Wendy Seltzer's blog

Debugging Legislation: PROTECT IP

There's more than a hint of theatrics in the draft PROTECT IP bill (pdf, via dontcensortheinternet ) that has emerged as son-of-COICA, starting with the ungainly acronym of a name. Given its roots in the entertainment industry, that low drama comes as no surprise. Each section name is worse than the last: "Eliminating the Financial Incentive to Steal Intellectual Property Online" (Sec. 4) gives way to "Voluntary action for Taking Action Against Websites Stealing American Intellectual Property" (Sec. 5).

Techdirt gives a good overview of the bill, so I'll just pick some details:  read more »

  • Infringing activities. In defining "infringing activities," the draft explicitly includes circumvention devices ("offering goods or services in violation of section 1201 of title 17"), as well as copyright infringement and trademark counterfeiting. Yet that definition also brackets the possibility of "no [substantial/significant] use other than ...." Substantial could incorporate the "merely capable of substantial non-infringing use" test of Betamax.
  • Blocking non-domestic sites. Sec. 3 gives the Attorney General a right of action over "nondomestic domain names", including the right to demand remedies from (A) domain name system server operators, (B) financial transaction providers, (C), Internet advertising services, and (D) "an interactive computer service (def. from 230(f)) shall take technically feasible and reasonable measures ... to remove or disable access to the Internet site associated with the domain name set forth in the order, or a hypertext link to such Internet site."

Don't Believe the Twitter Anti-Hype: Innovative Platforms Allow for Failure

Don't believe the anti-hype around Twitter (cross-posted from Legal Tags). Twitter hype punctured by study, reports the BBC on a recent Harvard B school finding: The median user has written only one tweet, and "the top 10% of prolific Twitter users accounted for over 90% of tweets." As though it sealed Twitter's fate, the BBC adds:

Research by Nielsen also suggests that many people give the service a try, but rarely or never return. Earlier this year, the firm found that more than 60% of US Twitter users failed to return the following month. "The Harvard data says very, very few people tweet and the Nielsen data says very, very few people listen consistently," Mr Heil told BBC News

Rather than taking the study as a condemnation, though, I'd suggest that the fact Twitter works despite the large number of "unproductive" users is a sign of success. More power to the Twitter team for creating a tool that allows so many people to try it so easily that the seemingly small percentage who get value out of it can find and continue using it. We should be celebrating what happens when infrastructure is cheap enough that we can accept that 60% just throw it away (even assuming all those non-tweeters aren't using the service to listen).   read more »

McCain's YouTube Takedowns Inspire Fair Use Fervor

There's nothing like a misfired copyright claim to make a presidential campaign see the value of fair use. After finding several of its campaign videos removed from YouTube for copyright claims, the McCain-Palin campaign has fired off an eloquent defense of fair use -- and another illustration of where the DMCA's counter-notification process falls short.

The McCain campaign complains that its ads and web videos posted to YouTube have been removed on the complaint of news organizations whose footage was quoted:

[O]verreaching copyright claims have resulted in the removal of non-infringing campaign videos from YouTube, thus silencing political speech. Numerous times during the course of the campaign, our advertisements or web videos have been the subject of DMCA takedown notices regarding uses that are clearly privileged under the fair use doctrine. The uses at issue have been the inclusion of fewer than ten seconds of footage from news broadcasts in campaign ads or videos, as a basis for commentary on the issues presented in the news reports, or on the reports themselves. These are paradigmatic examples of fair use...

Of course the McCain-Palin team could counter-notify, but the DMCA's 10-14 business day waiting period makes that option next to useless, when "10 days can be a lifetime in a political campaign."   read more »

eBay Shines in Tiffany Trademark Fight

In Tiffany v. eBay, decided today, the Southern District of New York gives helpful bounds to secondary liability for trademark infringement, saying eBay is not liable for its use of the term "Tiffany" nor for its sellers' sales of counterfeit goods. Judge Sullivan's careful analysis leaves the path clear for online marketplaces to flourish, putting enforcement burdens, where they belong, on trademark claimants.

