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I am a technology consultant, contributor here at Techdirt, and an author. I hope to someday get enough people reading the books I sell to garner a scathing review.




Posted on Techdirt - 17 August 2018 @ 3:42pm

Getting Worse: The Office Of Hawaiian Affairs Jumps Into The Aloha Poke Situation As Chicago Chain Stonewalls

from the culture-schlock dept

It's been a week or so since we last checked in on the Aloha Poke situation, so perhaps you were wondering how things were coming along with the Chicago chain that wasn't founded by Hawaiians attempting to bully native Hawaiian poke joints across the country out of using their own language and culture over trademark concerns. You will recall that Aloha Poke Co. had sent cease and desist notices to many poke restaurants that dared to use the ubiquitous Hawaiian term "Aloha" in their names, including to proprietors on the Hawaiian Islands themselves. That many operations throughout the country had been chugging along sharing this name and food culture without issue apparently didn't prevent Aloha Poke Co. from registering "Aloha Poke" as a trademark and then go the bullying route. The last touchstone in all of this was a hundreds-strong planned protest at the company's headquarters in Chicago, which indeed ended up happening.

So, how have things gone since? Well, Aloha Poke Co. appears to be simply digging in its heels and trying to ride this storm out rather than backing down, but it's a strategy that doesn't appear to be working all that well. Just this week, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, an organization that promotes and protects Hawaiian culture, has jumped into the fray, both voicing its displeasure at Aloha Poke Co.'s bullying and essentially filling up its homepage with news about the protests.

In a statement, OHA CEO Kamana’opono Crabbe described the attitude of OHA as “appalled” over the food chain’s trademarks, which uses culturally significant words from ‘┼îlelo Hawai’i, the traditional native Hawaiian language.

OHA also asserted that they were currently contacting prominent stakeholders to “discuss possible solutions” to the trademark controversy.

The organisation went on to highlight the continuous “commercialisation and exploitation” of traditional Hawaiian culture that hinders attempts to preserve customs and languages in an appropriate manner.

As we've said in past posts, the concerns about cultural appropriation, particularly in light of the subsequent bullying, are valid and very real, but the better route to victory against Aloha Poke Co. is almost certainly legal arguments over its trademark more generally. Whatever you might think of this sort of cultural appropriation, it seems obvious to me that the United States government and its USPTO wing are not sure-fire candidates for swaying on arguments that big business isn't treating natives all that well. Backing that statement up for citation purposes is: history.

Instead, we should be seeing as many or more arguments that the term "Aloha" is, as stated, ubiquitous and non-identifying, whereas the term "poke" simply refers to the goods sold at these establishments. Marrying a generic term with a name of a product you can't trademark obviously doesn't create a valid trademark.

But none of that is to suggest that efforts to gin up anger over the appropriation side of this doesn't have a place in getting Aloha Poke Co. to reverse course on its bullying. Public shaming does indeed work and it's good to see that the company's current strategy of waiting out the anger simply isn't working.

In other words: Dear Aloha Poke Co., it's probably time to cut your losses and issue a mea culpa.

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Posted on Techdirt - 17 August 2018 @ 12:38pm

In-N-Out Sends Punny Cease And Desist Over Fairly Clear Trademark Infringement

from the not-bad dept

You may have heard the general mantra that "puns are the lowest form of comedy." Heathens say that, because puns are great and, if I had my way, there would be a legal requirement to use at least one in every legal document this country produces. They can also be used to lighten up what would otherwise be heavy legal actions. Such is the case with In-N-Out Burger, which decided to respond to what is pretty likely trademark infringement with a pun-laden cease and desist.

We'll start with the product that was likely infringing on In-N-Out's trademarks, which itself involves some punnery.

The back and forth banter all started on July 12 when Seven Stills took to Instagram and posted a photo of its soon-to-be-released "barrel aged neopolitan milkshake stout." The beverage's logo featured In-N-Out's famous red palm tree lining, arrow logo and the phrase "In-N-Stout Beer."

In case you're wondering just how clearly Seven Stills' use of In-N-Out's trade dress was, here is the brewery's own Instagram post.

Barrel aged neopolitan milkshake stout coming soon. @innout

A post shared by Seven Stills of SF (@sevenstills) on

In case you're somehow unaware of In-N-Out's log and cup design, the In-N-Stout effort above is a very clear play on it:

So, yeah, despite the two companies being in different markets, this sort of use could still cause some kind of confusion and create an impression of affiliation between the two entities. If you really want to argue any of that, I suppose you can, but this is probably trademark infringement.

In-N-Out, which we have criticized in the past for some dodgy trademark behavior, deserves some credit here instead for firing off a cease and desist that certainly didn't take itself too seriously.

After In-N-Out caught wind of the idea, its legal team crafted a cease and desist letter jam-packed with puns related to beer making.

"Based on your use of our marks, we felt obligated to hop to action in order to prevent further issues from brewing," part of the letter read.

The C&D actually had way more puns than just those, however. Given the gentle and congenial nature of the C&D, in fact, Seven Stills made a point to post the entire thing to its Instagram account, as well as agreeing to alter its beer's trade dress to remove In-N-Out's branding from the can.

We count 9. Can you find them all?

A post shared by Seven Stills of SF (@sevenstills) on

If you can't see that, it reads:

Dear Seven Sills Brewery & Distillery,

We at In-N-Out Burgers ("In-N-Out") received multiple reports of your "In-N-Stout Beer" featured on your social media pages. The In-N-Stout Beer label features In-N-Out's trademarks including our palm tree and arrow logos along with a substantial similarity to In-N-Out's brand name. Based on your use of our marks, we felt obligated to hop to action in order to prevent further issues from brewing.

In case you are not already aware, In-N-Out owns multiple trademark registrations in these marks. As you may expect, we tap into a lot of effort in protecting our marks, which includes limiting their use by others.

Please understand that use of our marks by third parties ales us to the extent that this could cause confusion in the marketplace or prevent us from protecting our marks in the future. We hope you can appreciate, however, that we are attempting to clearly distill our rights by crafting an amicable approach with you, rather than barrel through this.

Accordingly, we request that you refrain from further use of In-N-Out's marks by not selling or promoting items featuring our marks, and removing images of "In-N-Stout" and any other items featuring our marks from your website and social media pages. Please contact us as soon as possible, so this does not continue to ferment. Thank you for your time and consideration, and we look froward to resolving this in good spirits.

The lesson here isn't that there wasn't some other way to work this out beyond a cease and desist notice. No, the point here is that trademark issues can reach amicable ends if only companies are congenial with one another... and use as many puns as possible.

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Posted on Techdirt - 16 August 2018 @ 8:03pm

Comrade Brewing Gets Its 'Superpower' Trademark After Nonsense Opposition From The Wonderful Company

from the trademarkman dept

Between the explosion in the craft beer industry and our pernicious ownership culture, the beer industry has enough of a trademark problem to regularly appear in our posts. While many of the disputes in the industry are generated by once-small breweries that have grown up and shed their permissive attitudes towards branding, just as many trademark disputes result from entities outside the industry attempting to pretend that the alcohol industries, if not craft beer specifically, are not markets all to their own. This lack of nuance occasionally pervades even within the USPTO, unfortunately.

