officially translated source material is not available to be used and thus the materials could not be used to advance your own personal education or research. Arguably none of these do allow for the distribution and/or sale of a translated work, but do offer an avenue for legitimate uses of translated works should you require to do so.

Albert was a master linguist (Source: Farmers Weekly)
Other common law countries have very similar provisions dealing with the translation of copyrighted works. In the United States copyright similarly does not allow for the creation of translations of works, as under 17 USC section 106 the copyright holder has the sole right to create 'derivative works', which does include translations. Canada, much like its cousin in the South and across the pond, gives the right to translate works only to the copyright holder under the Canadian Copyright Act. Finally, Australia, much like the previous three, protects translations as a right only bestowed to the copyright holder under the Copyright Act 1968, as they are considered an adaptation of the original. Clearly the ability to translate a work is seen as an important right of the original author, and rightfully so, as the spreading of a work to new territories, often through linguistic barriers that require the translation of your work, and an opportunistic infringer could easily pounce on the popularity of a title only released in a select few countries.

This still poses the question that can a translation be a new work unto its own, and possibly be protected under copyright outside of the original work? In the US the protection in any derivative works (and in turn, translations) only extends to the newly created parts of the work that did not exist in the original. This may seem very vague, which it is, but arguably this would be any changes in expression or artistic flourishes the translator adds to his or her take on the story, either through necessity, linguistic differences or just through their own initiative. This does not create a work in itself, but does show that the translation can incur protection, even if partially so. Canadian legislation takes this a step further as it has been seen in Pasickniak v Dojacek by the Canadian Court of Appeal that a translated work is a copyright protected work in itself, wholly separate from the original work it derives from. This still does not mean the translator attains any copyright title in his/her translation as the copyright automatically vests in the copyright holder, albeit still separately.

Even so, translations can have even vast differences to the original works, and as seen above, potentially should carry more weight as separate literary works themselves without skirting the copyright of the source than you'd think. Great examples of where translations deviate onto a path of their own, at least in some terms, are works by Umberto Eco. His works often contain specific references to regional artists, works and anecdotes; material that has been noted to be changed or even omitted in his works when translated. Mr. Eco is by no means the only writer who has 'suffered' from the changes through translation, and arguably that is a part of the nature of the beast (there are instances where works have been altered for censorship as well). One could argue that when a translations steps beyond the bounds of the original drastically it could be said to be a work in itself; a reinterpretation of a story created prior. Regardless, copyright will probably not allow for the free translation and 'reimagination' of said works any time soon, as its main function is to reward the original author, not subsequent users of said material, arguably using very little imagination of their own (this writer does not, however, want to diminish their work by any means). Any aspiring translators will therefore have to keep their wits about themselves, and apply for relevant licences or approval before starting on their reinterpretation of their favorite foreign book.

16 June, 2015

Words Hurt - Disparaging Trademarks and Free Speech Collide

Freedom of speech or expression has often been a sore point of contention for those wishing to protect a full freedom of expression (i.e. no restrictions on speech whatsoever) and those who want to limit it within a certain space to ensure a more harmonious society (i.e. the prevention of hate speech, for example, but allowing for a broad freedom of expression nonetheless) - although the former surely does not prevent a harmonious society as a concept itself. With that in mind, intellectual property is no exception, after all, most ways of expression yourself and/or marking your goods to distinguish them often tread the line of good taste and offense in order to further their respective goals. Especially with trademarks there are certain limitations on what you can use as a registered trademark, but does a limitation on your use of said marks prohibit your effective freedom of speech?

This issue was largely brought to light in the recent Washington Redskins trademark litigation, where the offensiveness of a trademark potentially disparaging native Americans was a heavy point of contention, and the Redskins were subsequently stripped of their trademark (although the loss of their mark is not as straightforward as that) due to the disparaging nature of the mark. However, the Redskins never brought a claim under the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

The matter of free speech was brought into the limelight regarding the refusal to register a trademark after a US Court of Appeals decision in Re: Simon Shiao Tam where the Court affirmed a prior decision to refuse the mark "THE SLANTS" due to its offensiveness against people of Asian descent. The mark related to the name of a rock band called The Slants, fronted by Mr. Tam (including several other members of Asian descent as well). The Court also promptly concluded that there was no impairment of Mr. Tam's First Amendment rights, following the precedent set in Re: Robert L. McGinley some 30 years ago, where the United States Court of Customs and Patent Appeals saw that "...the PTO's refusal to register... [a] mark does not affect his right to use it. No conduct is proscribed, and no tangible form of expression is suppressed. Consequently, [the mark's holder's] First Amendment rights would not be abridged by the refusal to register his mark". Arguably, prima facie at least, a refusal of registration does not prevent the use of a mark, but it does, however, prevent its effective protection under trademark law and can cause issues for the proper monetization of a mark in other commercial endeavors should the holder's venture become more successful than its own field allows it. Albeit this does not affect the use or 'expression' in the mark, but mainly the commercial aspects surrounding the mark.

