Author Sues Google For Copyright Infringement For Copying His 'Philosophy' In A TV Ad

from the living-life-to-the-max dept

Yeah, by now, we get it. The legacy copyright folks have spent decades beating into the minds of the public that every idea and concept and philosophy is “owned” and that you need to get permission for just about everything that it’s no surprise to see crazy, nutty copyright lawsuits pop up every here and there. At least, usually, the really nutty ones are filed pro se (i.e., without a lawyer) and quickly dumped. However, it’s doubly amazing when you get a lawsuit that feels like a pro se lawsuit, but is actually filed by a real lawyer. In this case, the lawyer is Joel D. Peterson, whose website lists “intellectual property” as one of his specialties. If that’s the case, he may want to demand a refund from his law school.

Peterson has filed a lawsuit on behalf of author Erick DeBanff, who appears to be trying to build some sort of “self-help” empire around living your life “to the max.” The lawsuit is against Google for copyright infringement, because it appears that Google used a kind of trite message in a commercial about making every moment matter — and it was the same way that Debanff subtitled his book. DeBanff’s book is called “Vie Max” which also seems to be the name of the movement/fad/concept/something that he’s selling. But the subtitle is “How to live the next 2 billion heartbeats of your life to the max.”

Meanwhile, a few years back, Google put out a commercial for its Google Play store, which you can see here:
It feels a little overly sentimental considering what it’s advertising, but whatever. Still, at the end, you’ll notice that it says “there are about 2 billion, 500 million heartbeats in a lifetime. You should feel every one of them.”

And that according to DeBanff/Peterson (and basically no one else) is copyright infringement:

These words are essentially a direct copy of the words and philosophy in Mr. DeBanff’s book and is a violation of the U.S. Copyright Act.

Except they’re not. Yes, it sort of marginally conveys the same idea — that there are ~2 billionish heartbeats in a standard lifetime and that that number means something, but… uh… that’s not copyrightable. It’s an idea and as any first year law student should have learned, ideas and philosophies are not copyrightable. Just the specific expression of the idea and a throwaway line that barely has any detail at all is not going to cut it. The fact that there are ~2 billionish heartbeats in a lifetime is also factual information and you can’t copyright facts (also kind of something you’re supposed to learn early on about copyrights).

In short, there is nothing here that is even remotely copyright infringing, and suggesting that there is is laughable. Such a lawsuit should get tossed out quickly.

Anyway, no, just because multiple people come up with the same kinda sappy/kinda silly concept around the same time (and express it in very different ways), that’s not copyright infringement. And a lawyer with any knowledge in “intellectual property law” should know that.

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Comments on “Author Sues Google For Copyright Infringement For Copying His 'Philosophy' In A TV Ad”

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32 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

Well yes, but...

Anyway, no, just because multiple people come up with the same kinda sappy/kinda silly concept around the same time (and express it in very different ways), that’s not copyright infringement. And a lawyer with any knowledge in “intellectual property law” should know that.

At the same time, anyone with any knowledge in ‘intellectual property law’ is also likely well aware that with the insane fines in the wings for copyright infringement(not to mention how much it costs to go to court on it’s own) most people and companies settle rather than fight back, which means it doesn’t matter how strong or weak your case is, because a lot of the time it never even makes it that far.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I was hoping for sound business advice. Something like:

– Scan the newswire for recent lottery winners.

– Wait until they repeat some vapid pseudophilosophy like “Wherever you go, there you are!”, or “Live the next 2 billion heartbeats of your life to the max!” that you’ve written down ahead of time.

– Sue!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: ok Erick debanff

This man did not read this information somewhere, he did all the math himself. Understandably this whole philosophy is not an amazingly unique concept, but he did copyright certain statements that have not been expressed or protected by anyone else. He is not suing Google for stealing his idea, he is suing because the excerpts are alarmingly similar. I also find it interesting that the people making unnecessarily ignorant comments would never have the audacity to take on Google so they sit behind a computer and make stupid comments about people because their own lives are nothing short of a pathetic existence. He isn’t suing to win, he’s suing to make a point, something none of you would ever be brave enough to do.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

No Refund Required, Compensation on its Way...

I beg to differ. In my opinion Joel D. Peterson does not need a refund from his law school. First of all, all those law books about copyright were copyrighted by his law professors who wanted so much money to read them (required burning party at the end of the semester) that he could not afford to read them. Second, he learned everything there is to know about billable hours.

Therefore, in my opinion, he knows about copyright, his professors taught him how to mine copyright to its depth, and he know how to represent a client, do what your told and send a bill.