But sometimes the TTAB gets it right. Such is the case with Comrade Brewing, makers of its 'Superpower IPA' brew, for which the TTAB refused the opposition of The Wonderful Company, which makes fruit juices. At issue was the slogan for POM Wonderful juices: "Antioxidant Superpower."

In past cases, the board has held that wine and spirits are closely related to beer in the minds of consumers, but it said The Wonderful Co. had failed to show that a soft drink such as fruit juice had the same kind of connection. “Simply put, opposer has not submitted sufficient evidence that consumers are accustomed to encountering these goods under the same mark,” Judge Peter W. Cataldo wrote for a three-judge panel.

“Particularly in light of the differences between the goods but also because the two marks had key differences in appearance,” Cataldo wrote, “the board sided with Comrade Brewing.”

This opposition was a loser on several grounds. The markets being different for each product is certainly the easiest to conceptualize. Customers looking for fruit juices are unlikely to wander into a store's craft beer section and find themselves irrevocably confused. As someone who has seen what pomegranate juice looks like, and as someone who has consumed an unholy quantity of IPAs, this opposition would be hilarious if it weren't so frustrating in the first place. For a small brewer to have to entertain this kind of clear bullying from a much larger company at the trademark office is plainly absurd.

And, when you take into account the difference in the actual marks, it becomes all the more so. A beer named "Superpower IPA" and a slogan that says "Antioxidant Superpower" are simply unlikely to cause anything resembling confusion in the market. Everything else about the trade dress is also, of course, wildly different. David Lin, owner of Comrade Brewing, appears to be taking this all in stride.

“Operating this brewery has thrown us a lot of curveballs,” explains Lin. “If I’m being completely honest the potential confusion between antioxidant juice and craft beer was more surprising to me than the day someone crashed their truck through our front door. We’re going to laugh this one off over a couple of Superpowers.”

It's certainly an endearing attitude to have, but it should be obvious that the wasting of a non-competitor's time with this sort of thing ought to be worthy of punishment.

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Posted on Techdirt - 15 August 2018 @ 7:41pm

Video Games In Germany Can Now Maybe Kinda Sometimes Have Swastikas

from the winning-is-weird dept

As you likely know, Germany has some very restrictive laws surrounding how and when Nazi iconography can appear in the country. This has resulted in a heavily-policed artistic community, particularly when it comes to video games, which has produced some fairly funny happenings about games accidentally going to Germany chock full of Nazi stuff and other funny happenings in which the game makers make a show of doing as little as possible to get around the law. In the realm of other media, such as movies, the German government has put in place a review process to make sure that the use of Nazi symbols furthers the artistic or historical accuracy of the entertainment. Video games have not had such a review system. And, look, on some level this sort of attempt by Germany to restrict the use of these hateful symbols is understandable. The kind of global embarrassment that comes with committing the worst genocide in history is the sort of thing that leaves a mark. But we've also pointed out that these German laws aren't so much stamping out fascist thought as they are putting the government's collective head in the sand as some kind of grand virtue signal to the planet.

Which is why it's at least a tepid step forward that Germany has revised its position and will now allow Nazi iconography in some video games, some of the time, on a case by case basis.

The government has moved from a blanket ban on swastikas and Hitler moustaches to a case-by-case basis, which will be administered by the USK, Germany’s ratings board.

The official release with the news gives the specifics:

When games that depict symbols of unconstitutional organisations are submitted to the USK for an age rating, the USK committees can now assess them on a case-by-case basis to decide whether the ‘social adequacy clause’ (Sozialadäquanzklausel, as laid out in section 86, subsection (3) of the German Criminal Code) applies. In this context, ‘social adequacy’ means that symbols of unconstitutional organisations can be used in games in individual cases, as long as those symbols serve an artistic or scientific purpose, or depict current or historical events.

Again, the big shift here is actually one of cultural importance, which is the German government will now consider video games as an artistic form, which they undoubtedly are. Movies and television have had a similar review process in place for years, but games were left out. And, as the gaming art form continues to gain ground as the preferred entertainment medium, it was impossible for the German government to ignore this forever. So, while it seems odd to declare a victory in which more swastikas will be seen by the German public, this is much more to do with an acknowledgement of culture than cheering on the Third Reich.

Felix Falk, Managing Director of the German Games Industry Association, says:

This new decision is an important step for games in Germany. We have long campaigned for games to finally be permitted to play an equal role in social discourse, without exception. Computer and video games have been recognised as a cultural medium for many years now, and this latest decision consistently cements that recognition in terms of the use of unconstitutional symbols as well.

It remains to be seen whether or not older games like Wolfenstein will resubmit the original forms of its games for inclusion in all of this, but at least the German government will no longer act as though it can pretend that Nazis were never a thing.

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Posted on Techdirt - 15 August 2018 @ 1:39pm

Disney Gets Early Loss In Trademark, Copyright Suit Against Unlicensed Birthday Party Characters

from the knock-it-off-knockoffs dept

Late last year, we discussed a lawsuit brought by Disney against Characters For Hire, a small company that sends costume characters to children's birthday parties. Those characters, as we said at the time, are barely-altered clear homages to storied Disney-owned characters, such as Dark Lord (Dearth Vader) and Big Hairy Guy (sigh, Chewbacca). While Disney sued over both trademark and copyright, the alterations to the characters and the very clear disclaimer Characters For Hire puts on its site and documents meant the chances for confusion as to Disney's affiliation was always non-existent. When you add that the changes in the characters and the medium in which they were offered at least partially put us in the idea/expression dichotomy zone for copyright law. That part of the law essentially says copyright applies to specific expressions (written stories, film, music, and sometimes characters), but not general ideas (a Dark Lord, a, sigh, Big Hairy Guy).

Well, nearly a year later, the first legal returns have come in and they are not great for Disney.

On Thursday, a New York federal judge refused to grant summary judgment in favor of Disney in its ongoing case against Nick Sarelli, alleged to run a "knock-off business ... built upon the infringement of Plaintiffs' highly valuable intellectual property rights."

What's more, U.S. District Court Judge George Daniels threw out most of Disney's trademark claims against a defendant who will send out individuals dressed as "The Princess" (meaning Leia) or "Big Hairy Guy" (meaning Chewbacca) for special events.

Daniels recognizes some similarity, but isn't buying that Disney and Sarelli compete in the same business nor that Sarelli's customers are likely to be confused. The judge makes the point that it's "adults, not children" who plan parties and there's no evidence of actual confusion.

This is roughly as predicted in our original post. The trademark claims were far less likely to succeed due to all the steps Characters For Hire took to explicitly make sure that the public wasn't confused when buying from it. Disney's evidence mostly amounted to customer reviews for the Characters For Hire that occasionally referenced the original characters being paid homage, but the judge found that even in those comments there was nothing indicating confusion. Instead, it seemed that parents knew full well they were buying so-called knockoffs, making the trademark claims unwarranted. The only trademark claim that survives for trial, if it gets that far, will be for dilution.

The court also refused summary judgement for the copyright portion of Disney's claims, noting that Disney's lawyers presented for evidence poor-quality screenshots of Characters For Hire's website, including screenshots of site pages no longer active, but which were instead grabbed from the Internet Archive. The copyright claims, however, will go to trial, assuming Disney lets it get that far after these early losses.

