Category Archives: copyright follies

wacky or misguided assertions of copyright; horrible hinderings of truth & justice & information transmission

professorial copyright wackiness

This professor is claiming that a student note service violates his copyright on his lectures. (wired 4/4, link from Fred @ EFF on a mailing list)

Student note services gather actual student notes of lectures, and sell them to students — who presumably missed a lecture, took bad notes themselves, or want to see another professor’s take on the matter.

What am I missing? The professor is giving an oral lecture, based on his copyrighted “lecture”. (What, notes? sentences? powerpoint slides?) Unless he reads his copyrighted lecture verbatim in class, then his lecture as given is not the same thing as his copyrighted lecture. Copyright requires fixation in a tangible medium, so I don’t see how he has a copyright in the lecture as given.

He argues that he fixes his lecture in writing on overhead transparencies. That’s not going to be a fixation of the lecture as given, either.

Then he also argues that he records his lecture. That’s more solid, but I’m not sure simultaneous fixation is going to work in the non-broadcast setting.

At any rate, notes from a session would seem to be inarguably fair use, or even non-infringing. There’s an early 1900s English case that actually dealt directly with lecture notes and held that they were not infringements. I’ll have to dig that up.

I’ll be interested to see what the pundits think about the legal specifics of this and where I’m wrong. In the meantime I’ll just note that the word “schmuck” leaps to mind.

good news in SCO case

The District Court of Utah has issued a decision and order finding that SCO does not own parts of Linux (D.Utah 2007/8/10). The lengthy litigation (funded in part with Microsoft’s investments in SCO) was the only serious shadow hanging over Linux, although the claims seemed bogus when examined closely. (I also liked this chart that geekly picked over the possible harms to linux.) It’s good to see Judge Dale Kimball come to the same conclusion.

The D. Court of Utah website was down yesterday and for some reason has labeled all SCO filings and orders as available only through PACER (a fee-based access service to public court filings). However, groklaw posted the decision.

arrested for 20-second recording

Some poor kid took a short clip of the Transformers movie, and was hauled out and arrested. The theater (Regal Cinemas Ballston Common 12, in Arlington, Virginia) is pressing charges that could land this 19yo in prison for a year for the 20-second film clip. She recorded the clip to show her little brother, because she thought it would get him excited to go see the movie, too.

I think the only good outcome of this is that the theater has lost years of revenue from this young woman because in addition to trying to put her in prison for a year, they have banned her from their theater for life. Hopefully her friends will boycott the theater on her behalf too.

If you have any thoughts about the ludicrous nature of this prosecution, feel free to share them with the theater at (703) 527-9730; Regal Cinemas at 877-TELLREGAL (1-877-835-5734); or the Arlington, VA, Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney at (703) 228-4410.

Her trial date is set for August 21. She’s being prosecuted under a new Virginia statute that criminalizes using cameras in movie theaters.

Further reading:

  • Washington Post 8/2
  • USA9.com
  • excess copyright
  • Two commenters on slashfilm note that “Regal offers employees, most of whom make minimum wage, $10,000 for catching a ‘pirate’. I’ve never heard of anyone getting it.”1 and “the MPAA gives a cash reward (Around $500 last time I checked) to whoever reports someone for using any kind of recording device in a move theater”2

cross-posted at sivacracy

update 8/9:

  • free culture NYU calls for a boycott.
  • a commenter posted the email address for the VP of investor relations: ddelaria at regalcinemas.com
  • a commenter at sivacracy suggests that people at arlington do a mass protest and everybody record 20-second video clips.

NYT on copyright, again

After the silly editorial by Mark Helprin, who has obviously been confused by an absolutist romantic view of “property”, the NYT published 7 or 8 letters all in substantive disagreement. Now their theater section looks at another problem that copyright terms can cause: over-control of casting decisions by playwright’s heirs.

Since Bernard-Marie Koltès died in 1989 at 41, his reputation as a playwright has continued to grow. In February, for the first time, one of his plays, “Le Retour au Désert,” entered the repertory of the Comédie-Française, the historic Paris theater popularly known as the House of Molière.

Yet soon after Muriel Mayette’s production of the play opened there, Mr. Koltès’s brother, François, who owns the copyright to his works, ordered that it be taken off the stage on June 7 after just 30 performances. The reason? The Algerian character, Aziz, is not being played by an Algerian, as stipulated by the playwright.

Wiley copyright imbroglio at science blog

Last week a copyright imbroglio broke out at a science blog which had written a post critiquing mainstream coverage of a science article; the blog had posted a figure from the paper to demonstrate bad science writing in the mainstream media. Wiley sent a C&D; the blogger agreed to take the material down (actually took the data and recreated the figures herself) but posted about the incident; a blogstorm erupted (see also coturnix); THEN Wiley apologized … and the blogger as far as I can tell just left her own recreated figures on the blog post, and who can blame her? It’s a (relative) pain in the ass loading images on a blog.

