Author: Jennifer C. Duval

A verdict on Google’s anti-piracy steps: failure

Online piracy has proven to be like a mythological creature — whack one of its heads off, two grow in its place. And even as nations like France ponder cash fines or even tougher steps to quash illegal downloading, Google has said it’s doing its part by punishing sites with many piracy claims against them by reducing their search rankings. That move by the online search behemoth was announced in August, 2012, and the Recording Industry Association of America recently has offered its verdict: the trade group says Google’s move isn’t working to, among other things, protect the intellectual property rights of artists. The recording industry, of course, always has a freighted relationship with Google because, as the net’s top search engine, it both makes it easy for customers to discover talent, while also providing possible access to piracy sites. Though Google proclaims it is “a friend to copyright owners,” it also asserts that it “already does much more to protect intellectual property than the law requires.” The RIAA initially was pleased with Google’s steps to lower rankings on sites for illegal downloading, removing them from the coveted first-page of its search results. “This ranking change should help users find legitimate, quality sources of content more easily,” wrote Amit Singhal, Google’s senior vice president of engineering.  Six months later, though, little has changed. Google’s efforts, like many attempts to combat...

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YouTube dukes it out over German copyrights

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to tonight’s legal, online puglistic ticket for your entertainment: On the left we have YouTube, the ubiquitous video-sharing service that boasts billions of views each month. On the right, we have GEMA, the German Society for musical performing and mechanical reproduction rights, which represents more than 64,000 German copyrights for composers, lyricists and music publishers. Although both sides have similar goals of protecting the rights of creatives, they have been slugging it out in bitter legal battles for more than a half dozen years over a multitude of issues including negotiations, litigation/arbitration and the media. The analysts’ scorecard on the fights, thus far, looks like this: ROUND 1:  Negotiation. Even though a two-year license agreement lapsed between the parties, they have not been able to come to a subsequent understanding, namely over “equitable renumeration.” They are deadlocked as to whether YouTube will pay GEMA per view or whether YouTube instead will pay GEMA a portion of the ad revenue. As of January, 2013, no further movement has occurred in their talks. ROUND 2: Litigation / Arbitration. GEMA filed a test case in the District Court of Hamburg, seeking liability for copyright infringement by YouTube when a dozen songs were uploaded without permission. Though the court said YouTube could not be held primarily liable, the judge found that the Google subsidary could be secondarily liable because “after...

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In Paris, talk turns to fines for online piracy

The online reign (or siege) of Napster and Limewire may be gone but peer-to-peer file-sharing lives on. And the entertainment industry globally is still in a pitched battle — filing court claims, seeking to shutter sites — in the campaign to to combat piracy. The French music industry recently has declared, J’en ai ras la bol! advocating not just take-downs, nor wrist-slapping warnings but now cash fines to quell illegal downloading. Thierry Chassagne, Warner Music France president, has been quoted: “There has not been a lot of repression. This part of the mission has failed. … If we consider that downloading is illegal, it must be punished, it is not a novelty. I think a system of fines would be more proportionate.”...

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Batmobile’s such a character, it wins copyright

Batman  had a full roster of supporting characters, including Robin the Boy Wonder, Batgirl, even the ever faithful man servant Alfred. But there was a key player in this cast who has remained loyal since the 1960s yet never received so much as a screen credit: It’s the Batmobile, of course. Senior U.S. District Judge Ronald Lew, however, has recently extended legal protections to this venerable mechanical ace, ruling the Batmobile (1966 original, shown, near right) is a copyrighted character. This finding also means that custom car garage owner Mark Towle has violated trademarks and copyrights with his replicas. Towle owns the appropriately named Gotham Garage, whose website boasts, “Imagine yourself in the Dark Knight’s rolling arsenal, cruising your Gotham streets. Gotham Garage offers you the most accurate fully loaded and drivable 1989 Batmobile Replica.” His inventory also includes replicas of vehicles from films like Herbie and The Munsters.When DC Comics, the owners of the trademark and copyright in the Batman franchise, learned of the copycat Batmobiles, they took Towle to court, asserting he violated their intellectual property rights. To be clear, there was no dispute whether Towle copied the Batmobile design. As the pictures above show [courtesy www.extravaganzi.com and www.gothamgarage.net] , the naked eye can see the vehicles are impressively identical. It is an established tenant of copyright law, however, that “useful articles” (like cars) cannot be copyrighted. On the other hand,...

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Court tosses artist’s claim to ideas for ‘Avatar’

Was Avatar’s plot familiar? Man goes to moon, remains conflicted between Earth and blue Na’vis. Man gets … well, if you are Gerald Morawski, you thought the story uncomfortably similar to a story you talked about with director James Cameron. And, as a result, Morawski sued the famed filmmaker for breach of contract, fraud and negligent misrepresentation. A U.S. district judge, however, has rejected the claim, saying Avatar simply was a “retelling of the familiar story of European colonization and the love story between Pocahontas and John Smith.” Morawski and Cameron met in 1991. Morawski, a U.S. Army vet turned visual-effects consultant, discussed with Cameron the purchase of some art. During the sale, Morawski asserts that he  pitched his idea for a film, Guardians of Eden. According to the complaint (thanks to Entertainment Law Digest for the court documents), Morawski “entered into agreements with Cameron and Cameron’s production company, Lightstorm Entertainment Inc., which provided that Morawski would retain the exclusive rights to his ideas, and that if [Cameron] wished to use them, [he] would have to negotiate for the right to do so.” No deal was struck between the parties to acquire the rights to the ideas. Fast forward 18 years later, the billion-dollar blockbuster Avatar was released and Morawski sues Cameron for the “unauthorized use of the original ideas contained in Guardians of Eden.” Morawski distills his idea elements and compares them...

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