The more likely outcome is that a settlement will be reached. With so little left to argue, Disney surely can't want to throw money for lawyer's fees just to keep some kids from having fun at their birthday parties... can it?

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Posted on Techdirt - 14 August 2018 @ 7:26pm

Bruce Lee's Estate Gets Stiff Roundhouse Kick After Trying To Block Theater Company's Trademark

from the exit-the-dragon dept

Those steeped in ownership culture often have the wrong idea when it comes to trademark laws. In the minds of some, trademark laws can be used like publicity rights laws, wherein a famous somebody -- or that somebody's heirs -- can use that fame to control all uses of references to that somebody for ever and ever. That, of course, is not how trademark laws work. Instead, trademark law is designed to protect the public from confusion by allowing some monopolistic use of names and terms in some markets and only if actual commerce is taking place.

This is a lesson the management company of the late renowned martial arts star Bruce Lee has now learned the hard way. Bruce Lee Enterprises attempted to both block the trademark registration for production company Barisons in the UK, which applied for a mark covering its forthcoming Jun Fan: the Bruce Lee Musical, and also to apply for a "Jun Fan" mark in the theatrical designation itself. Jun Fan, if you're not aware, was the birth name of Bruce Lee.

The problem for BLE is that Barisons had already communicated its intention to put on the show with BLE and defended itself by accusing BLE of registering for its own trademark purely to block the production company's show, without any intention of putting on its own theatrical production.

Barisons claimed that BLE filed its trademark application as a blocking tactic and without any genuine intention to use the mark. As a result, the theatre company opposed the application and argued that it was made in bad faith and should be refused.

BLE filed a counter-statement denying the allegation and said that it filed the application to protect Lee’s IP rights and to expand the Bruce Lee brand in the UK.

In February 2017, Barisons itself filed an application to register ‘Jun Fan the Musical’, also in class 41 in relation to theatre production and musical theatre.

BLE opposed the registration, saying it had already applied for its own mark in that trademark designation, that granting the mark would imply a relationship between Barisons and BLE, and arguing that Barisons made the application in bad faith because BLE had communicated previously that it would oppose the use of Bruce Lee's birth name.

Upon review by the Intellectual Property Office, things did not go well for BLE.

Allan James of the IPO said that BLE had failed to show that the name Jun Fan has a reputation in the UK at the relevant date of the applied-for trademark. James also said that BLE knew that the musical was to be called “Jun Fan: the Bruce Lee Musical”. He added that personality rights do not exist under UK law and that BLE’s trademark application covered the same services that Barisons intended on offering. James said that there was no evidence that BLE’s previous trademark applications covered theatrical shows in any other territories in class 41, and that the estate had no intention of offering such services.

“I therefore find that insofar as it covered theatrical shows in class 41, BLE’s trademark was purely a blocking mechanism to obstruct Barisons’ proposed musical,” said James.

And, thus, ownership culture was, for once, defeated. And it should go without saying that this is a good thing. After all, there is no reason to think that a theater production including the use of Lee's stage or birth names would necessarily cause the public to think that BLE was behind the production at all. Instead, it appears for all the world that Barisons informed BLE of its intent, and then BLE reacted by trying to use trademark law to block them, ostensibly to then extract a licensing fee for the production.

And, again, that isn't what trademark law is for.

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Posted on Techdirt - 13 August 2018 @ 7:36pm

Chicago Court: Yeah, Billy Goat Tavern Is Probably Going To Lose Trademark Case, But It Can Go Forward Anyway

from the baaaaaaaaad dept

Earlier this year, we discussed a trademark lawsuit brought by the famous Billy Goat Tavern in Chicago against a chip company in Missouri called the Billy Goat Chip Co. At issue was the tavern's claim that the chip company's name and logos infringed on its trademarks. Interestingly, Billy Goat Chip Co. countersued with seemingly important information, including that it had been operating for a decade, had trademarks for its business for a decade, and that its branding differences were such that the potential for public confusion didn't exist. The Billy Goat Tavern, on the other hand, only had trademarks for its name for the tavern industry and didn't begin selling packaged food until 2017, at which time the tavern applied for marks in that industry as well.

Honestly, the whole thing seems fairly cut and dry. Different markets, different products, and the very real potential that the chip company could get the tavern's trademarks cancelled based on its own first use. Yet, despite the Chicago judge presiding over the case essentially agreeing when ruling on Billy Goat Chip's motion to dismiss, the court is allowing all of this to go trial.

The main argument was that the tavern’s Lanham Act claims should be dismissed because owners should’ve known about the chips in 2010, and expressly knew the chips were on the market in Chicago in 2014, yet didn’t initiate a lawsuit until 2017.

“In this case, there are too many unknown and disputed facts that preclude judgment,” Dow wrote, explaining that the Lanham Act itself has no statutory limitations, but courts in the same circuit routinely apply the three-year limits enumerated in the Illinois Consumer Fraud Act. He said the proceedings thus far give the appearance the chip company is correct about the tavern’s constructive notice in 2010 and actual notice in 2014, but he “cannot determine from the pleadings and exhibits whether Plaintiff’s delay in filing suit was inexcusable or whether Defendant would be prejudiced by allowing plaintiff to bring its claims now.”

It's always important to remember for motions to dismiss that the court is generally supposed to interpret the facts of the case in the most favorable light of the plaintiffs. That appears to be the whole story here, with Dow essentially saying that, yeah, the chip company is probably right, but procedurally the judge is just going to let this be decided at trial. I understand why courts tend towards this leniency, but I also understand the judges make a habit of hinting to plaintiffs what the proper course of action is regardless of its ruling.

In this case, Dow appears to be sending Billy Goat Tavern a fairly clear message: you probably don't actually want to bring this trial to its conclusion. While that message is made on the legal merits, it sure seems to make all kinds of general business sense for the tavern to pack this up and go home, as well. There is no real competition or confusion in any of this. And, if Billy Goat Tavern wants to keep the trademarks it has, a ruling in this trial could present a threat to lose them entirely.

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Posted on Techdirt - 10 August 2018 @ 10:45am

Accused Pirate Tries For Attorney's Fees After Copyright Troll Attempts To Run Away From Discovery

from the more-of-this-please dept

When we talk about the scourge that is copyright troll operations, and the wide path of legal destruction they've caused throughout the world, it can be easy to lose sight of just how precarious a business model it can be for the trolls. Loathe as any writer should be to engage in cliche, it is simply true that the best response to shut down this kind of non-litigious bullying is to simply punch back. After all, it is quite clear at this point that the last thing these trolling operations want as a response to their lawsuit-threat letters is for any actual lawsuit to be conducted. More specific to this story is how Guardaley, the shady German company that appears to setup shell operations throughout the world and cultivate law firms to enforce its operations, all too often forgets to bring any actual evidence to the courtroom when it does show up there and which otherwise does everything it can to stay out of the courtroom altogether.

Again, bullies will tend to back down when you fight back against them. But backing down doesn't have to be the end of the story, as demonstrated by one Utah man that received a copyright trolling threat letter from an outfit called Criminal Productions (super on the nose, there, guys...), immediately lawyered up, and demanded that discovery begin.

