Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Leonardo's Vitruvian Man will be lent to France, Italian court rules

Venetian administrative court recently rejected the appeal filed by Italia Nostra, an Italian cultural heritage conservation group, opposing the loan of Leonardo da Vinci's 'Vitruvian Man' to Louvre museum. The loan was part of a bilateral agreement signed in September by Italy and France according to which Italy should lend seven Leonardo's works to France and, in return, the latter will send some Raphael's paintings next year to be exhibited at Scuderie del Quirinale in Rome to commemorate 500 years since Raphael's death. 

Leonardo da Vinci's 'Vitruvian Man', 1492
Italia Nostra argued in its appeal that Leonardo's 'Vitruvian Man' was too fragile to travel as it would risk being damaged by lighting if displayed during the Louvre exhibition; indeed, the work shall be constantly protected from direct light. The plaintiff alleged also that the loan would then infringe art. 66 of Italian Code of the Cultural and Landscape Heritage prohibiting temporary exit from national territory of cultural property on the occasion of art events if the artwork is susceptible to damage during transportation or because of unfavorable environmental conditions.  

As a precautionary measure, the Court suspended the loan and even the bilateral agreement signed between Italy and France.

On October 16, the Court overturned its previous decision rejecting the appeal, observing that other works among the Venice Galleries' masterpieces were already lent in the past. Moreover, the two Italian most important restoration institutes confirmed that the drawing could be exhibited for a limited period of time if under the correct lighting.

The 'Vitruvian Man' will then be displayed during the exhibition starting at Louvre on October 24, celebrating the 500th anniversary of Leonardo's death. Italian media reported also that this masterpiece will be insured for little less than 1 billion euro.  The drawing, which shall be shown for a few weeks every six years, will not be exhibited for a long time after being displayed twice this year: one time in Venice and now at Louvre. 

While this dispute seems solved (unless Italia Nostra decides to appeal), one member of the Uffizi Galleries' scientific committee, Tomaso Montanari, have recently claimed that two Leonardo's paintings - "Study of the Landscape" and "The Adoration of the Magi" - were exported for the same exhibition despite being on Uffizi's list of unmovable works. 

Italia Nostra's appeal highlighted the problems concerning the loan of masterpieces, besides two different visions of cultural heritage: as a national treasure or as a part of a world cultural heritage to share.

Wednesday, 16 October 2019


Reuters report that France is pushing for the creation of a European-wide regulator of digital platforms including Google and YouTube, to sanction any possible abuse of power. A spokesperson cited the dispute between Google and European publishers saying “A big American company, Google namely, has announced it would not comply with an EU copyright directive,” the official told reporters. “France and Germany share the view that... we have to put an end to this illegal behavior.”

And more on Google: In a U.S. Supreme Court filing, the Justice Department has urged the court  to deny Google’s petition for review of a pair of rulings that put the company on the line for billions of dollars in damages for infringing Oracle’s copyrights in the Java computer code. Reuters say that Google’s lawyers at Goldstein & Russell have argued that the case presents important questions about the copyrightability of certain kinds of computer code and fair use of that code. The Justice Department, however, said in Friday’s brief that the copyrightability question has already been resolved definitively - and that the Google case isn’t a good vehicle for the Supreme Court’s consideration of fair use.

The Verge reports that alleged copyright troll Christopher Brady will no longer be able to issue DMCA takedowns to YouTubers. According to a lawsuit settlement, an agreement has been reached and  Brady is banned from “submitting any notices of alleged copyright infringement to YouTube that misrepresent that material hosted on the YouTube service is infringing copyrights held or claimed to be held by Brady or anyone Brady claims to represent.” Brady agreed to pay $25,000 in damages as part of the settlement. He is also prohibited from “misrepresenting or masking their identities” when using Google products, including YouTube.

Queen have joined the long list of bands who have taken action against President Trump for using their music without permission. A campaign video featuring 'We Will Rock You' has been removed from his Twitter following a copyright complaint from the band’s publisher. According to Buzzfeed, within hours of the video going live Queen had "already entered into a process to call for non use of Queen song copyrights by the Trump campaign”. After being viewed more than 1.7 million times, the video was disabled by Twitter and the post now reads: "This media has been disabled in response to a report by copyright owner.” They join REM, Prince, Neil Young, Rihanna, Nickleback and Adele (amongst others) who have objected to Trump using their music. More details on Nickleback's recent takedown can be found here. A Twitter spokesperson told CNN that the company responds to copyright complaints sent to them by a copyright owner or their authorised representatives.

