Sunday 9 April 2017


This CopyKat from David Liao

US Copyright Office – further update

As previously covered on The 1709 Blog here, there was an unprecedented removal of Maria Pallante from her position at the US Copyright Office last October with some speculation that her policy position had been the cause of this. Further information recently revealed indicates however that the US Copyright Office may have been grossly mismanaged during Pallante’s time, with one such example being a failed electronic licencing program which exceeded its budget of $1.1 million by over $10 million.  In addition, there are also allegations a fake budget item to the tune of $25m appeared in the initial FY18 appropriations request, which would account for roughly a third of the Copyright Office’s budget. This information has been brought to light specifically in relation to a bill introduced in Congress March this year (which would, amongst other things, allow the President appoint the next Register of Copyright as opposed to the Librarian of Congress) and more generally a call for modernisation of the Copyright Office and reallocation of power between the government branches.  More details here.

Big Bang Producers can sleep soundly to Soft Kitty

Fans of the hit show “The Big Bang Theory” will be familiar with the catchy song “Soft Kitty” (video clip here for those unfamiliar or wanting a refresher). What may be less well-known is that in December 2015 a lawsuit was filed in relation to this song by Ellen Newlin Chase and Margaret Chase Perry, the daughters of Edith Newlin who wrote the original lyrics to the song in the 1930s as a poem.

As background, this poem had been published in the Songs for the Nursery School book by one of the defendants The Willis Music Group (“Willis Music”) in 1937 with Newlin’s permission, and also registered then as a musical composition with the US Copyright Office. Willis Music subsequently renewed this copyright registration in 1964 and the plaintiffs alleged this would have renewed Newlin’s rights to the lyrics. If so, the licence provided by Willis Music to the other defendant’s (including Warner Bros. Entertainment) would have required Newlin’s permission and therefore use of this song in the show infringed her copyright. 

Despite noting that section 24 of the 1909 Copyright Act is “hardly a model of clarity”, the Southern District Court of New York recently dismissed the claim, holding that Newlin and assigned the copyright to Willis Music (meaning the licence was valid) and that the distinction made by the plaintiff’s between common law copyright and other copyrights was a distinction without a difference. For more details, see here for the memorandum and order. 

Collection societies and blockchain

The three largest member-owned collection societies (the American Society for Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), the Society of Authors, Composers and Publishers of Music (SACEM), and PRS for Music) are working with IBM and Hyperledger Fabric to create a new system to confirm copyright ownership information and conflicts using blockchain technology. The goal of the project is to “prototype how the music industry could create and adopt a shared, decentralised database of musical work metadata with real-time update and tracking capabilities” and, if successful, will hopefully address long-standing issues in the music industry and provide benefits to music creators worldwide. See here for more details. 

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