Accepting Guest Blog Posts

I have accepted a position that will not allow me to write in 2016. However, I want to continue to provide information on cyber, intellectual property (IP), social media, security, privacy, and technology law and policy to you all.  So…. I am accepting  submissions from guest bloggers!

Please send me your best cyber, IP and tech law and policy posts. Many of this blog’s followers are entrepreneurs, technophiles, tech novices, bloggers, social media user and those intrigued by tech, so please cater your posts to that audience. Please send posts to thedigitalcounselor@gmail.com. I will notify you if your post is selected.

Thank you for your submission, in advance, and more importantly, THANK YOU FOR READING!

I hope the readers find previous posts and any information others are able to provide in my absence helpful! And I look forward to returning in 2017!!

Should You Trademark Your Website?

It is extremely important for companies to protect their intellectual property. Developing a comprehensive intellectual property plan is essential to protecting your investment and protecting your consumers from confusion.  Trademarking your brand names, slogans and company name as well as copyrighting blog content, original imagery, and other original works of authorship are commonly know areas of focus for companies and entrepreneurs.  You want to be in control of your brand, your content and your creations.

Now, according to one federal court, companies can use trademark law to protect the unique look and feel of their websites from imitators. As a result of this ruling, companies should consider registering their websites as trademarks with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (the “USPTO”).

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California recently ruled in Ingrid & Isabel, Inc. v. Baby Be Mine, LLC, No. 13-01806 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 1, 2014) that the look and feel of a website used to market and sell products and services can constitute protectable trade dress under Section 43 of the Lanham Act. See 15 U.S.C. § 1125(a) (2012). Trade dress, a derivative of trademark law, protects the total image of a business or product, including the arrangement of identifying features such as graphics, packaging, designs, shapes, colors, textures, and décor.

This is an important development for companies seeking to protect their brand online. Your website is an important part of your brand as a company. It is often a customer’s first impression and point of sale.  Previous case-law suggested that a website could constitute protectable trade dress only if the website itself was the product. See Conference Archives, Inc. v. Sound Images, Inc., No. 06-00076, 2010 WL 1626072 (W.D. Pa. Mar. 31, 2010) The Ingrid & Isabel case provides an opportunity to expand those protections. This decision is reminiscent of the USPTO allowing Apple, Inc. to register a trademark for the design and layout of its unique retail stores. Your website is in effect your online store. This is a great example of the law starting to catch up with the times. Companies seeking to take advantage of this protection must make sure their website is 1)distinctive or has acquired secondary meaning and is 2) nonfunctional.RegisteredTM

  1. The court noted that the “Supreme Court has held that ‘design, like color is not inherently distinctive’ [citing a case involving Wal-Mart.]  Given the conceptual similarity between ‘look and feel’ and ‘design,’ Wal-Mart suggests that Plaintiff must show that its website‘s ‘look and feel’ is distinctive through its secondary meaning.” This eludes to the fact that the design of a website is not “inherently” distinct. You want to secure these protections before someone seeks to copy your website. However, per previous case-law  “secondary meaning may be inferred from evidence of deliberate copying of the trade dress…” Therefore, if you can show that your competitor deliberately copied your website, that will help to support your claim for acquired distinctiveness.
  2. Functional elements cannot be protected as trade dress. However, according to the court in Ingrid & Isabel “the placement and arrangement of functional elements can produce a non-functional aesthetic whole.”

This is also an important decision from a cybersecurity perspective. Most consumers are lured into phishing and other fraud scams when malicious actors mimic the look and feel of a brand’s website. Armed with a similar site they can lure unsuspecting consumers to insert personally identifiable information and financial data into their fake site. This can result in identity theft and financial loss. This is another tool in a trademark owner or company’s arsenal to combat fraud and protect their customers.

If your website is distinct, talk to an attorney about protecting it. This is an important consideration and should be part of developing a comprehensive intellectual property plan.

Trade dress protection has existed for decades, but its usefulness for websites and other Internet-based applications has been limited. It will be interesting to see how courts continue to apply the law to websites, mobile apps, and other non-traditional mediums.

Note that the court didn’t determine the ultimate outcome of this case; that’s still in dispute. This ruling merely allowed Ingrid & Isabel’s claim on this point to proceed to trial.

