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Archive for the ‘Internet Law’ Category

Kris Kristofferson and Fred Foster once penned one of my favorite lyrics in the song Me and Bobby McGee, i.e., “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”  The sentiment is perhaps appropriate for the ongoing war that is being waged against copyright laws as we know them.  The latest battle in this war was fired by the esteemed Lawrence Lessig, famous lawyer and copyright scholar, in his new book Remix: Making Art & Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy.

Remix Lawrence Lessig The main goal of the book is the demolishment of existing copyright laws, which Lessig has described as Byzantine.  He believes our current copyright laws are futile, costly and culturally stifling. The "hybrid economy" is described by Lessig as one in which a “sharing economy” coexists with a “commercial economy.”  See this very humorous interview by Stephen Colbert.  He gives examples such as YouTube, Flikr and Wikipedia, which rely on user-generated "remixes" of information, images and sound to illustrate his point.  This “hybrid economy,” in Lessig-speak, is identical to what he calls a "Read/Write (RW)" culture — as opposed to "Read/Only (RO)" — i.e., a culture in which consumers are allowed to "create art as readily as they consume it."  Thus, the “remix” to which he refers is the concept of taking another persons copyrighted work and “making something new” or “building on top of it.”  This is what us less-published copyright lawyers like to refer to as a derivative work!  And that is the crux of Lessig’s problem:  the copyright law DOES in fact make provision for this type of creative endeavor, provided that the creator of the derivative work gains the permission of the copyright owner.  This is that with which Lessig seeks to do away.

In the Colbert interview, Lessig drolly points out that 70% of our kids are sharing files illegally and that the “outdated” copyright laws are “turning them in to criminals.”  This reminds me just a bit of what my Daddy used to tell me: just because everybody’s doing it doesn’t make it right!   Or, as Colbert blithely responded, “isn’t that like saying arson laws are turning our kids into arsonists?”  The obvious conclusion is that perhaps the law is simply not the problem.

Colbert then comically crosses out Lessig’s name on the cover of his his advance copy of Lessig’s book, draws a picture of Snoopy inside, and then questions Lessig as to whether the book was now his (Colber’t’s) work of art, to which Lessig says “that’s great,” we “jointly” own the copyright.  That’s a point to which Lessig’s publisher, Penguin Press, would surely not acquiesce.  In the final retort to Lessig, Colbert makes the point that he likes the current system, and I quote, “the system works for me.”  I might add that the system seems to be working extremely well for Lawrence Lessig as well.  Lessig is making a fortune exploiting the very system he criticizes as antiquated – the very essence of free speech, I suppose, but in the final analysis, a bit disingenuous.

While I do admire Professor Lessig for working toward a solution to a perceived problem, it’s very difficult to believe that tearing down the entire system of copyright laws in order to accommodate a large percentage of prepubescent teenagers who are too cheap to pay for their music is the appropriately measured response we need in this instance.   Call me crazy.

Here are several good critiques of Lessig’s work and ideas here for further exploration of this issue:

The Future of Copyright, by Lawrence B. Solum (download PDF from this page)

Lessig’s call for a “simple blanket license” in Remix, by Adam Thierer

Copyright in the Digital Age, by Mark A. Fischer

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On August 4, 2008, the Second Circuit court of appeals overturned a lower courts opinion that Cablevision’s Remote Storage” Digital Video Recorder (“RS-DVR”) system violated the Copyright Act by infringing plaintiffs’ exclusive rights of reproduction and public perfCartoon Network ormance.  The full 44-page opinion is available at Cartoon Network, LLP, et al. v. Cablevision.  In my humble yet fully animated opinion, the Second Circuit’s opinion was not at all well reasoned nor, for that matter, even common sense — I believe it misinterprets at three very important areas of the Copyright Act and interpretation thereof:

When is a work “Fixed” According to Section 101

Through a system of buffers, Cablevision’s RS-DVR will allow customers who do not own stand alone DVR’s to record programming, which resides on Cablevision’s servers, and “time-shift” it to view it at a later date.  Certainly a great concept, but one which, in my opinion, should require authorization from the owners of the copyrights. 

In arriving at its conclusion, the court determined that the buffer used to process the steam of data only “copies” the data for a duration of 1.2 seconds, before transferring it to another buffer used to reconstruct a copy of the program for any customer who has asked to view it at a later time.  The court concluded that this “embodiment,” i.e. the copy, was transitory in duration and therefore not “fixed” pursuant to Section 101 of the Copyright Act.  Therefore, the copyright owners’ right of reproduction was not violated.  This is clearly erroneous reasoning:

The definition of “fixed” in Section 101 of the Copyright Act states, in its entirety:

A work is “fixed” in a tangible medium of expression when its embodiment in a copy or phonorecord, by or under the authority of the author, is sufficiently permanent or stable to permit it to be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated for a period of more than transitory duration. A work consisting of sounds, images, or both, that are being transmitted, is “fixed” for purposes of this title if a fixation of the work is being made simultaneously with its transmission.

