1709 Blog: for all the copyright community

Friday, 29 May 2015

The CopyKat - gazing across the pond

A U.S. judge in California has allowed a class action lawsuit to proceed against satellite-radio company Sirius XM Holdings Inc over the payment of royalties for pre-1972 tracks. The ruling by U.S. District Judge Philip Gutierrez marks another win for members of the 1960s band the Turtles, known for the hit "Happy Together," and means the company could face claims from a broader group of artists. "Sirius XM treats every single owner of a pre-1972 song the same, namely it doesn't pay them, so it was appropriate for this court to grant class certification," said Henry Gradstein, attorney for Flo & Eddie Inc, a company controlled by founding Turtles members Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman. Sirius XM had argued against certification because it said damages would be difficult to calculate accurately for different members of the class. Gutierrez rejected that argument saying "a class action is superior to individual litigation to the fair and efficient adjudication of the present controversy." More here.

In Jamaica, The House of Representatives has started to debate amendments to the Copyright Act to strengthen legal protection for creators of intellectual property.  Investment, Industry and Commerce Minister, Anthony Hylton opened the debate on the Copyright (Amendment) Act, 2015. Among some of the proposed changes is the extension of the rights of companies to their work from 50 to 95 years. the proposed amendments also seek to provide certain exemptions that will give blind and visually impaired people greater access to copyrighted work. More from the Gleaner here.

Back in the USA, Techdirt has a fairly damning review of the actions of 'copyright troll' Malibu Media. Techdirt tells us "Federal district court judge Timothy Black appears to have had enough of Malibu Media and its copyright trolling practices. In two separate cases this week, Judge Black issued "orders to show cause" (more or less judicial language for "I think you've done something really bad and here's your last chance to show me otherwise) that go beyond the usual level of "Hey, it appears you've been acting naughty" to a full blown recitation of all of Malibu Media's questionable practices". Much more here.

The U.S. National Music Publishers' Association (NMPA) has filed a lawsuit in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, alleging copyright infringement against Wolfgang’s Vault, which hosts many thousands of hours of live concert recordings which it disseminates on websites such as YouTube, Music Vault, Concert Vault and Daytrotter. The NMPA claims the online live concert audio and video platform does not have proper licensing in place for the content it hosts. The NMPA says "Hopefully, this lawsuit will bring publishers and many iconic songwriters the revenue they deserve for the use of their music.”

And finally, US music collection society BMI has published an analysis of Judge Louis L Stanton's recent decision in the rate court which raised the royalty Pandora had to pay BMI members, noting that the ruling judge clearly stated that, even though the directly negotiated deals between publishers and broadcasters were put on hold by the courts, the "direct licenses between Pandora and Sony and Universal for the 2014 calendar year were the best benchmarks because they are the most recent indices of competitive market rates". The big publishers wanted to pull from the collective licensing system in the USA for digital rights but the courts decided their relationship with ASCAP and BMI was 'all or nothing' - all in or all out. Judge Stanton decided that Pandora, the digital radio service, must pay 2.5 percent of its revenue to BMI, which collects public performance royalties on behalf of songwriters and publishers. More from the Hollywood Reporter here.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Obama administration favour Oracle's copyright position in API battle

In the US, the Obama administration has sided against Google and said the U.S. Supreme Court should not hear the company's appeal in a case against Oracle with wide implications for the technology industry, according to a court filing. The case involves how much copyright protection should extend to the Java programming language. 

At issue in Oracle v. Google is whether Oracle can claim a copyright on Java APIs and, if so, whether Google has infringed these copyrights.  APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) are, generally speaking, specifications that allow programs to communicate with each other.

Overturing Judge William Alsup  the Northern District of California who ruled that APIs are not subject to copyright, the  U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the Java APIs are copyrightable, with the appellate court saying "We conclude that a set of commands to instruct a computer to carry out desired operations may contain expression that is eligible for copyright protection" but leaving open the possibility that Google might have a fair use defense. Its important - Google used Java to design its Android smartphone operating system, and unsurprisingly Googe then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Google maintained that the code at issue is not entitled to copyright protection because it constitutes a "method of operation" or "system" that allows programs to communicate with one another.