Peter never was a man of consistency
What makes the decision in Re Simon Shiao Tam interesting are the remarks made by Justice Moore, although not dissenting, after the majority's decision to reject the mark (after which the Court of Appeals issued an Order for an en banc hearing to decide the issue). In her Honor's mind: "...it is unquestionably true that trademarks are protected speech under Supreme Court commercial speech jurisprudence" and that "...the government has conceded that “[t]rademarks are a form of commercial speech.”. Because a trademark identifies the source of a product or service for users, it is protected commercial speech". This writer will wholly admit that his knowledge of US trademark law is not as extensive as he'd hope to be, but the argument presented here seems a tad flimsy. The use of a mark in commerce, on the face of it, is not expressing a point or a view, but merely the distinction of a product or service from other similar ones. The more 'offensive' a mark does not correlate to a higher form of expression necessarily, even if it's to utilize or bring to light racial issues. Yet, the US courts will know more of the substantive side of things, so this writer will not address any other jurisprudential issues here, and awaits the en banc decision in Re Tam with interest.

Are there any freedom of expressions issues in the UK in relation to the same subject matter? Under the Trade Marks Act 1994 a mark can be refused registration if it is "...contrary to public policy or to accepted principles of morality". This would, arguably, cover any racial slurs or other content deemed offensive in the public's view (such as the name The Slants, potentially). Also, under the Public Order Act 1986 speech inciting racial hatred is not allowed, although the freedom of expression is sacrosanct under the Human Rights Act 1998. Arguably freedom of expression is narrower than the one protected by our cousins across the pond, and would not allow for the use of negative language even in trademarks, provided the mark is against public morality (and negative racial connotations, even if hidden behind good intentions, would probably be). This view was firmly illustrated by the UK Intellectual Property Office's decision in Basic Trademark SA's Trade Mark Application, where a mark was refused under the Trade Marks Act's morality provision, and was seen to not infringe Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (and therefore, the Human Rights Act above). The case does, however, highlight the need to balance both interests: "...[the] right to freedom of expression must always be taken into account without discrimination under s3(3)(a) [of the Trade Marks Act] and any real doubt as to the applicability of the objection must be resolved by upholding the right to freedom of expression, hence acceptability for registration". The UK does have more questions in terms of freedom of expression and registered trademarks, but the balancing of both interests does take it into account even in this area of law.

All-in-all the line between the protection of a legitimate freedom of speech (or a more open freedom, such as in the US) and the curbing of possible moral outrage is a fine one, and both interests should be balanced in an assessment of the registrability of a mark. Nevertheless, it is hard to draw a strict comparison with EU and US rights due to their big differences, but both jurisdictions do see a clear need for the allowance of expression even in the world of trademarks. This writer for one, as said above, awaits the en banc decision of the US Court of Appeals in the Tam case, and it will be interesting to see whether trademarks are a true form of expression under US law, and therefore protected by the First Amendment.

Source: World Trademark Review

09 June, 2015

Conflicted Owners - Intellectual Property Law and Ownership of Property

Saying something is truly yours is a rare thing these days, especially with the seemingly impossible future of house ownership in a lot of cities (especially for us here in London), and people often derive a huge sense of achievement and gratification from the fact that they've bought something and it is finally theirs to keep. Intellectual property law has rarely concerned itself with the ownership of physical things, but protects the underlying works rather than the tangible object itself, with the exception of counterfeit goods, for example. That said, there often can be confusion among the less IP-savvy of us with this distinction, but after a recent news article this misconception might not be too far off anymore. This begs the question: can intellectual property law interfere with your ownership of your things?