In arriving at its determination, the Second Circuit focused on its condensed version of the definition, i.e. a work is “fixed” when its embodiment “. . . sufficiently permanent or stable to permit it to be . . . reproduced . . . for a period of more than transitory duration.”  The court concluded, based on this shortened version of the definition, that the “language plainly imposes two distinct but related requirements, i.e. an “embodiment requirement” and a “duration requirement.”

The Second Circuit’s error is grammatical in nature:  it misinterprets the language of the definition of “fixed” by assuming that the phrase “for a period of more than transitory duration” modifies the words “permanent or stable” when in fact it actually modifies the antecedent phrase “permit it to be perceived, reproduced or otherwise communicated.”  This is certainly the case with regard to the RS-DVR – it fixes the copies for in sufficiently permanent state in one buffer (i.e. the 1.2 seconds) to permit them to be reproduced in another buffer for a period of more than transitory duration.  Thus, the court got it wrong.

Without getting into too much detail, the court also incorrectly analyzes a 9th Circuit cases, MAI Systems and its progeny which correctly apply the definition of fixed to a copy of a work created in RAM memory for a period of minutes.  The effect of this misinterpretation is to put legal practitioners in the precarious position of trying to determine at what point between 1.2 seconds and 2 minutes does a reproduction arrive at a “more than transitory” state.

Ironically, the Second Circuit ignores the U.S. Copyright Office’s analysis of this precise issue in its 2001 report on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act which elaborated that a work was fixed “unless a reproduction manifests itself so fleetingly that it cannot be copied, perceived or communicated.”  This clarification is in line with my earlier interpretation that the phrase “more than transitory in duration” modifies the communication or perception, not the embodiment itself.  The Second Circuit stated that, in its mind, the U.S. Copyright Office’s interpretation “reads the ‘transitory duration’ language out of the statute.”  To the contrary, however, it is the correct interpretation in that it incorporates the transitory duration requirement into the appropriate section of the definition.

Finally, the Second Circuit completely ignores the last sentence of the definition, to wit:  A work . . . is “fixed” for purposes of this title if a fixation of the work is being made simultaneously with its transmission.”  In this instance, the court readily admitted that an unauthorized copy of the work was stored, i.e. “fixed” on Cablevision’s servers simultaneously with its transmission.

When is an infringer not an infringer?

In extending recent trends by some circuits to weaken the strict liability component of the Copyright Act, the Second Court refused to find that Cablevision was a direct infringer.  Instead, it rules that the customer is the direct infringer in this instance of digital recording, showing his or her intent to make a copy when he or she presses the record button on the remote.  The court reasons as follows:

In this case . . . the core of the dispute is over the authorship of the infringing conduct.  After an RS-DVR subscriber selects a program to record, and that program airs, a copy of the program–a copyrighted work–resides on
the hard disks of Cablevision’s Arroyo Server, its creation unauthorized by the copyright holder. The question is who made  this copy. If it is Cablevision, plaintiffs’ theory of direct infringement succeeds; if it is the customer, plaintiffs’ theory fails because Cablevision would then face, at most, secondary liability, a theory of liability expressly disavowed by plaintiffs.

Emphasis mine.  The first thing to note about the court’s conclusion is that it realizes, right off the bat, that the copy created on the servers of Cablevision is an infringement.  In its mind, however, the only question is who made the copy.  Now, that, of course, flies directly in the face of a host of copyright concepts which I will not address here, but suffice it to say that this is problematic.

But, for the moment, let’s just examine how the court ultimately determines who had the “volition” to infringe in this specific case:

There are only two instances of volitional conduct in this case: Cablevision’s conduct in designing, housing, and maintaining a system that exists only to produce a copy, and a customer’s conduct in ordering that system to produce a copy of a specific program. In the case of a VCR, it seems  clear–and we know of no case holding otherwise–that the operator of the VCR, the person who actually presses the button to make the recording, supplies the necessary element of volition, not the person who manufactures, maintains, or, if distinct from the operator, owns the machine. We do not believe that an RS-DVR customer is sufficiently distinguishable from a VCR user to impose liability as a direct infringer on a different party for copies that are made automatically upon that customer’s command.

The court then continues its analysis by example, offering the examples of a retailer who owns a photocopier and rents it out to the public as reinforcement of its conclusion, finding that because the retailer would not be liable for infringement, neither should Cablevision.   Despite the fact that there is case law holding that such a retailer WOULD, in fact, be liable for infringement, the Second Circuit errs in failing to see the difference between a VCR in the analog world, a single, stand-alone device used express by the customer, and a process devised by a company which makes infringement as simple as pressing my record button on my remote.  The court does not find this a “sufficient” distinction.  The court’s error in logic is apparent in this prose when it examines a 6th Circuit case on the issue:

In determining who actually “makes” a copy, a significant difference
exists between making a request to a human employee, who then volitionally operates the copying system to make the copy, and issuing a command directly to a system, which automatically obeys commands and engages in no volitional conduct.

Is this 2001 Space Odyssey?  Did H.A.L. take over when I wasn’t looking?  Who programmed the system?  

