Tuesday 1 October 2013

The CopyKat - Disney gets the blues over theatrical compilation

A legal battle over the profits from the only two known photographs of legendary Delta bluesman Robert Johnson - who is said to have sold his soul to the devil for his gifts with a guitar - now rests with the Mississippi Supreme Court. Johnson, described by Eric Clapton as  'the most important blues singer that ever lived', was destitute when he died in Mississippi in 1938 at the age of just 27. His estate is valuable, partly because of a collection of his recordings won a Grammy in 1990 (Robert Johnson: The Complete Recordings, the two-CD boxed set issued by Columbia Records - pictured) and family members and other associates have been locked in a legal dispute for 25 years over who owns the only two photos of the blues legend. One photo is a studio portrait taken of the Mississippi bluesman by Hooks Brothers Studios in Memphis (pictured); the other is a 'photo booth self-portrait,' which was taken by Johnson himself. The law suit pits descendants of Johnson's late half-sister, Carrie Harris Thompson, who claimed the photos were her personal property, against Sony Music Entertainment Inc., Johnson's sole heir- his son Claud Johnson, and Stephen C. LaVere, a promoter whose Delta Haze Corp who had a 1974 contract with Thompson. A third photo of Johnson with fellow musician Johnny Shines was discovered and authenticated at the beginning of this year, and ownership is credited to Robert Johnson Estate/Getty Images.

A pest control firm director in Singapore succeeded in having his conviction for copyright offences overturned - some 18 months after his death from a heart attack.Justice Choo Han Teck overturned the convictions of Mr Michael Chew Choon Leng, his firm Alterm Consortech and an employee of distributing specifications and drawings of a system to prevent termite intrusion into buildings, without the consent of the copyright owner -  giving all three "benefit of the doubt" and that the charges had not been properly proved . He ordered fines of $21,000, $32,000 and $8,000 be returned.The defendant's widow had persisted with the appeal, saying it was of utmost importance to have his name "cleared" of the "shadow of criminal convictions".

The Hollywood Reporter reports that Disney is taking legal action against a Pennsylvania theatre group, alleging that they are showcasing some its most iconic characters and songs in a new musical titled 'Broadway: Now & Forever.' The show makes reference to such Broadway productions as The Producers, Billy Elliot, Wicked, Jersey Boys and Disney's Mary Poppins and The Lion King. The studio has filed a lawsuit against Entertainment Theatre Group, currently working under the name of American Music Theatre. The show is advertised as providing theatre-goers with a "larger-than-life theatrical compilation of unforgettable music from the hottest new blockbusters to all-time favourite classics... Broadway: Now & Forever recreates the greatest moments ever on stage."

Now Brown, you will NOT download
The California School Library Association is in the firing line after plans were launched to teach children about copyright at second grade in the USA - using plans and lessons developed by the content industries and internet service providers. Second grade is the second school year after kindergarten. Students are traditionally 7–8 years old.  Writing in the Guardian Dan Gilmour says "Hollywood and the recording industry (aka the Copyright Cartel) are leading the charge to create grade school lessons that – at least, in their draft form, as published by Wired – have a no-compromise message: if someone else created it, you need permission to use it". But the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Mitch Stoltz told Wired "[The material] suggests, falsely, that ideas are property and that building on others' ideas always requires permission. The overriding message of this curriculum is that students' time should be consumed not in creating but in worrying about their impact on corporate profits". Helpfully and with excellent timing, Creative Commons have published their own list of copyright law resources which are described as "Open curriculum alternatives to MPAA’s new anti-piracy campaign for kids".

One year after a "stricter law" against illegal music and video downloads came into effect in Japan (October 1st 2012) it seems that there has been no significant recovery in music sales - in fact a  decrease in music sales was recorded in the last eight months, as well as an earlier sharp decrease in digital music distribution. According to the Association of Copyright for Computer Software, whilst music sales during October 2012 - June 2013 increased 5%, sales during the January - August 2013 period decreased by 7% year on year. In addition, legal digital music distribution during October 2012-June 2013 dropped by 24%. The new law included provisions outlawing the "ripping" of content for personal use which involves the bypassing of digital copy protection and penalties were added to the already illegal act of knowingly downloading copyrighted material without permission. Those charged with illegal downloading now face up to two years of prison or fines of up to 2 million yen (approx US$25,400). 