Quick Tip: Don’t Make False DMCA Claims

Automattic Inc. v. Steiner, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 182295 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 6, 2014) is the first time a party which received a DMCA takedown notice with material misrepresentations has been awarded money damages.

What is DMCA?

DMCA is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, limits the liability of the providers of online services for copyright infringement by their users but created a mechanism for those whose copyrighted works have been infringed to file a complaint to have the content removed. If they do not take appropriate action they may find themselves liable.   It is easy to file a DMCA claim and every site providing online services must have a DMCA policy to remove content that infringes the copyrights of individuals. Many sites like Facebook, Twitter, & WordPress even have forms that you can fill out to stream line the process and make sure you’re providing the information required under the law.

What happened in the case?

Automattic, the owner of WordPress.com and a major developer of the WordPress software, and blogger Oliver Hotham, Plaintiffs, sued the Defendant, Straight Pride UK, for using the notice-and-takedown provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”) to stifle criticism. Automattic alleged that the Defendant abused the provision and are seeking damages under 17 U.S.C. § 512(f) for misrepresentation. The Court agreed.

“[T]he Court finds that Defendant knowingly misrepresented that Hotham violated his copyright because Defendant could not have reasonably believed that the Press Release he sent to Hotham was protected under copyright. Moreover, there can be no dispute that Defendant knew, and indeed, specifically intended, that the takedown notice would result in the disabling of Hotham’s article[,]” Magistrate judge Joseph Spero wrote in the opinion.

Although the court awarded damages for the costs of the suit and for “lost work and time” spent responding to a fraudulent takedown notice for copyright infringement. The Northern District denied monetary relief for Plaintiffs’ alleged reputational harm, Hotham’s alleged emotional distress, and Hotham’s alleged chilled speech.

What does that mean?

Do not file DMCA claims lightly and be prepared for a fight. People do not often fight these cases so vigorously but is does happen. Make sure you have a valid claim for copyright infringement. Copyright protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, Web sites, and architecture. Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed. Unauthorized reproductions, derivatives and distribution are illegal unless they fall under the fair use exemption. Have a good understanding of your rights and theirs before filing.

Hotham’s original blog post is now available on several other WordPress-hosted sites, including here and here.  And his account of the tale is here.

Before You Start Crowdfunding, Know the IP Concerns!

http://www.hongkiat.com/blog/crowdfunding-sites/
http://www.hongkiat.com/blog/crowdfunding-sites/

Crowdfunding has become a major financing tool for small businesses from tech start ups to small services companies. This source of funding, made available by The 2012 Jumpstart Our Business Startup Act (JOBS Act) which enables small businesses to raise funds from non-accredited investors.  An accredited investor must meet a personal net worth or income test that excludes the majority of the population. There are still rules about how much each person can invest for equity crowdfunding but Title III truly opens up the ability for the average American to invest.

If you are considering a crowdfunding platform for your new venture, or if you are contemplating investing in a crowd-funded project, attention to intellectual property protection is critical.  Often, companies considering crowdfunding are in the early stages of development and owners may not have the appropriate intellectual property (IP) protections in place yet. Here are a few things to consider about each of the major types of intellectual property:

Trademarks:
Securing federal and/or international trademark protection is an important early step to establishing a company and launching a brand.  This, however, can be hard to do or forgotten prior to using the mark in commerce, the standard set by the USPTO. Therefore, posting a project with a proposed trademarkcould serves as an open invitation for trademark infringers in the U.S. and abroad to file for registration first.  The same is true with respect to domain name registrations.  Additionally, without the proper research you could inadvertently launch a brand with a trademark already in use. This is not only bad PR but could open you up to suit before you’ve even begun.Action Items: Do a thorough search on potential marks and make sure it does not conflict with state, federal or international trademarks. Consider filing an Intent to Use trademark application if you are not at the place to file a trademark application based on use. Consult an attorney to make an informed decision based on a thorough search and knowledge of requirements for proving use such that you can file a trademark based on use.