In a recent letter to the US Copyright office, John Deere, one of the largest manufacturers of agricultural, construction and forestry equipment, potentially put in doubt the ownership of individual's or companies in those fields over the equipment they have purchased. John Deere's comments come in the wake of an inquiry into the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, potentially allowing for the circumvention of technological measures, currently prevented under 17 USC 1201, under certain classes, for example software relating to cars or other vehicles or equipment. This exemption would allow for the breaking of software protection to aid in the diagnosis and repair of vehicles using that software, especially when it comes to non-licensed, cheaper mechanics than those licensed by John Deere, or even the modification of said software for your own purposes.

John Deere's position regarding the proposed changes is quite strong: "Circumvention of the TMPs for Class 21 will make it possible for pirates, third-party software developers, and less innovative competitors to free-ride off the creativity, unique expression and ingenuity of vehicle software designed by leading vehicle manufacturers and their suppliers". Admittedly, allowing for tinkering and free access to software does provide risks (malfunctioning of the vehicle etc.), but allowing for cheaper maintenance and possible customization potentially outweighs those issues. As for piracy, traditional copyright would still protect the software from being used by competitors or 'pirates', since the exception would only apply to repair, modification and improvements and not misappropriation or its blatant copying.

Brick was trying to find the software on his car, but couldn't
How does copyright impact, at least in John Deere's argument, ownership of your vehicle? Their argument is that "[a] vehicle owner does not acquire copyrights for software in the vehicle, and cannot properly be considered an "owner" of the vehicle software". From a plain understanding of copyright law, the argument runs true; when you purchase a piece of software, you don't 'own' the software itself per say, but garner a licence to use that software. Even with that in mind, the end-user does, and should, have rights in their use of the software, albeit not be allowed to make illegal copies of it and distribute it as they wish. John Deere acknowledge this: "...the vehicle owner receives an implied license for the life of the vehicle to operate the vehicle", which is true, at least in terms of the software. One could say it prevents the proper use of the car or its auxiliary uses (should the software fail or be irreparable due to age or lack of repair facilities), but one has to remember to distinguish ownership of the tangible from the intangible. Your car is still your car; the software isn't.

The United Kingdom does not have a similar set of broad protective measures against the circumvention of technological protection, although section 296 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 does prevent an individual from using devices to circumvent such protections (for example using 'mod-chips' to play illegal copies of video games on their consoles). Software is very much protected in the UK under copyright (more on which can be found here), and alleged misuses of vehicle software would very much be protectable against.

Copyright is a complex beast, and it does prevent one from enjoying the things you buy in the manner than some would hope to (i.e. as if they own the right to distribute the content etc.), but does not prevent you from using it in a legitimate, allowed fashion. However, do other IP rights prevent you from using your hard-earned items?

Trademarks apply to the sale of products, aiming to identify those of a certain quality or pedigree, and don't lend themselves well to the interference of ownership. Once you buy a bottle of Coca-Cola (or any brand, per your preference), the company cannot prevent you from using it to trick your siblings, or to make a mess; qualities it would possibly not enjoy associating with its brand. There has been an instance where Deadmau5, a popular electronic music producer, was told by Ferrari to remove unwarranted modifications to his Ferrari Spyder (such as changing the logo to a jumping cat one), and even though, on the face of it, it can seem like an interference with his right to use his own property, one could say the issue was probably more contractual than IP related.

Patents, similarly to trademarks, only really apply in a commercial context, and don't provide an avenue through which a patented item could be prevented from being used in a particular way. Even if your vacuum cleaner has a patented method of collecting refuse, you can still vacuum your pets without a worry or fear of interference from your vacuum brand. Any illegal copying or misuse of patented material would clearly be covered, which steps beyond the bounds of everyday use of said items.

That being said, John Deere and the other parties rallying against an exception to circumvent car software are not, as the article cited here would say, interfering with your ownership of your own items or seeking to do so. The protection of your software has been a long-standing ability within the world of IP, and their aim is not to prevent you from using your tractor that you have rightfully purchased. Whether the exception is introduced or not remains to be seen, but this writer would like to assure you your tractor is still very much yours to keep, at least for now.

Source: Wired

29 May, 2015

Supreme Goodwill - UK Supreme Court Addresses Jurisdictional Goodwill

In today's business world reputation is everything when selling your goods or services to the masses at large. Goodwill, the inherent reputation of your goods or services, can easily overreach beyond the mere confides of countries, continents, or even the solar system. With this in mind, how far a business' goodwill can, and does, reach is hugely important, especially when it comes to someone passing off their goods or services as a famous brands' equivalents. What makes things even more complex is the nature of the online world we are all a part of, which has a wholly borderless reach (excluding geo-blocking), and in which anyone can pass themselves off as someone or something else without much difficulty. This begs the question: how far does your goodwill extend, even if you have no or very little presence in a given territory, due to your goodwill online? The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom endeavored to answer this question only a little over a month ago.