Anonymous Coward says:

My thoughts

This is too short to be copyrightable, I think.

And does this lawsuit even allege that damage was caused? Are people going to see this ad and then not buy his book? I guess they could still go for statutory damages.

“Defendant Google has created a national commercial and ad campaign for Google Play, Google’s online electronics and digital media store, that is confusingly similar to excerpts from Mr. DeBanffs book.”

You know what else is confusingly similar, at least to this attorney? Copyright law and trademark law. Unless that’s some weird theory of actual damages.

“Mr. DeBanff believes that using the idea, words and philosophy of his book in the Google Play advertising campaign infringes the Copyright Act.”

What is this, some sort of weird way for the lawyer to get in a legal claim without actually claiming it? Like, the lawyer knows that copying a “philosophy” isn’t infringement, but the statement that his client believes this is technically true so he can say that? Why else would you mention what your client believes about a legal conclusion about infringement?

Anonymous Coward says:

Paragraph 12:

The Google video and television advertisement and the Google Play campaign uses the words “Play Your Heart Out” and states, “There are about 2 billion 5 hundred million heartbeats in a lifetime. You should feel every one of them.” These words are essentially a direct copy of the words and philosophy in Mr. DeBanffs book and is a violation of the U.S. Copyright Act (17 USC
§101 et seq. — the “Copyright Act”).

Paragraph 18:

Defendant has, without the permission of Mr. DeBanff, copied, duplicated, and distributed words and excerpts from Mr. DeBanffs book in violation of his exclusive rights as a copyright owner.

Emphasis added.

I propose the filing lawyer be strapped into a chair and be beaten on the head with a long green vegetable until he understands the essential difference between a cucumber and a pickle. Or, at the very least, the meaning of the word “essential” in a legal setting.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Yeah, what does “essentially a direct copy” mean? Does that mean it was NOT a direct copy? If they’re comparing the book subtitle to the ad, then the comparison is:

“How to live the next 2 billion heartbeats of your life to the max”
vs.
“There are about 2 billion 5 hundred million heartbeats in a lifetime. You should feel every one of them.”

Gee, I guess it wasn’t a direct copy. The only words copied are “2 billion” (which doesn’t even really count because 2 billion 500 million is not the same as 2 billion), “heartbeats”, and “of”.

And why specify “copied” and “duplicated”? Do those words mean different things? Surely he’s not being paid by the word; the complaint is only 4 pages long.

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

The Google commercial says “there are about 2 billion, 500 million heartbeats in a lifetime.” Part of the Book’s subtitle is “the next 2 billion heartbeats of your life”. Since the author is insisting Google directly copied his subtitle, then we can assume he agrees with the numbers.

So if there are 2,500,000,000 heartbeats in a lifetime and the book is for your future 2,000,000,000 heartbeats, does that mean it’s a children’s book? That cover doesn’t look like it would draw too many five year olds.

Keroberos (profile) says:

This lawsuit has nothing to do with copyright, and everything to do with publicity. Google his name–the entire first page is nothing but his website and social media links, links to his book, some random dentist who shares his last name (who has the 2nd link), and this story on Techdirt. Sounds like someone is sad ’cause his get rich quick self-help scheme isn’t taking off

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: My idea, my copyright

I was thinking along the same lines though in my mind it might have been executed not disbarred.

There needs to be a penalty for lawyers who do these stupid things as well as the copyright holders who twist and stretch to try and find a way to make people pay them. Copyright has become this amazing thing that can do anything, its time we outline the actual limits and force them to work inside the lines.

Anonymous Coward says:

To the max

http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=to+the+max

Shouldn’t IMAX corporation be interested in someone copying the sound of their name?

http://www.yamaha-motor.eu/eu/products/motorcycles/sport-heritage/vmax.aspx

http://www.vim.org/scripts/script.php?script_id=300

etc to the max. It’s not like anyone was using the phrase “to the max” in the 1980s

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Do the math

So, 2.5 billion. But technically, that’s far too low.

For simplicity, let’s ignore that the heart rate increases with exertion and pretend that everyone maintains the average resting human heart rate at all times. This means that my new estimate will still be far too low, but at least within the realm of physical possibility.

The average resting human heart rate for someone in average physical condition is considered to be 60-100BPM, with a skew toward the higher end. Let’s call it 80BPM for simplicity. Also, I’ll ignore leap days in my calculation for the same reason.

76 * 365 * 24 * 1440 min/hr * 80BPM = 76,695,552,000 beats in a lifetime.

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