24 August, 2015

Music Lost - The Beatles, US Fair Use and Estoppel in the UK

The music industry is a hugely cut-throat business, with the 'little guy' often being dominated by the big companies that control the market and access to the more lucrative avenues within that industry. Due to this drastic imbalance contracts can often be one-sided, take it or leave it types of negotiations, which can lead to contracts, or negotiations for those contracts, that are waged with mainly the interest of the record company as the vocal point. A very interesting case discussing the relationship with UK & US law, utilizing the latter as a fair use defense in the former, and bringing forth an argument on promissory estoppel in relation to contractual negotiations was handed down by Justice Arnold early last month. This writer, in shame, will admit he has not gotten around to discussing the case as promptly as he wanted, but decided it was high-time to address this case in more detail.

The case in question is Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC v WPMC Ltd, which dealt with the Beatles' first concert on US soil, performed at the (now defunct) Washington DC Coliseum in February 1964. The concert was filmed, although with a very low production value, subsequently being shown in movie theaters across the country to capitalize the new Beatlemania sweeping the country. Through a complex set of events the defendant, Iambic, acquired a copy of the video of the concert, which was then passed onto Iambic's successor WPMC after Iambic went bankrupt. Christopher Hunt, who was the director and sole owner of both Iambic and WPMC, wanted to make a documentary based on the concert footage and sought a licence from the copyright holder to the Beatles' music, Sony/ATV. After long negotiations no license agreement was finalized, but a preliminary version of the documentary was made by Mr Hunt, and advertised on a website for the UK market. Sony/ATV found the website and took Iambic (and then WPMC) to court for copyright infringement.

The Beatles; an outfit of curiosity even for newer generations
The first issue in the case was a rarity in the world of IP; whether a contract had been concluded and if not, whether Sony would be still held to it through proprietary estoppel in their representations that Mr Hunt had relied on. During the negotiations for a synchronization license, emails exchanged between the parties were always headed "SUBJECT TO CONTRACT" or a similar wording, implying that no final contractual relationships have been concluded no matter what the content of the emails themselves. Although Sony/ATV had nearly agreed to a license with Mr Hunt, even concluding some emails with the sentence "...[I am] pleased to advise that I have now received approval for the following non-exclusive use"; however these 'agreements' were made with reservations, such as seeing the final documentary prior to accepting the license for the documentary.

Through their communication, viewed as a whole, Justice Arnold. who presided over the case, saw that no contract had been concluded. As all communication was headed as "subject to contract", which clearly indicated to both parties that no contract had been set pending certain agreed upon terms. This was important as to the estoppel claim, as there could be no reasonable reliance due to this express wording within the communication. Had the above phrasing not been included there potentially could have been a claim under estoppel.

Finally, Justice Arnold had to settle the issue of fair use under US law. As discussed previously on this blog, US fair use is an assessment of four factors (under 17 USC § 107): (1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes; (2) the nature of the copyrighted work; (3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and (4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

As the documentary is a commercial work, it would have to be transformative in nature (i.e. adding something new with a different purpose of character) to benefit from fair use under the first factor. Due to the inclusion of the concert in its entirety, and a small amount of commentary accompanying it, Justice Arnold deemed the work to be only partly transformative.

The second factor was agreed upon by all parties as being an expressive work falling under the remit of copyright, adding to a possible finding of a lack of fair use.

Under the third factor, as the use of the copyright material was substantial (as the whole work was used) Justice Arnold did not agree that the use was within reasonable limits. The aim of the documentary could have been achieved by using less, which WPMC did not do, and therefore was a substantial copying in the light of fair use.

Finally, even in the absence of submitted evidence, Justice Arnold saw that the documentary could usurp the market for the copyright holder, as they could have very well used the footage to create a documentary of their own. As there might be a market for audiovisual works of the Beatles (with this writer thinking there definitely is), the documentary would also replace the provision of those types of works from the copyright holder, depriving them of the benefit of the audiovisual works. Also, Justice Arnold decided that, as there is a clear market for synchronization licenses, the market for those licenses would be damaged, as they would not necessarily be sought if one is not needed in all instances. He then concluded with a finding of no fair use.

Ultimately Sony/ATV succeeded in their infringement claim; however, the case is still pending in the US, and whether a different finding there would change the nature of the case remains to be seen. One would imagine the decision will be appealed, and this writer would be curious to see proprietary estoppel to be challenged higher up in the UK courts.

Source: IPKat

10 August, 2015

Tweets Stolen - Further Thoughts on Tweets and Copyright

The impact of social media on today's social interaction is undeniable, with people turning to Instagram, Facebook and Twitter for more and more of their entertainment, social and news needs. As this new interaction space has grown, and seemingly keeps growing, the value of the content within it has grown as well. This writer recently noted newly emerged discussion surrounding Twitter and reusing jokes and/or content lifted from Tweets, especially in the light of having discussed this on a very superficial level some time ago, I thought it merited expanding more in detail.