First, the court finds eBay's advertisement, through "Tiffany"-keyed adwords on Google and Yahoo! searches, to be "nominative fair use." Some eBay sellers are offering genuine Tiffany merchandise, as trademark law recognizes is legitimate, and eBay has the right to use the brand name to identify them, rather than "absurd circumlocutions ... [such as] 'silver jewelry from a prestigious New York company where Audrey Hepburn once liked to breakfast.'" Even if search keywords are "use in commerce," therefore, the court finds them non-infringing.

Second, the court holds eBay not liable for the infringements of its users, under either direct or secondary liability theories. Instead, its contributory liability test looks much like the notice-and-takedown regime that the DMCA sets up for copyright: only specific knowledge of infringement can trigger liability, a "showing that a defendant knew or had reason to know of specific instances of actual infringement"; not the "generalized" knowledge of counterfeiting Tiffany would like to attribute to eBay. The court does not impose any prior monitoring obligation, implying only that a defendant must take appropriate steps after being notified of claimed infringement. (The court helpfully notes several times that Tiffany's "Notices of Claimed Infringement" are just claims, not proof, and that some listings have even been reinstated after incorrect claims.)  read more »

Privacy Falls into YouTube's Data Tar Pit

As a big lawsuit grinds forward, its parties engage in discovery, a wide-ranging search for information "reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence." (FRCP Rule 26(b)) And so Viacom has calculated that scouring YouTube's data dumps would help provide evidence in Viacom's copyright lawsuit.

According to a discovery order released Wednesday, Viacom asked for discovery of YouTube source code and of logs of YouTube video viewership; Google refused both. The dispute came before Judge Stanton, in the Southern District of New York, who ordered the video viewing records -- but not the source code -- disclosed.

The order shows the difficulty we have protecting personally sensitive information. The court could easily see the economic value of Google's secret source code for search and video ID, and so it refused to compel disclosure of that "vital asset," the "product of over a thousand person-years of work."

But the user privacy concerns proved harder to evaluate. Viacom asked for "all data from the Logging database concerning each time a YouTube video has been viewd on the YouTube website or through embedding on a third-party website," including users' viewed videos, login IDs, and IP addresses. Google contended it should not be forced to release these records because of users' privacy concerns, which the court rejected.   read more »

DMCA "Repeat Infringers": Scientology Critic’s Account Reinstated after Counter-Notification

The Scientology critic known as “Wise Beard Man” returned to YouTube this week after successfully filing counter-notifications to copyright claims that had earlier been made against his account. The takedown and delayed return illuminate another of the lesser-known shoals of the DMCA safe harbor, the 512(i)(1)(A) “repeat infringers” consideration.

As Mark Bunker, the critic, describes it, he had initially set up a YouTube account under the name XenuTV, where he posted clips including commentary on Scientology. Some of these clips came from other sources, and two of them attracted DMCA takedown requests from Viacom, for “Colbert Report” clips in which Stephen talked about Scientology. These might well have been fair use, or he might have chosen to remove them, but as Bunker says, “Before I could act on the takedown notices and remove the offending clips, the accounts were canceled.”

Bunker began using a second YouTube account, XenuTV1, posting only clips of entirely his own material. His advice to the “Anonymous” critics made him a sort of elder statesman to the movement, and his account attracted over 10,000 subscribed viewers.

In April, however, this second account was abruptly canceled. Apparently, YouTube had discovered that it was Mr. Bunker’s second, after a canceled first, and interpreted the DMCA to compel termination of this second account.

The provision they were invoking was 512(i)(1)(A), which sets some conditions for service provider eligibility for shelter in the DMCA safe harbor:   read more »

Air Force DMCA-Bombs YouTubed Ad

Over at Wired's Threat Level blog, Kevin Poulsen reports on a new DMCA overreach: the U.S. Air Force complained (via outside counsel) about his posting of their recruiting video. The post, Poulsen says, was initially made at the Air Force's invitation.

If the government created this work, then the DMCA claim is improper. Works of the U.S. government are not copyrightable. But the statute allows the government to receive copyright assignments, so if an independent contractor created the video, still available at the Air Force's (non .mil) site, the government could meet that technical requisite of the DMCA.

The DMCA also requires that the notifier assert the posting was unauthorized. Poulsen's article, however, says the Air Force sent Wired the ad and "thanked THREAT LEVEL for agreeing to run it." That doesn't quite square with the DMCA-required statement that the notice-sender "ha[s] a good faith belief that none of the materials or activities listed above has been authorized by the U.S. Air Force, its agents, or the law."

