Court sorts out rights tiff in a mod, mod world

U.S. judge denies summary judgment in video gaming dispute, in which he dissects unitary vs. collective works and their implications for copyright, infringement claims

With a cast of characters rivaling a Tolstoy novel, and almost as many iterations and spin-offs as Pride and Prejudice, a recent video game dispute involving modification or modding has come down to concepts that underlie a good old-fashioned night at the movies. These led U.S. District Judge Charles R. Breyer in San Francisco to deny summary judgment in a suit by video game maker uCool against distributor Valve for copyright infringement of its characters. (A tip of the hat to the Hollywood Reporter for posting the ruling).

What lessons can makers and distributors in the red hot 21st century video gaming industry draw from the practices of the likes of Johannes Gutenberg and Cecil B. DeMille? (more…)

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EU court details tech, profit infringement perils

Copyright violations can occur too readily and for makers’ improper advantage when razzle-dazzle TV tools make it too easy to access protected content—with, and without rights owners’ OK, court warns

The sale of multimedia players that permit users to effortlessly stream illegal content to a television screen can be the kind “communication to the public” that is illegal under the European Union’s Copyright Directive, the Court of Justice recently decided.

The ruling by the EU’s high judicial body in Luxembourg could be key as technology continues its unchecked advance.

The case arose when Stichting BRIEN,  a Dutch anti-piracy group, filed legal action against Jack Wullems, the creator of the multimedia device known as Filmspeler. Wullems installed third-party add-ons to his creation to permit customers easy access to protected works on streaming websites operated by third-parties. Some of these sites allow access to digital content—both with and without copyright holders’ permission.

The EU high court characterized the Filmspeler as akin to “a pirate … Apple TV,” and noted that Wullems had advertised the device as such. Those promotions played a  large part in how the court ruled because it helped show that Wullems aimed strictly to profit from the device, which many customers had purchased. But how did this case prove to be digital double-Dutch in the Netherlands and across the Continent? (more…)

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With tech-streamers’ rise, will law jobs change?

The industry headlines tell a persuasive tale. Netflix: The most feared force in Hollywood? Netflix: The monster that’s eating Hollywood. Netflix is killing it—big time—after pouring cash into original shows.

With cord-cutting becoming  ever more common and broadcast network ratings steadily declining, will Entertainment Lawyers start streaming from traditional industry workplaces in search of Elysian Fields with newer employers working in newer technologies?

It may be a question to ponder, even as the studios and Netflix head to court in a battle over claims the big and growing streaming service poached key entertainment executives

But for lawyers, in particular, there may be more cultural and workplace issues to consider before throwing caution to the wind, polishing up that CV, and seeking to get in the queue for new employment. Yes, Netflix the disrupter of the TV world, the company that’s changing how consumers digest content,  is hiring.

But the company has its own distincitive hiring practices and workplace environment, bringing a holistic, freethinking, Silicon Valley “start-up vibe” to the often provincial and openly combative, kill-or-be-killed culture of showbiz in Hollywood—and to the typically buttoned-up environment of legal departments in some of those entertainment companies.

What’s the brief on working for entertainment-tech hybrids, or at least one of the giants of the day in this area?

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Congress takes aim at nation’s copyright chief

Lawmakers advance measure to strip Librarian of Congress of power to appoint copyrights Register, giving authority, instead, to the president, with congressional assistance

Congress is sending a rebuke to the bureaucrats who run a system that’s critical to Entertainment Law: The House has passed and sent to the Senate a proposal to strip The Librarian of Congress of the power to appoint the Register of Copyrights, giving that authority, instead, to the president.

HR 1695, the Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act,  has passed the House Judiciary Committee in a 27-1 bipartisan vote, and it has advanced out of the House in a 378-48 vote. It now rests with the Senate Rules and Administration Committee.

Whether it goes beyond, it has become the legislative equivalent of baseball’s brush-back pitch, with lawmakers expressing some degree of displeasure with the nation’s copyright administrators—and creating a colloquy over how this potential change might affect innovators and creators.

How did this tussle blow up? (more…)

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ISP denied preemptory shield on rights claims

An internet service provider, weary of hearing complaints from a music rights-management organization, tried to get a federal court in Manhattan to stop in advance what it felt was the group’s sing-song whining about improper online postings of copyrighted songs. But the judge decided the request by Windstream Services for a preemptive declaratory judgment against BMG was way out of tune.

The court found Windstream’s request “un-tethered” to any specific claim of copyright infringement and said it could be construed to absolve the ISP of not only past but also future actions. That, like performing in the wrong key, can’t be allowed, the court said in a case that offers some important reminders about parties following procedures detailed in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. (more…)

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Oh, no, you don’t: Infringement claims revived

Appellate judges say trial, facts needed to determine if web service’s claim for ‘safe harbor’ undone by ‘volunteers’ moderating celebrity content

Celebrity content has sprouted online on gossipy sites like spring wildflowers after California’s heavy winter rains. But will the courts douse the untrammeled enthusiasms for these enterprises by finding that businesses that host and support such web venues may have limits to “safe harbors” they might seek from infringement claims in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act?

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has fired a warning shot to online service providers about the limits of their legal protections, particularly when people connected with them play roles in moderating stories or pictures about famous folks of the moment.