In January SCOTUS asked the Obama administration for its opinion on whether it should take the case because the federal government has a strong interest.

Previously the Electronic Frontiers Fooundation (RFF) had filed an amicus brief on behalf of a group of 32 prominent computer scientists which urged the Supreme Court to reverse the appeals court decision saying "The Federal Circuit’s decision poses a significant threat to the technology sector and to the public" and "If it is allowed to stand, Oracle and others will have an unprecedented and dangerous power over the future of innovation. API creators would have veto rights over any developer who wants to create a compatible program—regardless of whether she copies any literal code from the original API implementation. That, in turn, would upset the settled business practices that have enabled the American computer industry to flourish, and choke off many of the system’s benefits to consumers."

Now in the latest court filing, U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli said Google's argument that the code is not entitled to copyright protection lacks merit and did not need to be reviewed by the Supreme Court. Verrilli added that Google had raised important concerns about the effect that enforcement of Oracle's copyright could have on software development, but said those issues could be addressed via further proceedings on Google's separate "fair use" defence in San Francisco federal court.




Wednesday, 27 May 2015

The Fall and Rise of Touch Sensitive

Last week saw the handing down of yet another case from the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court, presided over by Miss Recorder Michaels sitting as a Deputy Enterprise Judge, which reminds us that as long as there is a music business, there will be disputes over song writing credits to keep the courts and lawyers in work. The second thing we learn, or perhaps have confirmed for us, is that you can't always trust the credits which appear on the liner notes of albums. 

The case is called Minder Music Ltd and Julia Adamson v Steven Sharples, and involves a song entitled Touch Sensitive by the post punk band The Fall. The first claimant, Minder Music, is a music publisher to which publishing rights in the song were assigned by the band's lead singer and founding member Mark E Smith. The second claimant is Julia Adamson (formerly known as Julia Nagle), one time member of The Fall and for the purposes of this case, the co-writer with Mark Smith of the original version of the song Touch Sensitive. Smith wrote the lyrics and owned a one third share, and Adamson who wrote the music, a two-thirds share, in the publishing and performing rights in the original song which was first performed live on the John Peel Show in March 1998. That much was not in dispute.

In December 1998 the band agreed to release an album through Artful Records. This album was eventually to be entitled The Marshall Suite, but the early recording sessions did not go well and so the defendant, Mr Sharples, was brought in to produce the album. The exact circumstances of how and under what terms Mr Sharples was brought in were one of the issues the court had decide upon. This part of the dispute centred on an alleged verbal agreement between Mr Sharples and a Mr McMahon who was then working for the band as their PR agent and also had connections with Artful Records. This agreement was referred to as the Canalot Agreement as it was said to have taken place at Canalot Studios in Kensal Green, West London in mid January 1999. Mr Sharples's version of events was that Mr McMahon held himself out to be the band's manager and offered Mr Sharples not only the job of producing the album, but also of re-writing the original song, for which he would receive a one third interest in the copyright. It was not disputed that Mr Sharples's work as producer did result in a new version of the song being created and this was referred to as the 'Album version'. What the court had to decide was whether the contribution of Mr Sharples to both the music and lyrics of the Album version was significant enough to entitle him to a share in the copyright of each part. But before getting to that issue, the court had one other matter to resolve. 

Following the recording of the album Mr Sharples was credited on the sleeve notes along with Mr Smith and Ms Adamson, as the writer of the Album version. This appeared to have been arranged by Artful Records, and Mr Smith and Ms Adamson denied being consulted about this. However in the event, little turned on this detail. Mr Sharples was also credited as the producer, as well as the author or joint author of some of the other tracks on the album, but these latter credits were not  in dispute in the present case. The album was released later in 1999 and it was reviewed favourably by The Guardian

At about the same time, Mr Sharples wrote to the Performing Rights Society (PRS) to register his interest in the Album version, but it appears this claim was misplaced and no action appears to have been taken by PRS. It was not until some five or six years later that Mr Sharples decided to chase up his claim, and this led to the PRS putting the matter into dispute and holding back payment of any more royalties, pending resolution. 