Even if the Air Force's DMCA claim is truthful, however, it's still a policy overreach. Wired posted the video in order to report on government recruiting efforts; the video's dissemination is part of that First-Amendment protected discussion, whether it happens on or off government websites. The DMCA makes it too easy to takedown first, think later.

Here Comes Another Takedown

Earlier this month, comedy group The Richter Scales released a funny music video, "Here Comes Another Bubble." The video showed a montage of Silicon Valley images over a sound-track adapted from Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire," lampooning the Web 2.0 bubble that seems near bursting again. The video must have touched a nerve, as well as a funny bone, because it got wide linkage and discussion and became the week's top-rated video.

Then, it was removed from YouTube, "due to a copyright claim by a third party."

Photographer Lane Hartwell says she objected to use of her photograph of Valleywag's Owen Thomas, so she sent a DMCA takedown notice to YouTube. Hartwell says she owns copyright in the image and did not license its use. In response, YouTube appears to have disabled the video pursuant to its copyright policy (perplexingly, it did not identify the "third party" sender of the complaint.)

Now, the video is back, in a revised version that omits Hartwell's photograph.   read more »

Best Buy Apologizes for Cease-and-Desist Blooper

Yesterday, Best Buy sent a cease-and-desist letter to Scott Beale of Laughing Squid for reporting on an "Improv Everywhere" prank and their sales of T-shirts mocking the Best Buy logo. Best Buy claimed the post infringed its trademarks and copyrights by "promoting" sales of a T-shirt that mocked the Best Buy logo. Laughing Squid promptly posted the C&D, where it was picked up by BoingBoing and Slashdot. But Best Buy seems to have learned from the hubub, and sent its apologies a day later:

We appreciate your clarification of the nature of your posting. We do object to sales of T-shirts or other products bearing a logo which violates our trademarks or copyrights or other misuse of our logo in commercial ventures. However, we do not object to fair and accurate reporting of facts, and respect the First Amendment rights of Laughing Squid and other bloggers to provide articles or commentary on current events. Now that we have a better understanding of your website, we regret sending you the demand letter.
It's good to see a company recognize the distinction between reporting and trademark infringement and drop its threats. We have to say, though, the T-shirts give "trade dress" claims a whole new meaning.

Chilly Weekend: Black Friday Prequel and Public Domain Music Scores

If it's fall, these must be cease-and-desists for Black Friday ads. This year, they seem to be coming earlier than ever, as Wal-Mart sends pre-notifications against future posting. I put my analysis into a Chilling Effects Weather Report

Meanwhile, Michael Geist has the low-down on the overbroad copyright demand (PDF) that has shuttered the International Music Score Library Project. Despite vetting all submitted music for public domain status in Canada, where he runs the site, the IMSLP operator got a complaint that he was making scores available to jurisdictions where they were still under copyright -- talk about misusing disharmony.

Has Common Sense Flown the Coop: Copyright doesn't protect book prices

The Harvard Crimson has been reporting on the Harvard Coop’s silly claims of “intellectual property” against those who come to the bookstore to compare prices. It’s escalated all the way to calling the cops, who wisely refused to throw students out of the store.

A terrific clinical student at the Berkman Center helped us to write an op-ed on the limits of copyright, which the Crimson ran today:

We’re not sure what “intellectual property” right the Coop has in mind, but it’s none that we recognize. Nor is it one that promotes the progress of science and useful arts, as copyright is intended to do. While intellectual property may have become the fashionable threat of late, even in the wake of the Recording Industry Association of America’s mass litigation campaign the catch-phrase—and the law—has its limits.

Since the Coop’s managers don’t seem to have read the law books on their shelves, we’d like to offer them a little Copyright 101.

Copyright law protects original works of authorship—the texts and images in those books on the shelves—but not facts or ideas. So while copyright law might prohibit students from dropping by with scanners, it doesn’t stop them from noting what books are on the shelf and how much they cost.

CrimsonReading.org does students a real service by helping them to compare prices efficiently. Harvard should support them in their information-sharing efforts, rather than endorsing the Coop’s attempts to cut off access to uncopyrightable facts.