In a closely watched case, the appellate judges gave new life to infringement claims by Marvix Photographs, a company specializing in celebrity gossip (i.e., paparazzi) images, and potentially other content creators. This ruling raised big questions about the content practices of online platforms, notably LiveJournal, Marvix’s defendant and a blog-hosting powerhouse. The case also wraps in elements like editorial judgement and revelations about a diva’s pregnancy. What’s the hot legal scoop here?

(more…)

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Web services catch a break on older music

Justices decline case contesting net providers’ ‘safe harbor’ protections for pre-’72 music recordings, infringement claims

Where the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court decline to go can matter as much as where they do.

The lesson has played out anew with the high court’s recent refusal to take up a much-watched Entertainment Law dispute involving pre-1972 sound recordings and online service providers.

That has left the services, the music industry, and judges in courts across the country with some complex copyright issues hanging more than a little bit. For now, performers may have been dealt a setback,  while the providers look like they won a victory rooted in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s “safe harbors.”

This controlling case may have executives at the online video service Vimeo sighing in some relief after they were sued in 2009 by Capitol Records for copyright infringement.

A federal district judge hearing the case ruled the video site liable for infringement where pre-1972 recordings had been uploaded without license to Vimeo’s site.

But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit overturned that judgment, finding the lower court’s exempting older recordings from the DMCA’s safe harbors would “defeat the very purpose Congress sought to achieve in passing [it].” The appeals court refused to reconsider the case in August, leading the record industry to appeal in December to the U.S. Supreme Court. But the high court declined to hear the case, leaving the Second Circuit judgement in place, especially since it was joined by another appellate circuit.

What’s this dispute about and why does it matter?

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YouTube’s service terms just can’t be ignored

Federal judge tosses suit over music video that was pulled down, then re-posted, and had its view count reset

Performers who leap on to YouTube may be visually savvy, marketing smart, and outstanding early adopters of cutting-edge social media platforms. But besides promoting themselves zealously in cyber space with online services, they also need to step up and master an old legal fundamental: It pays to read the fine print before consenting to any agreement in ink and paper or electrons, as a federal judge in San Francisco has reminded an unhappy plaintiff.

To be sure, the overwhelming majority of YouTube users likely would fail a quiz on the service provider’s terms of service (TOS) agreement before assenting to it. But if the too blithely check off a box on an online page and move ahead with understanding their legal situation, they then also can’t gripe to courts and seek relief when YouTube removes, relocates, and resets the view count of their posted music videos. That was the beef in Darnaa, LLC v. Google Inc.

Plaintiff Darnaa was a limited liability company, an independent music label promoting and producing the works of artist Darnaa. The LLC in March, 2014, uploaded to YouTube the artist’s music video Cowgirl as part of an advertising campaign to promote sales of the song recordings in online digital music stores. But, yippee-ki-yay, YouTube made that ditty mosey where Darnaa didn’t expect on the great cyber free range. Why didn’t the judge corral YouTube, the online video giant? (more…)

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New chair zaps FCC changes on set-top boxes

Out with the old, in with the new: Ajit Pai, President Trump’s new chair of the Federal Communications Commission, has reversed course,  revoking reports and investigations launched under previous leaders. Pai has criticized his predecessors’ “midnight regulations,” saying there were issued with little notice and discussion. But critics were quick to point out his revocations occurred in much the same way. 

Ignoring the politics, some of what Pai swept away will affect entertainment content, specifically access issues involving set-top boxes that consumers must rent—at much-criticized costs of hundreds of dollars annually—to get cable and satellite programs. The Obama Administration had wanted third-parties to provide the units, lowering their price and potentially opening more robust content options, such as through apps and streaming services.

Consumers, especially millennials, have been revolting against this technology, cutting the cord on the hefty costs of cable and satellite service. “Over-the-top content” from Netflix, Amazon, HBO, and others—as well as new technologies to deliver it—have made this possible. But the hope that consumers soon might be liberated from renting set-top boxes has been put off for who knows how long.

Streaming content sources typically have not included live sports, nor were network television shows available on streaming devices. But now, a content shift is under way. And the options, made available directly to streamers, especially through proprietary apps and subscription online services, are solid, including new shows and movies (please see HBO’s Game of Thrones  or its Westworld if you have been living under a rock).

What does this mean for the entertainment industry? As more content moves toward streaming and away from old-line cable and satellite providers, entertainment lawyers may need to be cutting new media deals for clients to adjust. As older content gets re-purposed for stand-alone channels, many licensors are confronting contracts that fail to address major technological changes. And what about advertisers? How will they approach their deals when “over the top” content lacks ads or permits consumers to fast-forward past them?

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Judge clips VidAngel’s naughty wings


A streaming company that has tried to seize a higher ground, taking Hollywood movies from discs and “cleaning” the films of pornography, nudity, and violence and then providing them online to its customers, has itself acted in naughty, naughty fashion, a federal judge has found.

In Los Angeles, U.S. District Judge Andre Birotte Jr. ruled that VidAngel Inc. has infringed copyrights held by Disney, Warner Bros., and Twentieth Century Fox after failing to get appropriate licensing from them, which resulted in an order that the company stop all editing and streaming of the studios’ films.

Since the ruling, VidAngel has flapped its corporate wings and claimed technical issues in complying with the federal injunction – then flouted it. Who wouldn’t want to zap the sleaze straight out of a flick like Fifty Shades of Gray? But the company is finding that it can be costly to be righteous. Poking Hollywood in the nose and telling a federal court judge that “we’re right and you’re wrong” landed VidAngel in contempt of court. (more…)

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