Rich "Lowtax" Kyanka is certainly no stranger to ridiculous and misguided legal threat letters -- and it appears that he's now got another one. On Monday, he posted to Twitter an image of a threat letter from law firm Higbee & Associates, claiming that this April 2014 review of the Scarlett Johansson film Under the Skin is infringing on Higbee & Associate's "client's" copyright because it includes a still image from the film.
Here's a screenshot of the image in the page with the review:
The review itself is fairly positive on the movie. And, if you're wondering, that same exact image was used on tons of reviews. Like this one and this one and this one and this one, and I'm getting tired cutting and pasting, but trust me, there are plenty more.
There are some oddities about the letter itself. First off, it doesn't appear to ever name the client in question. Actually naming the client/copyright holder is pretty typical with these kinds of letters. They usually note that they are representing a particular client, and make it clear who holds the copyright to the work in question. Yet, here, Higbee & Associates doesn't do that. The letter also makes some weird assertions that suggest whoever wrote the letter isn't all that familiar with copyright law. For example, there's this:
As the infringement occurred on a company website, the company is liable for the unauthorized use in the absence of a valid license, including cases in which a website designer, employee, intern or any third party is responsible for the inclusion of this image on your website.
That, of course, completely ignores the DMCA's safe harbors which actually say the opposite: that a service provider can be protected from liability from actions of third parties, under some specific circumstances (which may or may not apply here -- but it does seem odd that the Higbee lawyer seems to not even understand this).
In fact, looking at Higbee's website, almost everything feels a little... off. It's strange enough that Higbee puts "A National Law Firm" in its own damn logo, as if that's a key selling point, but its website reads like what non-lawyers would think a law firm's website should say.
If you can't read that, it says:
We are a national law firm that prides itself on providing exceptional value by delivering high quality legal representation, the best customer service, and prices that are typically 35% below industry standards.
We offer flat fee pricing on most services so there are no bad billing surprises. We have an online case management system that allows you to see up to the minute details on your case. Most of the cases we handle even have a money back guarantee. Our dedication to our customer service is so strong that it has earned us "A+" ratings with the Better Business Bureau for 7 straight years.
Well, okay then.
It seems likely that the unnamed "client" here is INFPhotos, which is a stock image provider of celebrity photos. Some of the other stories that have used the same image cite INFPhotos, so chances are that's who's licensing the photo. Given all that, perhaps there's some sort of legitimate claim buried deep behind the weird threat letter, if the image is not actually from the movie itself, but from a separate photographer. Even so, it seems like a bizarre reason to go after SomethingAwful, and one that's not likely to end up going particularly well for Higbee & Associates.
That's all super sketchy. But that's just the very beginning of this story. Because days later, Thejesh received the most ridiculous legal threat letter, coming from a lawyer named Ameet Mehta from the law firm Solicis Lex. It claims to be representing an Israeli company, Flash Network, which is apparently responsible for the code injection software... and it claims that by merely revealing to the public that Airtel was doing these injections, he had engaged in criminal copyright infringement under the Information Technology Act, 2000.
If that sounds familiar, that's because we wrote about that ridiculous law last year, noting that it would technically allow people to be put in jail for merely thinking about infringing someone's copyright.
And the Solicis Lex lawyers, to show they're not messing around, cc'd the police on the letter they sent:
The crux of the "copyright" claim seems fairly ridiculous:
The said code is closed source software and our client is sole proprietor of the same. Therefore, no one can use the said code without obtaining license from our client against payment of fees and/or royalties and on commercial and legal terms acceptable to our client. Your aforementioned actions constitute a blatant violation of our client's copyrights and other proprietary rights in the said code.
Remember: all Thejesh GN did was show the code that Airtel inserted into his browser. If Flash Network thinks that showing the code that it dumps into each of your browsing sessions is criminal copyright infringement, just about anyone who does a "view source" could be guilty. That's a plainly ridiculous reading of the law.
On top of that, the lawyers sent a DMCA notice to GitHub, which caved in and took it down:
This is despite GitHub's recent promise not to take things down without first alerting the users in question.