Why bring a Trade Mark claim in place of a copyright claim? Well it seems that the super secret street artist Banksy might be doing that to avoid revealing his true identity. Above the Laws's take on this is "Banksy’s Fake Store Is An Attempt To Abuse Trademark Law To Avoid Copyright Law" but it's an interesting story in Banksy's attempt to stop a small greeting from selling “fake Banksy merchandise.” Full Colour Black "run a small business that does photography and sells cards involving public graffiti". Above the Law say this "But… that’s all about copyright. In reading the news coverage of all of this, I was stumped as to why were were discussing trademark at all — until I realized something kind of important. Banksy is using trademark because Banksy can’t use copyright without revealing who Banksy is". And Full Colour Black’s lawyer, Aaron Wood, explained “We are contesting the validity of one of his [Banksy's representing company Pest Control Office Limited] EU trademarks on the basis that he has freely permitted it to be reproduced such that it no longer functions as a trademark (if it ever did), on the basis that he never intended to use it as a trademark and that he is trying to register for collateral purposes (ie, to avoid evidential issues with copyright and to avoid having to file a ‘statement of use’ in the US).”

US comedian Jerry Seinfeld has defeated a lawsuit which alleged he had stolen the idea for a TV series. But the case was decided on basis that the statute of limitations must bar the claim - and not on any infringement or otherwise. Christian Charles, a former colleague claimed he had originally pitched the idea for "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee" to Seinfeld in 2002 - a decade before it debuted. Manhattan District judge Alison Nathan said Charles had taken too long to sue, The statute of limitations appies after three years and Charles had waited for six years to file his lawsuit after Seinfeld rejected his copyright claim in 2012, the year the first series of the show aired.

Current chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerrold Nadler, has aired his thoughts on what might be the next challenges for legislating for music copyright in the USA. He 
joined National Music Publishers' Association president and CEO David Israelite for NYU Steinhardt's inaugural Ralph S. Peer Lecture, named after the music visionary who founded Peermusic in the 1920s. Prioritising the unity that led to the unanimous passage of the Music Modernization Act, Nadler opined "If you want real legislation, the different segments of the industry have to get their act together and speak with one voice," and admitting that most members of Congress aren't well-versed in music industry particulars. "Once they did that, we were able to pass legislation unanimously." Nadler then went to on talk about the fact that in the US there is no performing right for recorded music terrestrial AM/FM radio play - an almost unique position in the World adding "As terrestrial radio becomes relatively less important and streaming becomes more, the question is the extent to which broadcasters will see their interests as less opposed to performance rights. At some point, I do think we will get some [agreement], because the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and their people will see that their interests are less adversely affected than previously.

Friday, 4 October 2019

CREATe Symposium 2019

CREATe, the UK Copyright & Creative Economy Centre based at the University of Glasgow, recently has started work on a number of ambitious projects that will occupy the team for the next five years.

CREATEe have announced a Symposium with series of events to support this. The events are free, They include a BLACA lecture by CREATe’s Elena Cooper on Portrait of Lady Eden by Whistler (subject of a famous Paris court case in 1897, and held in the University of Glasgow’s Hunterian collection); and a policy keynote by Catherine Stihler, CEO of the Open Knowledge Foundation (and until 2019 a Member of the European Parliament for 20 years). Come and join us in shaping the next phase of CREATe’s research programme! The link below takes you to the full programme but here is some more detail on the two featured events:

Glasgow - Tuesday 8 October 2019
17:15 – 18:45
Location: Hunterian Art Gallery

British Literary & Artistic Copyright Association and CREATe lecture – ‘Whistler, Faed and Painting Copyright in the Nineteenth Century’

Speaker: Dr Elena Cooper (CREATe)

Welcome by Prof. Jane Mair (Head of School of Law, University of Glasgow) and Prof. Alison Firth (BLACA)

Until recently, copyright history has overwhelmingly concerned literary copyright protecting books. Drawing on her recent monograph, Art and Modern Copyright: The Contested Image (CUP, 2018), the first in-depth and longitudinal account of copyright as it applies to the visual arts, Dr Cooper will explore a number of ways in which nineteenth century copyright applying to painting was understood to be different. In doing so, and to celebrate the fact that this is the first BLACA event in Scotland for some years, Dr Cooper will connect UK copyright history to two paintings with links to Scotland: Brown and Gold: Portrait of Lady Eden by James McNeil Whistler (1834-1903) and Home and the Homeless by Thomas Faed (1826-1900).

We are delighted to announce that the first picture – Portrait of Lady Eden by Whistler (the subject of Eden v Whistler, Cour d’appel de Paris, 1897) – will be brought out of store especially for this talk.

Glasgow - Wednesday 9th October 2019
17:00 – 19:00
Location: Humanities Lecture Theatre, Main Building

Public lecture – Catherine Stihler: Reflections on the Making of EU Copyright Law

The first CREATe public lecture of 2019/2020 will be given by Catherine Stihler, CEO of the Open Knowledge Foundation. She was a Member of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2019. As an MEP, her roles included Vice-Chair of the Internal Market Committee, and Rapporteur for Article 13 of the Copyright in the Digital Single Market (DSM) Directive (now Article 17).