The case in question was Starbucks (HK) Limited and another v British Sky Broadcasting Group PLC and others, which concerned the use of IPTV, or in more simplistic terms, the streaming of TV via the Internet using dedicated hardware to do so, very much like cable TV but in an online environment. Starbucks (HK) and PCCW Media Ltd, two corporate members of a larger group (referred to as "PCCM" in the judgment as a whole), which operated an IPTV service called "NOW BROADBAND TV", subsequently renamed to "NOW TV", in Hong Kong, being the largest entity in its respective IPTV business in the country. Most of the channels offered through the NOW TV service are in Chinese, and are not accessible in the United Kingdom, although some people in the UK had been identified as being aware of the service. PCCM had since considered expanding internationally, and did so by launching a mobile app called NOW aimed at the Chinese-speaking population in the UK. Prior to the launching of the app in the same year Sky announced its "NOW TV" on-demand service, which went into its beta phase roughly at the same time as the launching of PCCM's mobile app. PCCM subsequently sued Sky under the tort of passing off (more on which can be found here), with the case ending up all the way in the Supreme Court.

Passing off, as has been noted in the article above, hinges on three factors that need to be established in order to prove the tort of passing off: (i) goodwill or reputation in the goods or services provided in the minds of the purchasing public; (ii) a misrepresentation by the defendant to the public that leads or is likely to lead, the public to think the goods or services are provided by the plaintiff; and (iii) the plaintiff suffers, or is likely to suffer, damage as a result of this misrepresentation. PCCM established the latter two requirements at first instances, and therefore the Supreme Court had to decide on whether Sky's service fulfilled the first requirement, amounting to passing off.

The main question therefore to the Supreme Court was whether PCCM had goodwill in the jurisdiction in question, in other words a customer base, meaning the UK. As the court stated, reiterating Lord Justice Oliver in Anheuser-Buch v Budejovicky Budvar NP, that goodwill is very much "localized" and that "...reputation which may, no doubt, and frequently does, exist without any supporting local business… does not by itself constitute a property which the law protects". In other words, even if goods or services have a certain, even strong reputation to them, does not mean it inherently commands it everywhere, irrespective of actual use or not. This line of thinking very much confirms precedent from decades prior, where similar conclusions have been made as to the localized nature of goodwill.

Territorial issues can be dealt with amicably at times
After a presentation as to the law from both sides the Court finally discussed its decision on whether passing off, or goodwill, has a territorial nature to it. As Lord Neuberger remarked: "...I consider that we should reaffirm that the law is that a claimant in a passing off claim must establish that it has actual goodwill in this jurisdiction, and that such goodwill involves the presence of clients or customers in the jurisdiction for the products or services in question. And, where the claimant's business is abroad, people who are in the jurisdiction, but who are not customers of the claimant in the jurisdiction, will not do, even if they are customers of the claimant when they go abroad". To put Lord Neuberger's argument in different words, goodwill can only exist in a jurisdiction if its goods or services are used by actual customers in that jurisdiction, irrespective of foreign users who have emigrated or visit that jurisdiction (although, one would imagine, given a sufficient amount of immigrants this would be acceptable). As said, this is fully in line with older precedent, and also foreign authorities within the common law, as was put forth by Sky in its argument. PCCM had very little presence in the UK, although it did establish some user base did exist.

Finally, Lord Neuberger aimed to settle two questions that remained: "(i) clarification as to what constitutes sufficient business to give rise to goodwill as a matter of principle, and (ii) resolution of the judicial disagreement as to the jurisdictional division of goodwill".

In answering the first question Lord Neuberger quickly settled the matter by largely stating what has already been settled above: "The claimant must show that it has a significant goodwill, in the form of customers, in the jurisdiction, but it is not necessary that the claimant actually has an establishment or office in this country. In order to establish goodwill, the claimant must have customers within the jurisdiction, as opposed to people in the jurisdiction who happen to be customers elsewhere. Thus, where the claimant's business is carried on abroad, it is not enough for a claimant to show that there are people in this jurisdiction who happen to be its customers when they are abroad. However, it could be enough if the claimant could show that there were people in this jurisdiction who, by booking with, or purchasing from, an entity in this country, obtained the right to receive the claimant's service abroad.". Lord Neuberger's answer to the first question further establishes that a business has to have some form of customer base in a jurisdiction it wishes to protect its intellectual property in that jurisdiction, and that business would have to be, mostly at least, permanent in that jurisdiction, rather than just transient.