This was the case when Darren Brinkley was sued in a Utah federal court last year. In a complaint filed by Criminal Productions, he and 31 others were accused of illegally sharing a copy of the movie Criminal. Brinkley denied these claims and rejected the settlement offer but the film company still didn’t back off.

While Criminal Productions initially refused to let the case go, recently it voluntarily dismissed the case. According to Brinkley’s lawyers, the film company dropped the case like a hot potato when it discovered that the defendant was attempting to look into its business.

“As expected, when Plaintiff realized a Motion to Compel discovery was in draft, Criminal sought voluntary dismissal of both its affirmative claims and Brinkley’s counterclaims, which this Court granted, with prejudice, on July 6, 2018.”

Such a move should make it very obvious just what type of ethics Criminal Productions engages in to so plainly scramble to avoid any type of discovery process into its practices or techniques. There must be quite a treasure trove of information to be discovered to cause the bully to run away so completely. As the post notes, Criminal Productions is a special purpose entity (SPE), which is basically used to shield the fact that this is all being done by a known copyright troll. Guardaley appears to be the main suspect in this case.

But, if these trolls are allowed to simply run away from any individual who chooses to fight back, that doesn't serve as much of a deterrent for their behavior. Brinkley's demand that Criminal Productions pay his attorney's fees, on the other hand, serves that function nicely.

Brinkley’s attorneys see this as a typical example of “cut and run” litigation, and argue that Criminal Productions must pay their client’s legal bill.

“These tactics should at minimum require that Defendant Brinkley be made whole for Plaintiff’s filing of litigation it clearly had no intention of pursuing and that may have had no basis in the first instance. This is the very definition of ‘cut and run’ litigation,” the motion reads.

The defendant requests compensation for the attorneys’ fees and costs to the tune of $62,818.35, providing a detailed accounting of the costs it made.

We need more of this. Much more, in fact. If, suddenly, the risk calculus for anyone engaging in copyright trolling practices had to include the potential of handing five figures over to the wrongly accused it attempted to bilk money from, perhaps we'd finally see this monstrous practice go away.

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Posted on Techdirt - 9 August 2018 @ 8:09pm

Aloha Poke Co. Rewarded For Trademark Bullying With Protests Outside Its Headquarters In Chicago

from the poke-in-the-chi dept

On the matter of trademark bullying, we typically talk about these cases as matters of legal outcomes and courtroom repercussions. Less discussed is the power of the masses in the form of protest and public shaming in order to combat trademark bullies. And, yet, that appears to be part of the equation trying to solve the irritation that is Aloha Poke Co.'s trademark bullying of actual Hawaiian poke joints out of their own culture.

You will recall that we recently discussed Aloha Poke Co., the Chicago-based poke chain that doesn't count any actual Hawaiians among its founders, firing off cease and desist letters to all manner of other joints that use some version of "Aloha" and "Poke" in their names. Most of these other entities are owned and operated by actual Hawaiians, from which both words and their cultural relevance stems. With so many entities out there using what are fairly generic terms in the realm of anything Hawaiian, the suggestion for public confusion made by Aloha Poke Co. seems spurious at best. Perhaps as importantly, if the company thought that the public wouldn't get wind of its bullying, it appears that it was very, very wrong, as protests at its Chicago headquarters have been organized.

The first protest is 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday in front of Aloha Poke Co.'s corporate headquarters at 303 W. Madison St. Another one is scheduled 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. Aug. 15 in front of the company's Lincoln Park location at 818 W. Fullerton Ave. A march in the Loop is also being planned for Monday, though details are still being confirmed.

Lanialoha Lee, who founded Aloha Center Chicago, is spearheading the Aug. 15 protest. She first became aware of the controversy after watching the video from Dr. Kalama O Ka Aina. "Everybody I know messaged me about it," says Lee. "It was all over my Facebook. I was really stunned." Lee hopes that the protests open "more eyes on the corporate level and at the restaurant level."

Most of those involved in organizing the protests are setting their aim on educating the restaurant as to how important these words and dishes are to Hawaiian culture, not to mention how those terms have been shared without incident across many businesses and restaurants. While that is exactly the right tone to take, it seems likely that the press surrounding the Chicago company being protested by Hawaiians and those interested in protecting Hawaiian culture will play a role as well. That will be all the more the case given some of the incendiary language choices the restaurant has engaged in when responding to the first news reports on its bullying, such as calling it all "fake news."

That kind of public exposure and shaming can have as profound and a far speedier impact than any legal proceedings. Aloha Poke is in the business of making money, after all, and this kind of exposure and coverage carries no positive public relations weight at all. If trademark bullies can be defeated in the court of public opinion rather than in actual courtrooms, all the better.

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Posted on Techdirt - 7 August 2018 @ 7:54pm

Real Estate Developer Found Using Video Game Footage In Marketing Material... Which Is Pretty Cool!

from the just-real-enough dept

We've featured a number of stories here about entities attempting to pass off video game footage as something in real life. On the one hand, since these stories usually feature governments doing this in a pretty bald-faced attempt at trickery, and since these attempts at trickery typically have something to do with the realm of war, it's easy to take a negative view of the whole thing entirely. On the other hand, it's hard to escape the notion that our video games have gotten so realistic so as to be able to fool large swaths of people into thinking they are depictions of the real thing, which is pretty damned cool.

And, yet, even when the use of game footage is more innocuous, it still seems to get people's fur up. In the UK, one housing developer was caught using a screenshot from Cities: Skylines, a city-building game, in its pitch material for a housing project.

The eight-page brochure, which was published by this newspaper earlier this week,outlines Norwich-based firm Lanpro’s vision for a town the size of Thetford, just off the A1067. Lifelong gamer, Matt Carding-Woods, recognised an image used on page three of the document as a screenshot from the 2015 city building game, Cities: Skylines, released by studio Colossal Order.

Lanpro defended the image’s use as educational, and said the document was only ever intended to be distributed internally.

A number of things apparently gave it away, including small patches of brown trees being rendered around garbage incinerators to represent pollution. While that's actually quite funny, some residents and internet users criticized the developer for failing to note that the image was a screenshot from the game. Residents in particular seemed to indicate that the image's use demonstrated the cavalier attitude the developer was taking the project as a whole.

But how does that make any sense? Developers typically include renderings of future projects in pitch material. Those renderings are usually created by graphical artists that specialize in that sort of thing. But if Cities:Skylines is simply good enough at depicting residential neighborhoods that one can create a rendering within the game and use that instead, how is that anything other than pretty neat? Now, in this case, it seems that Lanpro used a neighborhood created in the game by another player. But, again, so what? As Lanpro's Chris Leeming notes, it's not like this is the first time a developer has used images from the game to pitch a project.

“It is after the detailed technical work and analysis that we will be able to form a masterplan for the proposals and provide an image of what the scheme may look like.”

He added that there have been several examples of the “serious use of this software to model, engage and explain projects,” including by city planners working in Stockholm, Sweden.

And that makes sense. As games become better simulations and have increasingly convincing imagery, I would expect to see more of this rather than less.

