Wednesday 20 September 2017


It's been a busy few days!

Another US lawsuit has been added to the mounting litigation against Spotify and the streaming platform's alleged failure to pay mechanical royalties in the USA for the right to 'copy' a song (rather than the 'perfoming' right).  In fact there have been three developments: an objection to Spotify's proposed settlement of the original class action on this issue, a rebuttal of its most recent legal arguments, and a brand new lawsuit. Hypebot's take is this: "The recorded music industry is in the midst of a renaissance thanks to revenue from a single source - streaming. But a growing string of lawsuits filed by songwriters and publishers, and an aggressive new legal tactic by Spotify, threatens the company's pending IPO and could derail the industry's delicate recovery"

Chance The Rapper at Hovefestivalen by Rashid Akrim / NRK
Three-time Grammy-winning Chance the Rapper (Chancellor Bennett) is being sued for copyright infringement. The suit was filed by Abdul Wali Muhammad on in the Illinois District Court. Muhammad is a musician-turned lawyer, who copyrighted the composition of ‘Bridge Through Time’ in 1979.  Muhammad’s claim rests on Bennett’s sampling of his composition in the track ‘Windows’ from his debut mixtape as Chance, 10 Day.  Whilst the use of copyrighted material is fairly obvious, Bennett’s particular approach to the music industry makes the case interesting. Bennett wrote 10 Day after being suspended from school in 2011. ‘Waves’ was released in December 2011 and soon after Complex listed him as one of ‘10 New Chicago Rappers To Watch Out For’ in February 2012. The mixtape itself was only self-released on in April 2012. Since then it has been downloaded for free 538,617 times. It will be interesting to see how this develops. 

"There's a tattoo as a design, and then there's that same tattoo after it's inked on the human body. Tattoo artists often copyright their tattoos. But does that copyright stick once the image is inked on the human body?" A useful update on Ars technica looks at the interesting world of copyrght and tattoos and Solid Oak Sketches action against Take-Two Interactive Software, makers of  the highly popular NBA 2K game series based on the claim that Take-Two is infringing its copyrighted works because the game shows players incuding LeBron James abd Kobe Bryant with their real-world inked tattoos that Solid Oak Sketches created - and copyrighted in the US.  Even if the tattoos are copyrightable, Take-Two argued that it has a fair-use right to show the players with their tattoos, which are not a prominent feature of the video game. "Solid Oak's profit-making litigation should be halted in its tracks by dismissing Solid Oak’s copyright claim as a matter of law under the de minimis use and fair use doctrines," Take-Two claims.More on Ars Technica here and on this Blog here and here and the IPkat here.  

China's National Copyright Administration (NCAC) has told music companies operating in China that they must stick to market rules, and that all market players must adopt international practices to widen licensing and spread online music. The NCAC told an assembly of over twenty companies that they must work together to avoid giving exclusive music copyright to online music providers. The administration also underlined the laws and international conventions on copyright, warning companies against infringement. The NCAC said that music companies must not allow online music providers to bid up licensing prices, and must support the work of copyright organizations to protect the rights of copyright holders, especially lyricists and songwriters. They should also set up a more effective framework for licensing, cooperation and operation of online music copyright to improve order and for the industry to prosper, the NCAC said.

China's top legislature has passed a  law to protect the nation's national anthem and to ensure appropriate use of the song. The law was adopted after a second reading at the bimonthly session of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress. China's national anthem is "March of the Volunteers," has lyrics by poet Tian Han and music by Nie Er. The song will only be allowed at formal political gatherings, including the opening and closing of NPC sessions, constitutional oath ceremonies, flag raising ceremonies, major celebrations, award ceremonies, commemorations, national memorial day events, important diplomatic occasions, major sport events and other suitable occasions. It will be illegal to use the national anthem during funerals, "inappropriate" private occasions, commercials or as background music in public places. The law says that violators, including those who maliciously modify the lyrics or play/sing the national anthem in a distorted or disrespectful way, can be detained for up to 15 days or held criminally liable.