The answer to the second question leads to a much wider discussion than can be settled in this blog post, and merits reading in its own rights by those who might be interested. What needs to be said, however, is that Lord Diplock's comments in Star Industrial Co Ltd v Yap Kwee Kor further support Lord Neuberger's conclusions and highlight the distinction between goodwill in different jurisdictions through the existence of separation of judiciaries; i.e. not one court can decide an issue of a foreign court.  Allowing for territorial overlap would let businesses simply claim a right in a name in another jurisdiction with a minimal presence, thus restricting business and trade for legitimate entities in that jurisdiction.

Ultimately the Supreme Court dismissed PCCM's appeal, and concluded that their claim in "NOW TV" had no basis in the UK, as they did not have the requisite consuming public in the UK for their service to merit protection under passing off.

This case is an interesting one, and although one could say the decision is very much a common sense approach, it still does answer some question relating to goodwill, especially in a digital age where the Internet permeates nearly every part of the globe. Businesses have to have a legitimate business presence in a given country in the form of a customer base, even in this digital age.

Source: KWM Legal Insights

21 May, 2015

The EU Single Digital Market - 16 Initiatives to Success?

As diligent readers of this blog have probably noted, the last 12 months have been vary favorable to those who are inclined to law reforms, especially in the field of copyright. This writer, for one, enjoys the rapid changes being introduced, and has awaited the next step of the reform process, which was leaked not long ago; the European Union Single Digital Market strategy. The strategy encompasses much more than just IP within it in attempts to combat the issues plaguing the internal digital market, and this post shall endeavor to touch upon the most relevant parts, divided by the "pillars" they're under.

Pillar I - Better Access For Consumers and Businesses to Online Goods and Services Across Europe

Along with the introduction of changes to e-commerce regulation, delivery systems and VAT within the European Digital Economy, the strategy also proposes some key changes into the landscape in which copyright resides.

Geo-blocking has, and will be, a contentious issue, especially in this global world where not all consumers are created equal in their access to media. The strategy states that: "[b]y limiting consumer opportunities and choice, geo-blocking is a significant cause of consumer dissatisfaction and of fragmentation of the Internal Market", and while arguably true to a certain extent, the statement does not reflect the commercial nature of geo-blocking. Often it is used to ensure either the locking in of content to regions, or to secure proper negotiations for wider, more lucrative licensing agreements (whether you agree with this notion or not is an entirely different matter). The strategy discusses 'unjustified' geo-blocking, but as to what amounts to an unjustified use remains unclear. Nevertheless the strategy proposes that "[a]ction could include targeted change to the e-Commerce framework and the framework set out by Article 20 of the Services Directive". Arguably a relaxing of geo-blocking within the EU would harmonize the market, especially with the emergence of prominent internet based media services; however, it still leaves the abuse of cheaper pricing (or conversely, the pricing out of poorer regions) in the market in the light of this potential change.

The first pillar also includes a proposal to allow for a more fluid, easier access to content within the EU in terms of its legislative base. The strategy notes that "[b]arriers to cross-border access to copyright-protected content services and their portability are still common, particularly for audiovisual programmes. As regards portability, when consumers cross an internal EU border they are often prevented, on grounds of copyright, from using the content services (e.g. video services) which they have acquired in their home country". This can be argued to relate to the point above quite heavily, with copyright ensuring the effective enforcement of geo-blocking, or any curtailment thereof. Some issues to persist, such as the inaccessibility to content for which you have rightfully paid for outside of some jurisdictions, as has been noted in the strategy as well, but these issues, at least in this writer's anecdotal experience, don't seem to be too prevalent.

The strategy also discusses a lack of clarity within copyright in the EU, but does not state as to what is unclear and how it is proposed to be remedied. Ending the first pillar, it is suggested that "...the Commission will propose solutions which maximise the offers available to users and open up new opportunities for content creators, while preserving the financing of EU media and innovative content". While this is all well and good, no actual legislative measures are proposed, and the aim of the strategy in relation to copyright seems foggy at best.