For those who argue that copyright is never used for censorship: explain this story.
Of course, it all seems to be backfiring in a big way. Flash may have wanted to hide what they were up to, but now it's getting much, much, much more attention. Maybe, next time, rather than threatening whistleblowers of your bad practices with claims of criminal copyright infringement, Flash and Airtel will think more about their own crappy business practices that put users at risk.
Techdirt has been writing about major trade deals like TPP, TAFTA/TTIP and -- most recently -- TISA more than most. But there's one that we've not mentioned so far: the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). As Wikipedia explains, RCEP is:
Between the ten member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) (Brunei, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam) and the six states with which ASEAN has existing FTAs (Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand). RCEP negotiations were formally launched in November 2012 at the ASEAN Summit in Cambodia.
As that makes clear, as far as participating nations are concerned, there is a big overlap between RCEP and TPP. The crucial difference is that the US is taking part in TPP, but not RCEP, while China and India are in RCEP, but not TPP. In this sense, then, they are rival free trade agreements, battling it out for economic supremacy in the Pacific region. Given the different views of the leading nations involved -- the US on the one hand, China and India on the other -- you might think the two trade agreements would be turning out to be very different, at least in certain areas. For example, as an interesting EFF analysis of a leaked South Korean RCEP document puts it:
We might then, expect that RCEP could be the "anti-TPP"; a vehicle for countries to push back against the neo-colonial ambitions of the United States, by proposing alternative, home-grown standards on the TPP's thorniest issues such as copyright, patents, and investor protection. Some members of RCEP have indeed spoken out against the TPP because of its unbalanced promotion of strict copyright and patent laws, and some commentators have characterized RCEP and the TPP as competitors.
But based on yesterday's leaks, the promise of RCEP pushing back against the TPP is being squandered. Instead, its IP chapter is turning out as a carbon copy.
Here are just a few of the proposals in the leaked South Korean document:
Prohibiting temporary copies of works in electronic form (a thoroughly misguided and anti-innovation provision that has even been erased from the TPP).
A prohibition on the Internet retransmission of broadcasts, mirroring proposals for a Broadcast Treaty that would inhibit the free use of public domain material.
Inflated awards for copyright or patent infringement, by calculating damages payable for the infringing works on the assumption that they were sold at full retail market value.
Criminal penalties for “commercial scale” copyright and trademark infringement, even where the infringer has not sought or made any profit from the activity.
Suspension of the Internet accounts of repeat infringers, and censorship of bulletin boards that are "considered to seriously damage the sound use of copyrighted works" (whatever that means).
As the EFF post rightly notes, these and the other ideas it lists are even worse than those found in TPP or ACTA, which is some achievement. So the question has to be: why has South Korea adopted this extreme position? The EFF offers an intriguing guess:
Having been pushed into accepting unfavorably strict copyright, patent, and trademark rules in the process of negotiating its 2012 free trade agreement with the United States, Korea considers that it would be at a disadvantage if other countries were not subject to the same restrictions.
If true, that would be a good demonstration of how intellectual monopolies like copyright and patents are not boons that bring benefits to those who embrace them, but banes that are imposed on others in order to hobble them.
The South Korean chapter, with its revelations of just how bad things might be under RCEP, confirms once more the critical importance of leaks when negotiations with potentially far-reaching and global implications are conducted behind closed doors. Moreover:
Now that the text has been leaked and it has been revealed to be so atrocious, we can begin to build pressure for the negotiating countries to open up the process.
After all, it's hard to combat a threat if you don't even know it's there.
As you may have heard, DARPA, the wonderful government agency folks who helped bring us the precursors to the internet and self-driving cars, held a giant robotics competition this weekend, known as the DARPA Robotic Challenge, or DRC. It was full of amazing robots -- though everyone seems focused on the ones that fell over, despite the amazing advancements in robotics that were on display.