Chair: Prof. Martin Kretschmer (CREATe)

Academic responses: Prof. Giorgio Fazio (Newcastle University, Professor of Economics, PEC Management Board Member), Assoc. Prof. Rebecca Giblin (Monash University; head designate, Intellectual Property Research Institute of Australia IPRIA, University of Melbourne)

MORE INFORMATION HERE https://www.create.ac.uk/create-symposium-2019/

Monday, 30 September 2019


1)    Record Labels in the United States claim Copyright Infringement against COX

In another US case on the question of liability of intermediaries such as Internet Service Providers and the ambit and threshold required to prove  Contributory/Secondary infringement, US Magistrate Judge, Judge F. Anderson has taken a stance on evidentiary presentations and has blocked the request of COX to not admit certain evidence presented by the Record Labels due to alleged non-credibility, as reported by Law 360. COX had gone on to argue certain issues with the credibility of the evidence, wherein they said that the record labels had not kept all the data related to the finding of infringement (worked by the Record Labels in collaboration with Anti- Piracy agencies – Mark monitor and Audible Magic) on record.

For a claim of such secondary liability to be conclusively established, firstly a user having performed primary infringement must be shown, after which, the burden shifts upon proving actual knowledge of the infringement with the intermediary, and a positive role in promoting the same. A safe harbor protection is available to the intermediaries, which do not conclusively pursue an actual knowledge of infringement. The main argument brought in by the record labels herein is that the ISP COX deliberately had shoddy systems for dealing with infringement and infringers on their networks and produced certain evidence on it, using the worked data, but not all of it. The Judge went on to hold that, whatever is the issue with the evidence, it needs to be brought before the jury, and cannot be blocked, due to such reasons. The court concluded (as reported by Complete Music Update) that the labels weren’t under any obligation to keep all the data which they and their partners had gathered, on record.

2)    Robert “Bobby” Prince sues Gearbox, its President as well as Valve for unauthorized exploitation of copyrighted music.

The original music for the video game Duke Nudem 3d was created and composed by music composer Robert Prince, but has seemingly been used without unauthorisation (without a license or a compensation) by Gearbox Software LLC., in its new game - Duke Nukem 3d World Tour. Further, these allegedly infringing copies were conveniently distributed by another defendant, “Valve Corporation”, which even ignored a takedown notice, hence denying a claim to safe harbor. Another interesting fact to note is that the allegedly infringing game includes text specifically giving accreditation to Mr. Prince for his music, but has not compensated or even contacted Prince to get a license in the use. In light of the same, Robert Prince has filed an infringement suit in the United States District Court Eastern District of Tennessee, Northern Division. The Petition can be found here.  The game is supposed to be released on October 11th and It will be interesting to see, how this one plays out.

3)    CJEU clears the air over conflict between Design and Copyright Protection and the ambit of Copyright.

The CJEU, in the case of Cofomel (C-683/17) decided on the issue as to whether Copyright would subsist in the designs of G-Star Raw’s Jeans and T-Shirts. The question peculiarly concerned itself with whether member states had the freedom to choose the threshold which works of applied art, industrial designs and works of design are required to meet for Copyright Protection. The Court held that, even in the cases of functional products, the ambit required for it being a work is the same and that is “the author’s own intellectual creation”, that is one reflecting free and collective choices, which could give the non-functional aspect of the work, Copyright Protection. Most importantly, as reported by IAM Media, the judgement makes it clear that an analysis of artistic merit or aesthetic impression need not be done, as it is extremely subjective and non-precise, to conclude whether a work is copyrightable or not.

This makes it clear that the aesthetic aspects of useful articles can also be protected as Copyrightable, insofar as they fulfill the originality standard of “Author’s own intellectual creation”. Read more on this on the IPKAT.

4)    STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN back in court!!

The US Deptartment of Justice had recently released their Amicus Brief in favour of Led Zeppelin in the now infamous copyright suit, covered herein by the blog. In a latest update to this case, as reported by The Rolling Stone, the case started with a filing by Michael Skidmore, a trustee representing the estate of Randy Wolfe, and this accused Led Zeppelin of stealing the opening guitar riff from Spirits' 1968 instrumental track Taurus. The case is now back in court before an 11 judge bench in the 9th Circuit US Court of Appeals. A request to make available the sound recording was made and a claim was brought in by the plaintiff attorney saying that if these were made available, Led Zeppelin would lose out on the case. However the court observed that if the law limited the claim to the 4 corners of the deposited sheet music, and the currentthinking is that the justices feel that on that basis there was no chance the plaintiff could establish an infringement. Led Zepplin's attorney Peter Anderson argued that “There is no similarity between these two songs, but they both combine a scale, little pairs of notes that are in different melody and an eighth note rhythm.” It will be interesting to see how the court proceeds this time, in light of the Justice Deptartmen's Amicus brief.