By this point Mr Smith had assigned his 33% share of the publishing rights to Minder Music, and so they became involved in the dispute over the unpaid royalties. Minder Music's co-owner John Fogarty strongly resisted Mr Sharples's claim, as did Ms Adamson. Matters dragged on for some time until August 2013 when Ms Adamson and Mr Sharples signed a settlement agreement in which Ms Adamson transferred half of her two-thirds interest in the song to Mr Sharples, meaning that Minder Music, Ms Adamson and Mr Sharples would each have a 33% interest in the accrued royalties. However Minder Music, who were not party to the Settlement Agreement, objected on grounds which were not specified, and so PRS did not release the royalties. Minder Music sought to bring matters to a head and issued proceedings against Mr Sharples, seeking declaratory relief that the copyright was shared 33% by Minder Music and 66% by Ms Adamson, and that Mr Sharples owned no part of the copyright. They also sought a inquiry as to damages.

Mr Sharples denied the claim, and relied on the Canalot Agreement, the Settlement Agreement and his claim of joint authorship of the Album version in support of his defence.

The court thus had decide 4 main issues:
  • Was the Canalot Agreement valid?
  • Was the Settlement Agreement unconscionable?
  • Did Mr Sharples's contribution to the music and lyrics of the Album version amount to a significant contribution according to the test set by Deputy Judge Williamson QC in Bamgboye v Reed?
  • If the answer to question 3 is yes, what is the amount of his share in the royalties?

The Canalot Agreement

The court found that this agreement was void because Mr McMahon was not authorised either in fact or impliedly, to act as agent for the band collectively or for Mr Smith and Ms Adamson as individuals.

The Settlement Agreement

Ms Adamson had alleged in her claim that she was pressured into signing the agreement by mr Sharples who took advantage of her straitened financial situation at the time, and that thus the bargain was unconscionable. The court declined to set aside the agreement because the evidence before it showed no undue pressure and indeed in part showed that Ms Adamson actively sought the agreement as a way of resolving her financial problems, through the hoped-for release of the accrued royalties.

The Lyrics

The court undertook an analysis of the differences in the lyrics as between the Original version and the Album version and found that these changes were insignificant, and even if this was wrong, such changes as were made were more than likely to be attributable to Mr Smith, not Mr Sharples.

The Music

Once again the court looked at the differences between the Original version and the Album version and found that, here,  there were some minor but significant changes especially in the composition and arrangement of a new string section and these were attributable to Mr Sharples. However his contribution was small, and in the court's view only entitled him to a 20% of the copyright in the music. Since Mr Sharples had not sought any other relief by way of counterclaim, no order was made as to damages, although this was left open by the judge.


As at January 2012 PRS was holding some £12,000 in accrued royalties (for both lyrics and music), and one might imagine this figure could have increased by around 50% or more since then, given that Wikipedia asserts that "Touch Sensitive was used in the UK as a soundtrack to an advert for the Vauxhall Corsa"* although no date is given for when that happened. And so a 20% share in the music royalties possibly represents around £2,000 to date. I rather suspect that the defendant's legal costs will eat up most of that. 

You can listen to a version the song here. I have no idea which version this is, but I presume it is the Album version as found on the Marshall Suite album, which sadly is no longer available.   See comment below.

* Update. You can view the Vauxhall Corsa advert here. I understand the advert came out in 2002 and so the licence fee paid by Vauxhall is probably not reflected in the figure of £12,000 noted above as that only represents the period 2005-2012, while PRS were holding the royalties in a suspense account.

Section 97A - now it's ebooks

It has been reported that yesterday (in a decision that does not yet appear to be published) the High Court issued a further set of orders under section 97A of the CDPA on the application of a group of book publishers represented by the Publishers Association (with support from the Association of American Publishers)

According to the Publishers' press release  the 7 web sites between them claim to hold around 10 million ebook titles between them.  They had been the recipients of over a million take down requests (and Google had received over 1.75 million take down requests for URLs on the offending sites).