The first pillar clearly envisions a freer, more affordable digital market within the EU, but omits the actual regulatory structures, or changes thereto, leaving the strategy with more questions than have been answered.

Pillar II - Creating the Right Conditions for Digital Networks and Services to Flourish

The second pillar builds on the first, with the proposal of a more robust, free and functional network, with basic rights and the assurance of content enforcement, especially in relation to third party operators such as ISPs. After discussions on the introduction of wider rules for telecoms, and the potential expansion of the Audiovisual Media Services Directive, the strategy moved onto discussions on improving the online environment.

Some pillars hold more than others
The strategy brings up the restriction of certain players in the online world, such as search engines (Google, anyone?) and media services. Issues raised "...include a lack of transparency as to how they use the information they acquire, their strong bargaining power compared to that of their clients, which may be reflected in their terms and conditions (particularly for SMEs), promotion of their own services to the disadvantage of competitors, and non-transparent pricing policies, or restrictions on pricing and sale conditions". In this regard one has to agree to a certain extent, as e-commerce and other online giants become even bigger, their monopolies become harder to detect, and has the ability to curtail competition. How and when these issues would be tackled was also left out of the strategy, allowing for nothing but mere speculation at this point.

Illegal content online has been, and will be, a contentious issue, and the strategy does not leave it out either. Discrepancies with online enforcement of the removal of infringing content, and the blocking of such sources, can be said to be a thorn on the EU's side, and as the strategy points out: "[d]ifferences in national practices can impede enforcement (with a detrimental effect on the fight against online crime) and undermine confidence in the online world". For the first time the strategy does bring up concrete steps as to how to deal with the issue of infringing content online: "In tandem with its assessment of online platforms, the Commission will analyse the need for new measures to tackle illegal content on the Internet, with due regard to their impact on the fundamental right to freedom of expression and information, such as rigorous procedures for removing illegal content while avoiding the take down of legal content, and whether to require intermediaries to exercise greater responsibility and due diligence in the way they manage their networks and systems - a duty of care". Again, although more clear in its intent, the measures proposed have been left quite convoluted, a 'duty of care' on ISPs (and other third parties, possibly) could become too onerous, especially with more and more infringing content popping up online daily. With a sufficient allowance for flexibility, yet robustness, a duty of care system, or something akin or related to, could allow for the better enforcement of intellectual property rights online, while still allowing for its dissemination, sharing and other uses that fall within the scope of any exceptions.

All in all the EU digital environment, at least prima facie, would seem to have a bright future, but with a substantially sized caveat included. How intermediaries are treated in this new environment, with the expansion of rules on telecoms, could hinder the sharing and dissemination of content online, as has been seen with the DMCA in the US, if left too broad. This means any legislative initiatives would have to take both interests, being end-users' and commercial interests, into account when moving forward with any new legislative frameworks.

Pillar III - Maximising the Growth Potential of our European Digital Economy

Finally, the third pillar aims to add the last piece to the puzzle built on the two other pillars by creating more standardized platforms and technologies within the EU, and the improvement of digital skills and e-governance in the internal market. While largely irrelevant to a IP-heavy discussion, they still seem to add to the strategy in allowing for a more developed online network where these rules can operate. This article won't delve into the third pillar much, as it mostly does not relate directly to IP, but it is worth a read for anyone interested in the more practical aspects of the digital market.


While this writer can air nothing but his disappointment in the content of the strategy above, he is left to wonder why the proposal lacks so much in substance when the earlier leak seemed to offer more concrete terms of operation and improvement. With so much uncertainty in its future application, the Digital Single Market leaves with a whimper, and it remains to be seen how its final incarnation will impact on the EU and its legal (and practical) framework. The removal of barriers to enjoyment, and the possible harmonization of pricing and/or licensing in the EU seems, at least from a very superficial interpretation, a very welcomed change, how and when this would be done is still a big question as well.

As said, the strategy left much to be desired, but this writer remains hopeful.