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Posted on Techdirt - 6 August 2018 @ 7:49pm

Evidence Mounts: UK Study Shows Better Legal Alternatives Pushing Pirates To Become Customers

from the yarrrr-forget-it dept

The theory that piracy enforcement is a far inferior method for combating copyright infringement when compared with better and innovative business models and offerings is certainly old hat for us here. And, while there have certainly been studies going back years showing that to be the case, it seems notable that the past few months have seen a wave of these studies all coming on top of each other. We had MUSO, of all organizations, essentially concluding a survey it did in the UK showing how much content "pirates" actually buy legitimately by saying, "Hey, content industries, get your shit together!" That was followed quite recently by a study performed by Dutch researchers that did an amazing and large-sampled survey that concluded quite clearly that user-friendly legal alternatives depressed piracy rates at a far greater clip than enforcement measures.

And, now, because good things always come in threes, yet another study in the UK has shown that once-pirates of music are morphing into very real customers due to convenient and user-friendly streaming services.

A new report from market research and data analytics firm YouGov only adds weight to that apparent shift. The headline stat from the company’s Music Report is that just one in ten Brits are currently downloading music illegally. That’s down from almost double (18%) that figure five short years ago.

It's quite obvious what coincides with that time period of the past five years that could contribute to this reduction in piracy and sure as hell isn't anything in the enforcement arena. Instead, the YouGov study suggests that the streaming services so many in the music industry have tried desperately to torpedo are responsible for this reduction. And, more interestingly, the report suggests that the trend line is only going to continue, if not accelerate.

More than six out of ten (63%) illegal music downloaders predict they’ll still be pirating in five years’ time but a significant 22% believe they won’t. Just over a third (36%) acknowledge that using unofficial sources for music is becoming more difficult but the summary doesn’t offer reasons why.

“It is now easier to stream music than to pirate it. And the cost is not prohibitive,” one respondent said. “Spotify has everything from new releases to old songs, it filled the vacuum, there was no longer a need for using [an] unverified source,” added another.

In other words, innovators solved the music piracy problem in the UK, as we always said would happen. John Marshall, the associate director at YouGov, was even more explicit in his conclusions, essentially stating that the public was now satisfied with streaming services and mostly had no use for piracy.

All of this is not to say that the music industry doesn't still have jobs in peril, of course. It's just that those jobs appear to be the ones involved in copyright enforcement, while the business of music itself should be doing quite well.

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Posted on Techdirt - 3 August 2018 @ 7:39pm

The War On Fan-Subtitles Comes To Australia in The Form Of Site-Blocking

from the block-party dept

One of the more curious fronts in the never ending copyright wars is the one launched against fan-made subtitles. The theory from the entertainment industry goes something like this: these subtitles allow pirates to download movies in foreign countries and then apply the subtitles to view them coherently, therefore it's all copyright infringement. It's a dumb argument on many levels, but chiefly because it's inescapably true that the entertainment industry has done an absolutely terrible job of making sure it releases its own subtitled movies in these same countries and in these same languages. In other words, the entertainment industry isn't going to serve you foreigners, and we're not going to let anyone else serve you either. To date, much of this front of the war has been fought in Europe.

But now it's poised to make landfall in Australia, where a site-blocking request lobbed by a group of entertainment industry players has, for the first time, included fansub sites.

Together the companies filed an application for the broadest-ever blocking injunctionat the Federal Court in Australia. If successful, it would compel Australia’s ISPs to block a record-setting 151 domains related to 77 ‘pirate’ sites.

The list of ISPs in the case is familiar. Telstra, Optus, Vocus, TPG and their subsidiaries are all named as respondents in the case with the addition of Vodafone, which was added after recently entering the fixed-line broadband market.  What is notable about the list is the inclusion, for the first time, of sites such as Subscene, Subsmovies, YIFYSubtitles. As their names suggest, these platforms offer subtitles for the latest movies and TV shows, something that doesn’t sit well with any of the companies involved but particularly Madman Entertainment which specializes in Japanese anime.

Let's be clear about what this represents. The entertainment industry wants entire websites blocked for helping viewers understand what is being said on in their own native languages. If that doesn't smack of overreach, it's hard to imagine what would. This isn't to say that fansubs can't be used in combination with pirated movies and shows. They sure as hell can, but that isn't the only application. The other is that entertainment fans buy the products legitimately, rip them, and then apply the fansubs so they can enjoy what they bought. The fact that such a market even exists makes the obvious point that the entertainment industry is failing at giving customers what they want or, in this case, need in order to enjoy those products. And yet the end result here is bans on entire sites?

Fortunately, the judge overseeing all of this appears to be fairly sober on how big a shift this represents for site-blocking.

As a result, the ever precise Justice Nicholas told the parties to ensure that no stone is left unturned in preparing evidence for the Court.

“You better make sure your evidence in relation to that is particularly thorough,” the Judge said. “There’s some creep here occurring – I don’t say that critically… [but] it’s a new angle so I’ll need to look at that closely.”

That sure sounds like a judge telling the industry that it sure better have the goods if it expects the court to go along with any of this. That isn't to say Nicholas can't be convinced with a sub-par response to his request. Perhaps he will be. But from the outset it's good to see Nicholas realize the importance of this shift and the industry's creep into areas of site-blocking.

In the end, as is always the case, the bigger point is that attacking fansub sites is dumb. All the recent evidence seems to show that good legal alternatives are the recipe for stamping out concerns over piracy. Site-blocking those actually providing those alternatives, on the other hand, is not.

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Posted on Techdirt - 3 August 2018 @ 8:46am

You Can't Compete With Free Meets Its Ultimate Counterexample In The NES Classic

from the the-end dept

Of all the frustration-causing mantras of stupidity we here at Techdirt have combated over the years, none is quite as annoyingly wrong as: "You can't compete with free!" There are many reasons why it's so frustrating, but basic economics essentially shows that this is a loser's argument for an inability to compete. Given that there are many examples of competing with free, and the fact that the response to these counterfactuals is generally, "nuh uh, you doody head!" it's time that the myth of not being able to compete with free be put to rest. For years, we've highlighted folks pretty easily competing with free versions of their products, typically by either connecting with their fans in a way that causes them to want to buy the authentic version, or else competing by offering something free versions can't, be it convenience, authenticity, or included options for purchase. But what we've always needed to finally put this stupid mantra to rest is a completely pure counterexample showing that it is flatly, plainly, painfully not true.

Allow me to paint you a picture of the world as it exists today. You will recognize this world, because it is reality. It's a world in which for thirty years, video gaming has become a staple of our entertainment culture. Those of us that have reached middle age will tell you that gaming has essentially always been a part of our lives. We love it, and we particularly love going back to the olden days of gaming and re-enjoying the games we played in our youth. It's also a world in which emulators of early game systems are widely available, as are ROMs for the games we played long ago. We can get them literally any time we want, on everything from our personal computers, to our mobile devices, or on cheap computer systems that come fully stocked with these emulators and games. This is all insanely cheap or, more commonly, completely free.

And it's also a world in which Nintendo's NES Classic retro console was the best selling console for the month.

That’s the word from retail analyst NPD Group, which reports that “the NES Classic was June 2018's highest unit-selling hardware platform, while the PlayStation 4 led the market in dollar sales” for the period between June 3 and July 7.