If this were not enough, the Second Circuit then performs a great deal of legal gymnastics to support its finding:  First, it examines the video on demand process to illustrate that Cablevision does not have control over the transmissions being recorded by theCablevision subscribers in the RS-VCR system.  Are they for real?  Ever heard of apples and oranges.  The VOD system is a fully licensed process which is, dare we say it, nothing like the RS-VCR system.  Secondly, the Second Circuit uses the distinction between “active” and “passive” infringement under the Patent Act to jump to the almost humorous, if it weren’t so wrong, conclusion that:

If Congress had meant to assign direct liability to both the person who actually commits a copyright-infringing act and any person who actively induces that infringement, the Patent Act tells us that it knew how to draft a statute that would have this effect.

Every intellectual property attorney worth his or her salt knows that the Copyright Act and the Patent Act are very limited in their usefulness for purposes of using one to interpret the other.  That’s why it’s said that the Copyright Act is a strict liability statute, whereas, the Patent Act is not so much.

When is work “publicly performed”?

The final error committed by the court is in its analysis of whether the buffered copy delivered to individual customers was “publicly performed.” In this regard, the Second Circuit concluded:

under the transmit clause, we must examine the potential audience of a given transmission by an alleged infringer to determine whether that transmission is “to the public.” And because the RS-DVR system, as designed, only makes transmissions to one subscriber using a copy made by that subscriber, we believe that the universe of people capable of receiving an RS-DVR transmission is the single subscriber whose self-made copy is used to create that transmission.

Again, the Second Circuit has to do a hatchet job on the definition of “public performance” in order to arrive at this convoluted conclusion.  The definition of “public performance” in the Copyright Act is actually found in the “publication” definition of Section 101.  It states, in its entirety:

To perform or display a work “publicly” means — 

(1) to perform or display it at a place open to the public or at any place where a substantial number of persons outside of a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances is gathered; or

(2) to transmit or otherwise communicate a performance or display of the work to a place specified by clause (1) or to the public, by means of any device or process, whether the members of the public capable of receiving the performance or display receive it in the same place or in separate places and at the same time or at different times.

Emphasis mine.  Whereas the Second Circuit zeroed in on the phrase “to the public” in making its determination, the definition clearly intends to define public performance as any process that allows the public, in general, the ability to receive the transmission, whether or not it is in the same place or the same time.  Its not very difficult to see the fallacy of the Second Circuit’s reasoning.   The Cablevision RS-DVR clearly does precisely what the definition anticipates, it creates multiple copies stored in the buffers for individual subscribers in multiple places, who then view the (buffered) transmissions at different times. 

While this seems simple, the Second Circuit jumps through numerous irrational hoops to arrive at the idea that:

the transmit clause directs us to identify the potential audience of a given transmission, i.e., the persons “capable of receiving” it, to determine whether that transmission is made “to the public.”

Nothing in the statute dictates this conclusion, to the contrary, the legislators probably thought that the word “public” was generic enough to not need interpretation. 

The effect of this ruling, at least for now, is that anyone can make digital copies of any copyrighted work on their servers for purposes of transmitting to an individual customer, so long as that individual customer makes a request for it, and there is no implication of the performance rights.

This is a fine example of a court “reasoning” the meaning completely out of a statute. 

Conclusion

If it is not obvious by now, I think this is one of the most poorly reasoned and drafted opinions by a Circuit Court that I have read in a long time.  If there is a bright side, it is that the effect of this decision is primarily that it overturns the grant of a summary judgement by the lower court.  From a broader perspective, however, and the more unfortunate result is that, because of the concept of stare decisis, this reasoning can now be cited in other cases in other jurisdictions across the country as good law.  So, unfortunately, we entertainment attorneys will be dealing with the negative impact of this decision for some time to come, until perhaps some higher court, in this case the Supremes, decides to rectify it.

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A major debate is being spawned by a recent article entitled “Should You Invest in the Long Tail,”  written by Anita Elberse, an Associate Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School.  The debate concerns the accuracy of Chris Anderson’s long tail theory, set out in great detail in his 2006 book, The Long Tail:  Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More.  

A summary of the debate is given in this analysis by Glenn Peoples of Coolfer.com.  Mr. Anderson’s initial response to Elberse’s criticism’s can be found here and then her subsequent response here.

The long tail theory is an idea that contrasts with the “blockbuster strategy” of marketing, which Elberse accurately describes as “age-old,” i.e. that the limited retail shelf space for media and entertainment product dictates that retailers should maximize their profits by focusing their marketing efforts on the relatively small number of “best sellers.”  This is, of course, best exemplified in today’s economy by the Wal-Mart approach.   It is, of course, the marketing philosophy that has been used by the major entertainment conglomerates for their entire history of existence.  The “blockbuster” product is at the peak of a bell curve, where the demand exists, the trailing end of which has long been described by the economic phrase “long-tail.”  See Elberse’s illustration below:

 

Long Tail

The basic idea behind Anderson’s long tail theory is that the Internet has changed the way consumers look for media and entertainment product.  Now that a music consumer can find and afford products more closely tailored to their individual “niche” tastes, i.e., further down the long tail, they will migrate away from the homogenized “blockbuster” hits. Anderson argues that the future of online retail demands a focus that shifts away from blockbusters centers on the long tail—niche offerings that cannot profitably be provided through brick-and-mortar channels. (See Elberse’s sidebar “The Long-Tail Theory in Short.”).  Elberse seeks to refute the idea that the long tail is being “fattened” by the online availability of more obscure and less marketed products.

