By many accounts, “Happy Birthday to You” is the most popular and well-known song in the English language and has been so for years. This is a reality that has been very lucrative for Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., the company which has been enforcing a copyright on the song since its acquisition of Birch Tree Ltd. in 1998. That purchase brought with it six copyrights registered with the U.S. Copyright Office which protect musical arrangements for that song.
These copyright protections generate about $2 million in revenue every year for Warner/Chappell, making them very lucrative copyright holdings. The company enforces the copyright against film and entertainment productions of all kinds, exacting a thousand dollars or so from groups that often don’t have the resources to stake the large legal battle that would ensue by refusing to pay and incurring the possible $150,000 penalty that could be applicable under the terms of the Copyright Act of 1976.
However, one production company has decided to take this battle to the courts in the hopes of overturning what it feels are misappropriated copyright protections. If the court decides in favor of the plaintiff, Warner/Chappell could be ordered to return all copyright licensing fees it has collected for the past three years.
In Joe Allen’s recent column Does Innovation Lead to Prosperity for All? he ended with a quote by Alexander Fraser Tyler from The Decline and Fall of the Athenian Republic, which suggested that a democracy cannot continue to exist once the majority realizes they can vote for candidates that promise a never ending stream of benefits. Eventually, the result of politicians handing out money and benefits for votes leads to a collapse as the result of unsustainable fiscal policy. Allen quizzically ends by stating that this couldn’t ever happen in the United States, could it? Sadly, we know it is happening in America.
Saying the United States has a spending problem is an extraordinary understatement, but spending continues. The public demands spending and so many people now erroneously believe that the way to improve the economy is for the government to spend ever more sums while at the same time regulating business like never before. Taking the foot off the throat of the private sector and reducing government spending has been a time tested and effective way to stimulate activity, create jobs and improve the overall economic condition of the U.S. economy. So there is an extreme disconnect between historical reality, what the people want and the policies America is pursuing.
Generally speaking, “intellectual property” is probably best thought of (at least form a conceptual standpoint) as creations of the mind that are given the legal rights often associated with real or personal property. The rights that are obtained by the creator are a function of statutory law (i.e., law created by the legislature). These statutes may be federal or state laws, or in some instance both federal and state law govern various aspect of a single type of intellectual property.
The term intellectual property itself is now commonly used to refer to the bundle of rights conferred by each of the following fields of law: (1) patent law; (2) copyright law; (3) trade secret law; (4) the right of publicity; and (5) trademark and unfair competition law. Some people confuse these areas of intellectual property law, and although there may be some similarities among these kinds of intellectual property protection, they are different and serve different purposes.
Earlier today the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. v. Aereo, Inc., a case that required the Court to determine whether Aereo infringed copyrights of the plaintiffs by selling its subscribers a service that allowed them to watch television programs over the Internet at about the same time as the programs broadcasted the programs over the air. In a 6 to 3 decision authored by Justice Stephen Breyer the Court found that Aereo’s actions did constitute copyright infringement. A dissent was written by Justice Scalia and joined by Justices Thomas and Alito.
Using an all too familiar “logical” construct, the Supreme Court determined that what Aereo did was not a public performance within the meaning of the Copyright Act, but was still infringement because it was a public performance. This construct, which often appears in patent cases, is logically absurd, but without anyone to review the Court’s decisions they seem completely comfortable rendering internally inconsistent and logically flawed decisions, particularly when dealing with intellectual property.
The Supreme Court likely struggles with intellectual property because the Court is simply not comfortable with technology. In the past I have made much of the fact that the Supreme Court does not use e-mail, I’ve also pointed to the fact that during the KSR oral arguments Justice Scalia called the entire area of patent law “gobbledegook.” But we don’t even need to go beyond the text of the written decision to understand the Court’s true naiveté. Indeed, at one point in his opinion Justice Breyer asked why the facts actually matter.
