30 March, 2014

Google v Viacom Legal Marathon Ends

Seven years is a long time, both for canines and in litigation, and one such marathon has just come to a close as Google and Viacom have agreed to settle their prolonged clash. Having started in 2007 the legal struggle has shown just how valuable copyrighted content and its use for other purposes is for both parties involved.

The initial proceedings were brought on by Viacom over the use of its content, which was uploaded onto the video sharing website YouTube; one which has been owned by Google since 2006. Viacom sought over 1 billion dollars worth of damages, pertaining to over 100,000 different clips on the website. Google argued that per the safe harbor provisions (more in-depth discussion on this particular area can be found here) in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act the search engine giant could not be liable for the infringement of its users who upload said content onto their website.

Rover was puzzled by the process entirely
Three years later the District Court of New York ruled in its summary judgment that Google was protected by the safe harbor provisions, much to the chagrin of Viacom. The decision was subsequently appealed, and took another two years for the matter to face its second decision by the Court of Appeal's revival of Viacom's appeal. The matter was yet again brought to the District Court the following year, where Justice Stanton upheld his previous decision three years earlier.

This is where the situation has stood, and as said the parties have agreed to finally put the matter to rest and settle. The terms of the agreement were not released, however it has been noted by ReCode that no money has been exchanged. Arguably this is a sensible approach by both parties, and brings one of the more gargantuan claims in copyright's modern history to an end. As has been speculated the settlement could also relate to newer sharing models by Google and content owners, where part of the revenue made through their videos, uploaded legally or not, and thus gives Viacom the monetary incentive they want for their content.

The parties released a joint statement declaring that "[t]his settlement reflects the growing collaborative dialogue between our two companies on important opportunities, and we look forward to working more closely together", clearly showing a more amicable ending to the saga. This further strengthens the relevance of the DMCA safe harbor provisions in relation to video streaming websites, and clears the potential hazard that a ruling against Google would have caused for the Internet.

Source: BBC

23 March, 2014

IP Iustitia's First Anniversary!

For those who might have glimpsed at the very beginnings of IP Iustitia, the blog has evolved quite a bit after a full year of operation. Who would have thought things would grow to what they are today, and for one the success the blog has had only spurs this humble writer to go further and improve. From the bottom of my heart I would like to thank all of my readers, both casual and subscribed, and hope the following years will be as great as they have been for the very first one.

I would also like to thank those who have given me feedback through comments on the blog itself or via email, and those who have either favorited the blog's articles on Twitter or retweeted them onward. I have always wished for my readers to participate and to help the blog grow and want to encourage you all to keep doing so as we go forward!

If you have not done so yet, subscribe to the blog via RSS or email (with a convenient box to do so on the sidebar of the blog), and you will receive all new articles directly to your favorite RSS reader or email address. The site's Twitter profile also posts all new content automatically, and can be used to share and interact with the blog directly!

As a final note, I would like to thank you, the reader, again. It is you who I do this for and I would have never believed things would get to this point in only a mere year. As said I will endeavor to make things even better and to produce even more high quality articles on current and past topics in the IP law sphere. If you have any questions or suggestions about the blog's future or its content, please email me, as I would love to hear your thoughts after a year more than ever!

Here's to an even better 2nd year!

19 March, 2014

Retrospective - Thumbnails and Inline Linking

The Internet has been the vocal point for most important developments regarding copyright since its emergence. Many cases have dealt with all manner of issues, such as ISP liability and over electronic scans of books, and there seems to be no end in sight as the law tries to adapt and mold itself to the electronic sphere. A staple feature of the world wide web is thumbnailing, where a smaller image is given to represent the real picture, often used in both search results and web pages when linking to said pictures, to make their identification and finding easier. The legality of this practice can be questioned, especially since it does, prima facie, create a copy of a work when it might not be sanctioned. However the determination of the aforementioned legal conundrum happened in the early years of the 21st century in the US Court of Appeals.

