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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Princely legacy includes court time for heirs

Artists may relish that copyrights last for decades. But do they consider sufficiently their wishes for who will nab their royalties after they are gone and other key estate planning issues?

Although some experts have urged Entertainment lawyers to consider a new field of performers’ post-mortem rights, the continued legal tussling over the works of superstar Prince Rogers Nelson may suggest to some practitioners that not only must they consider long-lived intellectual property concerns like copyrights lasting almost a century, they also just may need greater depth and expertise in dealing with wills, trusts, and estates.

Consider that days before the recent, one-year anniversary of Prince’s death, his lawyers were in a Minnesota district court, filing a complaint that audio engineer George Ian Boxill, a former collaborator,  sought to release unheard music of the iconic entertainer without the authorization of Paisley Park Enterprises. State Judge Wilhelmina Wright moved quickly, issuing a temporary injunction to block the release of a six-song EP. Prince recorded the work, titled Deliverance,  between 2006 and 2008 with Boxill.

Fans briefly partied like it was 1999, as Deliverance’s lead song, a track featuring a fierce blues riff, was made available for streaming via iTunes and Apple Music. The EP also was online for early download on princerogersnelson.com for $6.99 or $19.99 depending on audio quality.  But Prince’s estate countered with its own version of Let’s Go Crazy, ensuring that Boxill could not release unauthorized tracks, which lawyers argued violated the producer’s recording agreement with Prince.

Streaming sites have yanked down the disputed works. How did the late legendary songwriter find himself in a legal state that might even make doves cry—and why is this condition not unique among famed creatives? (more…)

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A writers’ strike averted, troubling trends persist

When Hollywood gets the sniffles, its lawyers can feel like they’re suffering a major bout of pneumonia. So there was good reason for the collective exhale by many in the industry in recent days as the Writer’s Guild of America—the union to which all working screenwriters are required to belong—reached a contract deal with the studios. A potentially punishing strike was avoided. Productions continue. The disputing parties didn’t get all each wanted.

But did the entertainment business just whistle past some current economic concerns  to kick down the path some big, longer-term issues? As audiences confront increasing programming choices and their entertainment habits transform, have writers (long a vulnerable party in the Hollywood system) served as a harbinger of how industry talent—whether scribes, directors, producers, actors, or lawyers—keeps struggling and may be losing ever more to the tides of technology? (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, Really?’ A ‘Night Of’ ethics, evidence woes

In our ‘Oh, Really’  feature, the Biederman Blog’s editors and alumni— voracious consumers of trendy matters — cast a curious, skeptical, fun and smart end-of-the-week eye on popular culture and its entertaining products, sharing their keen observations about legal matters these raise.

The HBO series “The Night Of” has won critical acclaim. In this crime drama, Nasir, a community college student from a working class, Queens, Pakistani-American family heads out with friends to a party one Friday night. He meets a beautiful, mysterious young woman. After a night of drinking and ingesting other substances with her at her place, he blacks out. He awakens the next morning to find her stabbed 22 times.

The rest of the series is “Did he, or didn’t he?” and tracks his attorneys–a weary, down-on-his-luck ambulance-chaser, and the other a wet-behind-the-ears Pollyanna—as they build a defense. Their work is cut in with the hunt of a dogged detective who is “just one case away from retiring.” The series culminates in the young man’s trial, when we learn his surprise fate. The show’s performances are stellar, the direction is spot-on, and the writing —by the masterful Richard Price—is superb. But, really, how about the law in this hit? (Some spoiler alerts ahead, fyi.)

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‘Blurred Lines’ and a + path for ‘Photograph’

A costly infringement case may be pushing songwriters to consider legal options, adding credits and sharing royalties rather than litigating. Is it stifling creativity, too?

Have legal concerns grown so Thicke that songwriters find it’s easier now to just get Happy and + colleagues who seek credit because their works sound sort of similar?

Ed Sheeran—the singer, songwriter, actor, guitarist, and record producer—may have sent the music industry a strong message with his recent settlement of a copyright infringement suit over his hit song Photograph. In answer to 2016 claims by songwriters Martin Harrington and Thomas Leonard that they should be awarded $20 million from him because they say his song infringed on their composition Amazing (as recorded by Matt Cardle, the 2010 winner of The X Factor reality series), Sheeran, legendary for his mathematically signed albums, effectively replied: —  .