08 May, 2015

Retrospective - Geographical Indicators and Trademarks

As many wine connoisseurs can clearly tell you, there is a vast amount of difference in the origin of a wine, be it from Southern France or Northern Italy, the specific region where the product is produced lends itself to create a nuanced flavor profile only achievable from that particular region. While this writer has no knowledge of such differences (he distinguishes his wines based on color), they illustrate a very important aspect of protection for some products and their geographical origins. Be it Feta cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano, or Scotch whiskey, where the products come from is often as important, or at times more important, than the quality of the product, giving each item its 'signature' taste and feel. With this specific taste and feel (at least prima facie) comes a need for protection, lest we allow for the production and sale of Parma ham produced all over the world, clearly therefore not being from Parma at all, potentially deceiving the public as to its origins. That said, does the geographical origin of a product confer a protectable right, and if so, how wide-reaching is the right?

A decision seeking to answer this question was faced by the then-named House of Lords in the UK in the early part of the 21st century in Consorzio Del Prosciutto Di Parma v Asda Stores Limited and Others. The case concerned the packaging and sale of Parma ham, specifically by Asda (a large chain of UK supermarkets), which had been sliced and packaged in Wiltshere in the UK by Hygrade Foods Ltd. Although the ham had been produced in Parma and subsequently sent to Hygrade, the act of slicing and packaging the meat had occurred in the UK; something that went against the Italian law (accessible here in Italian) protecting Parma ham and its processing specifically, and the sale thereof. Upon identifying this the Parma Ham Association sued Asda and Hygrade for selling the ham.

The law relied upon by the Association is European in origin, specifically European Council Regulation No. 2081/92. Under the Regulation the European Commission can register a name, upon the satisfaction of criteria set out in Article 4 of the Regulation, as a "protected designation of origin" or a "protected geographical indication", which, as explained by the court, are: "...[a] PDO is the name of a place used to describe a product, originating in that place, with characteristics that are due to its particular environment. A PGI is similar to a PDO except that the causal link between the place of origin and the quality of the product may be a matter of reputation rather than verifiable fact". Parma ham was registered as a PDO in 1996. 

Clucky didn't care if it was from Parma or not
After some deliberation by Lord Justices Hoffamn and Scott, the Lords could not answer the question posed to them as to the direct enforceability of the Regulation within Member States' domestic courts, and therefore referred the question to the European Court of Justice for further deliberation: "As a matter of Community law, does [the Regulation]... read with Commission Regulation (EC) No 1107/96 and the specification for the PDO “Prosciutto di Parma” create a valid Community right, directly enforceable in the court of a Member State, to restrain the retail sale as “Parma ham” of sliced and packaged ham derived from hams duly exported from Parma in compliance with the conditions of the PDO but which have not been thereafter sliced, packaged and labelled in accordance with the specification?"

The decision of the ECJ was given two years later. The ECJ answered the House of Lords' question after long deliberation of the Regulations application to Member States, and whether a PDO can be enforced against economic operators, including its specification as to slicing and packaging:

"[the Regulation]... must be interpreted as not precluding the use of a protected designation of origin from being subject to the condition that operations such as the slicing and packaging of the product take place in the region of production, where such a condition is laid down in the specification. Where the use of the protected designation of origin ‘Prosciutto di Parma’ for ham marketed in slices is made subject to the condition that slicing and packaging operations be carried out in the region of production, this constitutes a measure having equivalent effect to a quantitative restriction on exports within the meaning of Article 29 EC, but may be regarded as justified, and hence compatible with that provision. However, the condition in question cannot be relied on against economic operators, as it was not brought to their attention by adequate publicity in Community legislation."

All in all the Regulation does create an enforceable right through a PDO, but only if the stipulations within it as to specific packaging, slicing or other measures, have to be expressly stated within the registered PDO. Geographical indicators, therefore, act very similarly to trademarks, and do offer an route of enforcement ensuring the quality of the goods themselves within the European Union. Geographical indicators are also protected outside of the EU through a variety of agreements between the EU and other nations, with the addition of agreements between World Trade Organization members. They are by no means an answer to a lack of a trademark, but offer an avenue through which distinct origins (and quality) can be protected, especially when its derived from tradition and strict rules on the above.

30 April, 2015

Pirates Uncovered - Dallas Buyers Club's Landmark Case in Australia

Piracy is considered by many in the entertainment industry to be the plight of the 21st century creative minds and pockets (and the pockets' of many shareholders, one would think). What ever your thoughts on copyright piracy, the topic remains a hot-button issue, and the courts have been, and will undoubtedly continue to, battle with for years to come. With this in mind, the enforcement of rights online has proven difficult, especially when a user, either downloading or sharing said infringing content, is effectively hidden behind a single Internet Protocol (IP) number, which does not accurately identify the given user (as discussed here in some manner relating to the US). The battle between Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and copyright holders has been an active one regarding this, and a recent decision in Australia seems to have opened the door to potentially combating this issue on the copyright holders' end, at least for now.