The case in question is Kelly v Arriba Soft Corporation, decided in 2002 initially, with an amended final decision being published in 2003. This concerned professional photographer Leslie Kelly, who posted some of his work on his website or others which duly licensed Mr. Kelly's works. The defendant, Arriba Soft, were the operators of an internet search engine called Ditto (which has since gone bankrupt), which displayed smaller versions of images as a part of their given search results as opposed to merely a text link to the image. Through this they amassed a database of pictures by copying the images from other websites such as Mr. Kelly's website or others which contained his works. Once Mr. Kelly found out that Arriba Soft had copied his works onto their database, he subsequently sued the corporation for copyright infringement. 

A very different thumbnail
In their judgment the Court of Appeals had to assess whether Arriba Soft's use of the images would fall under US fair use in section 107, as the reproduction of copyright protected images is only available to those who own the copyright or use the works under fair use. In their judgment the Court saw that the use of the works was both commercial and transformative, although regarding the former the use's nature was more incidental than purely for commercial gain, as Arriba Soft did not directly benefit from the displaying or selling of the images. Due to the smaller size and lower resolution of the images, their use of said images was clearly transformative from the more aesthetic nature of Mr. Kelly's work when displayed in full. As Justice Nelson stated: "The Copyright Act was intended to promote creativity, thereby benefitting the artist and the public alike... Arriba's use of Kelly's images promotes the goals... The thumbnails do not stifle artistic creativity because they are not used for illustrative or artistic purposes and therefore do not supplant the need for the originals. In addition, they benefit the public by enhancing information-gathering techniques on the internet"

The nature of Arriba's use of Mr. Kelly's work was very different to their intended use, being more as aesthetically pleasing works of art as said above, which the thumbnails clearly were not. Even though Arriba Soft had copied the entire image into their database the Court saw that this was reasonable for their use and would not be substantially enough to merit infringement. Finally, the Court saw that Arriba Soft's use of the images did not harm Mr. Kelly's intended market, as clearly one can say that the arts market would be wholly different from that of search engines. In addition Justice Nelson stated well that: "By showing the thumbnails on its results page when users entered terms related to Kelly's images, the search engine would guide users to Kelly's web site rather than away from it". Clearly the thumbnails would only increase the potential market share of Mr. Kelly's work, directing traffic to his website all the while giving search engine users a preview of works quickly and potentially increasing their interest. As such the Court decided that Arriba Soft's use fell under fair use.

Thumbnails can be said to be very essential to modern uses of search engines, and create a great avenue from which both parties can benefit. Without them finding images would be exponentially harder. This is clearly demonstrated by the quick modification of the Court of Appeal's initial decision, which would have impeded such functions through its decision that displaying full-sized images would infringe copyright. Search engines are a complex beast, and will continually evolve, challenging the legislature and judiciary to adapt and potentially protect the free operation of the Internet and discovery of its content. 

12 March, 2014

Where Does Piracy Stem From?

Almost as big of a question as how do you stop copyright infringement, if not bigger, is where does it actually stem from? Why do people pirate content for which they should pay for enabling the content creator or creators to benefit from their hard labor. Although a myriad of answers can be given and argued, a recent unearthing of a letter by Google to the Australian Minister of Communications, Malcolm Turnbull, gives the communication company's view as to the question.

In their letter Google's Head of Public Policy, Iarla Flynn, expressed the company's view on the root causes of piracy: "...we believe there is significant, credible evidence emerging that online piracy is primarily an availability and pricing problem". On the face of it, one can agree with Ms. Flynn's assertion. Although blatant entitlement and sheer greed can be the reason for many when it comes to piracy, more often than not this can be pure availability. The most pirated TV show of 2013 was Game of Thrones, which provides the perfect example of this conundrum for many. As such the popular fantasy show is incredibly hard to access all over the world. It is provided as a part of HBO's GO system, which allows for the instant viewing of the channel's shows on-demand alongside its broadcasting on the actual HBO channel. However, the service is only usable in the United States, and even there the pricing can be steep, access costing over 100 dollars a month, as it is included in cable service bundles, being inaccessible to those without a qualifying package. Due to this many clearly have no other option but to pirate the show if they want to follow it as it progresses, or wait until the season is released on DVD and being severely behind on the newest developments discussed at the water cooler. Money isn't necessarily the only issue here either, with delays in the show's airing times contributing to piracy  rates as well.