5)    GOOGLE undercuts new EU Copyright Law

Google has decided to not pay European Media Outlets to display and use their content on its search engine and Google News platform. It has decided that it will only portray content from those media groups that have allowed free usage of the content. The EU Copyright legislation was brought in to ensure that media companies could get adequate compensation for the display of their items on platforms of these tech giants, however google has played a trump card, mostly propagating free content higher access philosophy. Google’s vice president has announced that it is upon the Europe based news published to decide if it would allow Google to show “snippets” of content or thumbnail images, however there will be no compensation paid for the same. If they don’t allow, only a headline and a bare link to the content will appear in the results. This is a major blow to media organisations which hugely depend on Google for facilitating access and to reach out to more of online audiences. This move by Google has been criticised by the EU Copyright rapporteur, referncing the move as a 'digital dictatorial' practice, with an intention to create a monopoly. This move makes the situation even worse for the publishers. This move has taken place post French legislating this EU directive in its Domestic Law. In Germany, recently after the EU Directive was complied with, some publishers decided to allow Google to publish their content free of cost, due to a drop in traffic (as hreported by Politico). In light of this, it will be very interesting to see the implications of the same and how this practice affects the news industry in the future across Europe.

This update by Akshat Agrawal

Saturday, 14 September 2019


The makers of a 'Grease' spoof have gone to the courts in the US seeking confirmation that their show is covered by the doctrine of "fair use" in retaliation to a 'cease and desist' letter from the publishers of the original musical. Grease, made world famous by the 1978 romantic comedy movie starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John is based on the 1971 musical of the same name by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey. Theatre publisher Samuel French, now owned by Concord, represents the rights in the original musical.  According to Sketchworks which created the spoof 'Vape: The Musical'  the new production "uses millennial slang, popular culture, a modern lens, and exaggeration to comment upon the plot, structure, issues and themes of 'Grease' and to criticise its misogynistic and sexist elements". But Sketchworks say their argument that the play was a parody of Grease failed with Concord's lawyers and indeed the theatre that was due to host the spoof was putt off by the cease and desist letter. Sketchworks now wants "a declaratory judgment of fair use so that it may perform and otherwise exploit 'Vape' without further delay".
Buste de femme (Dora Maar) by Pablo Picasso

And the San Fransisco Chronicle reports that the San Francisco art editor who reprinted and sold copyrighted photos of paintings by Pablo Picasso as part of a reference book did have the right to do so under U.S. law - and that means he does not have to pay damages of $2.68 million ordered by a French court. In 2012 the court in Paris ruled that Alan Wofsy, had violated a previous order against making any commercial use of the photos, and ordered him to pay damages to the copyright-holder. Nearly 16,000 photos of Picasso’s works, taken from 1932 to 1970, were published in a 22-volume catalog after the artist’s death in 1973. In 1996, Yves de Fontbrune, a Frenchman who had purchased the publisher’s stock and obtained the copyright, sued Wofsy in France for reproducing some of the photos in “The Picasso Project,” a publication he offered for sale at a Paris book fair. Now U.S. District Judge Edward Davila sitting in San Jose has ruled the order is not enforceable in a U.S. court because federal law allows publishers to use copyrighted works for different purposes under the doctrine known as “fair use.” Wofsy’s book used less than 10% of the pictures in a photographic material available in a catalogue of Picasso’s paintings, which was intended for a different market and the court found that Wofsy's work did not compete with the catalogue, saying said fair use applies as the new book as the doctrine promotes “criticism, teaching, scholarship and research” by allowing copyrighted works to reach wider audiences with Wofsy's legal team saying said the judge recognised that “what he was doing, generating a reference work for libraries, academic institutions, auction houses and art collectors, is different from trying to compete” with the catalog of copyrighted photos.

Fitness firm Peloton that was recently called out for using unlicensed music and sound recordings in its popular (and profitable) exercise videos has admitted that "the challenges and complexities of music licensing are a key risk to its business". Peleton is facing a lawsuit  from a number of music publishers which alleges that Peleton's fitness videos contain unlicensed songs. Peloton countersued in April, mainly citing competition law arguments. The company is now heading for IPO and the pre-IPO filing states: "Given the high level of content concentration in the music industry, the market power of a few licensors, and the lack of transparent ownership information for compositions, we may be unable to license a large amount of music or the music of certain popular artists, and our business, financial condition, and operating results could be materially harmed" adding that despite "expending significant resources" on music licensing, the complexities of music rights ownership and song licensing meant that it could never be absolutely certain it wasn't "infringing or violating any third-party intellectual property rights" with the music already featuring in videos on its platform. At the time of the March lawsuit against Peleton  David Israelite, president and CEO of the National Music Publishers’ Association said “It is frankly unimaginable that a company of this size and sophistication would think it could exploit music in this way without the proper licenses for this long, and we look forward to getting music creators what they deserve.” The claim now stands at $300 million. Image (c) 2018 Ben Challis. 

