The old adage that “justice is blind” came to mind again last week, but not in a good way. In the latest head-scratching decision from the 9th Circuit Court, a Court of Appeals for the first time has ruled that an inanimate object portrayed in an audio-visual work was in fact a “character” capable of copyright protection. The case, DC Comics v. Towle, pitted the venerable comic book company against a manufacturer of full scale, real-life, working “Batmobiles.” Nova Southeastern University's Copyright Officer, Stephen Carlisle J.D., explores the problems inherent in this decision and shows how the Court could have achieved the same result, in fewer steps, using existing case law.
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On September 22, 2015, a Federal Judge granted partial summary judgement in favor of the Plaintiffs who were seeking a declaration that the song Happy Birthday was in the public domain. News agencies rushed out to trumpet the news that the Judge’s ruling meant Happy Birthday was in the public domain. Except that the Judge did not rule that Happy Birthday was in the public domain. What he in fact ruled could be far more damaging to the interests of Warner Chappell Music. What’s the future of Happy Birthday? Nova Southern University's Copyright Officer, Stephen Carlisle, J.D., traces the long tortured history of the world’s most popular song and finds that Happy Birthday’s publisher may want to start singing the blues.
On September 14, 2015, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in the closely watched case of Lenz v. Universal Music Group, but more widely known as “the dancing baby case.” For the first time, a Court ruled that those persons serving takedown notices must consider whether the use is fair use or not. What are the new duties of copyright holders seeking to serve notices under Section 512? Nova Southeastern University's Copyright Officer, Stephen Carlisle, J.D., analyzes the points of the decision and shows that “let’s NOT go crazy here” seems to be the operative plan.
In a significant ruling on the boundaries of fair use, on August 25, 2015, a Federal District Court Judge ruled against media indexer TVEyes on three affirmative defenses that were raised in a suit brought by Fox News Network. In effectively a split decision, the Judge ruled that some of TVEyes practices were fair use, but that others were not. The Electronic Frontier Foundation immediately blasted the ruling as “concerning,” then “alarming” and for good measure “dangerous.” Who’s right? Nova Southeastern University's Copyright Officer, Stephen Carlisle, J.D., takes a look at both sides of the arguments, and reveals why you can’t overlook the basics and jump right to the conclusion.
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals recently weighed in on a topic that has bedeviled courts for years: what parts of an article of clothing are copyrightable? Fashion designs are generally not eligible for copyright protection because they are “useful articles.” Even when the designer adds more decorative elements, this is usually not enough to move a dress into a work of art. This is why you see a dress in Sak’s Fifth Avenue one week and a few weeks later you see the same dress in Target. But fabric designs can be copyrighted. Can you separate one from the other? Nova Southeastern University's Copyright Officer, Stephen Carlisle, J.D., takes a look at this and previous decisions to determine: can you give this cheerleader uniform a “©”?
Following on heels of the successful lawsuit declaring Sherlock Holmes to be in the public domain, a lawsuit was filed last week seeking to do the same to Buck Rogers. This suit goes along with similar lawsuits involving the song “Happy Birthday” and the famous literary character “Zorro.” Nova Southeastern University's Copyright Officer, Stephen Carlisle, J.D., takes a look at the litigation, the law, and the facts to see whether the rights holders have reason to cheer, or whether it’s time to say “bye, bye, bye” to these three iconic works.
Recent events cast a spotlight on the not-so-funny business of joke stealing. Actual lawsuits between comedians are so rare as to be unheard of. Yet, on July 22, 2015, an actual copyright infringement lawsuit over jokes was filed by Robert "Alex" Kaseberg, against Conan O’Brien and his production company. Kaseberg claims that on four different occasions after posting jokes on his personal blog and Twitter account, the nearly identical jokes were delivered by Conan O’Brien on his television show. Nova Southeastern University's Copyright Officer, Stephen Carlisle, J.D., looks into whether a joke can be copyrighted at all, and why comedians treat joke theft as no laughing matter.
The days of whispering on the phone and the “no-tell motel” seem to be over. The internet has taken over the job of connecting people who wish to cheat on their spouses. But, as with all things secret, sometimes they get found out. On June 19, 2015, news broke that the online service for cheating spouses, Ashley Madison, had been hacked. What’s worse, the hackers threatened to expose the names and addresses of the reported 37 million users of the site. Ashley Madison sent out DMCA takedown notices to plug the leaks. But did Ashley Madison have the legal right to send them out? Nova Southeastern University's Copyright Officer, Stephen Carlisle, J.D., takes a look at what the Supreme Court has said about claiming copyright in a collection of facts, and it doesn’t look good for the cheaters.
On June 30, 2015, Merry Saltzman, daughter of the late Bond film producer Harry Saltzman, announced that she was going to be staging a James Bond musical, either on Broadway or Las Vegas. Danjaq LLC, who controls Eon Productions and the Bond film franchise scoffed at the whole notion, stating that no James Bond stage show may be produced without their permission. Ms. Saltzman responded, “we are producing a parody, no permissive rights are required from Eon, Danjaq, MGM et al to produce our show; it will not infringe on their intellectual property. James Bond: The Musical will go on as planned.” Who’s right? Nova Southeastern University's Copyright Officer, Stephen Carlisle, J.D., takes a look at the current state of the law regarding parody, including one previous case involving…James Bond.
Last month saw Courts in Canada, Germany and the USA all order web service companies to take affirmative steps to block access to pirated material. In at least two cases, the web services provided material assistance even after being served with injunctions and Court orders. Has the tide finally turned for the court system to get tough with those web services that actively assist copyright infringement? Nova Southeastern University's Copyright Officer, Stephen Carlisle, J.D., provides an in depth guide to these decisions, and shows that those who cry wolf over such decisions are really just howling in the night.