Trying To Apply Rules Designed For Publications To… Coffee Cans?

from the tricky-laws dept

One of the common problems that we run into all the time is seeing courts trying to apply laws that were meant for a specific scenario to a totally different scenario. Take, for example, the question of the use of a photo on a coffee can. Let’s say the photo is “infringing” on some right that was originally created to deal with publications such as newspapers or magazines. How do you figure out when the coffee can was “published”? Or is it even “published” at all? And is it republished every time a new can is sold? That’s an issue faced by the California court system, as it struggles to figure out what counts as publication with a coffee can. It seems the courts agree that the coffee can is covered by a “single-publication” rule, meaning that if the image on the can is infringing or defamatory, it only counts as a single publication. But, where it’s still struggling is on the date of publication issue. That’s because, in this particular case, there’s a statute of limitations of two years from the date of publication. But is that just when the first coffee can was sold? Or is the date of publication a running tally, so long as the cans keep being sold? And then, suddenly, you wonder: wait, why are we so concerned about infringement on a coffee can?

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Comments on “Trying To Apply Rules Designed For Publications To… Coffee Cans?”

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Chargone (profile) says:

because people are dumb and/or greedy?

I’d say the answer is that a coffee can isn’t a publication in the first place.

but then i realised that, really, it’s a bit cheap to be using the photo in question without permission.

i could see an order to change it, i suppose. i could see a dismissal of the whole issue. if anyone ends up paying anyone money over it, though, there’s something very wrong with the world.

[and there is. we knew this already.]

please note that this is not a legal opinion. this is a sane individual with no vested interests opinion 😀

Lachlan Hunt (profile) says:

How is that a difficult question? Let’s say this was a book and the first copy was published and sold 3 years ago, but that same book is still being printed and sold today. If the law is clear on how to apply in that situation, it should be equally clear on how to apply it to the coffee can. Each new can created and sold is just another copy, not a new publication.

R says:

I’d say its when the can is first made available to retail, since that is the act which seems to be the most similar to publication. A running tally would be ridiculous, but then so is life + 70.
I’d say that this is actually a valid use of copyright law, as opposed to the normal perversion of it. My main justification is that its a commercial usage, so the guy deserves to get paid for his work. IMO, the biggest problem in copyright law is that it doesn’t differentiate between individuals and businesses, so you get laws designed to punish businesses being used against individuals.

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