A Shelton, Ct. restaurant has paid $18,000 to settle a lawsuit over the playing of nine copyrighted songs on its premises; an owner says he thinks a private party played them. “If a band plays a cover song for which the bar has no license, the bar is legally liable, according to BMI and ASCAP,” the two musicians’-rights consortiums that make a practice of suing venues. [Hartford Business]
- Weirdly, Europe is more willing to legislate against pro-ISIS views than openly to argue against them [Nick Cohen]
- City of Inglewood, Calif. sues for copyright infringement over videos by critic of Mayor Butts [CBS L.A., Volokh, Paul Alan Levy]
- “Department Of Justice Uses Grand Jury Subpoena To Identify Anonymous Commenters on a Silk Road Post at Reason.com” [Ken White/Popehat, Wired, Scott Greenfield]
- Bans on the singing of sectarian songs, as in the Scotland case mentioned here recently, are perhaps less surprisingly also a part of law in Northern Ireland [Belfast Telegraph, BBC] UK government “now arresting and even jailing people simply for speaking their minds” [Brendan O’Neill]
- Broad “coalition of free speech, web publishing, and civil liberties advocates” oppose provisions in anti-“trafficking” bill creating criminal liability for classified ad sites; Senate passes bill anyway by 99-0 margin [Elizabeth Nolan Brown; more from Brown on bill (“What, you mean grown women AREN’T being abducted into sex slavery at Hobby Lobby stores in Oklahoma?” — @mattwelch), yet more on trafficking-panic numbers]
- Group libel laws, though approved in the 1952 case Beauharnais v. Illinois, are now widely regarded as no longer good law, but a Montana prosecutor doesn’t seem aware of that [Volokh] No, let’s not redefine “incitement” so as to allow the banning of more speech [Volokh]
- Supreme Court’s ruling in Elonis, the “true threats on Facebook” case, was speech-protective but minimalist [Ilya Shapiro, Orin Kerr, Ken White, Eugene Volokh]
There was much excitement about a “Netflix for vinyl” that would send music-minded subscribers a curated surprise selection of records they could listen to, then send back at their leisure for a new set of unexpected picks. No one seems to have reckoned with the part of federal law known as “section §109(b), popularly known as the Record Rental Amendment of 1984, which makes it illegal to rent records.” [Michael Nelson, Stereogum]
Historians are disturbed over a “royalties claim being brought by the heirs of Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s minister of propaganda, against the publisher Random House Germany.” A book being published this month quotes from Goebbels’s diaries, and scholars are worried of precedent being set which would not only entitle heirs to profit from war criminals’ writings, but also give them approval authority over the usage of excerpts, which could lead to permission being traded for more sympathetic treatment. Goebbels committed suicide during the last days of the Nazi regime. [Matthew Reisz, Inside Higher Ed] “Maybe history needs a Son of Sam Law” [@KenSherrill on Twitter]
- “Lawyers Won 10x Fee Payoff By Avoiding Competition, Objector Claims” [Daniel Fisher, Center for Class Action Fairness on Capital One TCPA settlement]
- DMCA surprise: “Automakers are supporting provisions in copyright law that could prohibit home mechanics and car enthusiasts from repairing and modifying their own vehicles.” [Mike Masnick, TechDirt; Pete Bigelow, AutoBlog]
- Comments deadline May 19 on proposed Indian Child Welfare Act regulations; American Academy of Adoption Attorneys files comments warning they go beyond statute, will harm kids [related group, earlier and general]
- Asbestos lawsuits are “economic engine” of rural Edwardsville, Ill. [Associated Press]
- Chicago pays damages to victims of police torture, suggestively labeled “reparations” [Sandhya Somashekhar, Washington Post, thanks for quote]
- Court dismisses pro se litigant’s handwritten “God v. gays” complaint for lack of basis for federal jurisdiction, other predictable deficiencies [Volokh, Lowering the Bar and followup]
- “Starbucks not liable in police coffee-spill case, jury decides” [WRAL, earlier]
Counsel’s Ninth Circuit arguments on behalf of copyright troll Prenda Law did not go well, to put it mildly. Trouble was evident even before Judge Pregerson commented, regarding the clients, “They should have asserted the Fifth Amendment because they were engaged in extortion.” [Ken at Popehat; Joe Mullin, Ars Technica] More on the Prenda Law saga here.