Copyrights:
Although filing is not required to benefit from copyright protection, it is a prerequisite for a U.S. copyright owner who wishes to file suit for infringement in the U.S. If you are going to post copyrighted works in connection with your project disclosure or business plan, and if those works integral to the success of the project or business make sure you protect them. Additionally, make sure if you use the copyrighted work of others in your proposal you have the proper permissions to avoid copyright infringement.

Action Items: Review your copyrighted work and consider filing for copyright registration if any of the work you will loose is integral to the business.  If you plan to use images, music, or other content from third-party sources in your proposal, be sure to obtain appropriate licensing/permission prior to posting such works publicly.

Patents:
Disclosing the details of an invention before filing a patent application may bar patent protection due to required disclosures or missing the first to file window.  Some crowdfunding sites require projects that involve the manufacture and distribution of “gadgets” to “show as much as they can about how they’re going to make their project, including things like a production plan, an estimated schedule, and any details you can provide for backers.”

Action Items: Preserve your rights, patent applications should be filed as early as possible as required by the America Invents Act, under “first to file”. By filing a patent application prior to disclosing a project, the inventor can preserve patent rights and potentially avoid problems with both the statutory bar and potentially conflicting applications.  While U.S. patent law gives the inventor a year after disclosure in which to file, the same is not true in most of the rest of the world where a prefiling disclosure bars patent protection.  Keep this in mind for projects that will rely on foreign marketing and revenue for their success.

General considerations:

  1. Think about your IP on a local and global scale. Develop a state, federal and international IP development plan. As your brand grows, depending on industry and target market you want to make sure your protections are as robust as possible.
  2. Consult an attorney early and often to help you develop your IP strategy and think through the hurdles associated with crowdfunding.
  3. Investigate services like U.K.-based Creative Barcode. that are designed to provide a provide protection for early stage intellectual property. This is NOT an endorsement of these services but this is an option to consider.

Conclusion
Your intellectual property is one of your biggest assets and the last thing you want to do is damage your IP rights while trying to secure funding through crowdfunding. This is just a high level view of the general issues associated with crowdfunding. Depending on the project, the IP issues could be substantially more complex.

Additionally, potential investors should be worried about these intellectual property issues as well. Potential Investors must conduct a due diligence assessment of any venture they seek to invest in as the success or failure of the idea may hinge, at least in part, on the strength and protection of those IP rights.

My Appearance on Chat with a Lawyer

I recently appeared on a local television show “Chat with a Lawyer.” I sat with the host Wala Blegay to discuss Intellectual Property law and protecting your business.  Please watch and enjoy!

 

 

 

If you are in the DC metro area the episode will continue to air on Channel 25 Verizon and Channel 71 Comcast twice a day starting this week!

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Internet Updates June 2014

There is so much going on in the Internet space that I have compiled some of the most interesting happenings of June. They all link to more info. Please read, enjoy and let me know if you want me to expand on anything!

Are threats made on social media protected free speech, or potentially criminal actsThe U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to examine the constitutionality of a federal law making it a crime to transmit communications containing “any threat to injure the person of another.” In this case, the “threats” were in a series of Facebook postings.

Be careful what you post on Facebook, you might get a ticket for it… A woman in a Chicago suburb received a $50 ticket in the mail alleging that she had used a dog park without a permit. The ticket was based entirely on a Facebook posting that the woman had made, and the police immediately rescinded it, saying  that they do not monitor social media in search of potential lawbreakers.

It might be a crime to friend your boss if you live in Arkansas! Arkansas legislators are considering changing a 2013 law after Facebook informs them that the law may have inadvertently made it a crime for a boss and an employee to become Facebook friends.

Snapchat may have competition. According to the Los Angeles Times, Facebook prematurely released, then withdrew, a new mobile app called Slingshot that is intended to compete with Snapchat and permit users to send each other photo and video messages.

Is Twitter in trouble? Twitter’s leadership was thrown into disarray on June 12 after Ali Rowghani resigned suddenly as the company’s chief operating officer amid a dispute with Chief Executive Dick Costolo. Twitter’s stock has fallen about 42 percent this year as concerns have arisen that the company is not signing up enough new users.

Should you make social media rules for your marriage? More and more couples are sitting down with their lawyers before marriage to discuss a social media clause in their prenuptial agreement – covering what they can and cannot say or post about each other. These agreements appear to be enforceable in court if they are specific enough.

