Tuesday 29 October 2019


The U.S. House of Representatives HAS voted 410-6 in favor of the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement Act of 2019, or CASE Act.  Seeking to address the high cost of copyright litigation, if passed into law, the CASE Act would create a voluntary 'small claims court'  within the U.S. Copyright Office, called the Copyright Claims Board.  Lawsuits filed under the CASE Act would allow recovery up to $30,000, with a cap of $15,000 for statutory damages per work infringed. Whilst widely supported by content creators and copyright owners,  the CASE Act is not without criticism: the American Civil Liberties Union, argues the CASE Act lacks procedural safeguards and could be abused by “copyright trolls” or by those seeking to silence free speech on the internet - and expose millions of Americans to liability who unknowingly violate copyright law for actions seemingly as petty as sharing photos online.  “There is no gun that is being held to anyone’s head, because the small claims court like tribunal is voluntary in nature,” Rep Hakeem Jeffries, the bill's sponsor, told The Verge. “Any argument made to the contrary, represents a deliberate attempt to misrepresent what’s at stake as part of the effort to do away with the content copyright laws that have been part of the fabric of our democracy since the founding of the Republic and in fact the Constitution.” adding “The internet doesn’t change the Constitution,” The CASE Act now heads to the Senate for a full vote.  

The CoStar Group has settled copyright infringement against rival Xceligent with the commercial real estate data conglomerate being paid  $10.75 million by its competitor’s insurers, although according to court filings that’s a fraction of the $450 million CoStar initially sought. CoStar and Xceligent's court-appointed bankruptcy trustee filed a proposed judgment in Delaware Bankruptcy Court, finding Xceligent liable for $500M in damages for stealing tens of thousands of images from CoStar's databases. Xceligent, which filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy liquidation in December 2017, doesn't have the assets to fulfill the entire $500M ruling. BisNow says that the parties reached a settlement through which Xceligent's insurers will pay CoStar $10.75M. The bankruptcy settlement and judgment in the copyright infringement case are both subject to court approval.

The settlement of a case between photographer Robert Barbera and CBS over the 'use' of Barbera's photo of Justin Beiber  has left open the question of whether the unauthorised embedding of a social media posts that contain copyright-protected photos amounts to copyright infringement - leaving some of the issues in the Goldman v. Breitbart lawsuit unanswered: That case concerned embedded tweets that featured a photo of football star Tom Brady - but the case was voluntarily dismissed in May.   In a highly-contested decision in early 2018, Judge Katherine Forrest of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York determined that a handful of media companies, including Vox, Time, Yahoo, and Breitbart, among others, had infringed a copyright-protected image that Eric Goldman took of Tom Brady by embedding third-party tweets that contained the image into articles on their websites.  Finding for Goldman, Judge Forrest’s February decision was a stark contrast to the general agreement among U.S. courts that when a party embeds a photo into an article, and thus, does not actually create a copy of the image or store it on its server, there is no new “display” of the photo for copyright purposes, and as a result, no copyright infringement - although case such as Perfect 10, Inc. v. Amazon.com, Inc in 2007 are themselves not without critics who disagreed with the appellate court ruling that embedding does not require that an image be copied or stored, and thus, does not run afoul of copyright law. More on The Fashion Law website here.  Robert Barbera's Image from complaint. 