If you are in the music industry, it is well worth following this debate.  While I will not attempt an in-depth analysis of Elberse’s criticisms here – I’ll leave that to the capable Mr. Anderson — I do desire to point out what I believe is a very obvious weakness in Elberse’s comments:

To support her conclusion that the long tail is “long but extremely flat—and, as online retailers expand their assortments, increasingly so,” Elberse states that she relies on Nielson SoundScan data.  She concludes: 

The Nielsen data cover multiple retailers, multiple channels, and multiple years, offering a wealth of material to test aspects of Anderson’s long-tail theory. What emerges is not a rosy picture of the fate of long-tail products: the tail increasingly consists of titles that rarely sell and that are produced by smaller-scale players.

See The Long Tail Debate: A Response to Chris Anderson.

These assumptions about the SoundScan are flawed, I believe.  While Elberse is correct in her assessment that the “data cover multiple retailers, multiple channels and multiple years,” I believe it overlooks the fact that SoundScan data is ONLY collected via POS, i.e. “point of sale” collection points.  This means cash registers and/or UPC bar code scanners.  The UPC code is the series of black and white lines appearing over a numeric code, which appears on virtually everything on the market today. 

That is how the “Scan” portion of the name “SoundScan” is derived.  When a UPC code on a product is scanned for sale, that UPC data is collected and a stored in a text file, which is delivered to Nielson on a weekly basis.  Nielson then collates and formats the data into what we know as the Billboard charts.  While the data may include some online retailers, its predominant focus is still on the physical product that sits on the shelves in retail outlets and warehouse all across America.  In other words, SoundScan’s predominant purpose – the reason it was created – is to track physical sales which, it turns out, is only the product that falls into the “head” of the long tail.  SoundScan’s focus is indubitably not on digital downloads, even though it has obviously made attempts to incorporate the trend in its charting scheme.

Naturally, if a person focuses primarily on the product that exists in the head of the tail, the conclusions reached by that person about what exists in the long tail are going to be slightly skewed. 

Elberse might counter this assertion by claiming that she also relied on the Rhapsody data to determine what obscure music was selling in the long tail.  Her use of this data is understandable, since Mr. Anderson also relied heavily on the Rhapsody data in drawing many of his conclusions in The Long Tail.  I think this reliance on Rhapsody data falsely assumes that what Rhapsody is selling is indicative of what is selling across the entire spectrum of the Internet.  Last time I checked, however, Rhapsody had about a 3-4% share of the entire music download market! 

This, I believe, is a fatal foundation for many analyses of the digital music revolution and, consequently, of the validity of the long tail.  I’m not aware of any comprehensive analysis that includes data from not only the mega online powerhouse, such as iTunes of course, which has about a 70% share of the digital download market, but also retailers of independent, less market-driven music, such as eMusic — which, by the way, has a respectable 10% of the market share of digital downloads.  It is the success of the later that, in my humble opinion, deserves more consideration in any analysis of the viability of the long tail approach to today’s digital market.  I can only speak for myself – I buy more music from eMusic than I do from iTunes, Zune, Amazon and Rhapsody combined.  So, to all of you researchers out there, please incorporate some serious data from the long tail!  Until that type of analysis is done, the conclusions drawn by Elberse must be viewed as somewhat suspect or, at the very least, only applicable to the specific subset of data she analyzed, i.e., not extrapolated to the entire music download market as a whole, but limited to SoundScan and Rhapsody.

 

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I was surfing around yesterday and discovered that my interview with DigiMusicTV.com, recorded in 2007, was recently posted on brightcove.  Here it is in all it’s glory:

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One question clients often asked me is whether an idea can be protected. The question frequently arises when a client has an idea for a screenplay, or an outline for a story, or a unique title for a song or book, and wishes to submit or “pitching” that idea to a major movie house, publisher or record company. While it is fairly common knowledge that an “idea” cannot be copyrighted, it is important to know that there may be certain types of protection be available for the intellectual properties contained in such a proposal pursuant to current laws, specifically trademark and copyright laws. This article analyzes and summarizes your rights under each of these two areas of law and offers suggestions for protecting your legal rights when “pitching” ideas.

Protection Under Trademark Law

Titles and names may be entitled to trademark protection at both the state and federal levels by anyone claiming a right to use such a title or name in connection with certain specified trades or services. These types of marks are commonly designated by use of the “™” and “®” symbols, indicating respectively that registration of the mark has been applied for and registered on the Primary Register. To be entitled to use these symbols in respect to a mark, a person must apply for and receive a federal or state trademark.

In most states, a state trademark can be applied for in the Secretary of State’s office. The application is a simple form and payment of a nominal fee is required. Protection at the state level is, however, somewhat more geographically limited than that of a federal mark. The application process for a federal mark is much more tedious, complicated and costly than that of the state trademark process. In addition to legal fees which will, most likely, be incurred, the application fee for each international classification of goods and services is $325.