The CIA is on Twitter! The CIA has entered the realm of social media, setting up a Twitter presence and a Facebook account. There one can find, among other things, reflections on intelligence history and fun facts from the CIA World Factbook.

Can’t ask for personal social media account logins in Louisiana! 
On May 23, Louisiana became the latest state to enact a law prohibiting employers and public and private educational institutions from requiring applicants, employees, and students to provide access to their personal online accounts.

Every company would be well advised scrutinize their marketing practices on an ongoing basis to ensure that they do not inadvertently expose the company to risks under the Lanham Act. Two US Supreme Court cases decided this term could result in a substantial increase in the number of Lanham Act claims brought under that statute alleging “unfair competition” resulting from product labeling and marketing practices that are alleged to be false or misleading.

  • Lexmark International, Inc. v. Static Control Components, Inc., No. 12-873, slip op. (March 25, 2014), in which the Supreme Court broadly construed the Lanham Act to permit lawsuits by all companies alleging injuries that were proximately caused by false or misleading advertising or promotion, even if the plaintiff was not a direct competitor of the defendant and suffered only “collateral damage.”
  • Pom Wonderful LLC v. Coca-Cola Co., No. 12–761, slip op.  (June 12, 2014), the Court’s second Lanham Act case of the term,  in which it eliminated a potential safe harbor from Lanham Act claims for companies in regulated industries who complied fully with applicable regulations regarding the labeling and marketing of their products.

Interested in being social anonymously? It is harder than you think… Recently a variety of “private” media platforms have emerged. For years, social media platforms have facilitated (or even, in many cases, required) us to use our real identities, with the aim of building friendships and networks in the online world. But these new social media apps (such as “Secret,” “Whisper,” “Yik Yak”) are designed specifically to enable users to share posts anonymously.

“Anonymous” doesn’t necessarily mean anonymous. Even if users are not required to provide any form of contact details to use an anonymous app, the app is very likely to collect certain information that will help identify the user (e.g., the unique digital ID of the user’s phone, location information, etc.). Therefore, it could be be fairly easy to trace a user if required (e.g., by subpoena/court order). Indeed Secret’s Terms of Service state, “We may share information about you … in response to a request for information if we believe disclosure is in accordance with any applicable law, regulation or legal process, or as otherwise required by any applicable law, regulation or legal process.”

For more updates visit: http://www.sociallyawareblog.com

Enforcing Trademarks on Social Media

As a trademark owner you have an obligation to “police” your trademark. What does that mean? You are responsible for finding and addressing infringement of your trademark rights. (Copyright holders have a similar obligation.)  A major part of policing or enforcing those rights is monitoring and addressing violations on social media.

Platform Content Removal Policies

Each social media platform has their own policies for removal of content whether trademarks or copyrighted work.  It is important to determine the appropriate method and provide all the necessary information to secure timely removal. Social media content changes very quickly so to be effective at protecting brand perception you must be swift and efficient about requesting content removal.

Use this infographic I created as a quick reference guide for Takedown Policy Requirements On Top Social Media Sites.

What Do I Take Down?

Not only is knowing the policy requirements important you need to determine when a post/content warrants removal. This is a strategic decision your company should make while engaging all necessary stakeholders including but not limited to management, legal and marketing/PR. Below are a few things to consider when determining when to take down a post:

