Legal Threats Blog

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:

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.

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A&P Sues Two College Kids Over (Hilarious) "Produce Paradise" Video

It's a musical week in the blogosphere. 

Two brothers from New Jersey, Mark and Matthew D'Avella, spent the summer working for the A&P supermarket in Califon, New Jersey. They made the best of what could have been a boring situation by creating parodic rap songs with supermarket themes under the name "Fresh Beets" (here's their myspace page).  Their songs including gems like "Always Low Prices" and (their masterpiece) "Produce Paradise," which is a nod to Coolio's 1995 "Gangsta's Paradise," which in turn drew on Stevie Wonder's venerable "Pastime Paradise."  Mark and Matthew made a video of "Produce Paradise" in the A&P store (after hours) and posted it to YouTube and their website, fakelaugh.com, along with some blog commentary.  You've got to hear and see this one to believe it:

A&P's parent company, The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, Inc., filed a lawsuit against the brothers in New Jersey Superior Court seeking $1 million in damages.  The complaint, filed Friday, August 24,  includes counts for defamation, business and product disparagement, and federal trademark infringement and dilution.  It alleges that "Produce Paradise" depicts the brothers "performing their rap song in various recognizable areas of the Califon A&P, including the fresh produce department, the corner bakery, the stock room and the employee bathroom," and that "at least one defendant is wearing a hat with a recognizable A&P logo [during the video]." 

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Legal Blogger Threatened by Big Law Firm Over Posting of Ridiculously Bad Song

David Lat runs a legal tabloid blog called Above the Law, which provides "news and gossip about the profession's most colorful personalities and powerful institutions, as well as original commentary on breaking legal developments." No stranger to notoriety in the past, he's recently become the center of attention in a humorous episode involving a leaked "celebratory anthem" created by the law firm, Nixon Peabody, when the firm made Fortune magazine's 2007 list of the best companies to work for. The song is embarrassingly bad -- As Frank Pasquale of Concurring Opinions puts it, "think 'Up With People' meets Sheena Easton meets B of A's version of U2's One." Lat himself writes:

On the musical merits, the song itself is just as horrific as the idea of a law firm theme song. Yes, we miss the eighties, but not this much. The lyrics include such gems as "Everyone's a winner at Nixon Peabody" (the chorus) and "It's all about the team, it's all about respect, it all revolves around integri-tee yeah." . . . Check it out for yourself below. But we're warning you: even though the Nixon Peabody anthem is dreadful, it's as catchy as HPV. If that "everyone's a winner" chorus gets stuck in your head for the rest of today, don't blame us.

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Chinese Cyber-Dissident Sentenced to 4 Years for "Inciting Government's Overthrow"

Reporters Without Borders is reporting that a Chinese court in the southeastern province of Zhejiang sentenced lawyer and cyber-dissident Chen Shuqing to four years imprisonment for posting articles critical of the government on the Internet:

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First Criminal Online Libel Verdict in Bhutan

Kuensel Online, the electronic version of Bhutan's English-language national newspaper, reported last week that a man who posted comments on its discussion forums was convicted of criminal libel:

On July 16 the Paro district court sentenced an employee of the National Housing Development Corporation (NHDC) to one year in prison, with an option to pay thrimthue, in the first ever online defamation case in Bhutan. The thrimthue of Nu. 36,000, in lieu of one year imprisonment, has to be paid within 10 days.

Defendant Yeshey Lotay was ordered to pay compensatory damages of Nu. 36,000 each to a couple, both forest rangers, within one month of the judgment. Pema Dorji and Ugyen, both civil servants in Paro dzongkhag, had filed the case against Yeshey Lotay for defamation in a kuenselonline discussion forum in August, 2006.

According to Kuensel Online, the defendant "pleaded guilty" in his opening statement and admitted that he acted with malice and had no proof to substantiate his allegations of bribery, corruption, and misuse of power.

Although it doesn't appear that Kuensel Online or the defendant's ISP were implicated in the case, the article quotes the court as stating that regulatory authorities and Internet Service Providers share equal responsibility to regulate Internet related crime:

"The websites that solicits online discussion forums must also be equally responsible to protect from the vices of any internet related crimes and the principle of vicarious liability impugn that it is just not good enough to say that the webmaster or editors are not responsible of the content with a disclaimer clause," said the Paro drangpon.

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First Criminal Online Libel Verdict in Bhutan

Kuensel Online, the electronic version of Bhutan's English-language national newspaper, reported last week that a man who posted comments on its discussion forums was convicted of criminal libel:

On July 16 the Paro district court sentenced an employee of the National Housing Development Corporation (NHDC) to one year in prison, with an option to pay thrimthue, in the first ever online defamation case in Bhutan. The thrimthue of Nu. 36,000, in lieu of one year imprisonment, has to be paid within 10 days.

Defendant Yeshey Lotay was ordered to pay compensatory damages of Nu. 36,000 each to a couple, both forest rangers, within one month of the judgment. Pema Dorji and Ugyen, both civil servants in Paro dzongkhag, had filed the case against Yeshey Lotay for defamation in a kuenselonline discussion forum in August, 2006.