Protection Under Copyright

As stated earlier, with regard to copyright law, and speaking very generally, an idea, in and of itself, is not entitled to copyright protection. Rather, it is the expression of an idea that can be copyrighted.[1]

It is not always clear from the case precedents, however, when an idea becomes developed enough to rise to the level of an “expression.” Some examples of expressions of ideas that have been protected are a screenplay similar to the old television series A-Team,[2] an employee survey regarding employee satisfaction,[3] and a particular section of categories appearing on a form for collecting baseball pitcher statistics.[4] On the other end of the spectrum, courts found that (1) a manual of operation for patented leaching system. [5] and (2) the addition and arrangement of facts to legal opinions [6] were not protectible expressions of ideas. The only general rule that can seemingly be extracted from this convoluted line of cases is that the more an expression diverges from the mere recitation of raw facts, the closer it gets to expression, as that the courts legally recognize that term.

Is your Idea Literary or Business in Nature

There is another, albeit tangential issue which is relevant and should be briefly discussed here, i.e., whether an idea is literary or business in nature:

Literary ideas are those that, upon development, would become literary property and hence clearly eligible for copyright protection. Literary ideas include ideas for motion pictures,[7] radio programs,[8] and television programs.,[9]

Business ideas, on the other hand, even when fully developed, may not be copyrightable. ,[10] Business ideas are those that relate to methods of conducting businesses, such as bank night in theaters,[11]contests, [12]and credit rating systems.[13] Here again, however, the more an idea, even a business idea, departs from mere factual recitation, the more it is likely to be considered literary, and therefore entitled to protection under copyright law.

When does an idea rise to the level of expression?

So, let’s now return to the primary issue of when an idea rises to the level of an expression entitled to copyright protection?

In their attempts to deal with the dilemma, courts have created a body of case law which attempts to strike a middle ground between the comprehensive protection of copyright on the one hand, and the complete denial of any legal protection for ideas on the other. I will attempt to delineate and evaluate some of the legal theories on which a person may be able to rely to render an idea legally protectible, the underlying tort theory of which is known in legal circles as “idea misappropriation.”

In brief, the elements for a claim of idea misappropriation are, first, the idea must be novel and concrete, and, second, there must be a legal relationship between the parties, whether by an express contract, a contract implied-in-fact, a quasi-contract, or a fiduciary relationship.[14]

Novel & Concrete Element

In instances where they have dealt with the protectibility of an idea, the courts hold the plaintiff to a greater burden of proving not merely that the idea is original (as in copyright protection) but that it is actually novel,[15] i.e., “not formerly known; of a new kind.”[16] This standard is, for most courts, a great standard to meet than that required by copyright, i.e., that a work be original – although some courts do confusingly use the terms interchangably.

The second component of the first prong, “concreteness,” in essence requires that an idea be sufficiently developed so as to constitute “property.” By its very nature, this requirement is intentionally vague, allowing the courts great flexability in applying it. One court described the concept as follows

while we recognize that an abstract idea as such may not be the subject of a property right, yet when it takes upon itself the concrete form which we find in the instant case, it is our opinion that it then becomes a property right subject to sale.[17]

This is, as pointed out, a rather vague element. This is sort of like how U.S. Justice Potter Stewart described hard-core pornography in Jacobellis v. Ohio, i.e., it’s difficult to define, but “I know it when I see it.” So, in short, the more developed an idea becomes, the further it goes toward dispelling any doubt as to whether the idea is “concrete.”

Legal Relationship Requirement

The second prong of the test, i.e., the legal relations prong, can complicate matters when it comes to submitting an idea to a third party. Whether a legal relationship exists between the parties depends, as does everything in law, on countless fact scenarios to the degree that one small change in a fact pattern can affect the outcome of interpretation.

Most often, clients “pitch” their ideas to a third parties for consideration in hopes that they will take the idea and “run with it.” But in such instances, it is important to be aware that the method by which an idea is submitted can directly impact whether or not there is a legal relationship.

A non-disclosure and confidentiality agreement with a publisher, for example, would create such a relationship beyond any doubt. This is one end of the spectrum. This method can easily be dispensed with since it is difficult enough to get a publisher’s attention, for example, much less without the added complexity of having to get their legal department involved. Most people will likely submit the idea directly to a publisher, either with or without permission, without any such NDA, or they will submit the idea through an agent of some sort. Each of these variations result in different treatment.

For example, courts have held that if an idea is submitted without solicitation and without advance warning, the idea is not protectible, even if it later turns out to be valuable.[18] There is one variation of this fact pattern, however, where one might successfully argue that an implied contract results because of an implied solicitation by the idea recipient. This occurs where the recipient is engaged in a trade or industry (such as the entertainment or publishing industry) that, by custom, purchases ideas of the type submitted. A book or music publisher, as an idea recipient, makes a continuing offer to pay for any submitted ideas that it elects to use. Thus, an unsolicited submission is not an offer that necessarily requires further conduct by the publisher to establish an acceptance, but rather can be viewed as an acceptance of the publisher’s implied continuing offer. Although no court has expressly recognized this theory, courts have implicitly adopted it by recognizing an implied agreement based upon custom where such a factual pattern can be established.[20] I caution in advance, however, that this is a minority opinion, not expressed by the majority of courts.