The names of the site are  listed on the press release and the 5 major ISPs against whom the orders have been made have 10 working days to block access [This blog has chosen not to repeat the list of sites as it doesn't seem appropriate to promote the sites readers both in the UK and beyond - and indeed some of those with aggressive interpretations of Svennson  and BestWater might consider that simply listing the sites constitutes communication to the public!]

A clearly very happy Chief Executive of the PA, Richard Mollet is quoted as saying:

“A third of publisher revenues now come from digital sales but unfortunately this rise in the digital market has brought with it a growth in online infringement. Our members need to be able to protect their authors’ works from such illegal activity; writers need to be paid and publishers need to be able to continue to innovate and invest in new talent and material.
“We are very pleased that the High Court has granted this order and, in doing so, recognises the damage being inflicted on UK publishers and authors by these infringing websites.”
Section 97A has now been used in respect of movies, music, live TV and eBooks - we await with interest the next sector to bring the weapon into their armoury against infringers.

Monday, 25 May 2015

A new case for Sherlock Holmes

Illustration by Howard K. Elcock
The Estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is suing Hollywood film producers over a soon-to-be released blockbuster movie which follows Sherlock Holmes during his retirement. The author's Estate, which has been involved in several high-profile legal battles, now claims that the plot of the new film "Mr Holmes" infringes on the Conan Doyle's short story, "The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier" published in 1926 in Strand magazine. Defendants to the action include Miramax studio, film distributor Roadside Attractions, and director Bill Condon, who previously directed "Chicago" and "Dreamgirls".  The movie - which stars Sir Ian McKellen as the fictional detective - is due to be released in the UK and the U.S in July. 

The complaint, filed in New Mexico, says: 'Reviews of early screenings, together with trailers released in the United States, reveal that the motion picture uses the same elements from Conan Doyle's copyrighted stories.' The film is based on the book "A Slight Trick of the Mind" and  the Author of the book Mitch Cullin,  and his publisher Random House, are also named as defendants.

A Slight Trick of the Mind is set in 1947 and the long-retired Sherlock Holmes, now 93, lives in a remote Sussex farmhouse with his housekeeper and her young son: "He tends to his bees, writes in his journal, and grapples with the diminishing powers of his mind. But in the twilight of his life, as people continue to look to him for answers, Holmes revisits a case that may provide him with answers of his own to questions he didn’t even know he was asking–about life, about love, and about the limits of the mind’s ability to know."  

Sir Ian as Sherlock Holmes
The alleged similarities include that 'Watson has remarried and moved out of Baker Street'. The Estate also suggests that the details of Holmes' retirement are developed from elements of the final 10 stories; another element is that Holmes possesses 'a personal warmth and the capacity to express love for the first time' saying 'Conan Doyle also changed Holmes in later life by giving him a gentleness and kindness Holmes did not possess in public domain stories,'

Holmes and Watson appeared for the first time in print in 1887 and all of the works are now in the public domain, except for the last 10 in the U.S. These were published from 1923 to 1927. In June 2014 the US Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit issued its decision in Leslie Klinger v Conan Doyle Estate, in which upheld the decision of the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois - Eastern Division that author Leslie Klinger was free to use material in the 50 Sherlock Holmes stories and novels that were no longer protected by copyright. Writing on behalf of the Court, Circuit Judge Richard Posner recalled the decision in Silverman v CBS, in which the 2nd Circuit held that when a story falls into the public domain, its story elements - including its characters - slso do. Works derived from earlier works whose copyright has expired may nonetheless be protected, but copyright will only extend to the "incremental additions of originality contributed by the authors of the derivative works." 

Last year, the U.S Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal in the matter by the Estate, meaning that that only the final 10 volumes have copyright protection until December 31, 2022.  