So some good will come out of this incident: that a bajillion people will have heard the words “fair use” and been inspired to participate in discussions about open content, fair use, control of information, etc.

I really, really hope that people do *not* take the lesson that if the publisher had not apologized and “granted permission” that the original figures would have had to stay down. This was a classic example of the chilling effect that comes from cease and desist letters. In other words, a classic example of the growth of copyright paranoia.

The law is actually on the blogger’s side on this issue. That blogger would have been well within rights to completely ignore the C&D to begin with because this was as fair use (as many people pointed out). Wiley would have then had to do a s.512 notice to the ISP (scienceblogs.com) which would also have been within its rights to ignore the notice. They could have then filed a 512(f) suit against Wiley for a bad faith s.512 notice, and EFF or any number of attorneys would have been delighted to take them on as pro bono clients, I’m certain.

My point: These incidents raise questions about the growth of copyright and whether copyright should be usefully applied to certain kinds of knowledge and how public investments in scientific research should be monitored. But they also raise simple questions of the abuse and misuse of copyright law — misuse which is illegal in some circumstances and can cost the misuser a lot of money.

I’d like to see in-house counsel advising their “junior staff” about the possible liability for misusing its copyrights. A few more high-profile cases might put that in their list of important topics to cover in their in-house trainings.

shaolin trademarks and copyright as generic for IP

In an SFgate story about conflicts between folks trying to take Shaolin practice in different directions, I spotted this:

In recent years, the main temple’s abbot, Shi YongXin, has tried to copyright the Shaolin name. He’s also been criticized for commercializing the faith. YongXin gave his approval to Ho’s venture in San Francisco.

Really? I thought. Tried to copyright the name? Surely they mean trademark …. A little googling found this China Daily article from a couple of years ago (2004/9/28). I quote in its entirety because virtually every single paragraph illustrates the wacky confusion:

Shaolin monks in hand-to-hand copyright battle
Updated: 2004-09-28 09:53

The monks of China’s Shaolin temple are not just good at kung fu but also increasingly agile at using copyright rules to protect their name from rip-offs, state media reported.

The 1,500 year-old temple, known as the cradle of China’s martial arts, recently set up the Henan Shaolin Temple Industrial Development Co., whose main purpose is to protect the temple’s intellectual property rights, Xinhua news agency said.

“Everyone just wants to make some profits from the name, totally regardless of the integral image of Shaolin Temple,” Shaolin abbot Shi Yongxin told the agency.

More than 1,000 brands containing “Shaolin” have been registered without the approval of the temple in the United States, Japan and Europe, Shi said.

Since its start, the new company has been engaged in feverish activity, registering nearly 100 Shaolin-related brands in China and has applied to register “Shaolin” brands in over 100 countries, Xinhua said.

A survey by the China Trademark and Patent Law Office found that many countries were competing to register their own trademarks of Shaolin or Shaolin temple, state media reported previously.

On the west coast of the United States alone, there are three Shaolin temples. In Europe, Shaolin temples can be found in Vienna and Budapest.

with a photo captioned:

A young monk of China’s Shaolin temple demonstrating his skills. The monks have increasingly been using copyright rules to protect their name from rip-offs. [AFP]

Further reading–it looks like this story has flurried every couple of years, 2002, 2004, 2006:
* The People’s Daily from 2002/9/25 had more information about the beginning of the trademark wars.
* The USA Today picked up the story around the same time.
* The BBC News on 2004/6/29
* 2004/6/2 a story at p2pnet.net
* Another 2006 piece from China Shaolin Temple itself gives their perspective.
* China Daily, 2006/10/19 had this insightful history:

Back in 1993, Shi Yongxin took a ham manufacturer to court for promoting the ham under the brand “Shaolin,” which he claimed constituted a trademark infringement. It was the first case on brand rights in China’s religious circles.

Recalling the lawsuit, Shi said, “a long time ago, communication and transportation were not as convenient as today, and products were circulated in a limited area, so trademark registration was not required. With globalization comes infringement. To protect the trademark, we have to register the brand ‘Shaolin.’ The registration is totally protective. ”

However, the Shaolin Temple brand is being taken advantage of by other businessmen. About 200 meters north of the temple, the local tourist bureau has built the Shaolin Temple Martial Arts School, and right across from that is a Zen institute that is backed by a salt company.

Many suspect such commercial aspirations will disturb the tranquility of the temple. Shi, however, believed such establishment is a result of the interplay between business and brand, likening Shaolin Temple to the American Disneyland, which is a brand as well as a business.