The NES Classic, which costs $60 and emulates 30 games from Nintendo’s first home console, launched in November 2016 to mass shortages as Nintendo underestimated demand. Although the publisher announced that it was discontinuing the device, it later committed to bringing the NES Classic back to stores in 2018. Starting on June 29, the system returned. And then it beat up all the other consoles.

We talked about that shortage ourselves as an indication that the kind of convenience and retro-feel Nintendo could offer with its console competed well with the various free versions online. But even this writer read in shock that this NES Classic was outselling the current iteration of gaming consoles.

Let's put this plainly: if the "You can't compete with free!" mantra had even a shred of validity, then we could not live in this reality. It would be impossible. The NES Classic offering from Nintendo is actually in some ways inferior to the free options, given the smaller number of games it offers and its lack of portability and modability. But it offers something the free versions don't. It offers nostalgia in having a console. It offers having that NES Classic sitting in your entertainment center, serving as a conversation piece along with being a gaming console. It lets fans of Nintendo reward the company for serving them well. It offers legitimacy.

It competes with free and is apparently doing so in record numbers. Whenever someone shouts "You can't compete with free!" at you, it should henceforth be a simple matter of replying "But the NES Classic," and walking away. Because this is as good of an example of how dumb that mantra has always been as we could have hoped for.

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Posted on Techdirt - 2 August 2018 @ 7:46pm

Monster Energy Opposes Trademark For Liquor Company Logo, But Will Have A Fight On Its Hands

from the monster-mash dept

Long-time Techdirt readers will likely hear the name Monster Energy and immediately roll their eyes. The energy drink company's reputation for being an insanely aggressive trademark bully probably actually competes with its reputation for making beverages. The company has attempted to trademark bully companies that range from differently-named root beer makers to companies that make video games. Notable in most of these bullying attempts is how little likelihood for confusion there actually is between Monster's marks and those who it attempts to bully. And, of course, the sad reality that many victims bend to Monster's demands rather than put up a legal fight.

But one liquor distillery that has had Monster Energy oppose the trademark application for its logo is claiming it's going to fight back.

Family-owned MurLarkey Distillery in Bristow says it is taking the fight to Monster Energy, the energy drink company, over the right to trademark its “M” logo, which appears on its liquor bottles and merchandise.

After MurLarkey applied for the trademark, Monster Energy lodged an objection with the U.S. Patent Trade Office’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board in May. MurLarkey’s Tom Murray says he is not going to be bullied by a company that has become known for its overly aggressive tactics enforcing its trademark rights.

Now, the logos in question are not completely dissimilar. Here they are, side by side.

Except there are a number of problems here. First, the reason these logos look similar at all is because the both prominently feature a big "M." That single letter is absolutely not unique. The other reason they might seem similar to your eye is because both feature the actual names of the company in smaller type below that "M." There's some aesthetic similarity in that. But those are really the only arguments Monster has here, because everything else about this makes it unlikely anyone is going to be confused by Murlarkey's logo. Let's count the ways.

To start, the two companies operate in different markets. Yes, both serve liquid for consumption, but one makes an energy drink, while the other is selling liquor, such as vodka. Those are distinct markets and not easily confused during the purchasing process. Beyond that, Murlarkey's logo features its name, a different font for its "M", and the addition of three stars at the top of the logo. These are all far more unique than having a big "M" as part of the logo. Add on to all of that the fact that the "M" logo is used sparingly on liquor bottles themselves and, when it does, is featured on a tiny label near the mouth of the bottle, and any chance for confusion vanishes. Hell, even the apparel Murlarkey's is selling with versions of the logo is obviously benign.

If that causes you to at all think of Monster Energy drinks, then you have brain damage and need immediate care. But with Monster Energy, it's never actually about customer confusion. Instead, the company is nearly pathological in its trademark bullying, as if the legal team there sees someone using an "M" and just can't help but scratch that trademark bullying itch.

Let's just hope that Murlarkey's makes good on its promise to fight back.

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Posted on Techdirt - 1 August 2018 @ 7:37pm

Chicago Poke Chain Sends C&D To Hawaiian Poke Joint Demanding It Not Be Named 'Aloha Poke'

from the poke-in-the-i dept

Usually a trademark bully bullying over a mark that is fairly generic is enough to get the hair on our backs to stand up. When you add in a little irony in the form of the bully engaging in fairly blatant cultural appropriation for that generic mark, things get even more salty. But when you then have the bully spout off thinly-veiled political language of the most annoying variety in response to the backlash, you have something of a unique dish of hatred.

Which brings me to Aloha Poke Co. of Chicago. Aloha Poke Co. is a chain of restaurants cashing in on the poke craze. It is not owned by Hawaiians, the language from which the word "Aloha" is quite famously taken. It does not operate in Hawaii. And, yet, it has seen fit to fire off a cease and desist notice to the Aloha Poke Shop in Honolulu, demanding that it immediately change its name and branding.

The lawyers with the firm represented a company from the city, the Aloha Poke Co., that had jumped on one of the latest food trends - selling the Hawaiian staple poke, made from raw marinated ahi tuna - in 2016 and quickly expanded their reach to more than a dozen locations in Chicago and cities such as Milwaukee, Denver, and Washington D.C.

Sampson also operated a poke shop, a luncheonette of 20 seats that he had opened with three friends in downtown Honolulu that shared little in common with the Chicago chain besides the dish and, coincidentally or not, given the commonality of the Hawaiian word, the name. When Sampson and friends opened the luncheonette about a year and a half ago, they had named it the Aloha Poke Shop, using the traditional Hawaiian greeting and word of welcoming. Now the lawyers, with the firm Olson and Cepuritis, Ltd., were demanding that he change the business's name, website, logo and materials to cease using the words "Aloha" and "Aloha Poke" immediately.

Now, Aloha is a multi-meaning word of Hawaiian origin that is also used as a greeting on the island. Famously so, in fact. In connection with anything Hawaiian, it's about as generic as it gets as a source-identifier. Poke is the name of the dish these restaurants sell. It is purely descriptive. Putting a generic term next to one that is purely descriptive ought to be fairly easy for the USPTO to have looked at and realized that it never should have been afforded trademark protection. But, since it did, the end result is that Aloha Poke Co. has been going around the country, including in markets in which it does not operate, and demanding that native Hawaiians stop using their own language for their businesses. That really is about as insane as it gets.

And the public backlash to all of this has been swift.

But the news that the Midwestern chain, which doesn't count any native Hawaiians among its founders, was sending cease-and-desist letters to threaten small poke restaurants not only in Hawaii, but around the country, has set off an even deeper round of anger, touching on longstanding wounds left from Hawaii's long history of colonialism and commodification at the hands of outsiders.

The disclosures about the cease-and-desist letters have resulted in calls to boycott the Chicago chain, including a petition to urge the company to drop the words from its name. A congressional candidate from Hawaii has issued a sharp rebuke on social media. And hundreds of angry commenters have flocked to the chain's social media pages to express their displeasure, accusing the company of cultural appropriation, of bullying small businesses, of disrespecting Hawaiian culture and well, not even making real poke in the first place.