US TV star Dr. Phil is involved in a novel copyright decision Involving a woman who has alleged he falsely imprisonmed her: Leah Rothman, a former director on his show, used her iPhone to record nine seconds of outtakes to possibly aid herself in a legal battle. Rothman alleges suffering emotional distress and false imprisonment when, during a meeting, Dr. Phil locked the door, yelled profanities and threatened employees for supposedly leaking internal information to the press. Before she brought her action, Rothman says she attempted to get evidence by accessing a database of videos from the Dr. Phil Show archives and using her iPhone to record a nine-second clip of magterial she thought would be valuable to her litgation. But now a court has concluded that his wasn't 'fair use' with U.S. District Court Judge Rodney Gilstrap saying “Rothman did not copy to then educate the masses or to further the greater good. She copied to aid her pending lawsuit seeking money damages where she is the only plaintiff and sole potential beneficiary.” Therefore, Rothman could not hide behind fair use. This isn't the typical copyright story! 

The creator of Pepe the Frog has stepped up his fight against far-right activists who appropriated the cartoon character as a meme. Matt Furie has vowed to "aggressively enforce his intellectual property" after the character he created for a comic strip was plastered across social media and even merchandise, particularly by fans of US President Donald Trump as he fought his election campaign. Eleonora has posted an update on the IPKat here.

Taylor Swift may is facing a new copyright challenge over her 2014 hit “Shake It Off". Songwriters Sean “Sep” Hall and Nate Butler are suing Swift, arguing that the lyrics for “Shake It Off” borrow too heavily from “Playas Gon’ Play,” a 2001 song they wrote for the R&B trio 3LW.  Musician Jessie Braham having previously accused Swift and her co-writers of lifting lyrics from his song 'Haters Gonna Hate'. The claim failed. And two Canadian songwriters have filed a lawsuit alleging copyright infringement against country superstar Carrie Underwood and others. The lawsuit alleges Ronald McNeill and Georgia Lyons-Savage composed the chorus, melody and lyrics to a song called, “Something in the Water” in August 2012. The pair say they completed a vocal mix of the demo in September 2012 and pitched it to Underwood’s team, who declined to use it on her album. But according to the lawsuit, a song by the same name ended up on Underwood’s 2014 “Greatest Hits” album.

And finally and just in case you missed these two big stories ......

"We Shall Overcome" was labelled by the US Library of Congress as “the most powerful song of the 20th century”. It was a unifying anthem for the 1940s labour protests and the 1960s Civil Rights Movement led by Dr Martin Luther King, and came to symbolise the spirit of protest.  Now a federal judge has struck down the copyright for part of the civil rights anthem saying that the song’s adaptation from an older work, including changing “will” to “shall”,  was not original enough to qualify for protection.  Judge Cote said “This single word substitution is quintessentially trivial and does not raise a question of fact requiring a trial to assess whether it is more than trivial … The words ‘will’ and ‘shall’ are both common words. Neither is unusual” adding "The fact that a trivial change to the lyrics became a part of a popular version of a song does not render that change nontrivial and automatically qualify the popular version for copyright protection". More from George Chin here.

Is it the end of the 'monkey selfie' case? It seems so!  The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has settled its federal lawsuit that sought to establish the right for animals to own property - in this case the black macaque Naruto's right to own the copyright in a selfie taken with photographer David Slater's equipment in Indonesia. In a joint statement PETA and Slater say: "PETA and David Slater agree that this case raises important, cutting-edge issues about expanding legal rights for non-human animals, a goal that they both support, and they will continue their respective work to achieve this goal. As we learn more about Naruto, his community of macaques, and all other animals, we must recognize appropriate fundamental legal rights for them as our fellow global occupants and members of their own nations who want only to live their lives and be with their families. To further these goals, David Slater will donate 25% of future gross revenue from the Monkey Selfie photographs to charitable organizations dedicated to protecting and improving the welfare and habitat of Naruto and crested black macaques in Indonesia." This may be the end of this case, but is ot the end of the story? If the monkey cannot be the author, but does that mean that Mr Slater owns the copyright in the picture taken by the monkey? And if he doesn't - who does?
More on the settlement here.

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