According to Kuensel Online, the defendant "pleaded guilty" in his opening statement and admitted that he acted with malice and had no proof to substantiate his allegations of bribery, corruption, and misuse of power.

Although it doesn't appear that Kuensel Online or the defendant's ISP were implicated in the case, the article quotes the court as stating that regulatory authorities and Internet Service Providers share equal responsibility to regulate Internet related crime:

"The websites that solicits online discussion forums must also be equally responsible to protect from the vices of any internet related crimes and the principle of vicarious liability impugn that it is just not good enough to say that the webmaster or editors are not responsible of the content with a disclaimer clause," said the Paro drangpon.

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Bloggers Are Not Journalists, Illinois Juvenile Court Judge Declares

An Illinois juvenile court judge refused to allow blogger Elaine Hopkins from Peoriastory.com to observe and cover a July 25 juvenile court hearing in Peoria, IL. In excluding Hopkins from the courtroom, Judge Albert Purham, Jr. ruled that bloggers are not journalists under Illinois law. Hopkins, who covered her ouster on her website, reported:

Operating a "so-called blog" doesn't make the person a journalist, Purham said. Before the ruling he consulted the lawyers in the courtroom. A lawyer for the parent in this child welfare case had no objection, and her client, Lorraine Singleton who lost her children in 2003 and is trying to get them back, also had no objection. But assistant state's attorney Susan Lucas objected, as did an unidentified female lawyer apparently representing the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. An explanation that Peoriastory.com has operated since February 2007, has business cards, and is run by Hopkins, a former newspaper reporter known to court personnel, did not sway the judge.

Unlike adult criminal proceedings, which are presumed to be open to the public, juvenile proceedings have traditionally been closed. See In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1, 25 (1967). Under Illinois' Juvenile Court Act, the general public, except for the "news media," are excluded from juvenile proceedings. The provision addressing access, 705 ILCS 405/1-5, states:

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Bill Proposes to Criminalize Copyright Infringement

The Electronic Frontier Foundation reports that the U.S. House of Representatives is considering criminalizing copyright infringement, again:

Two months ago, the Justice Department floated draft legislation to expand the scope of, and stiffen the penalties for, criminal copyright infringement, and now a related bill has been introduced in the House. This isn't the first time that Congress has taken up the DoJ's copycrime wishlist, and, for all the reasons we listed in a blog post about a proposal offered up last year, H.R. 3155 is an awful idea.

This bill goes even further than the prior bill in that it would ratchet up statutory damages in certain instances. Under copyright law, copyright owners don't need to prove that they have been harmed in order to get damages and can instead elect to get statutory damages, which a court can set between $750 and $30,000 per work infringed. Such disproportionate penalties can be especially dangerous when it comes to lawsuits against mass-market products like the iPod or TiVo that enable the making of thousands of copies.

Among other things, the proposed legislation, entitled "Intellectual Property Enhanced Criminal Enforcement Act of 2007," would make it a crime to attempt to engage in copyright infringement, which would be punishable by imprisonment of up to 20 years.

The bill was introduced on July 24, 2007 by Rep. Steven Chabot, and is currently sitting in the House Judiciary Committee. You can track its status at Govtrack.us and at OpenCongress.org.

To find out what you can do to derail this dangerous bill, visit the EFF's Fight The Justice Department's Copycrime Proposal!

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French Court Finds DailyMotion Liable For Copyright Infringement

Written by Kyle Junik, CMLP Intern

Brad Spitz reports in his blog that a French court held DailyMotion liable for copyright infringement, despite concluding that the site was a mere "hosting service." DailyMotion is an online video-sharing site similar to YouTube. In a July 13 ruling (in French), the court went out of its way to label DailyMotion a hosting service, an argument DailyMotion itself put forth. In France, hosting services typically enjoy a safe harbor from the infringing acts of users under the French Act of 21 June 2004 on Confidence in the Digital Environment (in French). The Act implements the European Commission directive on electronic commerce and states in part:

Where an information society service is provided that consists of the storage of information provided by a recipient of the service, Member States shall ensure that the service provider is not liable for the information stored at the request of a recipient of the service, on condition that:

(a) the provider does not have actual knowledge of illegal activity or information and, as regards claims for damages, is not aware of facts or circumstances from which illegal activity or information is apparent; and
(b) the provider, upon obtaining such knowledge or awareness, acts expeditiously to remove or to disable access to the information.

The court found DailyMotion was aware of the infringing content, in part because the site deliberately furnished the users with the means to commit the acts of infringement. The court stated that the Act's limitation on liability is not available when the infringing activities are created or induced by the provider itself. DailyMotion has appealed.

Notably, the language of the French Act is almost identical to the safe-harbor provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) codified at 17 U.S.C. Sec. 512(c). Google (on behalf of its popular video-sharing site, YouTube) frequently invokes the DMCA safe-harbor provisions as a defense to copyright infringement claims brought against it. At the end of the day, the French court ruling has no direct effect on any U.S. court's interpretation of the DMCA, but it may cause Google to reassess its stance on its liability via YouTube.

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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.

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