In a recent development it has come to light that Twitter hides certain tweets it deems to be infringing copyright, pending a response from the copyright holder as to their respective fates. This is expanded on in Twitter's Copyright and DMCA Policy: "Twitter will respond to reports of alleged copyright infringement, such as allegations concerning the unauthorized use of a copyrighted image as a profile photo, header photo, or background, allegations concerning the unauthorized use of a copyrighted video or image uploaded through our media hosting services, or Tweets containing links to allegedly infringing materials". One has to note that, although the policy does focus on images and videos, it does leave its definition of "copyright infringement" as open-ended, potentially catching tweets themselves.

This begs the question, is a tweet protected by copyright? As discussed in my previous article, the UK Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 does not set a limit on what can amount to a copyright protected literary work, which allows for even tweets to be potentially protected under the provision. As long as the work originates from the author and contains a certain level of originality. The ECJ decision in Infopaq International A/S v Danske Dagblades Forening further elaborated on what amounts to originality, with the court deciding that a work is protected by copyright if it is "...the expression of the intellectual creation of [the] author". So long as you have put in effort and some level of choice and creativity into your work, even a tweet, it would arguably be protected by copyright within the UK and the EU, irrespective of the tweet's length (140 characters or fewer).

Twitter can be serious business
In the US things can potentially be a little different. Under 17 USC section 102 copyright protection extends, much like in the UK, to literary works. The provision itself does not prescribe any length requirements no works for copyright to be applicable, and section 101 offers no further assistance in answering the above question. The Electronic Code of Federal Regulations aids somewhat, as section 202 of the Regulations stipulates that works that will not (necessarily) be protected by copyright are "[w]ords and short phrases such as names, titles, and slogans" - although, the CFR merely sets these out as examples, not definitive limitations. Whether a tweet would count as a "short phrase" and therefore is not protected would remain an assessment of its creativity (as was discussed in Arica Institute Inc v Palmer, for example), as if the phrase exhibits a minimal amount of creativity, it would arguably be protected by copyright in the US.

As can be seen Twitter and tweets do pose a challenge to copyright and whether its protection extends to them within the common law. Although literary works are nearly universally protected all over the world, their length and specific content does dictate the protection afforded, especially when its creativity or originality comes into question. One big consideration is the monetization of tweets and whether they would ever merit protection to the point where they would be challenged in court. This writer would love to see a tweet or a series of tweets be evaluated by the courts at some point, but heavily doubts the likelihood of this ever happening. Without judicial consideration one can still very much appreciate the creativity of tweets and their content, as the character limitations present a unique obstacle to comedic delivery; something when achieved can be powerful.

Source: The Verge

04 August, 2015

Icons Gone - Photography of Landmarks to be Prevented Through Copyright?

Memories are an important part of life, especially when it comes to travels to far-away lands or places, filled with culture, icons and landmarks that dot human history's timeline. As an avid traveler, this writer has taken his share of photos, both digital and of the physical, film variety, and often looks back at them with fondness and nostalgia. Pictures also form a part of the fabric of visual heritage of different cultures, and their importance cannot be overstated. Nevertheless, as a part of the InfoSoc Directive's implementation report, specifically relating to Article 5 of the Directive, any EU Member State could introduce restrictions to rights conferred in Articles 2 and 3 of the Directive.

To expand on this a bit more, the Freedom of Panorama enables individuals to take pictures of sculptures or other permanent installations and publish them without a need to consult the original creator or architect to do so. Currently the legal landscape for Freedom Of Panorama is very scattered, with some countries in the EU allowing all uses of such pictures (some with certain limitations, such as non-commercial use), while others, such as France and Italy, allow for no publication of images of this nature. Arguably the ability to publish one's vacation photos should be a 'right' in itself, with potential restrictions on commercial utilization being a viable option (although, one can imagine, costly to enforce effectively).

Frank was a savant in monument photography
In the proposed amended report put forth by Julia Reda (with the initial report discussed on this very blog here) Freedom Of Panorama was curtailed somewhat, as a recommendation set forth that "...the commercial use of photographs, video footage or other images of works which are permanently located in physical public places should always be subject to prior authorisation from the authors or any proxy acting for them". Ms Reda's initial report had a very different view, proposing that photographs of such places would always be permitted. This writer would promote striking a balance between the allowance of sharing photographs with their commercial utilization with no licence contribution. Arguably, enforcement and ensuring that all images were actually taken for the commercial purposes would be challenging, and potentially nigh impossible, yet it still remains an important consideration in this context. People should be able to share their vacation photos with no need to seek permission, but should not be able to sell those images as postcards, for example, willy-nilly.

The measure has since been rejected, which is a great development; however, one has to note that the resolution is non-binding, potentially leaving the door open for the restriction of Freedom Of Panorama in the future. This writer doubts any substantial restrictions would ever be introduced, and even if they would be, their enforcement would be their downfall. Online services like Facebook and Picasa would have to restrict the displaying of photos that would infringe on this potential provision, bearing the brunt of the enforcement of any takedown notices from subsequent rights' holders.

This discussion surrounding the Freedom of Panorama highlights the persisting importance of copyright in everyday life, even regarding mundane, more obvious 'rights'. Should a restriction be implemented monuments around the world would probably have stewards requesting payment after a photograph is taken, affecting the magic of amazing sights that people have wanted to see on their journeys. Nevertheless, as the measure has been rejected it seems highly unlikely, but this writer will follow any developments with interest.

Source: The Times