Author: Sam Herting

Lucas loses UK suit over Star Wars props

Film icon George Lucas has lost his copyright infringement case in Britain’s highest court, the BBC reports. The defendant in the case was Andrew Ainsworth, one of Lucas’ former prop designers who runs a small business in Britain selling replica Stormtrooper helmets and body armor. Because he created the original plastic prototype that Lucas used for the movies, Ainsworth’s gear is authentic – and die-hard fans had taken notice, paying around $720 for a helmet and around $1,430 for armor. Lucas noticed as well and filed suit in 2004, seeking $20 million and asserting that Ainsworth lacked legal rights for his goods. U.S. courts agreed. But because Ainsworth lives and operates his business in Britain and the courts there declined to enforce the U.S. actions against him, Lucas’ legal team launched an action in British courts. To succeed under that country’s law, they switched strategies, as this blog noted in an earlier post, and focused  on whether the gear were sculptures — and therefore works of art, meriting intellectual property protections — or merely industrial props. Britain’s highest court, ultimately, agreed with findings in two lower courts, ruling the helmet and armor were industrial props, not sculptures and works of art. Justices pointed out “the helmet was utilitarian, in the sense that it was an element in the process of production of the film.” The ruling presents an interesting dilemma for prop-makers in...

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Comparing anti-piracy efforts at home, abroad

It’s no secret that online piracy threatens multiple industries and discourages creative aspirations worldwide. Some would argue it’s up to major industries that rely on creative talent, such as music and film, to find alternative revenue streams from emerging technologies. But for the big players, the plain solution is to discourage piracy by punishing infringers without censoring and blocking legitimate sites. Lately, this has turned into an international effort and differing solutions have been enacted to mitigate the problem. Let’s examine these different anti-piracy laws: In the United States, the old policy was for copyright holders to sue regular people who shared material without permission on P2P networks. Litigation got launched against tens of thousands of people; some were wrongfully accused. The new response for copyright holders, which has the support of the Obama Administration and utilizes major internet service providers such as AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and TWC, has been dubbed the “graduated response” method to attack piracy. It works like this: copyright holders scour the web looking for infringing activity and report suspect IP addresses found on P2P networks to the major ISPs. The ISPs then give the infringer six warnings — the first four educational, the last two may contain “mitigation measures” at the discretion the ISP.  Possible mitigation measures at the ISPs’ disposal: to slow or disable service if the infringing activity does not stop. All in all, this...

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High court takes on FCC ‘indecency’ rules

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed this fall to hear arguments as to whether Federal Communications Commission enforcement policies on “indecent” content ( nudity and explicit words) violate constitutional rights. A key issue is whether the FCC should continue to wield broad enforcement powers over the broadcasting of such material from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. or whether the current expansion of available media platforms have made enforcement of old standards an archaic, useless task. The high court specifically will evaluate the Second Circuit’s decisions on two live Fox broadcasts of the Billboard Music Awards involving blue language employed by Cher and Nicole Richie and an ABC broadcast of “NYPD Blue” that showed a woman’s backside. The New York Times examines the issue and summarizes arguments here. Because the Roberts court has set down a path arguing for the preeminence of First Amendment liberties (see its recent rulings on regulating for children video games deemed violent and on campaign finance), some analysts look for the justices to revisit their key 1978 ruling in Pacifica and to look to whether the FCC regulation is constitutional at all or to send regulators back to the drawing boards. Broadcasters, both on the television and radio sides, say that some kind of consistency needs to be achieved so that indecency complaints — many filed en masse by interest groups — don’t keep regulators...

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Whither or wither Grooveshark service?

What can we expect from Grooveshark’s streaming music service? Its mobile app was removed from Apple’s store last year and Google removed Grooveshark’s app from its android market in early April. Apple and Google may have felt pressure from record companies such as EMI and Universal, which both have sued Grooveshark. EMI dismissed its suit after agreeing to a license, while Universal is still fighting its suit. Grooveshark has released an open letter encouraging Apple and Google to reinstate its products, arguing there is nothing illegal about its offerings. Grooveshark allows users to stream any song in its catalog on-demand and save them onto playlists without paying a cent, infuriating record companies with these uploads without a distribution deal. Record companies argue this process infringes on copyrights. Grooveshark says that it fully complies with the DMCA, which requires it to remove content upon being notified by a copyright holder; it says it has taken down 1.76 million tracks and suspended 22,274 users who abused the system. But can users freely upload content? Grooveshark has pushed for record labels to offer its users a blanket license, which would allow companies such as Universal to profit, too. Universal is likely arguing the blanket license offers insufficient compensation and that Grooveshark is inducing infringement through its overall design. YouTube’s win over Viacom in June, 2010, was huge for Grooveshark, as both rely on DMCA...

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Another reel of Facebook legal drama

It took an entire movie, The Social Network, to dramatize the legal issues surrounding the creation of Facebook and even then there were plenty of loose ends to consider, not the least of which those that Chief Judge Alex Kosinski has resolved in an 11-page opinion upholding Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss’ 2008 settlement of their claims against the company (a deal now worth a reported $160 million). The twins had asserted that Facebook did not disclose an accurate valuation of the company in 2008 and appealed their deal. Kosinski brushed off that notion, affirming a district court finding that the duo were going to make plenty of dough and they were sophisticated businessmen aided by a pack of lawyers and experts, including their own dad, a prof at the Wharton business school and an authority on corporate valuation. But before the ink had dried on that favorable Facebook decision, another legal claim against his ownership of the company has re-arisen, dating from a 2003 contract in which a curious businessman named Paul Ceglia claims he received 50 percent ownership from Mark Zuckerberg in a project called “the face book.” Ceglia, a convicted felon, originally filed his claim a year ago, then represented by a small-town, Upstate New York lawyer; the action lacked key supporting evidence and it got tossed. But he’s baaack with an amended complaint, this time with the backing of  the big-name...

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