One bit of "robotics," whose best work is not on display, is the robotic nature of YouTube's ContentID copyright censorship. If you go to check out the six hour YouTube video of the DRC Finals Workshop on YouTube you'll get to witness everything, but not hear a damn thing. Because, apparently, there was a copyright-covered song playing somewhere in the background, YouTube muted the whole damn thing:
So, yup, rather than learning about the latest advancements from our soon to be robotic overlords, we'll just silence everything so someone's copyright isn't infringed because it was playing quietly in the background at a daylong event.
For many, many years, we've been discussing the "problem" of "orphan works" under copyright law. These are works that are not available any more, and where it simply is not possible to find the copyright holder to seek out a license. Of course, this problem is almost entirely self-created. It's the result of a forced switch from a system that required registration to get a copyright, to one where everything is automatically covered by copyright. Combine that with ever-expanding copyright terms and you have a recipe for a world in which the vast majority of works become "orphaned" while just a tiny few have any legitimate reason to remain under copyright protection. Millions of books, millions of photographs and hundreds of thousands of films are now considered orphaned works -- unable to be either used or licensed -- with many simply fading away. In fact, some have reasonably advocated that we should be referring to them as hostage works rather than orphaned works. These works haven't been "abandoned." They need to be freed, not given adoptive parents.
In the past, attempts at legislating a solution to the problem with these hostage works have fallen flat, often after facing significant pushback from authors and photographers who spin ridiculous stories about how orphan works legislation is really about legalizing the "stealing" (of course) of their works. Of course, that's never actually the case. Pretty much all attempts at dealing with orphan/hostage works involve requiring significant attempts at locating copyright holders.
Either way, the US Copyright Office has released a giant report on what to do about "orphan works," which is an interesting read, even if the Copyright Office still can't bring itself to admit that the "problem" of these hostage works has to do almost exclusively with two legal changes it has long supported: getting rid of formalities (registration) and extending copyright terms. Instead, it acts as if such hostage works are a problem wholly unrelated to all of that -- and in need of new policies to "fix" the problem that the old legal changes created, rather than rolling back those bad policies.
The report proposes a law fairly similar to the one that we wrote about a decade ago, but slightly more ridiculous: it includes a requirement for users to "register" their use of orphaned works with the copyright office:
In addition to a diligent search, condition eligibility on a user filing of a Notice of Use with the Copyright Office, providing appropriate attribution, and engaging in negotiation for reasonable compensation with copyright owners who file a Notice of Claim of Infringement, among other requirements;
Think about that for a second. Rather than fix the actual problem by requiring registration by the copyright holder, the Copyright Office is recommending, instead, that the user have to register. The Copyright Office, bizarrely, defends this requirement by saying that it will serve a useful purpose of bringing users and copyright holders together:
The Office believes that the principal advantage of a Notice of Use requirement is that copyright owners can use it to become aware that their work is considered orphaned and more easily respond to users. As noted above, the goal of any orphan works provision should be to unite owners and users.
Um, you know what would be even better at that stated purpose? Requiring the copyright holder to register in the first place so that there would be no such thing as an "orphaned" work and any user could much more easily find the copyright holder in question. But that's not even remotely considered in this report.
And the really amazing thing is that any time people bring up the idea of requiring registration/formalities for copyright holders, they are always dismissed out of hand as "too burdensome" for copyright holders. Yet, here, when requiring the same damn thing for those wishing to use hostage works, the Copyright Office dismisses the concern out of hand because it also provides some other ways around it.
The other bizarre thing about the report is that it seems to be dripping with contempt for fair use. The report, rightly, notes that there have been a few recent important court rulings -- such as the Hathitrust and Google book scanning cases -- that have recognized that fair use is often a perfectly reasonable tool for dealing with some of the issues raised by hostage works. However, the report basically says "Sure, but that could change."
The Copyright Office notes that the judiciary has yet to explicitly address how to apply fair use to orphan works. Thus, the informed and scholarly views of some commenters as to the application of fair use in specific orphan works situations do not yet have as their basis any controlling case law. Also, fair use jurisprudence is, because of its flexibility and fact-specific nature, a less concrete foundation for the beneficial use of orphan works than legislation, and is always subject to change.
