Generic Fair Use

... where pop culture meets intellectual property law

Tag: copyright (page 2 of 3)

Are sex toys “useful articles” under copyright law?

Copyrights are seemingly everywhere. From music to movies to television to paintings and sculptures. Copyright issues are also ever-present when it comes to internet content, books and scholastic articles. Most anything that is an original expression that is fixed in a tangible medium of expression can be covered by the scope of 17 U.S.C. § 101 et seq. (the U.S. Copyright Act).

The hurdle for copyright qualification is low, though there are exceptions, and certain things are never subject to copyright protection. For example, government works are not copyrighted pursuant to 17 U.S.C. § 105.[1] Additionally, you cannot copyright simple words or phrases – as this is instead the subject of trademark law. We have also previously discussed (in the context of Halloween costumes) the fact that you cannot acquire a copyright on what is considered a “useful article” or that which is “an object having an intrinsic utilitarian function that is not merely to portray the appearance of the article or to convey information” as defined by 17 U.S.C. § 101.

Which brings us to the topic du jour: what about sex toys? Are sex toys “useful articles” that are not subject to copyright protection?

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Is “joke theft” tantamount to copyright infringement?

In what seems to be a rite of passage for up-and-coming comedians, Golden Globe® nominee Amy Schumer was recently accused of “joke theft” by a series of fellow comedians. All puns aside, “joke theft” can be a serious matter and allegations of the same have negatively affected the careers of many comedians, including Denis Leary, Carlos Mencia, and Dane Cook.[1] While few jokes are truly original anymore, the blatant lifting of an entire comedic performance from another often subjects the alleged thief to public shaming. In the case of a comedian with the status of Amy Schumer, that shaming can be high-profile. Many have already taken to YouTube to create comparison videos.

But is joke theft a stand-alone basis for a legal claim of copyright infringement?

Yes, yes it can be.  Please allow me to explain…

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PETA fails to throw a monkey wrench into copyright authorship

Copyright is the exclusive domain of humans. So says the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Oh, and the U.S. Copyright Office, too. A recent appeal made on behalf of haplorhine primates everywhere has failed to extend the law to allow monkeys to be the authors or owners of copyrights in the United States.  How and why are we even talking about this? Because in 2011, a monkey in Indonesia took a selfie. The monkey even smiled for the camera!

The resulting images created a firestorm for copyright law when the owner of the camera began publishing the monkey’s pictures and asserting copyright claims against others.  On September 22, 2015, PETA filed suit on grounds that the camera owner and his publishing company were infringing the monkey’s copyrights. As if that lawsuit was not bizarre enough, it did set the stage for one of the more amusing Motions to Dismiss ever filed in federal court. Nevertheless on January 7, 2016, Judge Orrick granted the Motion to Dismiss and held that a monkey cannot be the owner or author of a copyright.

While the monkey, now known as “Naruto,” may not be able to enforce any copyrights, it does raise interesting legal issues to address and consider.

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The force is strong with Star Wars intellectual property

Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens on December 18, 2015.  It will be the biggest movie of the year.  It will also likely be the most infringed copyrighted work of the year (and 2016, too).  It will be the seventh official full-length Star Wars movie to be released in theaters since 1977.  Though I recently re-watched the prequels and I would prefer to act as if they did not exist.  No matter what revisionist history might try to argue.

Since the original movie, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, George Lucas has not been shy about protecting his intellectual property rights.  It is practically a running joke that any reference to Star Wars will expose you to a lawsuit from Lucasfilm or Disney.  (The Walt Disney Company bought Lucasfilm for $4,000,000,000 in October 2012 and immediately announced plans for a new set of Star Wars movies using the same characters and settings.)

To demonstrate just how sincere the creator of the Star Wars universe is about protecting his creation, his characters, the movies, the settings, the concepts and the ancillary names, brands and logos – the following is a summary of the notable issues relating to Star Wars intellectual property.

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Patents, Copyrights and Trademarks Made Simple

[originally published November 5, 2015 at www.law-dlc.com]

Did you know that the Framers of the United States Constitution solidified the rights to copyrights and patents more than two years before the protection of freedom of speech?[1]  It is true.  The Constitution, signed on September 17, 1787, included the following specific provision:

Congress shall have the power to … promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.[2]

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Is Your Halloween Costume an Infringement?