Some courts, particularly but not exclusively those in California, imply an affirmative duty on the part of a publisher to reject an unsolicited submission or else the legal relationship is created – hence the practice of most publishers to advertise “no unsolicited submissions.” Under this so-called “failure to reject” theory, any means of notice that gives the publisher some sort of advance warning of, and an opportunity to prevent, a proposed idea submission is sufficient to establish an implied contract if the recipient then permits the submission to be made.

Thus, the following examples may create such an affirmative obligation on the part of the publisher: (1) enclosing the proposed idea in a sealed envelope accompanying an unsolicited transmittal letter that explains that the contents of the sealed envelope contains such a submission, or (2) a series of two unsolicited letters, the first explaining the intended submission and the second in fact containing the idea to be submitted. [20]

If a publisher specifically requests the submission of an idea, a legal relationship is clearly established creating an obligation to pay the creator if the idea submitted is used. [21] So finding a creative way to solicit a request from a publisher is also a very good means of securing protection for you idea.

Finally, it may come as no surprise that utilizing the services of a agent will help protect your ideas. It may be inferred that the recipient of an idea submission has knowledge of an expectation of payment for the idea when the submission is arranged by a person whose known occupation is that of representing idea purveyors, such as a book or movie agent. “This fact alone must have indicated to [the recipient of an idea submission] that the persons whom the agent brought together with him were not social callers.” Donahue v. Ziv Television Programs, Inc. 54 Cal. Rptr. 130, 138 (Cal. App. 1966).

Conclusion

As you can clearly see, the question of whether an idea can be protected is not an easy one to answer in any specific situation because the answer depends so heavily on the individual fact pattern of each case. Although it may not be apparent from its length, this article in no way exhausts the body of legal information and case law that exists with regard to the protectible nature of an idea. Therefore, if you have questions concerning this issue, please contact a respected entertainment attorney.

Having stated this, with regard to submission of ideas in general, the following are recommendations that can be followed:

(1) First, trademark all slogans, titles or name, at the very least your state level, but preferably at the federal level;

(2) Make sure the idea is as fleshed out as it can be, i.e. as “concrete” as possible. Rather than a mere outline, insert summaries of each bullet point. Then, flesh out selected points, e.g., create a summary of each chapter of a particular example book, or maybe even two or more examples of each. Then, create a few complete chapters of a books, for example;

(3) Mark everything confidential and, in addition to the copyright notice generally included, add the phrase “All rights reserved” after it. The copyright notice and your intent to be the owner of the copyright should be clearly indicated in the beginning of the correspondence;

(4) Attempt to procure an agent, and ask if the agent is willing to enter into a non-compete and confidentiality agreement;

(5) As an alternative to paragraph (4), solicit the publishers by telephone or in some other general fashion, preferably with written followup, to encourage them to “solicit” the work in advance; and

(6) As an alternative to paragraphs (4) and (5), place your idea submission in an envelope, draft a summary cover letter explaining that this is the submission of a copyrighted idea and that by opening the envelope, they are agreeing to the confidentiality and non-disclosure of the submission and further, agree to pay for it if they decide to use it.

While these ideas may not be “iron-clad,” they will go a long way toward establishing the necessary elements of an idea misappropriation claim.

[1] 17 U.S.C. § 102(b) . See e.g., Holmes v. Hurst, 174 U.S. 82 (1899); Kalem Co. v. Harper Bros., 222 U.S. 55 (1911) ; Dymow v. Bolton, 11 F.2d 690 (2d Cir. 1926) ; Nichols v. Universal Pictures Corp., 45 F.2d 119 (2d Cir. 1930) ; Dellar v. Samuel Goldwyn, Inc., 150 F.2d 612 (2d Cir. 1945) ; Gaye v. Gillis, 167 F. Supp. 416 (D.C. Mass. 1958 ). This was also the rule under common law copyright. Fendler v. Morosco, 253 N.Y. 281, 171 N.E. 56 (1930) ; Weitzenkorn v. Lesser, 40 Cal.2d 778, 256 P.2d 947 (1953) ; Desny v. Wilder, 46 Cal.2d 715, 299 P.2d 257 (1956) ; Ware v. Columbia Broadcasting Sys., Inc., 61 Cal. Rptr. 590, 155 U.S.P.Q. 413 (Cal. App. 1967).[Back]

[2]Ernest Olson, V. National Broadcasting Company, Inc., 855 F.2d 1446 (9th Cir. 1988).[Back]

[3]Gallup, Inc. V. Talentpoint, Inc., 2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18560; 61 U.S.P.Q.2D (BNA) 1394 (M.D. PA. 2001).[Back]

[4]George L. Kregos v. Associated Press and Sports Features Syndicate, Inc., 937 F.2d 700; 1991 U.S. App. Lexis 12113; 19 USPQ2d (BNA) 1161; Copy. L. Rep. (Cch) P26,744 (Ct. App. 2nd Cir. 1991).[Back]