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Of Copyright and Spiders

In early 2006 HRH the Prince of Wales successfully sued Associated Newspapers for breach of confidence and infringement of copyright after the Mail on Sunday published extracts from Prince Charles's journals recording his impressions on a trip to Hong Kong (see IPKat posts here and here). Naturally on this blog we are only concerned about the copyright aspect of that case.
It was not disputed that Prince Charles was the author of the journals. However Associated Newspapers tried to argue that he was not the owner of the copyright, and that in fact Crown Copyright existed in the journals. The trial judge (Blackburne J) dismissed this claim fairly quickly, accepting that Prince Charles was not a servant of the Queen or of her government, and that although he might have been deputising for the Queen during the visit, his journals did not form part of his state duties and therefore were not subject to Crown Copyright. The judge then went on in turn to reject the defence arguments that the newspaper extracts were not a substantial part of the original works, that there was a fair dealing defence of reporting current events or alternatively the newspaper was dealing fairly with the works for the purposes of criticism or review. The problem with the latter defence, as the judge pointed out, was that it required that copies of the original work had previously been issued to the public, and that was obviously not the case with the Hong Kong journal, given the other part of the claim, namely breach of confidence. And finally, in a somewhat desperate attempt to find some defence against the claim of copyright infringement, the defence tried to invoke the public interest defence under section 171(3) of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act (CDPA). Once more, the trial judge was unpersuaded. Although Associated Newspapers appealed against the decision at first instance, their appeal was dismissed and Prince Charles won the injunction he was seeking to prevent Associated Newspapers from publishing any more extracts from his journals.

So why have I dug up this case from nine years ago? Well readers in the UK will be aware that the Guardian newspaper recently won an extended 5 year battle which went all the way to the Supreme Court, to have a number of Prince Charles's letters (the so-called Black Spider memos) which had been sent to government ministers, released under the Freedom of Information Act. Although several different arguments were advanced as to why they should not be released, copyright was not one of them. Why not, given the success of this approach in the earlier 2006 case?
The simple answer is: section 50(1) of the CDPA 1988. This subsection says:
50 Acts done under statutory authority.
(1) Where the doing of a particular act is specifically authorised by an Act of Parliament, whenever passed, then, unless the Act provides otherwise, the doing of that act does not infringe copyright.

So because the Freedom of Information Act authorises (indeed requires) that certain information is released to a member of the public, assuming the request complies with the necessary criteria, any copyright in the materials divulged is not infringed by the release, even where the copyright owner has not given permission for it to be issued to the public. The only specific protection afforded by the FoI Act is that personal data, as defined by the Data Protection Act, is exempt from disclosure.

Section 50 CDPA is both powerful yet rarely cited in either the commentaries or in cases before the courts. It effectively gives Parliament the power to bypass copyright protections in circumstances where some other statutory aim is sought, without necessarily making that fact explicit when the new legislation is undergoing scrutiny in Parliament. This was the case with the Freedom of Information Act which contains but a single reference to copyright buried away in a 2004 amendment made necessary by the devolution of various powers to the Scottish Parliament.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Is Peggy Guggenheim’s Collection a Work of Art Protected by French Copyright?

Daily newspaper Le Monde reported recently about an intriguing case unfolding in the Paris Court of Appeals. The Guardian reported about the case here. The Paris court will have to decide whether the art collection Peggy Guggenheim spent years building should be considered a « œuvre de l’esprit » and, as such, be protected by the French droit d’auteur.

Peggy Guggenheim was an American heiress who spent all her life acquiring and building a contemporary art collection. She donated it, along with her Venetian palace, the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, which was created in 1937 by her uncle. Peggy Guggenheim’s collection is now shown at the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, where Ms. Guggenheim’s ashes are buried. In her autobiography, Peggy Guggenheim expressed her desire to see her collection remain intact in Venice, and that nothing should be touched.

Her heirs filed a suit against the Foundation in France, where they live, claiming that the way it is now presenting the collection distorts the way Peggy Guggenheim meant to have it seen. They argue that the collection is not shown in its totality, that the garden has been modified, and that the Palace now boasts a cafeteria, which makes the Foundation a mere extension of the Guggenheim museum. They also consider that organizing parties in the garden where Peggy Guggenheim is buried is akin to violating her tomb.

The Paris Court of the first instance, the Tribunal de Grande Instance, rejected their claim in July 2014 because of res judicata. Indeed, the heirs had already filed suit against the Foundation under the same claim in the 90’s. The heirs had lost, but both parties found an agreement outside the courtroom. The heirs now claim that this agreement has not been respected and again filed suit against the Foundation.