In response to this, the Association of Research Libraries points out that the Copyright Office is not just wrong, but it's overthinking things:
The Copyright Office’s denigration of fair use as a solution to the orphan works problem is disappointing. What the Copyright Office fails to acknowledge in its analysis of recent fair use jurisprudence is that fair use is a fairly predictable doctrine. As Professor Pamela Samuelson noted in a 2009 article entitled, Unbundling Fair Uses, “Fair use is both more coherent and more predictable than many commentators have perceived once one recognizes that fair use cases fall into common patterns.” The Copyright Office’s suggestion that because fair use is flexible and fact-specific it is insufficient to address orphan works, is also misleading. By analogy, while the Copyright law does not have an explicit limitation or exception for the use of VCRs or DVRs, specific legislation to ensure that recording using such devices is lawful is not necessary because it is widely understood that such activity is fair use.
The ARL also points out yet another example of the Copyright Office treating the symptom rather than the disease by making the problem worse. That is, while the Copyright Office insists that fair use is too much work to use as a defense, it ignores the fact that its own "solution" for orphan works is a tremendous amount of work for users:
Furthermore, the Copyright Office suggests that even where fair use may be a defense, “many will choose to forego use of the work entirely rather than risk the prospect of expensive litigation.” The Copyright Office fails to recognize that its proposed burdensome legislation that requires extremely time and resource intensive searches as well as notice of use requirements, could also cause users to forego the use of the work. Additionally, where legislation appears overly complicated, while institutions and corporations may make use of it, individual users may find compliance difficult.
In short, rather than fix the basic problem that created orphan/hostage works in the first place with the obvious solution of going back to a system that requires formalities (registration), the Copyright Office, instead, thinks the best solution is to put a huge burden on the public. This is not how the law is supposed to work. Copyright, as designated in the Constitution, is supposed to "promote the progress" by providing the public with greater access to works. Yet, once again, we see the Copyright Office focused on putting greater burdens on the public, rather than working on making works more available and accessible.
Abbott & Costello's Who's on First? routine is one of the most well-known comedy bits of the 20th century. There are a bunch of different variations on it, and they often changed things around when they performed it. Here's one famous performance of it:
Of course, the history of the skit is a bit complicated with plenty of examples of similar skits being performed long before Abbott & Costello did their version. In fact, Abbott himself performed a version of it with someone else before teaming up with Costello. There have also been different debates over who actually wrote it -- which isn't that surprising given how many different versions there were and how others had performed similar skits.
And of course, this is how a normal creative process works, with experimenting and adjustments until it reaches a level that's entertaining. People build on each other's work, and they share and then change things around. But, in a world of copyright, that gets tricky. Milton Berle once claimed that "Who's on First" was in the public domain and that everyone, including himself, used to perform versions of it.
But, of course, nowadays we live in a world where absolutely everything must be "owned" and the various heirs of Abbott & Costello insist that they own the rights to "Who's on First," and anyone who wants to do anything with it must license it from them first.
And thus, they are now suing the playwright and producers of a new popular Broadway play Hand to God that apparently includes a brief scene where one of the characters tries to impress another character by performing a version of Who's on First? with puppets.
In the lawsuit, they trace the somewhat circuitous path of the copyright itself. It was originally held by Universal Pictures Co. after the act appeared in Universal's One Night in the Tropics film in 1940, and then again in The Naughty Nineties in 1945. It notes that Abbott & Costello had a work for hire agreement with the studio, giving up all the rights to the act. Those copyrights have been renewed and extended thanks to changes in copyright law. However, in 1984 Universal transferred the copyright of just those scenes back to the heirs of Abbott & Costello. The heirs admit that the sound recordings did not have a federal copyright, but they do say that under NY state law, they have a "common law" copyright in the sound recordings -- and that's helped along by that recent ruling against Sirius XM concerning common law copyrights in NY.
Still, that raises a bunch of questions. While they may hold the copyright in those specific performances, given that the act was done way before that, do they really hold the copyright in the entire "Who's on First?" script? It seems like a very strong argument can be made that they do not.