Pitchfork reports that an  appellate court has ruled that iconic film composer Ennio Morricone can reclaim the rights to his film scores. Morricone sued Bixio Music Group in 2016 in an attempt to regain the copyrights to six of his film scores from the late ’70s and early ’80s arguing that his contract with Bixio expired in 2012 using the provisions of the US copyright law that  lets authors terminate a trasfer of rights  35 years after a work’s initial publication. The composer reportedly served Bixio a termination notice in 2012, but the company didn’t give their claim. In fact the composer lost at first instance in October 2017 when a New York federal court  determined that Morricone’s works should be considered “works for hire” and  that would block the composer’s termination rights. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit reversed that decision, saying the scores shouldn’t be considered “works for hire” in either U.S. or Italian law.

And finally, the three major recorded music labels, Universal, Sony, and Warner have issued legal proceedings against a US  internet service provider to be found liable for facilitating its customers’ copyright infringement. In their complaint, the major labels allege RCN Telecom has been aware for years of rampant copyright infringement by its subscribers, thousands of whom they assert include repeat offenders (UMG Recordings, Inc., et al. v. RCN Telecom Servs., LLC et al., 19-cv-17272 (D.N.J.))JDSupra reports that the federal suit contends RCN has received more than 5 million infringement notices, but turned a blind eye to music piracy by continuing to provide high speed internet to these users. The major labels claim RCN’s inaction facilitated copyright infringement and caused RCN to become a “haven for infringement.” 

Thursday, 29 August 2019


1)    YouTube in the NEWS

In the last fortnight, there have been a couple of extremely interesting developments in the copyright regime operated by the online video platform YouTube.

Firstly, YouTube has taken a step to forbid manual claims by copyright holders and specifically record companies, which is done to claim revenue upon videos including extremely short music clips or “unintentional music.” Inculcating the importance of quantitative content in a video, YouTube in a blog post has revealed this change. The reason provided for the same move reads: “These claims can feel particularly unfair, as they transfer all revenue from the creator to the claimant, regardless of the amount of music claimed.” However, although manual claiming of money has been restricted, the ability to block or disable putting ads on videos using the manual claims tool will still exist. YouTube has gone on to acknowledge that in the short run, this might result in a lot more videos being blocked, however it is pragmatically focussing on the long term impacts. Even “Timestamps” to recognise exactly which part of the video is infringing have been brought in place for all manual claims, for invoking copyright claims in a balanced and fair manner. As reported by Variety, if YouTube creators feel that their use of unlicensed content falls within the fair use bracket, they can always dispute the same in the service’s appeals process.

Now, Secondly, YouTube has resorted to the DMCA to take action and file a suit against a major alleged copyright troll whi they have identified as one Chris Brady, and who YoTube says has been making extraneous and illegitimate copyright claims. The basis of the complaint is that Brady has taken aim at the Minecraft gaming community, alleging several infringing claims against two users - not only to extort money - but to allegedly slander as well as part of the 'trolling'. It has apparently been also reported that these copyright takedown notices were allegedly abusive and involved an element of blackmail wherein the message read that the YouTuber ought to pay Brady 150 $ via PayPal, or another copyright strike would take place. This information was conveyed to YouTube after multiple efforts, finally through another video, upon which YouTube has restored the videos and filed a suit against Bardy. A false accusation suit has been filed. Upon being enquired, as reported by The VergeYouTube has released a statement that: “We regularly terminate accounts of those that misuse our copyright system. In this case of particularly egregious abuse, where the copyright removal process was used for extortion, we felt compelled to pursue further legal action and make it clear that we do not tolerate abuse of our platform or its users.” An issue highlighted in this system of YouTube is the focus of scrutiny on the accused rather than the accuser. The assumption is an extremely good faith oriented one that focusses on every takedown request being legitimate. It is imperatively needed that a balanced approach is followed for proper implementation of the Copyright system on such vulnerable intermediary platforms.

2)    Meanwhile, Spotify catches the attention of the Copyright world, yet again

There have been two recent occasions when Spotify has hit the (legal) news - and the music streaming platform been on both sides of a lawsuit concerning copyright.

