On March 10, 2015, the music world was stunned when a jury in Federal District Court in Los Angeles rendered a verdict in favor of the heirs of Marvin Gaye against Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke, who, along with rapper Clifford Harris, Jr., professionally known as “T.I.,” wrote the 2013 mega-hit song entitled “Blurred Lines.” The eight-member jury unanimously found that Williams and Thicke had infringed the copyright to Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up.” On appeal, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the verdict and recently rejected Williams and Thicke’s Petition for Rehearing en banc.
The case is significant for a number of reasons. In typical music copyright cases—at least successful ones—the two works share the same (or at least a similar) sequence of pitches, with the same (or at least similar) rhythms, set to the same chords. The Blurred Lines case was unique, in that the two works at issue did not have similar melodies; the two songs did not even share a single melodic phrase. In fact, the two works did not have a sequence of even two chords played in the same order, for the same duration. They had entirely different song structures (meaning how and where the verse, chorus, etc. are placed in the song) and did not share any lyrics whatsoever.
Fair use is a legal doctrine that is at once generous and parsimonious to our society’s innovators. The underlying function of fair use is to allow individuals to freely and legally use copyrighted works without obtaining permission from the work’s creator. It serves as an exception to the rights granted by copyright law, promoting society’s liberty of expression and innovation by allowing individuals to infringe on another’s creative efforts. Yet while those taking advantage of the fair use exception have much to gain from the doctrine, their experiences with fair use have been plagued with “pervasive and often crippling uncertainty.”
Since the doctrine’s judicial inception and subsequent statutory codification, courts have struggled to define and apply a uniform test assessing whether a copyrighted work’s use is protected under fair use. In the 1994 case Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc., the Supreme Court introduced a new consideration into the fair use analysis: whether and to what extent a secondary use transforms the original copyrighted work. A use that sufficiently transformed the original work would weigh in favor of fair use; conversely, a use that failed to sufficiently transform the work would weigh against a fair use finding. This novel element of the fair use analysis left many questions unanswered. Where does the dividing line between a sufficiently transformative work and one that is not transformative enough lie? How much weight should this new inquiry hold in relation to the pre-existing statutory factors?
Design—which encompasses everything from shape, color, and packaging to user interface, consumer experience, and brand aura—is the currency of modern consumer culture and increasingly the subject of intellectual property claims. But the law of design is confused and confusing, splintered among various doctrines in copyright, trademark, and patent law. Indeed, while nearly every area of IP law protects design, the law has taken a siloed approach, with separate disciplines developing ad hoc rules and exceptions. To address this lack of coherence, this Article provides the first comprehensive assessment of the regulation of consumers’ aesthetic experiences in copyright, trademark, and patent law—what we call “the law of look and feel.” We canvas the diverse ways that parties have utilized (and stretched) intellectual property law to protect design in a broad range of products and services, from Pac-Man to Louboutin shoes to the iPhone. In so doing, we identify existing doctrines and principles that inform a normatively desirable law of look and feel that courts and Congress should extend throughout IP law’s protection of design. We argue that design law should protect elements of look and feel but remain sensitive to eliminating or mitigating exclusive rights in response to evolving standardization, consumer expectations, and context. Notably, our normative conception of design protection sometimes departs quite starkly from how courts have expansively conceptualized look and feel as protectable subject matter. Going further, we argue that the new enclosure movement of design, if not comprehensively reformed and grounded in theory, can erode innovation, competition, and culture itself.
Despite Justice Scalia’s dissent and the claims of Aereo and its amici, this Note will argue that, when viewed on the whole, any potential fears that the Aereo decision could implicate the legality of cloud-based technology or affect copyright infringement analysis with respect to this industry are likely unwarranted. First, there are substantial structural differences between how Aereo operated and how cloud-based services (particularly remote storage systems) continue to run. Second, the Aereo decision is a narrow response particularly attenuated to that company’s practice of functioning like a traditional cable system while failing to pay the fees required by such systems when they rechannel broadcast networks’ signals. Thus, because the case addresses such a specific factual scenario, its holding is unlikely to be extended to other cloud-based services. To illustrate this point, Part I will discuss Aereo’s technology to clarify how the system physically functioned to stream practically live television through the Internet. Part II will analyze the key reasons why the Supreme Court found this particular technology to violate the networks’ rights, while also analyzing Justice Scalia’s concerns about potential fallout from the majority opinion, particularly with respect to the cloud industry. And finally, Part III will contrast Aereo’s technological infrastructure with that of several common cloud-computing service providers and will examine the shortcomings of the argument that Aereo leaves in flux: the legality of cloud-computing services and the copyright infringement analysis with respect to those services.
Your client, CreativeSoft, produces CreativeDesign, a computer program that creates cards and brochures. In the 1990s, CreativeSoft sold the program on CD-ROMs. To keep up with the market, CreativeSoft now sells CreativeDesign2.0 only as a downloadable file from its website. CreativeSoft has come to your firm because MockSoft is selling CreativeDesign2.0 as its own product.
This reminds you of the Lanham Act § 43(a)(1)(A) “reverse passing off” (“RPO”) claim you brought against MockSoft when it sold CreativeDesign CD-ROMs packaged in MockDesign boxes. Now, MockSoft copies CreativeDesign2.0, removes copyright notices from the splash screens, and resells the program from its website. Further, MockSoft confuses customers by creating the impression that MockSoft is the origin of the program.