On top of that, if there actually is a copyright claim here, it seems like the fair use defense is a fairly strong one as well.
According to the NY Times article:
The federal lawsuit, filed in the Southern District of New York, is claiming copyright infringement against the playwright Robert Askins, the producers and the promoters. The estate said cease-and-desist requests were sent after the play opened on Broadway in April, and it is seeking damages and lawyers’ fees.
“ ‘Hand to God’ is using ‘Who’s on First’ not just to get laughs from the audience but also to get people to buy tickets,” a lawyer for Abbott and Costello’s heirs, Marc Rachman, said in a statement.
This is, clearly, an attempt to end-run around a fair use defense, but I don't think it works. I don't know what that line even means about "not just to get laughs." No one is going to this play as a substitute for going to see Abbott & Costello perform the skit. People are going to the play because it's getting great reviews and is funny -- not because of the use of the skit, which is being performed not because of the inherent humor in the skit itself, but rather as a sort of cultural touchstone, referencing the famous skit. In the past, this would be what was known as an homage. Today, the lawyers and copyright maximalists call it infringement. But here, it seems pretty clear that it's transformative, as the use is for a very different purpose (and, of course, done in a different way, involving a hand puppet, which is key to the plot of the play).
Beyond that, the actual complaint seems to undermine their own argument:
The scene takes place only about fifteen minutes into the one hour and forty-five minute play, and is one of the lighter moments of the production, without which the much darker tone of the rest of the play would be very difficult for the audience to handle. It is this purely comedic scene featuring Who's On First?, conterbalanced with the more dramatic and serious themes of the play which are developed later on, that has allowed the play to garner both commercial success and wide audience appeal as a "dark comedy."
But, by saying that, they're basically admitting to the transformative nature here. It's not being used as Abbott & Costello intended, as a vaudevillian slapstick, but rather as a set piece in a much larger, much darker piece. Also, who the hell are they to claim that the play would be "very difficult for the audience to handle." How is that their position to say?
And the legal precedents don't look good for the heirs either. A couple years ago, we wrote about the play Jersey Boyswinning its lawsuit, allowing it to use a clip from the Ed Sullivan show thanks to fair use, noting that the use of the clip was clearly not a "replacement" for the original. Same here. And, just a couple months ago, another off-Broadway play was victorious in arguing fair use in using the premise of the TV show Three's Company to create its own parody show. Thus, it seems that judges are recognizing that plays can make use of fair use to use elements of cultural touchstones in order to create their own enterntainment.
Either way, I'm sure plenty of lawyers will be able to bill tons of hours as this creates a huge legal mess, rather than just celebrating a moment of American cultural history.
This seems to happen every few months or so, but once again, a record label is causing a big name musical act to have its own video blocked from showing up on YouTube. As you may have heard, Maroon 5 recently released a new single, entitled "This Summer's Gonna Hurt Like A Motherfucker" -- and with it, a video that has been getting lots of attention. So, you might want to go check it out on YouTube, but if you do that right now, you'll be presented with this (ht: @RomanOnARiver):
Ooops. Yes, that's Maroon 5's official YouTube channel and the official video for their new single which has been getting lots of press attention and already had nearly 1.5 million views. But now it's getting none, because the band's own label has yanked the video via a copyright claim (most likely via a braindead use of YouTube's Content ID system). The band is signed to Interscope, which is a subsidiary of Universal Music. Gotta wonder how that's working out for them, if their own label is yanking down their own official video just as it's getting lots of attention. Isn't copyright great?
from the a-language-is-only-useful-if-it's-shared dept
We've already written plenty on the Obama administration's absolutely ridiculous filing in the Oracle/Google case concerning the copyrightability of APIs. As we noted, the entire filing shows what appears to be a willful misunderstanding of the difference between "software" and an "API." That's problematic on many levels. In trying to explain this, we kept describing the API as something of a "recipe" -- which is not covered by copyright -- and how that's different from the actual food. But Charles Duan has come up with potentially an even better comparison, noting that an API is quite like an invented language, and wondering what would happen if the creators of Klingon tried to claim copyright against anyone using Klingon.