Yahoo Inc.'s Southeast Asian unit has agreed to pay unspecified damages and legal costs to settle a lawsuit filed by Singapore Press Holdings Ltd over copyright infringement. The move marks a reversal of Yahoo's position on the case - the U.S. Internet firm had initially denied wrongdoing when Singapore's largest newspaper company sued in November 2011 on claims that Yahoo had reproduced SPH news content without permission. In a statement published Monday on its website, Yahoo Southeast Asia Pte. Ltd. acknowledged that its Singapore news website had "reproduced content from SPH newspapers without approval," and has undertaken not to "knowingly or intentionally infringe SPH copyrights." The Internet firm didn't disclose the financial terms of the settlement.

Floyd Mayweather Jr
Boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. has won  another challenge - this time with the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals who have dismissed a lawsuit which claimed the boxer used a song as by musician and songwriter  Anthony Lawrence Dash as entrance music in 2008 - without the writer's permission. Dash sued Mayweather, World Wrestling Entertainment and Philthy Rich Records for $150,000 in 2010, claiming the undefeated welterweight used his "Tony Gunz Beat" as entrance music during an appearance at Wrestlemania XXIV in March 2008. Dash was looking for damages of $150,000 - but at first instance U.S. District Judge Joseph Anderson Jr. ruled that because Dash had not registered his copyright prior to the alleged infringement, statutory damages were not available to him. He the went on to dismiss what can only be described as Dash's hugely speculative calculations about how much ‘profit’ WWE and Merryweather may have made from the use of the recording – these totalled $541,000 from WWE alone, putting the damages sought at over $1 million. perhaps unsurprisingly Judge Anderson rejected Dash's claims, concluding there was "no conceivable connection" between the alleged infringement and the claimed revenues, and that the defendants had successfully offered evidence - namely the lack of any reported income on Dash's tax returns from his musical composition - that the song did not have any market value – nor did it appear did many of Dash’s compositions. On appeal U.S. District Judge Mark Davis for the three-judge panel took a similarly dim view of Dash's request for "profit damages," saying the songwriter rested his case on revenues derived from products that peripherally include infringing content.

China received nearly 140,000 new software copyright registrations in 2012, a year-on-year increase of 27.33%, according to the latest figures. The figures were revealed on Monday in a report on China's software copyright registrations last year, which was drafted by the Copyright Protection Center of China.

A new report from the European Union's Patent Office and Office For Harmonization In The Internal Market looking at the economics of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) intensive industries and their contribution to economic performance and employment in the EU says that over a third of jobs in the EU come from sectors that rely on IPR.  The report surveys the importance of patents, trademarks, designs and copyright to the European economy, focusing in on what it calls 'IPR-intensive industries' which have a higher than average use of IP rights. Aside for the more obvious copyright industries like the film and music sectors, the document includes the engineering, financial and insurance, retail, motor vehicle, pharmaceutical and IT sectors in this group. As I started writing this guest blogger Laetitia Lagarde over on the purrrrrrfect IPKat published her own analysis of the Report - so go snuggle up with those Kats if you want more detail - but the headlines are these:

- About 50% of EU industries are IPR intensive
- IPR-intensive industries account directly for 26% of all jobs in the EU – around 56 million direct jobs. With the addition of 20 million indirect jobs, 1 in 3 of all EU jobs rely on IPR intensive industries.
- These industries generated almost 39% of total economic activity (GDP) in the EU, worth €4.7 trillion
- IPR-intensive industries pay higher remuneration than non-IPR intensive industries, with a wage premium of more than 40%. The average weekly remuneration in IPR-intensive industries is €715, compared with €507 in non-IPR intensive industries
- IPR-intensive industries account for 90% of the EU’s trade with the rest of the world

And finally - the two music collection societies in New Zealand - APRA on the publishing side and PPNZ on the sound recordings side – have announced the creation of OneMusic, a new joint venture that will offer a wide-ranging combined public performance licence for businesses and organisations that play recorded music in public spaces, administered by APRA. PPNZ boss Damian Vaughan says the new venture, which will certainly be watched with interest by rights bodies around the world, came in response to public demand and that customers were telling the collection bodies that the international norm - the two-licence model - "was frustrating and confusing”. The initiative has been welcomed by various trade bodies representing music users and licensees, with the CEO of New Zealand's Restaurant Association, Marisa Bidois, saying: "We support anything that means compliance issues don't get in the way of business. This new process means our members can get a music licence quickly and easily and we're very happy APRA and PPNZ have heard us on this issue" and CEO of the New Zealand Retailers Association, John Albertson, says OneMusic will mean fewer businesses accidentally operating outside of the law. 

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