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Josh Hawley’s Mickey Mouse Misfire: Putting the American Taxpayer on the Hook for Billions of Dollars of Compensation to Disney

Last week, Senator Josh Hawley introduced a bill to vastly reduce copyright terms, in the future, and most surprisingly, retroactively. The bill was quickly denounced as unconstitutional, since its “too clever by half” structure insured that only one company would be affected: The Walt Disney Company. Nova Southeastern University's Copyright Officer, Stephen Carlisle, J.D., examines the text of the bill and its Constitutional flaws, and finds that Senator Hawley had failed to take into account one huge factor: if successful, his bill would put the American taxpayer on the hook for billions, if not trillions of dollars of “just compensation” payable to the Walt Disney Company.

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Court Drops the Hammer on Pirate Streaming Sites and Orders ISP’s to Block, VPNs and CDNs Not To Assist, and Credit Card Companies Not To Pay

On April 26, 2022, the District Court in the Southern District of New York issued a rather remarkable ruling. Unremarkable was the amount of damages that was awarded, also unremarkable was that a permanent injunction was issued. What was remarkable was that the injunction also ordered ISP’s to block access to the site, now and in the future to all new URL’s the pirate site might hide under. It also ordered VPN’s (virtual private networks) and CDNs (Content Delivery Networks) like the notorious Cloudflare, not to assist the Defendants in avoiding the injunction, and most remarkably ordered credit card companies and payment assisters, like PayPal, to withhold money due to the pirate site and pay it to the Plaintiffs. Nova Southeastern University's Copyright Officer, Stephen Carlisle, J.D., takes a deep dive inside the precedent setting ruling.

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The Supreme Court Gives Creative Artists a Break (For a Change)

The Berne Convention (to which the US is a signatory) mandates that Berne countries not demand that artists comply with “formalities” in order to secure copyright protection. Yet, the U.S. persists in requiring creative artists to file for copyright registration in order to secure certain benefits, such as the ability to file suit and seek certain remedies such as statutory damages and attorney’s fees. The Supreme Court recently decided a case in which it was alleged that a single mistake on the application, whether the works were “published as a single unit,” invalidated the registration, and with it the ability of the copyright owner to sue. Nova Southeastern University's Copyright Officer, Stephen Carlisle, J.D., examines this decision on whether a mistake in the application is excusable or a “trap” for the unwary artist and a “get out of jail free” card for the infringer.

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Dua Lipa’s Double Trouble: Did Levitating “Lift” From Other Songs?

It’s not unusual for hit songs to attract copyright infringement lawsuits. It was, therefore, not unexpected that Dua Lipa’s 2020 hit “Levitating” attracted a copyright infringement lawsuit. What was unusual was that two separate lawsuits were filed within a week of each other. The first alleged that “Levitating” lifted from Florida reggae group Artikal Sound System’s 2017 song “Live Your Life.” The second alleged that the 1979 disco song “Wiggle and Giggle All Night” had been copied by “Levitating.” Have you ever heard these songs? No? For this is the real question to ask: how did these songs, in one case a 40 year old disco tune, get into the ears of the composers of “Levitating”? Nova Southeastern University's Copyright Officer, Stephen Carlisle, J.D., explains the importance of the “access” requirement in copyright litigation, as well as performs a musical analysis of the songs in litigation.

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Of Course I Own the Copyright! I Own the Machine That Created It!

Lots of headlines were created last week when the U.S. Copyright Office refused registration, for the third time, a piece of artwork in which the author of the work was identified as “Creativity Machine.” It is interesting to note that had the proposed author not admitted this fact, the registration probably would have issued. But what was more intriguing was the question of, if the work was copyrightable, how did the proposed copyright claimant obtain ownership? The claimant asserted that the copyright passed to him as a “work made for hire” because he “owned” the machine. Nova Southeastern University's Copyright Officer, Stephen Carlisle, J.D., examines the legal and practical questions that arise from this rather bold assertion.

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“What’s Next?” Thought Pooh. “Because I Just Found Out I’m a Trademark Too!”

The fact that Winnie the Pooh, Piglet and Eeyore have all passed into the public domain does not make the future of these characters as clear cut as one would think. Certainly one could copy the existing book “Winnie the Pooh” and create new stories about him as well. But new Winnie the Pooh movies? Not necessarily. All of the Pooh movies originated with the Walt Disney Company, who not only holds the copyright but also has obtained Federal Trademark registrations on Pooh, Piglet and Eeyore for uses in conjunction with motion pictures. Nova Southeastern University's Copyright Officer, Stephen Carlisle, J.D., explains this rather strange confluence of copyright and trademark law and what it might mean for the future of these beloved characters.

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“Oh Bother!” said Pooh. “I’ve Gone into the Public Domain” “So Why Are People Celebrating?” asked Piglet

Winnie the Pooh is one of the most profitable characters in the entertainment business. With an estimated all time revenue of over $80 billion, Pooh ties Mickey Mouse for third on the list and trails only Pokemon and Hello Kitty. Now, the first Pooh book, “Winnie the Pooh,” has gone into the public domain, but not the subsequent books, including “The House at Pooh Corner,” which include the first appearance of the character Tigger. Yet, in the anti-copyright corners, this is cause for “celebration.” Nova Southeastern University's Copyright Officer, Stephen Carlisle, J.D., details the arguments put forth and finds that the reasons for “celebrating” the public domain are just tired rehashing of arguments Congress and the Supreme Court have already rejected.

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Who Owns Iron Man, Spider-Man and Daredevil?

Many headlines were generated on September 24, 2021, when Marvel Characters, Inc. filed a series of lawsuits against many former Marvel Comics illustrators. The suits, filed in New York and Los Angeles, all have the same basic fact pattern and asked for the same relief. The suits sought a declaratory decree that the termination notices served on Marvel by the authors and heirs of the former Marvel illustrators were invalid. At stake are the characters Iron Man, Spider-Man, Daredevil, Ant-Man, Hawkeye, Dr. Strange, Black Widow, Falcon, Thor and more. Nova Southeastern University's Copyright Officer, Stephen Carlisle, J.D., explains the law at the center of these lawsuits, and why “The Marvel Method” of how these iconic characters were created looms large over the ultimate outcome.

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“Electric Avenue” Derails Trump Train

On September 28, 2021, a District Court denied a motion to dismiss a lawsuit based on one of music composers pet peeves: use of their music in political campaigns. Many times, this occurs when songs are used at campaign rallies. The composers feel that this is an implied endorsement. The campaigns usually rely on a license from the performing rights organizations. However, sometimes the use is in a campaign video, and since this is a “synchronization” use, it absolutely requires a license and absolutely requires permission, even in the internet age. Nova Southeastern University's Copyright Officer, Stephen Carlisle, J.D., examines the latest dispute between songwriters and political campaigns, especially the claim that any political use is automatically “transformative.”

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Re-Recording Your Old Songs: How Taylor Swift is “Shaking Off” Her Old Record Company

On September 17, 2021, Bloomberg News reported that Taylor Swift had released a re-recorded version of the 2014 hit “Wildest Dreams.” She has been doing this to her old recordings since 2020, and all indications point towards her continuing to do so. But the re-recorded versions sound almost exactly like the original recordings. How is this possible under the copyright law? Nova Southeastern University's Copyright Officer, Stephen Carlisle, J.D., examines both the law of contracts and copyright to explain how this unusual situation came to be.

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