Thursday 28 January 2016

The CopyKat - putting you in the picture?

Debate on Hong Kong's contentious copyright amendment bill was cut short in the Legislative Council not because of protests or opposition  – but because not enough members showed up. The premature adjournment came a day after the commerce minister said he was optimistic that there would be enough time for discussion, despite the nearing Lunar New Year holiday and sessions for scrutinising the chief executive’s policy address and the financial secretary’s budget speech. All but one Pan-democrats were absent when the last quorum bell rang on Friday. House committee chairman Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen, who chaired the meeting in the absence of the ill president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing, said he regretted the adjournment. More on the SCMP here.

The BBC tell us that a breach of copyright claim against the Welsh government over photographs used of Dylan Thomas in a tourism drive has been thrown out by a court in Ireland. Visit Wales used photos taken in the 1930s to help promote the 100th anniversary of the poet's birth. But the judge said that if the case was to proceed, Pablo Star Ltd, which owns the copyright. would have to bring the action in a court in Wales or England. Interstingly The Welsh government claimed it has sovereign immunity. But there was worse yet to come for a Mr Haydn Price, who owns Pablo Star Limited. The BBC again tell us that Mr Price has just lost a libel action against 93 year old Gwen Watkins, whose husband Vernon took the Dylan Thomas photos. It seems Mr Price persuaded Mrs Watkins to sell him the copyright in several of the photos for the princely sum of £1,000. The Judge in the libel case, Judge Raymond Groarke, the told Dublin's Circuit Court that he was dismissing the claim as there was no evidence that a latter from Mrs Watkins to Mr Price saying he was a 'bad man' had ever been published: The BBC report that Judge Groarke added "I am not going to go so far as to say Mr Price took advantage of Mrs Watkins but he certainly should have been a lot more careful with the way he dealt with an elderly person."  Mr Price reportedly has a “zero tolerance” approach to copyright infringement and has had some success in other actions. In the current case against the Welsh Government, it was reported that Mr Price was claiming €3,000 for every use of the photos.

Mark Towle,who made replica Batmobiles until being enjoined, has petitioned the US Supreme Court to review his dispute with  DC Comics. He argues that the Batmobile doesn't deserve copyright protection as its a 'useful article'. In february 2013 the District Court held that the “The ‘functional elements’ – e.g., the fictional torpedo launchers, the Bat-scope, and anti-fire systems – are only ‘functional’ to the extent that they helped Batman fight crime in the fictional Batman television series and movies. Thus, the Batmobile’s usefulness is a construct.”  Last September, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed. Towle had argued that the replicas were fully functioning automobile. In her opinion, 9th Circuit judge Sandra Ikuta disagreed saying the car also has "character" with "physical as well as conceptual qualities," and "sufficiently delineated" to be recognizable whenever and wherever it appears. More on the Hollywood Reporter here. The CopyKat doubts the SCOTUS will take on the case. A final knockout blow for Towle. 

Sheep on Top - and yes, (C) 2015 Ben Challis
As photography is my new hobby (and yes, I am  published!), but still reeling from that French Jimi Hendrix decision, the CopyKat was a little horrified to read that  photojournalists in Serbia have had to appeal to lawmakers to reject a proposal by the ruling party to define their work as the result of a “routine mechanical act” and therefore not worthy of copyright protection. Not worthy!!!!! Photojournalists in Serbia (and quite honestly elsewhere) frequently complain that newspapers and Internet portals publish their pictures without payment, and are happy to "risk being sued in Serbia’s overloaded, inefficient and sometimes corrupt courts." The Serbian Progressive Party’s latest proposals to parliament "would legalise such theft", photojournalists warned.

And finally, we've just been alerted to a new online music platform, Wefre, which TorrentFeak  says is clearly 'inspired' by Spotify, but which claims to use officially available APIs from licensed sources to provide 'free unlimited music' to fans. TorrentFreak says experts believe that borrows its music from YouTube's API feed and its song/album database from Spotify. A Kickstarter fundraiser is underway to help build iOS and Android apps - but we expect rapid attention from the major and leading independent record labels in the very near future. TorrentFreak says: Not only does this beautiful YouTube / Spotify mashup out-perform the recently defunct Aurous in every way, Wefre uses officially available APIs from already licensed sources. Legal? We might not have to wait long to find out.  UPDATE (30.01.16) : A two week old music streaming site, Wefre, has announced that until further legal research is done, it will close access to its music streaming platform. "Initially, the Spanish-based team didn't think that they were breaking any laws because they were providing the service through YouTube's and Spotify's official APIs for developers. Wefre claimed that they created the service whilst fulfilling the terms of use of those APIs." The team of three students behind Wefre wrote "We want to point [out] that we haven't received any official warning from Google or Spotify, we never wanted to profit at the expense of the artists and, before making a huge mistake, we want to seek advice in a smarter way."

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