...according to Oracle, copyright can protect a language and prevent others like Google from speaking it.
That’s the connection of the Oracle v. Google case to Klingon and other constructed languages like Esperanto or Lojban: If broadly read, the ruling against Google, which is where the case currently stands, could also deem the speaking of such languages to be copyright infringement.
This is actually quite interesting. Getting beyond Klingon, Duan mentions Lojban, which is a kind of proof of the problems this kind of thing can cause. Lojban is actually a re-created language, building off the ideas in Loglan, whose creators tried to lock it up claiming ownership. In that case, the creator, James Brown, tried (and failed) to use trademark law to block others from using "his" language.
But this is a key thing: languages are only useful if they're shared and used more widely. The idea of locking up a language itself under copyright is almost nonsensical, but that's exactly what the appeals court did and it's what the Obama administration has now advocated for, based on a failure to understand the difference between an API and software.
And, of course, the impact on this goes beyond "languages" as Duan notes:
And it’s not just the linguists and Trekkies who should be concerned.
Invented languages are the foundation of all sorts of innovation. Most prominently, computer networking technology depends on languages, like the Wi-Fi protocol, so that multiple computers can communicate and understand one another. Those protocols also include formally defined commands (vocabularies) and rules of operation and syntax (grammars), making them languages almost exactly on par with the Java API. Other fields, such as medicine, engineering, and sports, rely on well-known jargon for efficient communication of specialized concepts.
Languages and APIs are how we communicate. Languages may be how humans communicate with one another, while APIs are often how computers communicate with one another. Copyrighting the very language of communication seems not just nonsensical but actively counterproductive when you think about it that way.
It's just tragic that the lawyers working for the President didn't think about it that way.
This is a pretty stunning example of censorship by copyright -- from a literal government.
Joseph Teixeira is a critic of the mayor of Inglewood, California, James Butts. As is common among people with more than a passing interest in local politics, Teixeira takes clips of videos of city council meetings -- which are available on YouTube -- and posts them to YouTube, overlaying them with his own commentary and words. Teixeira, who goes by the name "Dehol Trouth" (get it?), runs a website called "Anybody But James Butts For Anything" and, when he's not caustically criticizing Mayor Butts, likes to make fun of the way he plays with his tie. Here's one of the videos:
Whether Teixeira's criticism has any merit, I don't know. He comes across as articulate and well-researched, lacking an "I attend every city council meeting to rant about chemtrails" feel. I do know this: it's awfully hard for a public official to sue for defamation.
But of course Mayor Butts isn't afraid of a few YouTube videos viewed by a couple hundred people -- people who probably don't even live in Inglewood and were just searching for a Snoop Dogg video. After all, Mayor Butts, won his last election by the largest margin in the city's history. So the best thing to do would be to ignore the guy, right?
Of course it would. But that's not what Mayor Butts and his fellow councilcritters did. Rather, they enlisted the resources of the city they govern to sue Teixeira for copyright infringement. Here's the complaint. In its path to censoring Teixeira, the City of Inglewood makes some pretty surprising false statements, on top of being completely and utterly wrong on the law.
Teixeira moved to dismiss the lawsuit with two arguments. First, he argues that the city can't even own a copyright because California law -- which requires the city to provide a copy of the video at only the cost of reproducing it to anyone who asks -- doesn't permit a city to hold a copyright in this kind of record. And that's what this is: a record of a city council meeting. Second, Teixeira argues that if there is a copyright interest, this is a classic fair use. After all, he's a citizen making fifteen-minute videos that include snippets of meetings that last up to four hours, and doing so to criticize his elected officials. On top of that, he's not getting any money for it. It's hard to think of a clearer example of fair use.