Should you file a RPO claim? You prevailed on this claim when MockSoft repackaged CreativeDesign CD-ROMs. However, a RPO claim may not survive the pleading stage of litigation if CreativeDesign alleges that MockSoft has repackaged CreativeDesign2.0. There is a risk of copyright preemption, and many district courts interpret a Supreme Court case, Dastar Corp. v. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp., as precluding producers of digital products from bringing claims under § 43(a) of the Lanham Act. Why?
The copyright troll and the phenomenon of copyright trolling have thus far received surprisingly little attention in discussions of copyright law and policy. A copyright troll refers to an entity that acquires a tailored interest in a copyrighted work with the sole objective of enforcing claims relating to that work against copiers in a zealous and dogmatic manner. Not being a creator, distributor, performer, or indeed user of the protected work, the copyright troll operates entirely in the market for copyright claims. With specialized skills in monitoring and enforcing copyright infringement, the troll is able to lower its litigation costs, enabling it to bring claims against defendants that an ordinary copyright owner might have chosen not to.
In the past decade, the entertainment industry has waged a very successful legal campaign against online copyright infringements. In a series of high-profile decisions, content industries have persuaded courts to accept expansive interpretations of contributory enforcement, to create novel doctrines of copyright infringement, and to apply broad interpretations of statutory damage provisions. Many private file sharers, technology companies, university administrators, and Internet service providers have felt the reach of this litigation effort. Yet a significant empirical anomaly exists: even as the copyright industry has ramped up the level of deterrence, online copyright infringements continue unabated.
Why has the legal battle against file sharers been so ineffective? The most straightforward explanation is that infringers are not deterred, either because the probability of getting caught remains remote or because the sanctions are not sufficiently salient. If that is the case, the expansive statutory damage award remedies in decisions such as Capitol Records v. Thomas-Rasset and Sony BMG v. Tenenbaum carry renewed promise for the entertainment industry.
This Article proposes a framework tailoring the fair use doctrine specifically for technology cases. At the inception of the twenty-first century, information technologies have become increasingly central to the U.S. economy. Not surprisingly, complex copyright cases involving speech technologies, such as DVRs, MP3 devices, Google Book Search, and YouTube, have also increased. Yet existing copyright law, developed long before digital technologies, is ill prepared to handle the complexities that these technology cases pose. The key question often turns not on prima facie infringement, but on the defense of fair use, which courts have too often relegated to extremely fact-specific decisions. The downside to this ad hoc adjudication of fair use is that it leads to an uncertainty over what is permissible that may impede innovation in speech technologies. This Article addresses this ongoing problem by proposing that courts recognize a specific type of fair use—technological fair use—and tailor the four fair use factors accordingly. Technological fair use is supported not only by a synthesis of existing case law and economic theory, but also, more importantly, by the constitutional underpinnings of the First Amendment and the Copyright and Patent Clause.
The Supreme Court has held that, as a general matter, an injunction cannot issue if there is an adequate remedy at law. This follows, according to the Court, because the standard for when injunctions may issue derives directly from the practice of the English Court of Chancery around 1789, which followed the same principle. This Article argues that the Supreme Court’s reading of general Chancery custom is inapposite in copyright cases. The historical record shows that legal remedies were deemed categorically inadequate in copyright cases, and that by 1789, the Chancery’s jurisdiction to issue copyright injunctions had become concurrent and incontestable. The Supreme Court could thus hold today, without running afoul of traditional equitable principles, that a copyright injunction can issue without regard to the adequacy of legal remedies. This Article reaches its conclusion only after undertaking the most comprehensive treatment of the subject to date. It relies primarily on the original manuscript records of 220 infringement suits brought in the Court of Chancery from 1660 to 1800, which are stored at the National Archives in London, England, and a further review of earlier copyright-infringement suits from 1557 to 1680 in antecedent tribunals, many of which are also only available in manuscript form. The topic of this Article is particularly timely given the Supreme Court’s recent decision in eBay Inc. v. MercExchange, L.L.C., where it discussed the standard for issuing injunctions in patent cases, and where Chief Justice Roberts stated in a concurring opinion that lower courts should consider the inadequacy requirement in light of historical practices.
Over a decade after being arrested in a western Montana cabin, Theodore Kaczynski is once again grabbing headlines. Although he is currently in a federal maximum-security prison serving the life sentence that he received for committing the Unabomber crimes, Kaczynski is now engaged “in a legal battle with the federal government and a group of his victims over the future of [his] handwritten papers.” The government has proposed selling “sanitized versions of the materials” via an Internet auction in order to raise money for a group of his victims, and Kaczynski is fighting that plan.
At issue, largely, is the extent of the government’s power under the Victim and Witness Protection Act of 1982 (“VWPA”) and further, what the government may do with the property it seized from Kaczynski. This property includes his “handwritten . . . journals, diaries and drafts of his anti-technology manifesto . . . [which] contain blunt assessments of 16 mail bombings from 1978 to 1995 that killed 3 people and injured 28, as well as his musings on the suffering of victims and their families.” Moreover, due to its unique set of facts, Kaczynski’s case also provides an intriguing opportunity to evaluate whether the VWPA violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution or conflicts with the Copyright Act of 1976 (“Copyright Act”), and to explore the fascinating interplay between these two areas of law, both of which provide protection for individuals’ free expression.