[originally published on October 28, 2015 at www.law-dlc.com]

Halloween is on a Saturday this year.  I am anxious to see people of all ages walking around in full costume.  What a wonderful time of year.  Halloween is fun – and it brings out the creative side in almost everyone.  People will be dressed as superheroes, villains, cartoon characters, pop culture icons, scary monsters, and more.  But most of these costumes you will see represent characters that were created by someone else.

Is your Halloween costume infringing someone else’s intellectual property rights?

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My YouTube Cover Song is Legal, Right? (Well, maybe.)

[originally published on October 21, 2015 at www.law-dlc.com]

In August, Ryan Adams[1] announced his intentions to release song-by-song and nearly note-for-note cover of Taylor Swift’s “1989” album.[2]  He covered every single song and all of the same lyrics, just stripped down and re-recorded as a more guitar-based interpretation.[3]  It is a rather audacious project for an artist that is more of an indie musician than a pop star.  After the release of his covers album, many people asked me that all-too-common question:

How is that legal?  How is that not copyright infringement?

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The NFL will complain about your Vines (and GIFs)

[originally published on October 13, 2015 at www.law-dlc.com]

As a sports fan, Monday, October 12, 2015 was a strange and turbulent day.  USC fired Steve Sarkisian one day after asking him to take an administrative leave of absence (cue the employment lawyers).  Steve Spurrier, the head coach of the other USC – South Carolina – suddenly walked away and called it a career in mid-season.  Meanwhile, Texas Governor Greg Abbott congratulated the Astros on making the American League Championship Series when they were leading 6-2 in the eighth inning, only for the Royals to score five quick runs and turn me into a blubbering mess of a baseball fan.  Someone in the governor’s office forgot about Yogi Berra and “it ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”

Yet the craziest sports story of the entire day might be something that happened over social media.  In the mid-afternoon, the Twitter accounts for Deadspin (@Deadspin) and SB Nation’s GIF-based sub account (@SBNationGIF) were suddenly suspended.  The initial reasons were murky, with media reports later suggesting that the National Football League used its influence with Twitter to suspend the accounts.  And why?  Because the Deadspin account and the SBNationGIF account both routinely posted or re-tweeted Vines and GIFs of highlight plays from NFL games. Which are copyrighted works.

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Laches (Copyright) is Dead! Long Live Laches (Patent)!

[originally published October 2, 2015 on www.law-dlc.com]

In 2014, the United States Supreme Court effectively killed a long-standing affirmative defense to copyright infringement, the defense of “laches.”  See Petrella v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 134 S. Ct. 1962 (U.S. 2014).  Laches is essentially an alleged infringer’s defense to a “gotcha!” tactic by a rights holder who has delayed for many years in bringing suit to enforce those purported rights.  Laches is based on equitable principles that a substantially long delay in enforcing legal rights is likely to prejudice the adverse party.[1]  It is the judicial system’s way of saying “hey! That’s not fair!  We are not going to let you do that.”  Laches is available as a defense in many types of proceedings, not just intellectual property matters, but the intangible nature of IP rights lends itself more favorably to successfully invoking “laches” as a defense.

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What if Intellectual Property Rights Were Enforced in the World of “The Princess Bride”?

[originally published September 25, 2015 on www.law-dlc.com]

Have you ever watched a movie and wondered whether something cool in it could be patented?  Many movies, however, are set outside the United States.  Some are set in fantasy lands that would not recognize our system of laws.  Yet – what if?  What if, for example, the mythical country of Florin happened to adopt the laws of the United States as it applies to intellectual property rights?  Yes, Florin.  The homeland of Buttercup.  You know – The Princess Bride. What if the cowardly Prince Humperdinck recognized and enforced patent, trademark, copyright and trade secret concepts as seen in that movie?  Inconceivable, you say?  But what would that look like and what would be some examples?

[If you have never seen The Princess Bride, kindly stop reading and go watch it.  Now.  I do not think I can be friends with anyone who does not like this movie.]

I will skip the kissing parts and go right into the action and adventure.  Pirates are cool, right?  To the land of Florin we go!

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