Those Turtles and the issue of pre-1972 copyrights in sound recordings in the USA keep going on and on - with the Ninth Circuit appeals court now asking the lower court in California to consider what the Music Modernization Act (MMA) means for any ongoing disputes involving unpaid digital royalties on pre-1972 recordings. CMU Daily reports that the MMA reformed US copyright law in a number of ways and "Perhaps the biggest reforms related to the way the mechanical rights in songs are licensed Stateside. In theory those reforms were meant to bring to an end the long line of lawsuits being pursued against the on-demand streaming services over unpaid mechanical royalties .... Another part of the MMA related to the use of recordings - rather than songs - by online and satellite radio services, including personalised radio platforms like Pandora. Under US-wide federal copyright law AM/FM radio stations aren't obliged to pay any royalties to artists and labels for the recordings they play, but satellite and online stations are. However, recordings released before 1972 are protected by state-level rather than federal copyright law, so digital services argued that that royalty obligation didn't apply to pre-1972 tracks." Probably one of the best known cases on the matter was litigation pursued in the Californian courts against both Sirius and Pandora by Flo & Eddie, former members of 1960s band The Turtles and whilst a settlement was reached in California, and new law removes any debate over the ongoing royalty obligations of services like Pandora moving forward, the question remained over what royalties should have been paid in the past. Now the Ninth Circuit has said that the question of assessing whether Pandora still faces liabilities for past non-payment of royalties in the context of the MMA is matter for the district court that first considered the original lawsuit. The appeals court said in a ruling last week: "Whether the MMA applies to and pre-empts Flo & Eddie's claims, as Flo & Eddie note, cannot be answered on the record before us. The resolution of this issue depends on various unanswered factual questions".

Global record industry trade groups IFPI and WIN have announced a new initiative designed to simplify the way record labels and music distributors provide key data about the sound recordings they own and represent - and the UK record industry's collection society, PPL, will lead on the initiative. With each country in what is now a global market having its own collecting society, with  their own database(s), this presents a number of logistical challenges for the recorded music industry (and indeed the music publishing sector too) not least as new platfors and new technologies develop. The new Repertoire Data Exchange project, or RDx, aims to make it easier for record labels and other owners of the copyright in sound recordings to log their tracks with all the relevant society databases, ensuring databases are updated promptly and efficiently. IFPI and WIN explained: "Record companies have historically used a variety of data delivery processes to supply content to individual [societies] around the world, presenting challenges in the supply of recording data. RDx will offer recording right holders of all sizes, from all countries, a single registration point to supply their repertoire data in a standardised format that can be quickly and easily accessed by all [societies], leading to improvements in data quality" and IFPI boss Frances Moore said: "Record companies continue to invest in and enhance the accuracy and management of music data in many different areas of the industry. RDx is a key example of an initiative that will benefit all parties involved. It will improve operational efficiencies and lower costs for right holders whilst allowing [societies] to retrieve authoritative repertoire data from a single point - enabling more accurate and timely distribution of revenues".

Taylor Swift by George Chin
Taylor Swift’s 2014 hit “Shake It Off” and th controversy over the phrases “playas gonna play” and “haters gonna hate”  s once again at the centre of a legal battle as a three-judge panel from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the 2017 a previously dismissed copyright lawsuit from songwriters Sean Hall and Nathan Butler, who allege the single lifts lyrics from their 2001 composition “Playas Gon’ Play.”. Hall and Butler say Swift's famous lyric "Cos the players gonna play, play, play, play, play/And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate" was a copy of the line "The playas gon play/Them haters gonna hate" from their 2001 track. In February 2018. Judge Michael Fitzgerald in the District Court concluded “By 2001, American popular culture was heavily steeped in the concepts of players, haters, and player haters … The concept of actors acting in accordance with their essential nature is not at all creative; it is banal.” But a 1903 ruling from Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes might give some hope to Hall and Butler:  “It would be a dangerous undertaking for persons trained only to the law to constitute themselves final judges of the worth of pictorial illustrations, outside of the narrowest and most obvious limits” Holmes wrote . “At the one extreme, some works of genius would be sure to miss appreciation. Their very novelty would make them repulsive until the public had learned the new language in which their author spoke.” In their ruling the appellate court said “originality, as we have long recognized, is normally a question of fact … Justice Holmes’ century-old warning about judges appointing themselves the sole arbiter of originality remains valid. By concluding that: ‘for such short phrases to be protected under the Copyright Act, they must be more creative than the lyrics at issues here,’ the District Court constituted itself as the final judge of the worth of an expressive work. Because the absence of originality is not established either on the face of the complaint or through the judicially noticed matters, we reverse the District Court’s dismissal” and the case goes back to the District Court 

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