  1. As an organization develop a policy for what types of brand use or content use are important to the company. Use that as a guide to addressing infringement.
  2. Embrace positive uses of your mark. There are positive uses that can promote your brand. Coca Cola illustrates a great example of embracing what could have been trademark infringement when two fans created a Facebook page for them.  Coca cola just dedicated a few members of their team to monitor the content.
  3. Know the social media platform rules and policies on content removal. See the infographic for some help but visit the policies on the platform.
  4. Figure out who is likely to comply with your request for content removal. It is usually easier to make a request through the platform. It can be hard to determine who posted content and their contact information. Additionally, it is unlikely that they will cooperate. Remember that the social media content provider is not likely liable for anything unless you can prove a partnership or joint ownership and control over the account.
  5. Reviews & other commentary about your brand, positive or negative, are allowed. Most social media sites will not take down content of this nature and this can cause backlash that will outweigh the potential benefit. This is a great opportunity to engage consumers and either address concerns or reinforce positive perceptions.
  6. Consider the public relations implications of requesting removal. Will attempting to remove the content cause backlash that will be more detrimental? There have been a number of instances of brands garnering greater negative media attention for trying to take something down justified or not. If infringer’s presence is significant enough to cause concern consider joining the conversation.
  7. Include all the requested information. Incomplete requests for content removal may cause unnecessary delays.
  8. Include trademark registration numbers for all jurisdictions. Some social media platforms will only block content in the applicable jurisdiction or country if you only provide proof of one registration. Provide all registrations so the social media platform is aware of the extent of your protection.
  9. List exactly where infringements are located on the site. Platforms are not required to search for infringements.
  10. Submit evidence of current use. This information only serves to strengthen your claim and is as easy as providing the url to your website.

Remember your objective when policing your mark is to make sure consumers will not be confused. Your trademark is your calling card, do not let anyone use it in a way that dilutes your reputation or capitalizes on the goodwill or value created in that trademark. If you do not have in-house legal counsel consult with an attorney to develop a comprehensive plan to address trademark infringement.

Five things you should know as the new gTLDs launch

What is a gTLD? gTLD stands for generic top-level domain and is an Internet extension such as “.COM,” “.NET” or “.ORG.” Right now there are a little over two dozen gTLDs, but soon, there could be hundreds. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is responsible for the coordination of the global Internet’s systems of unique identifiers and, in particular, ensuring its stable and secure operation. According to ICANN the new gTLD program was developed to increase competition and choice in the domain name space. As the new gTLDs launch and threaten to change the Internet as we know it there are a lot of things you should know but here are five to start. For additional background information about new gTLDs, please visit some of my previous posts “What do you know about the new top level domains?” & “Will You Be Confused When The New Generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs) Launch?”

1. Be careful of services “guaranteeing” to get a domain name for you

Cyrus Namazi, Vice President of DNS Industry Engagement for ICANN, published a blog post today titled “Pre-Reserve a Domain Name, or Not? ICANN Answers the QuestionNamazi warns against services that “guarantee” they’ll get the domain name for you:
 
 
As responsible Registrars are advising, successful pre-registration of a domain cannot be guaranteed. ICANN seconds that advice, cautioning that registrants should be wary of anyone who claims to be able to guarantee a domain registration on a new gTLD. There are several situations that can impact the availability of a domain name and some domain names may never be available for purchase.”
 
 
Namazi points out that competition between registrars for a single domain, domains claimed in sunrise, reserved domains, premium domains, and name collision domains make it impossible to guarantee. He also notes that some TLDs may not even end up being delegated.

 

2. The first non-Latin character new gTLDs were delegated 

What does delegated mean? This means that the gTLDs or strings have successfully completed the new gTLD Program and has officially been selected as a new gTLD that will go live for use. This will be the first time non-Latin characters can be used in a TLD and not just in the second level domain. Click here for more information from ICANN. 

One is شبكة, the Arabic word for “web” or “network”, while another is 游戏, which means “game” in Chinese.The other two – онлайн and сайт – are both Russian words, meaning “online” and “website” respectively

3. First nine LATIN new gTLDs​ were delegated

The first nine new gTLDs delegated last week were:

  • .CAMERA
  • .CLOTHING
  • .EQUIPMENT
  • .GURU
  • .HOLDINGS
  • .LIGHTING
  • .SINGLES
  • .VENTURES
  • .VOYAGE

The “sunrise period” for registration of the first seven gTLDs is “.BIKE,” “.CLOTHING,” “.GURU,” “.HOLDINGS,” “.PLUMBING,” “.SINGLES,” “.VENTURES.” will begin November 26 and general availability to anyone will begin January 29, 2014.  Keep any eye out for new gTLDs as they are delegated. Consider whether you or your company wants to purchase a domain. And monitor the official launch of these new gTLDs starting in January. Monitor how your brand and ineffectual property are being used on this new gTLDs. To keep up with delegated strings click here.