First, Inglewood argues that it can have a copyright interest because that case cited by Teixeira was argued by the same international law firm that represents Teixeira now, and something about the Supremacy Clause. Second, Inglewood states -- with a straight face -- that Teixeira's 15-minute videos appropriate the entire "work"... which is usually about four hours long. Worse, according to Inglewood, adding criticism over clips of these videos doesn't transform them from being what they were (boring bloody videos of city council meetings documenting people who probably wish they were playing Candy Crush, and would be if the meeting weren't on video) into something else, like pointed political criticism. Plus, Teixeira is somehow using the video for a "commercial" purpose, although Inglewood just sort of states this without any explanation whatsoever.
Defendant merely republished substantially all of Plaintiff's unaltered videotapes of its Council meetings, with Defendant's derogatory comments overlaid on top. This is not transformative in the least. [...] Transformativeness is not about a defendant's subjective intent; it is about 'add[ing] something new.'
A lawyer facing a poor set of facts might be forgiven for arguing nonsense, and this would perhaps not be as surprising if it had been left in its native format (crayon). But Inglewood's position goes from wrong to holy-crap-do-you-even-believe-what-you-are-writing-or-is-this-a-practical-joke-am-I-on-TV-hi-mom when it comes to identifying the real threat to free speech:
What is really going on here is that the Defendant wants to criticize the City without doing his own work. What he likes about infringing Plaintiff's copyright rights is simply that -- particularly with the Internet -- it is extremely easy, and essentially cost free. The Defendant takes the position that anyone who wants to criticize or comment on anyone else's work would be entitled to make a copy of it (and for free). A person could go into a bookstore, for example, and make a copy of an entire book (instead of buying it) because they do not just want to read it, they want to "comment" on it. If Defendant's argument is adopted, anyone could copy hundreds of books and articles so they could "comment" on them. Then they could scan this library of books and articles, and post them on the Internet with his "comments." To make his websites more appealing, he might also decide to "comment" on photographs, paintings, music, documentaries, and movies. Copyright law would be eviscerated if Defendant's argument is adopted.
The Defendant does not want copyright laws to be enforced. This would have as pernicious an effect on the First Amendment as anything imaginable. It would destroy long existing incentives to create and publish works of authorship in various media, including the Internet. [...] If authors cannot expect compensation for their creative works, they will stop creating them. Id. Not only does the First Amendment not compel this, to allow this would undermine the very First Amendment values that the Defendant so ardently claims he believes in. This would deprive authors of any economic incentive to speak. The result: less free speech, not more.
Yes, that's right: if the city can't enforce a copyright over videos it has to give away for only the cost of putting them onto a CD, the city won't have any economic incentive to record its own meetings, which it already distributes for free on the internet. That -- and not a government demanding that a citizen pay them money after insulting them -- is the real threat to free speech here.
The six videos have each been seen only about 300 times. To put this in perspective, it cost Inglewood taxpayers $400 just to file the lawsuit. Add in the $595 it cost the city to register the copyrights on these videos -- some of which date back to 2011 -- and that means this suit has cost about fifty-five cents for every time one of these videos has been viewed. And that's before attorneys' fees.
Let's reduce that ratio: here are the six videos. Give them a view:
Perhaps someone should find out, exactly, how much this frivolous, thin-skinned lawsuit has cost Inglewood's taxpayers. I know just the man for the job. Or you could email Mayor Butts and ask him yourself. In any event, this lawsuit is enough to make one think that this Teixeira character might be on to something: these officials are not deserving of the votes of the people they represent.
Musician and producer Steve Albini has never been a fan of the recording industry. He posted the definitive essay on how labels screw artists over 20 years ago, and it's just as relevant today as it was then. The internet (read: file sharing) has been public enemy #1 for the recording industry (and now the motion picture industry), despite offering a host of benefits to artists and labels. Those at the top see its decentralized distribution as a threat, with any accompanying gains in marketing power and reach deemed a net loss after totalling up the "lost sales."
Albini -- similarly affected by these same "negatives" -- doesn't see it this way. While acknowledging the fact that infringement occurs in amounts previously unseen (but that it's not in any way a new thing -- just far more efficient and not necessarily a bad thing), he continues to point out that the problems the music industry suffers from are mostly self-inflicted.