To be honest, the emphasis on cultural appropriation doesn't impact me all that much as to the validity of the trademark. Such appropriation may be gross, but as a matter of law it should be clear that the better argument is that Aloha Poke Co.'s trademark is far too broad and generic to serve to identify the source of its product to the public. Frankly, I was somewhat inclined to ignore all of the consternation about cultural appropriation entirely, until the Aloha Poke Co. and its founder decided to speak up using barely-coded language to, ahem, poke its detractors in the eye.

"First, we want to say to them directly how deeply sorry we are that this issue has been so triggering," the company said. "In the rare instance where we have needed to send notices to those using our trademark in the restaurant industry, we have done so in a cooperative manner, and all have complied with our request to rebrand without any resulting legal action. Not a single business has closed as a result of this."

Triggering? Cool PR you guys have there. And, from the founder, Zach Friedlander, who is no longer with the company but has supported its efforts at trademark bullying.

The company's founder, Zach Friedlander, who left it earlier this year around the time former Potbelly executive Chris Birkinshaw was brought on as CEO, according to Eater, defended the company's actions on Facebook as "efforts taken to protect, as any business would, its brand" and labeled some of the criticism as "false news" and a "witch hunt."

It seems Hawaiian language isn't the only thing Aloha Poke Co. appropriates from. Still, the end result of all of this should be sobering for the chain. Calls for boycotts, an infestation of negative comments on its social media pages, not to mention that Sampson has decided to stand his ground and not change a thing about his Aloha Poke Shop mean that the only move the chain has left is either to slink away or, worse, actually take a Hawaiian native to court over all of this. Either would serve as an own-goal for its business.

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Posted on Techdirt - 1 August 2018 @ 3:37pm

Universal Retracts DMCA On Journalist Video Of Prince Fans Singing Purple Rain

from the that-was-quick dept

Well, that was quick. We had just been talking about Universal's insane decision to DMCA a journalist's video of Prince fans singing Purple Rain shortly after his death, made particularly strange as it occurred in the wake of it settling the Dancing Baby DMCA case to avoid being punished for not considering Fair Use. That retreat from a decision which would have provided precedent for whether issuing a DMCA without giving even a modicum of thought to whether Fair Use would apply was irritating to many of us for a number of reasons, but primarily because it would give room for bad actors to DMCA away without the assurance of consequence. For Universal to provide an example of that itself, and to do so immediately after the Dancing Baby case was settled, was particularly frustrating.

But, again, it seems we won't get clarity on the point. Universal appears to have realized how bad this all looked, and could get, and has retracted its takedown claim.

Now, is it ultimately good that Universal backed off this DMCA claim? Of course it is. But it should be obvious that the problem remains that it, and others, can peel off DMCA notices, including on journalists, without real fear of reprisal from the courts and simply run away when there is enough public backlash to warrant it. Again, a key here is that this DMCA notice issued by Universal was against a video that is as blatantly Fair Use as it gets. But Universal will bear no consequence for it.

When the reductio ad absurdum has become the real-life example, it's probably time we had some real codified rules and punishments for this kind of behavior.

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Posted on Techdirt - 30 July 2018 @ 7:34pm

Two Georgia Sausage Companies Battle Over Trademarked Logos That Aren't Particularly Similar

from the sausage-party dept

We see a lot of dumb trademark lawsuits here at Techdirt, but the most frustrating of them is always those that assert similarities in trade dress when it's plainly obvious that no such similarities exist. Even when afforded the greatest leeway for interpretation, there are times when one company will complain about the branding of another company that simply leaves you scratching your head.

A lawsuit filed by Stripling's General Store against Carroll's Sausage & Country Store is an exmaple of this.

Stripling’s General Store is suing Carroll’s Sausage & Country Store because it was using a “confusingly similar mark” to advertise its goods, according to the complaint filed last month in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia.

The general store also alleges unfair competition, false designation of origin and injury to its reputation.

Look, I could stretch this post out a bit with detailed language of what's involved, but the fact is that Stripling is complaining that its logo and that of Carroll's are too similar so as to mislead the public as to the origin of each's products. Worth noting here is that Stripling fired off multiple C&Ds without receiving a response and that Carroll's has taken no action to change its branding. Also notable is that Stripling is asking for all profits Carroll's received while using this trade dress.

And, now, for the branding in quesiton.

It should be obvious just how different these logos are and, more importantly, how little confusion they are likely to create. After all, the only real similarity that is somewhat unique is the use of an image of a pig on each. The counter to that as an argument for uniqueness and confusion is: these are sausage companies. It would be odd if they didn't use images of pigs in their logos. Beyond that, those images are different, as are the color schemes, the verbage, and the names of each source of goods on both logos, which are prominently displayed in both cases. To suggest anyone is going to be confused by any of this is more than a bit crazy.

But, with the explosion in permission culture in American business, we've now reached a point where sausage companies are fighting over the right to use the image of a pig in their logos. Great job, everyone!

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Posted on Techdirt - 30 July 2018 @ 11:59am

Sony Finds Itself In Court After Bullying Film Studio Over Supposed 'Slender Man' Copyright Infringement

from the copypasta dept

The last time we discussed Slender Man on this site, it was when two young girls stabbed their friend and blamed it on this internet ghost story, leading to the site Creepypasta feeling it needed to remind everyone that fiction is fiction and not the writings of a Satanic cult. Only briefly discussed in those writings was the origin of the Slender Man meme, which started as a Lovecraftian ghost story on the Something Awful forums by Eric Knudsen, who produced two photoshopped images of people being stalked by a faceless slender creep-bomb and added some fake quotations to make something of a story out of them. From those two photos and brief captions, the internet essentially took over, building entire stories and lore around Slender Man to the point where the whole thing is a wildly popular internet meme and ghost story staple.

So of course Sony Pictures bought the rights to the story from Knudsen and will now presumably ruin it all in a major motion picture. And that would be only mildly irritating, except Sony is also trying to bully a smaller studio, Phame Factory, out of producing its own horror movie, claiming it now has the copyright and trademark rights for Slender Man. This has resulted in Phame Factory suing Sony to get a court to declare its work not infringing.

The plaintiff in the case is Phame Factory, which had planned to digitally distribute a movie titled Flay only to get served with several cease-and-desist letters from Sony, which alleges that the main character in Flay blatantly copies the mysterious Slender Man, its bigger-budget horror flick set to be released Aug. 10. Phame Factory is now seeking a declaratory judgment that its promotion, distribution and advertisement of Flay doesn't infringe Sony's trademarks and copyrights. What's more, Phame Factory asserts that Sony's IP rights "are either indefinite, encompass free to use by all public domain property or lack the requisite legal requirements to be protectable and enforceable."

What makes this case so intriguing is the origins of "Slender Man."

There are all kinds of reasons why the court should side with Phame Factory here. The most straight forward of those reasons is that its own movie, Flay, doesn't actually directly name or pertain to the Slender Man mystique that Knudsen developed. Yes, it features a similar generic character as the "monster", a thin, faceless man. But that's about as generic as it gets in ghost stories. Hell, the whole reason why Knudsen's minimalist creation took off in wider internet culture was because of how vague a lump of clay it was for the creation of others.