While musical copying, and copying lawsuits, are nothing new, Ray Lehmann finds “different” and “potentially problematic” a jury’s $7.4 million verdict “against Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams, asserting the pair’s 2013 smash ‘Blurred Lines’ borrowed inappropriately from the 1977 Marvin Gaye song ‘Got to Give It Up.'” [R Street Institute] More: Ann Althouse.
P.S. Tim Hulsey commenting on Overlawyered’s Facebook page (which you’ve liked, right?): “If this decision had been in force during the 1940s, nine-tenths of ‘be-bop jazz’ would never have occurred — no ‘Donna Lee,’ no Thelonious Monk, no 12-bar blues.” And @terryteachout on Twitter: “I now see that the judge instructed the jury to go by the sheet music only. If that’s the applicable standard, the verdict will definitely be reversed.” More: David Post.
…the speeches performed by actor David Oyelowo in the film do not contain the actual words spoken by King. This is because the King estate would not license the copyright in the speeches to filmmaker Ava DuVernay. Thus, the King estate’s aggressive stance on copyright has literally forced the re-writing of history. … [Under existing precedent] DuVernay would have had a strong fair use defense had she used King’s actual words rather than just paraphrased them. Perhaps she (or her lawyers) decided that historical accuracy was not worth the risk of litigation with the King estate.
Earlier on the Martin Luther King Jr. estate here and here.
More: reader J.B. writes:
Note that even without the hard-to-defend serial legislative extensions of copyright term for existing works, copyrightable MLK stuff from 1965 would still not be in the public domain under the rules as they then existed (assuming, as seems plausible, that the estate had remembered to renew), although that wouldn’t be all that far off (2021, or maybe 1/1/2022).
Beyond that, here’s the thing: the exact boundaries of fair use are fuzzy because the doctrine as it has evolved is very fact-driven and context-specific. This means that aggressive rights-holders can, by a threat to litigate, probably chill some unauthorized uses that would be legitimate (and there must be some situations that go the other way, where the derivative user is well-funded and lawyered-up and the under-resourced rights-holder can’t afford to have the fight even though they might well be in the right). But it seems at least possible that any crisper/cleaner doctrine (where the boundary of what the rights-holder can forbid was so clear that no one would be chilled/intimidated by an over-the-top cease and desist letter) would end up being one that made a materially narrower scope of stuff qualify as fair use and thus non-infringing. Fuzzy rules are perhaps sometimes the worst legal regime possible except for the practically available alternatives.
Quite aside from which is the right legal rule, I also think that there’s a positive incentive effect to publicizing cases like this in which estates of notable persons either appear in a light of being unreasonably prickly themselves, or heedlessly sell rights to those who squeeze them with little regard for what the notable person stood for in life. The better known these cases are, the more likely it is that notable persons and their near families will think through how they might want to plan their bequests so that their estates will rest in the hands of those willing to cooperate with scholars, encourage derivative works, etc. King himself of course was cut down too young for us to expect this, but most major figures who leave a cultural legacy have more chance to plan, or their widows/widowers do.
Who’d have guessed that movie studios would entrust populist Mississippi Attorney General and longtime Overlawyered favorite Jim Hood with a key role in pushing their rights as copyright owners against online services and search engines? Not I [Eli Lehrer, Weekly Standard] More from Mike Masnick at TechDirt: “it appears the MPAA and the major Hollywood studios directly funded various state Attorneys General in their efforts to attack and shame Google.” Related: The Verge.
Sequel: Google goes to court to block a sweeping subpoena from Hood [ArsTechnica, HuffPost (Hood: “salacious Hollywood tale”)] “One of Hood’s letters critical of Google, published earlier this week by The New York Times, was ‘largely written by lawyers for the movie industry,’ the company points out.” More: Hood vs. Google, from our archives.
- Supreme Court suggests sanctions against patent practitioner over eccentric if not incomprehensible certiorari petition [Will Baude]
- Some copyright and patent owners pursue market-based self-help remedies against infringement [Glenn Lammi/WLF, more]
- DC Comics sues Spain’s Valencia soccer team because its bat logo is too similar to that of Batman [Yahoo]
- Federal judge dings California lawyer $87K, finding suit against online news aggregator to be baseless [ABA Journal]
- “Evidence from opera on the efficacy of copyright” [Michela Giorcelli/Petra Moser, SSRN via Tyler Cowen]
- Go ask Alice: patent litigation takes a hit after SCOTUS ruling [Legal Ethics Forum, Alex Tabarrok]
- Adam Carolla managed to crowdfund defense against patent plaintiff, usual cautions against trying this at home [Above the Law]