The case in question was Dallas Buyers Club LLC v iiNet Limited, which dealt with the very successful movie Dallas Buyers Club that was, among other things, nominated for 6 Oscars in its year of release. Due to the movie's immense success, it was promptly shared online, and in an action for preliminary discovery, the movies' rights holder Dallas Buyers Club LLC sought to identify the individuals behind all 4726 unique IP addresses associated with sharing the movie online through the 6 respondent ISPs in the action. The ISPs contested this application on several grounds, but the first instance decision lay with the Federal Court of Australia.

Although the respondents actively contested the ownership of the copyright in the work (decided as being held by Dallas Buyers Club LLC, with very little resistance from the Court), and other matters underpinning the case at hand, the meat of the discussion lay in the possible allowance of discovery in relation to the aforementioned IP addresses.

The secret life of a copyright infriger (Source: Bizarro Comics)
Under the Australian Federal Court Rules 2011 a party can seek for the identification of an unknown party should they have a cause of action against that person under certain requirements: "(a) there may be a right for the prospective applicant to obtain relief against a prospective respondent; and (b) the prospective applicant is unable to ascertain the description of the prospective respondent; and (c) another person (the other person): (i) knows or is likely to know the prospective respondent’s description; or (ii) has, or is likely to have, or has had, or is likely to have had, control of a document that would help ascertain the prospective respondent’s description." Clearly, as the individuals sharing the movie are behind an IP address, and therefore hard to identify without information from the ISP as to who is behind said IP address, Dallas Buyers Club, at least prima facie, had a case to find out who these people are under the Act.

Regardless of the ISPs' rejection of Dallas Buyers Club's assertions under the three requirements of the Act, the Court saw that they had fulfilled the requirements and were therefore entitled to disclosure as to the users' identities. They had a right to seek relief as to a potential breach of their copyright; they could not identify the individuals committing that infringement; and the ISPs knew or were likely to know who they were, or at least would be in possession of their subscriber details based on fixed IP addresses.

Even though Justice Perram allowed the disclosure of the users' information to Dallas Buyers Club, he did however set certain restrictions on it, which will be set by the parties later in the process. Dallas Buyers Club have indicated that they want the details disclosed by May 6th, but the letter that will be sent out will be determined on a later note as well.

Although the case is an important landmark in the fight against piracy, the disclosure of individuals' details in relation to copyright infringement is nothing wholly new. In Canada, under the Federal Court Rules, the disclosure of such information is very similar to the Australian provision; and Voltage LLC, the parent company of Dallas Buyers Club, has successfully used the provision to gain such information in Canada in the case of Voltage Pictures LLC v John Doe. Similarly, in the UK, a Norwich order (the equivalent of the Australian provision's application) was issued for copyright infringement through which subscribers' details were disclosed to the copyright holder in Golden Eye (International) Ltd & Anor v Telefonica UK Ltd. Both cases also discuss the restrictions needed in the event of such disclosure, such as: "[p]utting safeguards in place so that alleged infringers receiving any “demand” letter from a party obtaining an order under Rule 238 or a Norwich Order not be intimidated into making a payment without the benefit of understanding their legal rights and obligations... [s]pecific warnings regarding the obtaining of legal advice or the like should be included in any correspondence to individuals who are identified by the Norwich Order... [l]imiting the information provided by the third party by releasing only the name and residential address but not telephone numbers and e-mail addresses... [and] [r]equiring the party obtaining the order to provide a copy of any proposed “demand” letter to all parties on the motion and to the Court prior to such letter being sent to the alleged infringers". These, among others, will undoubtedly be considered by the Australian courts in their application of such orders in the future, and in this case specifically.

As one could imagine, the case has spawned a huge amount of discussion, especially relating to Voltage Pictures' previous strong-arm tactics in their letters to infringers. Nevertheless, the cold application of the law, at least to this writer, seems to be quite accurate, and individuals who engage in such activities need to understand the risks associated with illegal copying of media online. The Dallas Buyers Club case clearly sets the stage for more direct, stronger enforcement of copyright within Australia, and it remains to be seen how the provision will be utilized in the future, and what restrictions the courts ultimately put on the disclosure of subscribers' details and the usage thereof.

Source: Sydney Morning Herald