“I don’t feel like I’m part of the music industry, the music industry meaning the corporatised business structures where you have people who are in the lower level, people in the upper level, people in administration, and people making legal relationships between all those people. [...]
This administrative business structure that’s syphoning money out of that whole scene has always seemed artificial and unnecessary and I’ve spent my life trying to remove its influence.”
While the industry frets about "lost sales," it has done very little to evolve from the bloated form it took on during the 40+ year run where multiple format shifts resulted in unprecedented sales figures. It's not just the corporate structure that's a problem. And this isn't to say labels haven't shed personnel over the years. It's just that they've been forced to make cuts due to falling revenue, rather than actively working to streamline their operations to fit the expectations of the internet age. Frontline staff and low-level employees have lost jobs but there are still many layers of employees distancing artists from those who own them.
Then there are the lawyers. Some are there to ensure every last bit of revenue can be wrung out of an artist before any royalty checks are cut. Some are there to explore every possible legal angle that might be used to combat piracy The first sort have always been present. The latter still exist only because industry heads still hold out hope that file sharing can somehow be defeated with court orders and legislation.
Albini says the first set are roughly as useless as the last.
“The idea that you have to have contracts to do [business] agreements, that you have to have formal understanding between people in order to have a long relationship, is a complete fallacy.
If you enjoy working with someone and both feel the relationship is working out, you naturally carry on indefinitely.
That’s the way I’ve approached essentially all of my business, you don’t need contracts."
But you do need a contract if the "relationship" is actually just exploitation. This is why contracts are of utmost importance to the recording industry. Artists may initially show enthusiasm when offered a recording contract, but a few years down the road, they often find they're cranking out recordings just to avoid going deeper in debt. An equitable agreement -- like those used by Albini (who prefers a flat-rate fee for his production work, rather than seeking a cut of every sale or stream in perpetuity) -- doesn't need a multi-page contract or a team of lawyers. Honesty and openness up front can trim a lot of pages from an agreement... as well as the jobs of lawyers whose entire purpose is to ensure "agreements" are as long and inscrutable as possible.
Lastly, Albini goes after copyright -- itself a legacy business model.
“The old copyright model – the person who creates something owns it and anyone else that wants to use it or see it has to pay them – has expired in the same way that around the world you’re seeing structures and social norms [lapse] that were standard for many years.
It’s going to take a lot for the business to catch up to where the audience is, in the same way it takes a while for the church and the laws to catch up to where the people are.
But there is no longer the possibility to exclusively control music through copyright.”
Those arguing that stronger copyright protections will somehow "control" social sharing aren't grasping the reality of the situation. As it stands now, any copyright holder can demand $150,000 per infringement in statutory damages, and yet, that has had no appreciable effect on infringement. Just ask Rightscorp, which offers $20/infringement "settlements" while waving threats of $150,000 "fines" over internet subscribers' heads. It's in the business of spending money to lose money.
The idea that lifetime+ copyright terms will put creators' grandkids through college is likewise suspect. Grandkids are going to college thanks to these terms, but they're the descendants of label execs and studio heads.
The "control" offered by copyright is an illusion. The continued belief in this misconception allows labels to take advantage of artists. An artist may feel (incorrectly) that an individual can never hope to fully exploit his or her creations without the assistance of the marketing and legal teams of major labels, but they almost invariably have to give up full control of their creations to make use of these services. What good is their copyright then? It's not even theirs. And the assistance they're receiving is charged up front at full retail and paid off with royalties -- a tiny percentage of actual sales and profit.
As Albini points out, the way people enjoy music continues to change, and attempts to offer iterations of existing platforms and services is missing the point. People, for the most part, don't care about the quality of streaming music. They only care about the convenience. Albini notes that people carried around transistor radios to enjoy music on the go, something that offered truly terrible sound quality, but was no less popular for doing so. The way people consume and distribute creations will continue to change, but trying to harness that potential using contracts, outdated business models and delusions of control will never work.