He then apparently decided not to be ÷, and to just × the number of folks credited on his tune.

What’s going on—and was this part of a potentially −legal trend? Let’s get to the √ of this music industry development. (more…)

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Q-&-A: Prof. Kane on fashion and copyright

With the U.S. Supreme Court recently deciding in the Star Athletica v. Varsity Brands case that graphic elements on cheerleading uniforms can be protected under Section 101 of the Copyright Act, a conversation has emerged among designers and fashion experts, wondering how the ruling may impact the ever-growing industry. Hillary Kane, an adjunct associate professor of law at Southwestern Law School and Of Counsel at altView Law Group LLP,  discusses the concerns of many about this case and its connection to Entertainment Law in this Q-&-A:

Question—Based on your expert knowledge, which segments of the fashion industry do you believe will be most affected by this ruling? What are the positive and negative effects of the decision?

Answer—I am very resistant to lumping cheerleading uniforms into what most of us consider fashion. Fashion at its finest involves high levels of training, creativity, innovation, and passion. A cheerleading uniform? Not so much. It is very likely that the designs in questions will not be sufficiently original to qualify for copyright protection after they are “imaginatively separated” from the uniform using the new test.

The many attempts to expand copyright protection to fashion design have failed.  The Supreme Court was very careful to emphasize that its ruling was not extending copyright protection to clothing. Maybe we should just accept this and move on? All the Varsity ruling does is establish the test all courts should apply to determine if the design elements on a uniform are copyright worthy independent from the garment.

Next fall, I will be substituting Conceptual Separability with Imagined Separability and working through the new test in my Fashion Law course. I am not sure the result in this case would be different applying another one of the prior nine to 12 tests, now superseded.

The fashion industry segment most likely to be affected is cheerleading uniforms, and perhaps other types of uniforms.  Now, instead, of being well-settled that there is no copyright protection for any uniform elements, companies have a new basis on which to sue each other. It may get incredibly complicated. What happens when a university claims it has trademark rights in a design Varsity tries to copyright? (There is a U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals trademark case that speaks to this: Louisiana State University v. Smack Apparel Co.)

It is great material for a law school exam, but not likely to lead to anything other than lawsuits in real life. (more…)

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‘Oh, Really?’ Yes, ‘Vinny’ still a hit after 25 years

In our ‘Oh, Really’  feature, the Biederman Blog’s editors and alumni— voracious consumers of trendy matters — cast a curious, skeptical, fun and smart end-of-the-week eye on popular culture and its entertaining products, sharing their keen observations about legal matters these raise.

How’d that happen? Has it really been 25 years since a low-budget, gentle comedy about two New York youts—Bill (Ralph Macchio) and Stan (Mitchell Whitfield) and how they get into deep hot water in Dixie, only to be rescued by a Brooklyn wise guy—sneaked into theaters nationwide, became a hit, then a cult classic?

My Cousin Vinnyexperts note, not only has charmed audiences for awhile now. It also has earned a special spot in many lawyers’ hearts and minds because of its attention to telling truths. Its director holds a Cambridge law degree. It has been deemed by a respected legal publication as one of the 25 greatest legal movies, and it has been written up in legal textbooks and online sites.

The eminent jurist Richard Posner has written that the film is “particularly rich in practice tips: how a criminal defense lawyer must stand his ground against a hostile judge, even at the cost of exasperating the judge, because the lawyer’s primary audience is the jury, not the judge; how cross-examination on peripheral matters can sow serious doubts about a witness’s credibility; how props can be used effectively in cross-examination (the tape measure that demolishes one of the prosecution’s eyewitnesses); how to voir dire, examine, and cross-examine expert witnesses; the importance of the Brady doctrine … how to dress for a trial; contrasting methods of conducting a jury trial; and more.

Vinny has a notable fan at Southwestern Law School, too: Prof. Norman M. Garland (right), an expert on constitutional criminal procedure and evidence. Garland, who has served as the Irwin R. Buchalter Professor of Law and the Paul E. Treusch Professor of Law, offered a few observations about the film and its long and high-standing among legal practitioners: (more…)

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