[5]Presby Construction, Inc., v. Normand Clavet, et al, 2001 DNH 210; 2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 20951; 61 U.S.P.Q.2D (BNA) 1184 (Dist. NH 2001).[Back]

[6]Matthew Bender & Company, Inc., et al v. West Publishing Co. et al, 158 F.3d 674; 1998 U.S. App. LEXIS 30790; 48 U.S.P.Q.2D (BNA) 1560 (App. Ct. 2nd Cir 1998). [Back]

[7]Desny v. Wilder, 46 Cal.2d 715, 299 P.2d 257 (1956).[Back]

[8]Stanley v. Columbia Broadcasting Sys., 35 Cal.2d 653, 221 P.2d 73 (1950).[Back]

[9]Stone v. Goodson, 8 N.Y.2d 8,200 N.Y.S.2d 627 (1960).[Back]

[10]This exclusion also applies to scientific ideas.[Back]

[11]Affiliated Enterprises, Inc. v. Gruber, 86 F.2d 958 (1st Cir. 1936).[Back]

[12]Lewis v. Kroger, 109 F. Supp. 484 (S.D. W.Va. 1952).[Back]

[13]Burnell v. Chown, 69 Fed. 993 (N.D. Ohio 1895).[Back]

[14]See Kienzle v. Capital Cities/American Broadcasting Co., Inc. , 774 F. Supp. 432, 436 n.8, 438 n.13 (E.D. Mich. 1991) (Treatise cited). McGhan v. Ebersol, 608 F. Supp. 277, 284 (S.D.N.Y. 1985) (New York law). [Back]

[15] Noble v. Columbia Broadcasting Sys., 270 F.2d 938 (D.C. Cir. 1959) ; Santilli v. Philip Morris & Co., 283 F.2d 6 (2d Cir. 1960) ; Stevens v. Continental Can Co., Inc., 308 F.2d 100 (6th Cir. 1962) ; Pittman v. American Greeting Corp., 619 F. Supp. 939 (W. D. Ky. 1985) ; Downey v. General Foods Corp., 31 N.Y.2d 56, 286 N.E.2d 257 (1972) (no promise to pay for an idea will be implied or enforced if the idea is not both novel and original).[Back]

[16]Webster’s New Int’l Dictionary (2d ed.) 1670.[Back]

[17]Williamson v. N.Y. Central R.R., 16 N.Y.S.2d 217, 258 App. Div. 226 (1939) ; Bailey v. Haberle-Congress Brewing Co., 193 Misc. 723, 85 N.Y.S.2d 51 (1948 ) ; Masline v. New York, New Haven and Hartford R.R., 95 Conn. 702, 112 Atl. 639 (1921) ; contra Brunner v. Stix, 352 Mo. 1225, 181 S.W.2d 643 (1944).

[18] Giangrasso v. CBS, Inc., 534 F. Supp. 472 (E.D.N.Y. 1982) ; Curtis v. United States, 168 F. Supp. 213 (Ct. Cl. 1958), cert. denied, 361 U.S. 843 (1959) ; see Borden & Barton Enters. v. Warner Bros., 99 Cal. App. 2d 760, 222 P.2d 463 (1950) ; Donahue v. Ziv Television Programs, Inc., 54 Cal. Rptr. 130 (Cal. App. 1966) ; Official Airlines Schedule Info. Serv., Inc. v. Eastern Air Lines, Inc., 333 F.2d 672, 674 (5th Cir. 1964) (concurring opinion); Sterner v. Hearst Corp., 144 U.S.P.Q. 237 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1964) .[Back]

[19]Desny v. Wilder, 46 Cal. 2d 715, 739, 299 P.2d 257, 270 (1956) ; Aliotti v. R. Dakin & Co., 831 F.2d 898, 903 (9th Cir. 1987).[Back]

[20] Cole v. Lord, 262 A.D. 116, 28 N.Y.S.2d 404 (1st Dep’t 1941) ; Kurlan v. Columbia Broadcasting Sys., 40 Cal. 2d 799, 256 P.2d 962 (1953) ; Vantage Point, Inc. v. Parker Bros., Inc., 529 F. Supp. 1204 (E.D.N.Y. 1981) (Treatise cited), aff’d mem., 697 F.2d 301 (2d Cir. 1982); Bevan v. Columbia Broadcasting Sys., Inc., 329 F. Supp. 601 (S.D.N.Y. 1971) (Treatise cited); cf. McGhan v. Ebersol, 608 F. Supp. 277, 285 (S.D.N.Y. 1985) (New York law); Bailey v. Haberle Congress Brewing Co., 193 Misc. 723, 85 N.Y.S.2d 51 (Mun. Ct. 1948).[Back]

[21] See, e.g., Whitfield v. Lear, 751 F.2d 90 (2d Cir.) , where in advance of submission, plaintiff sent a mailgram to defendants advising that a submission was being sent.[Back]

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Posted with the permission of the author Matthew Williams, EsquireMatthew is an intellectual property attorney practicing with the firm of Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp.  All rights reserved.