As a possible solution to this problem is the increasing of availability and making pricing both affordable and equitable. A great example of recent successes proving just that are both Netflix and Spotify. Both services provide the consumer with the opportunity to pay a monthly fee for unlimited listening or watching of music and television. Although regional offerings vary in terms of content, both services have showed success in curbing piracy. Are they the answer to piracy fully? Arguably not. Copyright infringement is all too convenient, easy and has become a part of peoples' daily lives, with the stigma associated with it having almost fully dissipated as a result. There will be no time where people will not abuse that which they have the ability to abuse, and the Internet as a vehicle is no exception.

So what would the answer be? This writer for one would not be an advocate for more strict regulation and surveillance to prevent infringement. This would simply result in the increased disapproval of such actions, as can be illustrated by the recent Internet filtration by the United Kingdom, and only hinder access by those who legitimately want to access content. Arguably the ball is in the content providers' court, and the legislature should encourage the market to react rather than demand more regulation. With recent reforms showing a clear intent to expand freedom in relation to copyright, the onus is more on the providers than ever.

Piracy has been, and will remain, a hot button topic in the scheme of copyright, and rightfully so. Discussion should encourage change on both sides, but still remain sensible enough to prevent over regulation on strict surveillance. Although discussion has been scarce in the US especially, one can only remain hopeful and keep the discussion alive.

07 March, 2014

Intellectual Property Law and Sports

As an avid fan of a number of sports, this writer for one understands the importance which it carries, not only to individuals who enjoy watching and rooting for their favorite teams and players, but for the organizations who benefit from fans engaging in their sport. Even though sports in general enjoys a massive following all over the world, its relation to intellectual property can allude the layman, and just how much teams and players can have invested in their particular organization or brand.

Probably the clearest example of intellectual property and sports teams being intertwined is their ownership of several trademarks, relating undoubtedly to their name, logos and the like, if possible to register. Such an example is the football club Manchester United, who own trademarks in their logo, name and their respective variations. Issues relating to trademarks and football clubs have gone as far as the European Court of Justice in Arsenal v Matthew Reed, only adding to the clear importance these types of marks carry for teams.

Even the equipment which is used in a variety of sports can be patented. Examples of this are old patents for a basket ball from the 1920s, and a patent for the manufacture of a baseball bat from 1902. As one can imagine, incredibly popular sports such as the above, can produce quite the monetary incentive to lock down the production of a certain essential piece of equipment. In addition to the equipment used in games, apparel used can be, and has been, patented. Basketball shoes and football pants have been patented in the early part of the 20th century. Much like the equipment themselves, the sale of apparel can be quite lucrative, with basketball shoes alone yielding over 2,7 billion dollars under Michael Jordan's name. Something which often does not come to mind as a patentable subject matter in relation to sports are the rules of the sports themselves. The rules of American football were patented in the 1980s, and the game ping-pong was patented as early as 1902.

On a more specific level intellectual property can even protect the personalty of athletes. These are what are called 'personality rights', which exist in the majority of common law countries for example. In the US, States have independent laws which protect personality rights, as opposed to a nation-wide federal law, such as in California. These rights protect the image of a celebrity, which includes the image of professional athletes in sports. This protection can extend to protect the person's image being used without authorization for the sale or promotion of goods or services.

A much lesser known, and more recent, instance of where one can see intellectual property law and sports collide, is in relation to tattoos (something which has been discussed more extensively on this blog before). A very minor issue, and something which will not be noticed by many, but goes to show just how nuanced the relationship between law and society can be, even when talking about sports.

As you can very well see, intellectual property has its place even in sports. What has been said above is only a slight overview, with much more to discuss on a more in depth scale, so if this piques your interest, please do read more about the subject.