Can an Art Collection be Protected by Intellectual Property?

It remains to be seen if the Court of Paris will debate this issue, as the judges may very well consider that the case has already been judged. If they do consider the case, could French law protect an art collection as a work of the mind?

Article L. 111-1 of the French Intellectual Property Code gives the author of a “œuvre de l’esprit”, a “work of the mind,” exclusive rights over the work. Bernard Edelman, a renowned intellectual property attorney, is representing Peggy Guggenheim’s heirs, and he argued this week that a collection may be considered a work of the mind.

Indeed, the Paris Court of appeals held in 1997 that the “Musée du Cinéma Henri Langlois,” dedicated to the history of cinema, is indeed a work of the mind under French law. It had been entirely the idea of Henri Langlois who had been in sole charge of its design. The Paris Court of Appeals noted in 1997 that:  

Henri Langlois ha[d] not only selected the objects and movie projections that form this exhibit but also imagined the presentation following an order and an original scenography; in particular, as reported in several excerpts of articles and publications related to the "Musée du Cinéma," Henri Langlois conceived the exhibition as a journey back in time in film history, which he staged in a cinematographic way; it is not a simple and methodical presentation of items relating to the history of cinema, but a resolutely personal creation, expressing both the imagination of Henri Langlois and his own conceptions of history of cinema, and reflecting thus his personality.”

Bernard Edelman had published an article in 1998 about this case, where he noted that the Henri Langlois Museum was particularly original as it was not only a collection of works of arts, but also a collection of objects, such as movie artifacts, and that the collection “invites to a kind of journey, a physical ambulation.” Does the Peggy Guggenheim collection invite visitors to such a journey?

Not in the opinion of Pierre-Louis Dauzier, the attorney representing the Guggenheim Foundation, who is quoted in Le Monde as arguing that "it is undeniable that the collector makes choices, he chooses to buy. Peggy Guggenheim was a muse of the art world, she bought a lot to support artists." But he added that the way she showcased the collection was"very didactic, unoriginal, nothing more than a compilation.” Peggy Guggenheim had "not given an aesthetic sense in which the collection should be presented," an argument which Bernard Edelman disagreed with, as he produced a plan made by Peggy Guggenheim on how the collection should be presented.

The case will be decided in September. 

Image is courtesy of Flickr user John Keogh under a CC BY-NC 2.0 license.

The Age of EU Copyright Reform? An event reminder

On Tuesday 26 May I am organising an event at the London offices of RPC, devoted to discussing everything EU copyright law and policy.

There are a couple of places still available to attend in person this event, which is also possible to follow via YouTube live streaming/video.

If you wish to register, just click here!

And here's the programme as it was originally advertised:

What future awaits EU copyright? What are the reform plans (if any) of the EU Commission? What is in the pipeline for the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in the area of copyright?

These and (many) other questions will be addressed during this 3-hour event that will take place on 26 May 2015 at the London offices of RPC!
On 6 May the EU Commission is due to unveil its own Digital Single Market Strategy, which includes plans to reform EU copyright. A draft version of this document has been already leaked. From this it would appear that areas for legislative intervention in the area of copyright are likely to encompass geo-blocking, exceptions and limitations, civil enforcement, and the role of internet service providers. Meanwhile numerous amendments have been presented to the draft Report on the implementation of the InfoSoc Directive, prepared by MEP Julia Reda. Following a vote in the Legal Committee of the European Parliament, her report will be subject to a final vote in plenary in early July.

Whilst the future of EU copyright policy, including possible legislative intervention, is (slowly) unfolding in Brussels, things are as busy as ever in Luxembourg, where the CJEU has been tackling (and will continue to do so) thorny issues such as digital exhaustion, hyperlinking, exceptions and limitations, and e-lending.
This event will review developments at both policy and judicial levels.
Places are limited (with some tickets available for full time students), so to provide everybody with the opportunity to discuss fully the present and future of EU copyright.

For those who cannot attend in person, it will be also possible to follow the event in either live streaming or at a later time via YouTube.

CDP points are also available!