Firstly, on the plaintiff side Spotify filed their appeal, joining Amazon, Google and Pandora, on the Copyright Board’s decision regarding the rates to be paid to sing writers and music publishers under the mechanical rights regime, by digital platforms. The challenge is at its core upon the decision which increases the per song royalty rate from 10.5% to 15.1%. This increase has been brought in the first place to harmonize, to some extent, the American policy, to the prevailing international normative practice followed by various copyright societies. This move has been subject to fair amount of criticism due to the songwriters claiming inadequate payments for exploitation of their creative endeavor. In an attempt to negate the criticism, Spotify and other digital streaming companies have resorted to being okay with the rate change, however, have claimed procedural misconduct on the part of CRB. The core of the claim is on the ground of lack of stakeholder consultation and cross-evidence provision, and not the rate in principle. Further, the publishers have argued that merely offering family plan discounts or student ones do not support the proposition of low willingness to pay for streaming music. It will be interesting to see how the appeal court approaches this. Read more here.

Now, Secondly, and on the receiving end of a law suit, Spotify, as reported by Variety, has been sued by Eight Mile Style, the publishing company that hollds the rights to Eminem’s earlier works, for copyright infringement. The major claim revolves around the unlicensed exploitation and streaming of 250 of Eminem’s songs. It has alleged Spotify to have paid a mere fraction of the payments properly  due and have remitted such without any license in place. Further Spotify has also been alleged to have mischievously concealed the accreditation of certain well-known songs like “Lose Yourself” claiming inability to trace Copyright holder. Further, an obligation to live up to the responsibilities provided under the Music Modernization Act was emphasized upon, which was not fulfilled by Spotify in the present case. To claim a liability limitation under the Music Modernization act, it is imperative for Spotify to have not known the copyright owner of the composition or the work was unmatched with previous sound recordings, after proper due diligence. This also has been alleged to not have been complied with, in the suit.

3)    US Dept. of Justice release Amicus Brief in favor of Led Zeppelin in infamous Copyright Suit

Analyzing the 'thin' copyright provision in the US, the US Deptartment of Justice, giving reasons akin to that of the trial judge, sided with Led Zeppelin in the Stairway to Heaven case. previously covered here and here against Randy California, the now deceased songwriter with the band Spirit. Under old US law (the 1909 Copyright Act), sound recordings weren't conferred protection. Songs were, and pre-1978 unpublished works would be as represented by sheet music.  The song at the centre of the copy claim, Taurus, was written by California in 1968. And so surely all that could be used at the trial to determine infringement (or not) was the sheet music? The trial judge concurred.  On appeal, the 9th Circuit then decided that the sound recording should have been played plus held that the jury was improperly advised about unprotectable music elements and standards of originality. But the new opinion relies on the fact that prior to 1972, it was only sheet music that was covered under copyright and audio recording need not be heard by the jury to find out whether there was an infringement or not. The “thin” copyright protection has been emphasized upon. The DoJ's  amicus brief goes on to claim that the Ninth Circuit was wrong to overturn the finding of the lower court which stated the compared compositions to not be sufficiently similar for copyright infringement. The U.S. government explains that "even if deposit copies do not capture all details of a composition, they generally include the elements of a song, such as the melody and lyrics, that are of most importance to the copyright owner. Failure to incorporate elements such as these in the deposit copy would reflect a failing on the part of the copyright owner or its agent, not an insurmountable obstacle imposed by the statutory scheme." The Amicus Brief argues that the only similarity between the allegedly infringing work and the original is the selection and arrangement of two basic musical elements: an A minor chord and a descending chromatic scale. These have argued to not substantially be the base of the challenge as a small standard selection and arrangement gets a fairly thin copyright protection due to the “creative” standard of Originality being prevalent in the United States. Virtual Identicality needs to be proved, which has not been done in the present case according to the brief. This interpretation as a friend of the court has consciously been taken up the DoJ in order to foster intentional and sound interpretation of copyright laws. It will be interesting to see the force of this brief when ultimately deciding the case, for the second time. The amicus brief can be found here.

4)    Victory for Universal Studios in “Nightcrawler” Copyright Case

As reported by the Hollywood Reporter, a Utah Federal judge delivered a summary opinion in the 4 yearlong copyright case  dealing with the film Nightcrawler, wherein the accused Oscar winning writer director Dan Gilroy, was alleged to have plagiarised a work by Richard Dutcher called Falling. The judge devised an important precedent recognising certain scenes a faire elements in films and eradicating the same from the scope of the analysis of any copyright infringement. In the opinion, the District Judge held that to establish a copyright claim there are two separate enquiries to be undergoneL The first is whether the defendant factually copied portions of plaintiff’s work, and second being those expressions that have been copied are protectable expressions and important to the copied work, citing Gates Rubber Co. v. Bando Chem. Indus Ltd. It is imperative for protected elements to be copied. The abstraction test requires separation of non-protectable ideas and then warrants a mere comparison of the protectable elements.  Here the court looked at what elements were “standard, stock, or common” to the stringer (newsman) profession and material that necessarily followed from that theme and setting (citing Autoskill 994 F.2d 1494). The court held that Falling is not the first film to portray stringers in action and on a review of previous stringer films, it was found that there were no independent claims in Falling that did not exist state of the art. The court held the similarities between Falling and Nightcrawler were (primarily) due to both focussing on the role of the Stringer. Apart from these generic similarities, the court held the plots to be quite different. The court also held the cliché journalistic phrases found in Falling as non-protectable and were scenes a faire expressions. After deducing these elements, the court used the ordinary observer test to eradicate infringement claims, holding the aesthetic appeal to be different.