Apple’s release of the iPhone in June 2007 was an unqualified business success – 1.4 million iPhones were sold in just a few months. However, as has become the norm when a business is successful, several legal problems have arisen for Apple and its telecommunications partner, AT&T. Many of these problems began shortly after the iPhone’s release, when a New Jersey teenager announced that he had circumvented the technological ‘lock’ that renders the iPhone inoperable with wireless telephone carriers other than AT&T. The hacking of the iPhone received almost as much press attention as its release and Apple estimates that as many as 25apple_iphone0,000 iPhones have been unlocked . 

In response, Apple issued a press release which warned consumers that modifying iPhones in order to switch wireless carriers could damage the product and void Apple’s warranty. Apple also announced that future Apple software updates would likely render modified iPhones permanently inoperable. Shortly afterwards, an Apple software update did just that. Predictably, two class action lawsuits alleging unfair competition and antitrust claims were filed against Apple in October 2007: one, which also names AT&T as a defendant, in the US District Court for the Northern District of California,(1) and one in the California Superior Court in the County of Santa Clara.(2)

Among other things, the complaints allege that consumers may unlock iPhones legally on the basis of a November 2006 regulation promulgated by the librarian of Congress regarding exceptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s prohibition against circumventing technological protection measures. Furthermore, the complaints allege that the software update issued by Apple, rendering thousands of iPhones inoperable, was an illegal effort to prevent consumers from exercising this exception.

Whether the unlocking of iPhones fits within the librarian of Congress’s exception to the act depends on the answers to a number of difficult questions. It is far from clear that unlocking an iPhone is legal. The librarian crafted narrow language which limits the exception to circumstances in which “circumvention is accomplished for the sole purpose of lawfully connecting to a wireless telephone communication network”. 

At least one court(3) has ruled that unlocking a mobile phone for the purpose of reselling it to third parties violates the act and does not fall within the exception; fearing that many of the iPhone hackers purchased multiple iPhones for resale, Apple recently limited the number of iPhones that an individual may purchase and stopped accepting cash for iPhones. Determining whether the librarian’s exception applies to unlocking iPhones and, if so, how many of the class members involved in the cases fall within the scope of the exception are likely to be central issues. Copyright owners should follow these cases carefully, especially because the anti-circumvention provisions of the act are infrequently interpreted and are often critical to many business models.

Endnotes

(1) Holman v Apple, Inc.

(2) Smith v Apple, Inc.

(3) In TracFone Wireless, Inc v Dixon, 475 F Supp 2d 1236 (MD Fla 2007).

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You say you want a revolution

Well, you know
We all want to change the world . . .

 
You say you’ve got a real solution

Well, you know
We’d all love to see the plan
You ask me for a contribution
Well, you know
We are doing what we can

 
But if you want money
for people with minds that hate
All I can tell is, brother, you’ll have to wait
 
Don’t you know it’s gonna be alright?
 
-John Lennon

Perhaps John Lennon said it best:  if you push people hard enough and long enough, they will revolt.  The question is, has the RIAA gone too far for too long? A recent motion filed in their case against students at the University of Maine may very well answer that question.

The RIAA named numerous “John Doe” students in their complaint in Arista Records v. Does 1-27, as is their practice in all of their lawsuits.   The RIAA’s purpose of naming the John Doe defendants is so that they may obtain an ex parte (i.e., without the other party being notified) order from the Judge requiring the targeted university to provide the various students’ name, address, and, particularly, their IP address.

Student lawyers at the University school of law Cumberland Legal Clinic have filed a motion for Rule 11 sanctions against the RIAA claiming that this practice improperly seeks to circumvent the student’s rights under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, §1232g(b)(2)(B) (“FERPA”), gain publicity for its cause, and coerce students into settling for “nominal” amounts in the $3-5000 range.

Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows sanctions against an attorney who signs a pleading without properly investigating the facts and the law and does so with an improper purpose.

The motion also questions whether the joinder of plaintiffs and defendants under the RIAA-type lawsuits is proper because the actions do not, in fact, arise out of the same transaction.  Rule 20 of the Federal Rules of Procedure provides that multiple plaintiffs can join in one action if “they assert any right to relief jointly, severally, or in the alternative with respect or arising out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences…and any question of law or fact common to all plaintiffs will arise in the action.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 20(a).  Similarly, multiple defendants can be joined in one action if “any right to relief is asserted against them jointly, severally, or in the alternative with respect to or arising out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transaction or occurrences . . . and any question of law or fact common to all defendants will arise in the action.” Id.  The student motion alleges that the RIAA does not, in fact, believe that all of these copyright infringements arise out of the same facts, but join together against multiple defendants for the sole purpose of trimming litigation and discovery costs.

In this case, the student lawyers are seeking more than just monetary damages under this Rule 11 motion:  they also seek dismissal of the complaint and a permanent injunction preventing the RIAA from filing “fishing expedition” type complaints against “unconnected” defendants in the future.  These types of injunctions may be applied in jurisdictions other than the one in which it was issued, so in theory such an order may be applied to thwart lawsuits in other Federal courts across the country.

This in one ruling that should be very interesting.

 

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