Breyer asked: “why should any of these technological differences matter?” Aside from the fact that intellectual property issues are by their very nature extraordinarily dependent upon technology, technological reality matters because under our system of law cases are supposed to be decided based on fact, not myth or superstition.
Washington– The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Internet Policy Task Force will host roundtable discussions in cities around the country on several copyright Internet policy topics, as part of the work envisioned in the Green Paper. The purpose of the roundtables is to engage further with members of the public on the following issues: (1) the legal framework for the creation of remixes; (2) the relevance and scope of the first sale doctrine in the digital environment; and (3) the appropriate calibration of statutory damages in the contexts of individual file sharers and of secondary liability for large-scale infringement. The roundtables, which will be led by USPTO and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), will be held in Nashville, TN on May 21, 2014, Cambridge, MA on June 25, 2014, Los Angeles, CA on July 29, 2014, and Berkeley, CA on July 30, 2014. The meetings were called for in the Task Force’s Green Paper on Copyright Policy, Creativity, and Innovation in the Digital Economyreleased last year.
In the Green Paper and subsequent requests for public comments on October 3, 2013, the Task Force stated its intention to hold roundtable discussions on these issues. On December 12, 2013, the Task Force held a day-long public meeting to discuss the issues identified for its further work in the Green Paper, which included panel discussions on remixes, the first sale doctrine, and statutory damages, as well as other topics. The purpose of the planned roundtables is to seek additional input from the public in different parts of the country in order for the Task Force to have a complete and thorough record upon which to make recommendations.
Washington– The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Internet Policy Task Force (IPTF) will hold the first meeting of the public multistakeholder forum on improving the operation of the notice and takedown system for removing infringing content from the Internet under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) on March 20, 2014 at the USPTO headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia. The meeting was called for in the Commerce Department’s Green Paper on Copyright Policy, Creativity, and Innovation in the Digital Economyreleased last year. The IPTF is a joint effort between the USPTO and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).
The goal of the multistakeholder forum is to identify best practices and/or produce voluntary agreements for improving the operation of the DMCA notice and takedown system. The IPTF plans to hold several additional meetings throughout the year. The initial meeting will focus on identifying concrete topics to be addressed by participants, and to discuss and make decisions about the process for the forum’s ongoing work. The IPTF aims to have participation from a wide variety of the notice and takedown system’s current users, including right holders and individual creators, service providers, and any other stakeholders that are directly affected – such as consumer and public interest representatives, technical and engineering experts, and companies in the business of identifying infringing content.
The oral argument schedule for the Supreme Court over the next few months is heavy on intellectual property cases.
The Court will hear oral argument as follows: on February 26, in two cases on granting (Octane Fitness) and reviewing (Highmark) attorneys’ fee awards; on March 31, in a case (Alice Corp.) on patent eligibility of system and computer-implemented method claims; on April 21, in a case (POM Wonderful) on claims under Section 43 of the Lanham Act challenging labels regulated by the Food and Drug Administration; on April 22, in a case (Aereo) on whether a provider of broadcast television programming over the Internet violates a copyright owner’s public performance right; on April 28, in a case (Nautilus) on the proper standard for finding indefiniteness invalidity for patents; and on April 30, in a case (Limelight) on joint liability for method claim infringement where all of the claimed steps are performed but not by a single entity.
Washington – The U.S. Department of Commerce’s United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) recently announced that the October 30, 2013 U.S. Department of Commerce public meeting on copyright policy issues had been postponed due to complications arising from the federal government shutdown. The meeting will now be held on December 12, 2013 from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. ET at the USPTO headquarters in Alexandria, VA and the period for post-meeting comments has been extended.
Comments are still being sought on the Commerce Department’s Internet Policy Task Force green paper, “Copyright Policy, Creativity, and Innovation in the Digital Economy,” produced by the USPTO and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). The deadline for filing pre-meeting comments is November 13, 2013.