This CopyKat from Akshat Agrawal

ReDigi: Distribution of Digital Content via the Internet; Exhaustion of the Right of Distribution; Is a Statutory Licence the Answer?


The appeal decision in Capitol Records v ReDigi issued December 2018 did not attract anywhere near the same attention as the 2015 trial decision.  Presumably this was because audio streaming has largely replaced audio downloads and consumer demand for a web marketplace facilitating second-hand sale of such downloads has dissipated.  Or possibly, at least so far as lawyers are concerned, because the Court of Appeals confined its decision (although not its reasoning) to infringement by reproduction.  The District Court finding that the first sale doctrine was not drafted so as to apply to distribution over the internet. 

Nevertheless, the appeal decision was another reminder that there are still unresolved copyright issues arising from the ‘distribution’ of intangibles such as the delivery of digital files over the internet, especially at the consumer end of the delivery chain.  Despite the WIPO ‘Internet treaties’ concluded 23 years ago copyright law is still more tuned to distribution of tangible objects that may constitute or contain copyright works. 

For example, the making of new copies is an inevitable part of online distribution of digital content.  And not just for uploads and downloads, but also for streaming, despite the transient nature of the part copies created within that technology (to be discussed in an upcoming blog).  Second, Redigi serves as a reminder that there are fundamental copyright exhaustion issues which have to be addressed and resolved for the digital world.  Should section 109 of the US Act be amended to ensure first sale of a digital file over the internet exhausts the distribution right?  Similarly in the EU, although their issue must be expressed as: should first sale of intangible content exhaust the copyright holder’s communication right?

As argued at the WCT negotiations in the 1990s the US, unlike the EU, considered the distribution right included communication and that they had no need to create a new communication right as had been proposed by WIPO.  But clearly both the US and the EU either overlooked first sale exhaustion for internet communicated works or decided they did not want it. 

And should jurisdictions that do not have legislation to exhaust either distribution or communication rights – like New Zealand and Australia – start reform programmes to achieve this?  Should exhaustion be an international outcome for a given set of circumstances?  If so should there be any exceptions? 

Exhaustion is primarily a commercial issue rather than a legal issue.  The ReDigi trial court noted a report from the US Copyright Office that pointed out that second-hand digitised content files remained in perfect condition, unlike, say, second-hand paper books.  Allowing the sale of perfect digital replicas by download at a price cheaper than the price required on first sale by the copyright holder under a first sale doctrine could be seen as a disincentive to publish.  Maybe this was the rationale for the exhaustion provision in Article 6(1) of the EU InfoSoc Directive being restricted by the associated Agreed Statement: ‘As used in these Articles, the expressions “copies” and “original and copies,” being subject to the right of distribution and the right of rental under the said Articles, refer exclusively to fixed copies that can be put into circulation as tangible objects.’ 

On the other hand Jessica Stevens at the Queensland University of Technology argues for exhaustion of the distribution right even in such a circumstance because she sees the issue as a cultural or moral one.  For example, with university text books becoming digitised the long established student practice of selling a text book second hand when a course has been completed has become unlawful.

The CJEU will soon be deciding on the references to it from The Court of the Hague in the Tom Kabinet case and giving its further views on exhaustion of the ‘distribution right’ for second hand sale of eBooks.  Tom Kabinet is a Dutch company which is virtually a mirror image of ReDigi except it trades in eBooks rather than iTunes.  It relies on the 2012 CJEU decision in UsedSoft to provide for exhaustion despite the works it is dealing with not being software and which could be expected to fall under the InfoSoc Directive (which excludes exhaustion of the communication to the public right) rather than the Computer Program Directive which contrary to the WCT does not provide a communication right for software.  The issue is unlikely to be comprehensively resolved and advocates for exhaustion will no doubt continue to argue for legislative change to bring the distribution/communication of intangibles into line with that which applies to tangibles.


Contrary to the CJEU this blogger is adamant that the correct legal classification of a commercial transaction resulting in the delivery of an intangible such as software or digital content over the internet is a licence and not a sale.  It is surprising that this issue was not dealt with in ReDigi, bearing in mind the structure of Apple’s iTunes agreement. Putting that aside, it is suggested that exhaustion advocates should adopt and extend the traditional English common law substitute for exhaustion of IP rights, namely the concept of an implied licence to ‘resell’.  As Sir Robin Jacob stated at the 27th Fordham IP Conference, doctrines of exhaustion of IP rights were unknown in English law and instead it was always considered that an implied licence to resell ran with the patented or copyright ‘goods’. 