4. The launch of new gTLDs multiplies the size of the Internet and presents increased security and intellectual property infringement risks.

  • Pay attention to the gTLD in the address bar. New gTLDs give malicious actors more platforms to attack the unsuspecting. Pay attention to the address you are trying to get to and make sure all parts of the address are correct.  Also if you search for a website make sure the site that comes up is the legitimate website.
  • Companies must monitor the use of their intellectual property on new gTLDs. Companies should currently have a plan in place to protect their IP investments through motoring, preemptive registrations, the Trademark Clearinghouse and other rights protection mechanisms provided by ICANN. Be proactive!

5. Launch of new gTLDs presents a number of opportunities to market your brand or yourself. This will present business and consumers with a new and unique user experience and online footprint. There will be a lot more room for customization online and opportunities for marketers to be creative with how to reach consumers. I am excited to see the innovative means of reaching the public that are birthed from the new gTLD launch.Please ask any questions you have about new gTLDs, protecting yourself, rights mechanisms, IP protection, security concerns etc. Start the discussion!

I can’t resell my “used” digital music?!

The reselling of used materials such as CDs, books, video games, etc. is a practice that is very common in current society.  Digital music like CDs can be sold when you’re done too, right?  Wrong! According to a New York court, this can be a violation of the copyrights of the creator. This post is the follow-up to a previous post “Do You Own Your Digital Media?”.
No music logo
No music logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

ReDigi, Inc. (ReDigi) sought to resell “used” digital music via a marketplace on the internet at a reduced cost.  To resell digital music, users download software that determines if their music is eligible to sell. Users who signed up to ReDigi’s marketplace allowed ReDigi’s to search their computer and upload all “eligible” digital music files stored on it onto ReDigi’s cloud. Eligible files were obtained from recognized sources (such as iTunes) and excluded music ripped from a CD or music obtained from an illegal music sharing site. The software continues to run scans on the user’s computer, to make sure users do not keep digital music files they have sold; people caught violating this rule have their accounts suspended.

 

ReDigi deals in credits, users can use credits to buy new music and receive credits for music files sold through the reseller  Most tracks sold were priced between 59 to 79 cents, however, unlike an original sale of music, no proceeds were paid to the rights owners directly but split between the seller (20%), an escrow account for the recording artist (20%) and ReDigi (60%).
Capitol Records, LLC (Capitol), a former EMI subsidiary (now within Universal’s label portfolio), owns catalogues for artists including Katy Perry, Coldplay and Norah Jones. Capitol brought action against ReDigi in January 2012 for copyright infringement and inducement for copyright infringement under the US Copyright Act as a result of its activities.
 
ReDigi argued that the “first sale doctrine” under US copyright law applied. The “first sale doctrine” entitles you to “sell, display or otherwise dispose of that particular copy, notwithstanding the interests of the copyright owner” and therefore ReDigi argued that consumers had the right to resell digital copies of music without infringement.
 

The Court upheld Capitol’s motion for summary judgment on 30 March 2013.

It found that where a copy of a music file is transferred over the internet it infringes Capitol’s reproduction and distribution rights in that copyright. It concluded that the “first sale doctrine” did not apply to digital media. The court determined that ReDigi is not protected by first sale because to resell music on ReDigi, the file must be transferred to the company’s servers in Arizona – which requires a technical, unauthorized recreation of the file. Guradian cited  Christopher Jon Sprigman, a law professor who is a co-author of the Knockoff Economy saying: “Yes, it’s making a copy, but only in the driest, most formal sense of making a copy.”
 

Sprigman said ReDigi’s process was “fairly reliable” and offered a way to transact digital goods without resulting in the proliferation of copies of a product. “From an economic basis that’s no different from taking the book that’s sitting on your bookshelf and putting it in a used bookstore,” he said.

Dismissing ReDigi’s defence, the Court said, “Thus the plain text of the Copyright Act makes clear that reproduction occurs when a copyrighted work is fixed in a new material object.” See Matther Bender & Co., Inc. v. W. Pub. Co., 158 F.3d 693, 703 (2d Cir. 1998). “The court in London-Sire noted that the Internet transfer of a file results in a material object being ‘created elsewhere at its finish…the Court determines that the embodiment of a digital music file on a new hard disk is a reproduction within the meaning of the Copyright Act.'”

