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