It is not just that the written contracts for internet deliveries are ‘dressed up’ as licences (as the CJEU thought in UsedSoft v Oracle) and contain the terms that are only befitting of a licence, but also that the technological process for a download necessitates a licence.  Unlike the situation for the supply of tangibles where the copyright holder makes each and every copy which is subsequently delivered to each acquirer, with internet deliveries it is the acquirer, not the supplier, who makes the copy he/she will retain for their private use.  The internet delivery is facilitated by: (i) the supplier making a temporary copy on its server, (ii) dividing it up into packets, (iii) transmitting the packets over the internet to the acquirer’s computer device where (iv) the received packets are assembled into a digital file (which is a copy of the one held on the suppliers server) which is (v) loaded onto the hard disk of the computer device.

The acquirer could not lawfully make this new copy without a licence from the supplier/copyright holder.  The acquirer holds his copy under licence.  It has not become his property by any transfer of title under a sale agreement so as to allow him to do whatever he likes with it, including selling it second hand.     

Having now entered the licensing domain this blogger suggests that content exhaustion advocates pursue a statutory licence to allow ‘second hand sales’ of internet delivered content.     

How about statutory provisions vaguely along these lines:
  1. A licensed private user of a copy of content in the form of a digital file has the right to assign his/her licence from the copyright holder to another private user so as to allow that user to make a single copy of that digital file, provided:
  2. The first licensee then immediately deletes his/her copy of the file.
  3. Any term in the copyright holder’s licence which purports to exclude or limit the operation of sub-section (1) will have no effect.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Copyright make-up tips - How to make a lasting impression

The 1709 Blog is happy to host this guest contribution by former 1709 Blog team member Hugo Cox (Hamlins LLP) on a recent decision of the High Court of England and Wales concerning copyright and make-up.

Here's what Hugo writes:

Copyright make-up tips - How to make a lasting impression
by Hugo Cox

One of the basic requirements for copyright protection in the UK is ‘fixation’ – the work has to have material form.

But what happens if the work loses its material form? Does the copyright protection disappear too? This question is of some significance to those who create things that do not last, whether they are disposed of, eaten or otherwise annihilated…

The question has now been decided in Islestarr Holdings Ltd v Aldi Stores Ltd, a judgment delivered on 17 June concerning the make-up powder palettes below:

Islestarr had been selling its Filmstar Palette since 2013, retailing for about £49 and clocking sales to date of £12.9m. When Aldi began selling its palette for £6.99 (reduced to £4.99), Islestarr sued for copyright infringement, pointing to Aldi’s slogan ‘Like brands, only cheaper’.

Aldi resisted the claim arguing, among other things, copyright could not subsist ‘in such a transitory medium as the top surface of a powder as the purported copyright work is not thereby fixed.’

The judge took a different view:
I am in no doubt that the design embossed into the powders can be subject to copyright protection in principle. Otherwise, artistic works by, for example, persons who make sculptures out of sand at low water on a tidal beach, which are then washed away, could have no claim to copyright in, say, a pre-construction sketch or photograph of the completed work. Likewise, I can see no reason why the creator of a bespoke wedding cake could not claim copyright in his or her work. The fact that the design in the powders disappears by being rubbed away by the user, does not, in my judgment, affect or remove the copyright protection to which such an artistic work is entitled, as that is as set out as a visual record in Annex 4. In other words, the powders are a three-dimensional reproduction of the two-dimensional object, namely the drawing.
Certainly, this conclusion is aligned with the CJEU’s recent ruling in Levola Hengelo on whether the taste of cheese can be protected by copyright. The CJEU reasoned:
Accordingly, for there to be a “work” as referred to in Directive 2001/29, the subject matter protected by copyright must be expressed in a manner which makes it identifiable with sufficient precision and objectivity, even though that expression is not necessarily in permanent form.
The judge in our case then determined:

  • Though copyright does not protect individual words (such as the words SCULPT and HIGHLIGHT embossed on the powder), copyright did subsist in the presence of the words as part of the overall artistic work.
  • Though Art Deco has inspired the Islestarr designs and Fabergé and others had manufactured objects decorated with sun rays and diamonds, Islestarr had made their own intellectual choices in creating their designs.
  • Aldi had admitted being aware of Islestarr’s packaging, there were substantial similarities between the designs and Aldi failed to persuade the judge those similarities did not result from copying.

He therefore decided to award summary judgment against Aldi.

Transient creations are not, it seems, at least in the eyes of UK copyright law, so transient after all.