And the creation of others is very much the second factor in all of this, not to mention the question about exactly what Knudsen had the rights to actually sell. The filing itself is essentially a repetition of Phame's repeated request to Sony to explain what in the hell exactly it thinks is infringing in any of this, where Sony has refused to reply with anything other than, essentially, Flay's existence. The problem for Sony here is two-fold. The bad guy character in Flay has marked differences with the Slender Man character other than a generic creepy appearance. On top of that, of all of the lore around Slender Man and that character archetype, the vast majority of it was not created by Knudsen, the person who signed over the rights to Sony.

If the Phame Factory case goes far, there could perhaps be similar exploration about who contributed what — and under what licensing scheme — back in 2009 on a message board. For now, Sony heads into a film release with an intriguing challenge to its intellectual property.

Here's the summary that can best sum up how absurd Sony's bullying is. Sony is now in court after threatening the makers of a film depicting a character that isn't the same, over depictions that aren't copyrightable generally, and over a character it bought the rights for from a person who barely created it in the first place.


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Posted on Techdirt - 30 July 2018 @ 9:22am

Universal Right Back At It Issuing A DMCA For A Reporter's Video Of Prince Fans Singing 'Purple Rain'

from the lessons-unlearned dept

In the Lenz v. Universal case, otherwise known as the Dancing Baby DMCA case, it can hardly be argued otherwise than the whole saga was wildly irritating and painfully lengthy. Years of fighting over a person's child dancing to seconds' worth of Prince music on video resulting in years of litigation would be bad enough. As Cathy Gellis noted in our last post on the case, the fact that the whole thing ended in a settlement before a court could answer whether or not Universal Music should be punished for issuing a DMCA without even considering whether it would be Fair Use or not only supercharged the frustration levels of everyone who realized how stupid this whole thing was. Cathy's point in that post was in part that it was awful that the public couldn't even get the payoff of precedent for Fair Use considerations in this whole stupid thing.

Which brings us to the present, mere weeks later, when Universal Music is right fucking back at it, having DMCA'd a journalist's video of Prince fans in public singing Purple Rain shortly after he died.

Mere hours after the passing of Prince, thousands of fans gathered in downtown Minneapolis to pay homage to the funk icon with a massive “Purple Rain” singalong. As with any event of this magnitude, video footage and photos were immediately shared far and wide via social media by those in attendance celebrating Prince’s life and mourning his death.

Despite these harmless intentions, Universal Music, which owns rights to “Purple Rain”, has taken action against one of these videos, filmed by Star Tribune reporter Aaron Lavinsky. According to Universal, the footage violates the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (DMCA).

Rebuttal: no, it damn well doesn't. This video is so obviously protected by Fair Use, likely even more so than the dancing baby video. Wherein that video was protected by its short length and obvious non-competition with Prince's actual music, this particular video has the more clearly defined status as being a product of journalism and public commentary, not to mention its newsworthiness. After Twitter removed the video as well in response to the DMCA, Lavinsky took to the public to explain how laughable Universal's claim is.

“This is very disturbing: Universal Music filed a DCMA takedown on a video I shot of thousands of Prince fans singing Purple Rain the night of his death,” Lavinsky commented in a tweet this week. “This was clearly fair use and UMPG and Twitter are in the wrong.”

As the post above notes, the government's own website at the Copyright Office stipulates that news items are protected by Fair Use. Make no mistake, Universal is aware of all of this. It is in possession of the full scope and knowledge not just of Fair Use, but of how that law might apply to videos involving Prince songs. Again, this DMCA takedown comes as the ink has barely dried on Universal's dancing baby settlement.

Whatever the hell Universal's legal team was thinking, it seems likely that the Singing Crowd dispute will be the sequel to the Dancing Baby dispute. What a time to be alive.

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Posted on Techdirt - 27 July 2018 @ 7:39pm

Kenyan Music Licensing Collections In Full Chaos As Unlicensed MCSK Society Issues Rival C&D For Royalty Collections

from the it's-all-for-the-artists dept

We've written a couple of times about the full turmoil that is music licensing collections in Kenya. The Music Copyright Society of Kenya (MCSK) has operated there for some time, but recently had its license stripped by the government and courts due to what appears to be some very shady financial practices that mostly amount to -- you guessed it -- not properly paying artists for royalties collected. The government then went about setting up new Collective Management Organizations (CMOs) with the aim of these new CMOs being less corrupt than MCSK. The Music Publishers Association of Kenya (MPAKE) is one such alternative CMO.

As we pointed out in previous posts, the MCSK has been remarkably non-compliant with the Kenyan government at pretty much every level, from refusing to open its books as requested, to not complying with requests to cease collecting royalties. That not only continues at present, but the MCSK has actually gone so far as to issue a cease and desist to MPAKE for royalty collections, despite the Kenyan government notifying the public that MCSK was not a licensed collector.

In a letter delivered yesterday, the MCSK through its chairperson Lazarus Muoki Muli said MPAKE had no legal basis to act as a collective management organisation (CMO), as its registration and licensing was unconstitutional and violated the provisions of Section 5 of the Fair Administrative Actions Act and Article 47(1) of the Constitution of Kenya.

This development comes after the Kenya Copyright Board (KECOBO) placed an advert in various local newspapers on 19 July highlighting MPAKE, the Performers Rights Society of Kenya (PRISK) and the Kenya Association of Music Producers (KAMP) as the only bodies licensed to collect royalties.

KECOBO's move is in conflict with a Kakamega high court judgment delivered on 13 July by justices Ruth Sitati, David Majanja and Thripsisa Cherere, who nullified MPAKE’s licence to collect and distribute royalties on behalf of copyright holders. They declared that KECOBO’s process of issuing MPAKE with licence No CS 005 on 27 March 2017 was null and void.

So what's going on here? Well, the MCSK is fighting in court for its continued right to collect royalties, while the Kenyan government, under its attorney general, is busy telling the public that this is all settled law and that MCSK is out of the CMO business. Meanwhile, due to the court fight, the courts have said the government's licensing of MPAKE in 2017 was unconstitutional, while KECOBO is saying that's true for the 2017 license, but not the license put in place in 2018. Meanwhile, MCSK remains unlicensed by the government, even as it battles for its life in the court system.

And if all of this sounds like a huge clusterfuck that can only result in confusion and anger for everyone, you're not the only one.

Afro-fusion musician Sam Ondieki said the court’s ruling had triggered a heated debate among musicians, many of whom were only interested in whether royalties would be paid out to them.

“We have waited for an entire year for this verdict,” Ondieki said. “So we are not so much keen in knowing who will be the next CMO. As musicians we want to be paid our royalties before we transfer rights to someone else. We do not know who to believe among the two [MCSK and MPAKE], although the court’s directive is clear.

"Personally, I can openly say that it is impossible for me to trust the MCSK. I have been a member for about 10 years and I am yet to receive a penny, yet my songs have been receiving airplay.”

In other words, pretty much everyone in this saga sucks out loud. The MCSK appears to be plainly corrupt, the government appears to be promoting other collection societies in a way that circumvents copyright law, and musical artists and the public are all left scratching their collective heads wondering what exactly they're supposed to do.

And this chaotic nonsense is good for musicians and creating more music how, exactly?

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