This court has determined that the “moving” of a digital music file from one computer to another is a reproduction under the Copyright Act because he file has moved from one material object (the user’s computer) to another (ReDigi’s server). 

As a result, ReDigi were liable for direct, contributory and vicarious copyright infringement.

What does this mean??

Hopefully ReDigi will appeal because this case brings into question not only the resale of digital music, but the resale of other digital works protected by copyright including e-books.

It seems that we don’t really own the digital music we purchase, it is merely on loan. The freedom to resell and use it as we see fit is fundamental part of ownership. The Copyright Act might need to be updated to account for this new method of gaining access to music. I understand that a lot of the case law that has developed on the point has been in an effort to protect copyright owners from Peer to Peer file sharing. But as technology evolves and consumers purchase more digital media the law will need to evolve to protect their rights in these materials. Digital media becomes somewhat less valuable without the autonomy to do with it what you want. 

The scope of its application will become clearer in time especially because online giants such as Apple and Amazon have been granted patents for the transfer of digital goods. Neither has launched their platform and are no doubt keenly watching this case.

 

 

A Victory for Twitter Users!

We all enjoy when our tweets become popular and travel the globe through retweets. Have you ever wondered what happens to your ownership rights after the tweet is retweeted. Does it now belong to the retweeter? Do you still have a protectable interest? Is it now public?

Well you now have an answer!

Daniel Morel, a Haitian-born photojournalist, was in Port-au-Prince when the big earthquake occurred in 2010. He was one of very few journalists on the ground and was able to take some really powerful pictures of the devastation.  He uploaded and disseminated his photos using his Twitter account and a third-party app called Twitpic. The Twitpic terms of service provide that owners of images retain copyright in them. Twitter’s, like Twitpic’s, terms of service allow users to “retain your rights to any content you… post on or through the services.” Although there were no copyright notices on the images, Morel’s twitter page did include the attributions “Morel” and “by photo morel” next to the images, as well as the copyright notice (c)2010 Twitpic, Inc. All Rights Reserved.”

A Twitter user in neighboring Dominican Republic re-tweeted them and they spread over the internet, without any credit being given to Morel, though the Twitter trail could have been followed if anyone was really interested in seeing who originally posted the pictures. Getty then disseminated them to news outlets including the Washington Post without any accreditation or attempt to find the photographer responsible for the breathtaking images.  Agence France-Presse also downloaded the images, but credited them to its own stringer and sold them to third parties (including Getty Images). AFP, with a certain amount of chutzpah, sought a declaration that it had not infringed Morel’s copyright; he counterclaimed: Agence France Presse v Morel, US Dist LEXIS 5636.

Morel later got credit for his work, winning two World Press Photo awards. The district court in Manhattan found for Morel with respect to his claims of direct infringement. AFP could not establish that it was a third-party beneficiary of Morel’s agreement with Twitpic or that a sub-licence was somehow granted through retweeting, given the clarity of the Twitpic terms of service, which stated that retransmission of images merely granted a licence to use someone else’s images on Twitpic.com or an affiliated site. The judge did think, however, that damages should be limited to a figure based on the number of works infringed, not the number of infringements (which would be much larger, given the number of retweets involved). Issues related to Getty’s knowledge and intent, wilful infringement by AFP and Getty, and contributory or vicarious liability were left for another day, as they turned on questions of fact which could not be decided summarily.

The copyright law governing this case is pretty clear. The person who takes the photo has the copyright and anyone making a commercial use, even a derivative use, of the image is liable for copyright infringement. Any other decision would have severely cripple copyrights and discouraged the use of social media to disseminate work. This curtailment would severely limit innovation because artists and innovators would not have this means of advertising and might slow innovation because of renewed barriers to entry and access. Merely Tweeting your picture does not allow others to use it for commercial gain. The terms of service on sites like Facebook and Twitter allow for their use, they do not provide an opportunity for third parties to capitalize on the works of users.

I would still advise photographers, poets, writers, and anyone posting material they want protected, to include a copyright notice in their bios and each individual photograph or work, if possible.