The Supreme Court ruled that the first-sale doctrine of copyright law protects the rights of someone who buys books abroad for resale here, whether or not the publisher approves. [Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons: Joe Mullin/Ars Technica, SCOTUSBlog, Margot Kaminski/Concur Op ("this is all statutory interpretation" and subject to change by Congress; conflict with existing international trade agreements), earlier here and here] More: Chris Newman.
Terry Teachout, WSJ (via About Last Night):
…In Europe, sound recordings enter the public domain 50 years after their initial release. Once that happens, anyone can reissue them, which makes it easy for Europeans to purchase classic records of the past. In America, by contrast, sound recordings are “protected” by a prohibitive snarl of federal and state legislation whose effect was summed up in a report issued in 2010 by the National Recording Preservation Board of the Library of Congress: “The effective term of copyright protection for even the oldest U.S. recordings, dating from the late 19th century, will not end until the year 2067 at the earliest.… Thus, a published U.S. sound recording created in 1890 will not enter the public domain until 177 years after its creation, constituting a term of rights protection 82 years longer than that of all other forms of audio visual works made for hire.”
Among countless other undesirable things, this means that American record companies that aren’t interested in reissuing old records can stop anyone else from doing so, and can also stop libraries from making those same records readily accessible to scholars who want to use them for noncommercial purposes. Even worse, it means that American libraries cannot legally copy records made before 1972 to digital formats for the purpose of preservation—not unless those records have already deteriorated to the point where they may soon become unplayable.
Ken at Popehat and Mike Masnick at TechDirt are on the case of Prenda Law, which is in the business of monetizing low-value copyrights to adult entertainment properties. The story, which recently resulted in the filing of defamation suits against Prenda critics, is highly convoluted, so I recommend scrolling down to earlier posts in the series (such as this one by Ken).
Some stories written by Arthur Conan Doyle about Sherlock Holmes and his associates are still under U.S. copyright, but most (50 of them) are public domain. The Conan Doyle estate, however, has made royalty rumblings over the use of the characters in new imaginative works, and one author has now gone to federal court seeking a ruling that the characters and their overall setting (as distinct, presumably, from elements specific to the still-copyrighted stories) are fair game for the makers of new books and films. [Cory Doctorow, BoingBoing]
The “public domain” isn’t just some hedonistic collective consumption good, but a vital resource for creators; thus Disney was able to base its golden-age animation features on literary properties and tropes that it could freely transform without permission. Among the properties we could have started freely transforming and remixing in this country had Congress not unilaterally and drastically extended copyright lengths: The King and I, Ian Fleming’s Diamonds Are Forever, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, My Fair Lady, and the novel 101 Dalmatians. [Duke Center for the Study of the Public Domain via BB, similar, related]
The House Republican Study Committee calls for reconsideration of over-restrictive copyright law, then un-calls for it a day later [TechDirt, rueful update; Alex Tabarrok]
P.S. And check out this upcoming Dec. 6 Cato discussion of the newly published Copyright Unbalanced: From Incentive To Excess (Mercatus Center; Jerry Brito, ed.)
Sony Pictures has decried the suit as frivolous:
In Midnight In Paris, Gil Pender, the disillusioned Hollywood screenwriter played by Owen Wilson, says, “the past is not dead. Actually, it’s not even past. You know who said that? Faulkner. And he was right. And I met him, too. I ran into him at a dinner party.” The rightsholder[s] say the slightly paraphrased quote could “deceive the infringing film’s viewers as to a perceived affiliation, connection or association between William Faulkner and his works, on the one hand, and Sony, on the other hand.”
David Olson, a professor of law at Boston College (and no relation), disputed the notion that a license was needed just because the movie was intended to make a profit. “Commercial use isn’t presumptively unfair” he said. He said no one watches “Midnight in Paris” as a substitute for buying “Requiem for a Nun.” [Deadline.com, Washington Post]
P.S. “Is the complaint written in Faulknerese?” [@jslubinski]
The debatable premises of an amicus brief. [Mike Masnick, TechDirt]
And the next thing you know, they sue him [Josh Wright, Mike Masnick] The blog post by Enrique Dans, who is professor of information systems at IE Business School, is here.
Scam pretend-lawyers pose as real Hollywood lawyers firing off nastygrams to shake cash out of illicit downloaders. [Above the Law]
Veoh, like YouTube, pioneered the idea of enabling users to self-post video to the Internet. Then Universal, the entertainment company and owner of many copyrights, began a particularly aggressive campaign of litigation against it. Though Veoh Networks won a judicial decision in its favor, Universal appealed, having also taken the unusual step of suing three Veoh investors personally. In December the Ninth Circuit reaffirmed Veoh’s victory, but in the mean time Veoh had declared bankruptcy. Company founder Dmitry Shapiro recalls:
As you can imagine the lawsuit dramatically impacted our ability to operate the company. The financial drain of millions of dollars going to litigation took away our power to compete, countless hours of executive’s time was spent in dealing with various responsibilities of litigation, and employee morale was deeply impacted with a constant threat of shutdown. Trying to convince new employees to join the company in spite of this was extremely challenging.
By the end, “The company that we had built, that was once valued at over $130 million was gone,” writes Shapiro. Ron Coleman writes:
Under the American Rule, the cost of maintaining a meritorious defense to relentless litigation is prohibitive and what fee-shifting is available favors is applied with sickening asymmetry, virtually always favoring the party to which legal fees mean the least.
According to Eric Goldman, “This case’s real result is that Veoh is legal, but Veoh is dead – killed by rightsowner lawfare that bled it dry.” Mike Masnick points out that Universal is still pursuing its action.