DMCA Truth Can Be Stranger than Science Fiction

Author Denise McCune posts a great account of the workings and failings of the DMCA's notice-and-takedown procedures.

As Cory Doctorow has also reported on BoingBoing, the VP of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America sent an error-filled takedown complaint to text-sharing site Scribd, causing removal of many non-infringing postings including reading lists suggesting great science fiction, and Cory's own novels, which he's CC-licensed for free redistribution.

The DMCA safe-harbor is most charitably described as an intricate dance for all parties involved: the copyright claimant, the ISP, and the poster. When the dancers are synchronized, its notice, takedown, and counternotice steps give each party a prescribed sequence by which to notify the others of claims and invite their responses. That's why the DMCA requires the claimant to identify the copyrighted works, specify alleged infringements with "information reasonably sufficient to permit the service provider to locate the material," and state good faith belief that the uses are unauthorized. When a copyright claimant misses one of those key elements, he starts stepping on toes.

The service provider isn't obliged to respond to deficient notices, but if a notice contains all the right formal elements -- even if it's factually wrong about copyright ownership or copying -- the service provider must choose between taking down the material or losing its DMCA safe-harbor and facing potential lawsuits. Posters who believe their material is non-infringing or fairly posted can counter-notify and even file their own lawsuits for misuse of copyright claims, under sec. 512(f). I share McCune's hope that the brouhaha will help the SFWA to help authors express all their copyright interests, including that of free sharing:   read more »

I hope the SFWA's lawyers are sitting down with Andrew Burt and explaining how the DMCA actually works, so that actual, legitimate violations of copyright (on Scribd and on other sites) can get dealt with swiftly and promptly and the people who have asked SFWA to be their copyright representative can get infringing uses of their material removed. I'm also glad to see that the SFWA ePiracy Committee has suspended operations until they can investigate further -- and, hopefully, come up with an effective process and procedure that benefits both fair and/or transformative use while also protecting the rights of copyright holders to have control over where and how their material is posted -- whether that control is a more traditional "nobody gets to use this, period" or a Creative Commons-style authorization of transformative work.

Exclusive Rights: The Wrong Goal for NFL

The NFL just doesn't know when to stop. The Washington Post reports on a new NFL policy limiting journalists' use of video online:

In a move designed to protect the Internet operations of its 32 teams, the pro football league has told news organizations that it will no longer permit them to carry unlimited online video clips of players, coaches or other officials, including video that the news organizations gather themselves on a team's premises. News organizations can post no more than 45 seconds per day of video shot at a team's facilities, including news conferences, interviews and practice-field reports.

Now this policy isn't copyright-based -- the NFL doesn't have copyright in the un-fixed statements of its players and coaches -- but good old real property law. The NFL teams own their facilities, and with them have the right to exclude people physically, as trespassers. So the NFL is telling sportswriters, who depend on physical access to gather the background for their stories, they'll be barred at the gates if they use more than 45 seconds of video online.   read more »

Chilling Effects and PerezHilton.com

As David posted, celebrity gossip site PerezHilton.com has battled ISP takedown over claimed copyright infringement. A key problem, the Houston Chronicle reports, is that site-owner Mario Lavanderia is already disputing those claims in federal court, where a judge refused to grant an injunction. Instead, as the judicial process properly works, Lavanderia must be proven a likely infringer before his speech is silenced.

The DMCA, however, offers copyright claimants an easy route around the niceties of judicial process -- make it too much of a nuisance for an ISP to deal with an accused infringer as a client, and get his site removed. And this underscores the precarious nature of our reliance on private infrastructure. Even though the DMCA insulates ISPs from liability once they've received counter-notification, copyright claimants can still shower them with complaints, and ISPs are still free to bow to risk aversion and refuse to do business with challenging customers. Those who challenge powerful copyright interests find themselves without practical ways to speak, even while they assert their legal rights.

From the Houston Chronicle:

Los Angeles photo agency X17 Inc. sued Lavandeira in federal court last year, asking for $7.6 million in damages. The suit claimed Hilton used 51 photographs without permission, payment or credit, including images of a pregnant Katie Holmes, Kevin Federline pumping gas and Britney Spears.   read more »

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