* Kung Fu Magazine had an interview with Shi Yongxin, Abbot of Shaolin temple:

GC: How is trademarking the name of Shaolin going?
Abbot: Recently, some businessmen and companies had been engaging in using the Shaolin name to further their product. This influenced the image of Shaolin culture in a negative way. Now Shaolin Temple is attending to this matter. Abuse of the Shaolin trademark will diminish the influence of Shaolin Temple and create misunderstandings of Shaolin in the public eye. Shaolin represents the best of traditional Chinese art in kung fu and Chan Buddhism. As we know, some products and services provided by these companies were outlawed by the rules of Buddhism. So we have begun to administrate the trademark of Shaolin, not for the sake of profit, just for the sake of preserving our culture and religion.

… This was an interesting search in its own right, but a couple of observations:
* You know, it’s not so easy to google for something + copyright, because every frickin’ thing on the Internet says “blah blah blah COPYRIGHT date by yadda yadda yadda”.
* This isn’t the first time I’ve noticed “copyright” being used synonymously for “intellectual property”. It’s as if the copyright trademark is itself being diluted.

* Every article has its own copyright date and they’re apparently being put in almost at random as part of website templates in some cases, the article in other cases, etc. For instance the 2002 USA Today article, which I found on 2007/4/29, had a “Copyright 2005 the Associated Press”. The Kung Fu Magazine article didn’t have a date on the article or on its copyright statement, but had an automatically generated “today’s date” in the header — so one might mistakenly read the article and think it was today. This is a problem for citations, of course, but it’s also a problem for orphan works issues in the far future. So if the dates on the works themselves are practically meaningless, then how is the future historian going to be able to tell when the 95-year corporate copyright term has expired? If we’re all relying on the overworked Internet Archive as our de facto copyright database then someone needs to give them like a bajillion dollars in a hurry so they can capture the whole Internet and do it every day.

copyright versus writers

“I wish with all my heart that you will be able to publish a new translation.”

Simone de Beauvoir, 1982.

Another example of copyright being used by the copyright owner to control or restrict dissemination of a copyrighted work — regardless of the likely desires of the creator. Ampersand at Alas, a Blog writes about publisher Knopf’s control over Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, citing Sarah Glazer’s editorial, “Lost in Translation”, NYT Aug. 22, 2004. Apparently, Knopf refuses to allow a new French-to-English translation to fix the (apparently) glaring problems with the first translation. This editorial is over a year old, so I just checked amazon.com as a quick & dirty proxy for a Books in Print search. All the English versions I found still cite to the Knopf translation (copyright renewed in 1980).

Ann Bartow’s commentary on Sivacracy includes this very pointed observation:

Once again copyright law is preventing rather than incentivizing the creation and distribution of important ideas and expression.

When the government brings the force of law to bear to prevent a person from using particular words or images to communicate, and/or to prevent her from distributing or reading certain words, to some of us that seems a lot like censorship. Copyright laws are a restraint on speech, but one that is tolerated by the First Amendment because the copyright system is supposed to incentivize the creation and distribution of useful, creative works. That’s not what is happening here.

Like most authors, Simone de Beauvoir probably had to capitulate to every demand made by her publisher just to see her book in print. Copyright laws could be re-written to at least slightly improve the balance of power between authors and publishers, but don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen.

update 12/21: Alas, a Blog has heard a rumor that Knopf may have agreed to a new translation, and links to another article on the issue.

stuff i’ve been reading – information edition

  • The sad story of PearLyrics is being widely reposted [See alandwilliams, sideshow, boingboing.] I’m just sorry that I didn’t hear about it before the designer responded to the C&D by taking down the code.

  • Dan Gillmore (12/3) on telcos attacking the open web: basically, carriers would like to become editors or distributors, content selectors, rather than mere carriers ….

  • Washington Post is letting itself be remixed. I may have to move the Post to the top of my MSM queue (ahead of the NYT).

  • The Royal Society is kvetching about PLOS & open science. [link via BoingBoing & Open Access News]

  • Doc Searls has written “Saving the Net”, discussing, among other things, the “intellectual property” metaphor. [link via boingboing]

excellent reading

others speak so i don’t have to:

and other things i’ve read recently:

licensing trivia

how bad songs get recorded:

“Wes Anderson is asked about the way he uses film in music, and reveals that when he was making The Royal Tenenbaums, George Harrison was too ill to enable the clearing of rights to Hey Jude. So then he decided to get Elliot Smith to cover it. You might think he’d have quietly dropped the idea after that.”

TMFTML cites something but i’m not sure why b/c i couldn’t find this quote there …

Copyright Woes

an ongoing webliography tracking instances of copyright impinging access

collections of stories

  • collected stories from the kahle v. ashcroft archive
  • ed felten at freedom-to-tinker briefly summarizes several researchers in computer fields who are being chilled by DMCA/copyright law

specific incidents

  • 2004-10-26: atrois thinks there might be too much similarity in U2’s new ipod promotional song:

    It it just me, or does the new U2 song in the Ipod commercial sound a bit too much like “You Keep Me Hanging On” by Diana Ross and the Supremes…

  • Tensegrities [akma commentary]
  • locking up hemingway [librarylaw blog, 9/27]