Ninth Circuit Clarifies that “Willfully” Means “Willfully”
I think most people know that there is such a thing as criminal copyright infringement, i.e., copyright infringement so heinous that the U.S. government will take time from investigating drug deals to investigate the copyright infringement. How heinous? So heinous that even Jammie Thomas-Rasset, who was found liable for allowing 24 song files to be downloaded via a peer-to-peer network, and was found liable for hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars in damage (depending on which jury you ask)—even she did not do something heinous enough. I mean, it really has be terrible, terrible, terrible. Like, industrial-scale terrible.
Actually, that’s technically an exaggeration (though it’s true as to Thomas-Rasset). As a practical matter, the FBI and U.S. attorneys prefer to expend their limited resources on truly large-scale operations*, the law only has two additional requirements that make garden-variety civil infringement into criminal infringement. First, the act of infringement must be committed “willfully.” Second, it must have an economic motivation.**
* Generally speaking, in criminal law, the trend has been to making more and more things illegal (and increase the punishment), then leave it up to prosecutors and police to decide whether … Read More»
Oh, Those Pesky, Pesky Employees!
From a legal* point of view, hardly anything good ever comes out of the employer-employee relationship**, when you think about it. Wrongful termination suits, reams of paperwork to create a “paper trail” to counter wrongful termination suits, making oral promises the company can’t keep, entering into contracts the company isn’t aware of, getting into accidents in the course of their employment (and making the company liable), and so on and on.
* Of course, hiring is based on need. Nobody ever said, “Oh, I’m really desperate for some help, and there’s lots of it, but I’m afraid of the legal ramifications!” Which isn’t to say there aren’t transaction costs to hiring employees.
** The one exception I could think of: works created by employees in their course of their employment are considered to have been created by the employer. Not that this “work made for hire” doctrine isn’t without controversy.
We can add one more thing to the list: when your employees are using a service that your company provides. Let’s say your company is in the business of hosting and publicly performing uploaded content, which might or might not infringe copyright. And let’s say … Read More»
The state of Texas is looking more and more like it’s forgotten that there’s a world outside of itself. Cue the weird article from Time this week that reads like it was written by Rick Perry himself, about how everyone’s moving there, buying hats and being self-reliant in their cheap houses with no income tax.
A slight recanting before I even get started: I love the people of Texas. I have lots of friends there, blah blah blah. But, of course, there was that one girl I met in Austin who told me she went to school “up north,” which, it turns out, meant in Lubbock…..
This attitude, it seems, that everything begins and ends at the state line, has given rise to some trademark cases that to us non-Texans, look pretty aggressive. Trademark law, as we have explained here here here and here, is only secondarily about protecting brand owners from infringing competitors. It is first and foremost a method of protecting the public from confusion over the products they buy and the services they consume. We don’t want two drugs called “Advil,” when one treats headaches and the other treats skin rashes but has … Read More»
On the Importance of Knowing Just Enough
As we all know by now (quick primer here), the DMCA safe harbor is a marvelous, marvelous thing for internet-related system operators—not just YouTube, but any website that interacts much with its users—but that marvelous protection can be lost if you’re not careful. One way to lose it is to have actual or “red-flag” knowledge of infringing activity on the network. The tendency among service providers, therefore—and something of a perverse incentive—is to remain as ignorant as possible of user activities on the system, unless forced to pay attention via a DMCA takedown notice.
Upload, Infringe, Repeat
But, as the recent Hotfile case demonstrates, complete ignorance isn’t good for your DMCA safe harbor. That’s because you have to promulgate and reasonably implement a policy that terminates repeat infringers. The Hotfile court held that implementing a repeat-infringer policy involves collecting some information.
As I’ve explained here, here and especially here, these repeat-infringer requirements raise several difficult questions that have not be adequately addressed by the courts. In Hotfile, the main question was: what is the minimum you have to do to have “reasonably implemented” a repeat-infringer policy? Folded into … Read More»
Yes, if You Hired Someone to Design it for You.
Remember when Second Life was all the rage? I’ll admit that my memory is a little hazy, but I swear it was a huge deal a few years ago. Anyway, it’s still around, with a new slogan: YOUR IMAGINATION, YOUR WORLD.* If you’re not familiar, Second Life is an interactive virtual world that emphasizes the creation of virtual lands, complete with topography, buildings, etc. Subscribers operate avatars that may move through and interact with these worlds.
* Judging from this promotional video: ALSO BOOBS. Seriously.
Subscribers can also purchase virtual land and “terraform” it—i.e., give it mountains, forests, buildings, beaches, caves—to their liking. These lands can be private—i.e., cut off except for those specifically invited—in which case they’re called “islands.”
In this post, I’ll be discussing a recent decision in a lawsuit about whether terraformed virtual “islands” are copyrightable. More practically, the lawsuit is an object-lesson how badly things can go when copyright is involved in what appears to be “just a business transaction.”
Prelude to an Accidental Copyright Dispute
A teacher (we’ll call her the Teacher) working for a particular school district (we’ll call it the District) … Read More»
The Mysteries of Copyright Ownership
If there were a goldmine in your town—one that produced a worthwhile amount of gold every year and wouldn’t run out for many, many years—you’d probably expect any dispute about who owns it to have long since been resolved. It’s true that the folks you sell you real estate might not actually own it, which is why you buy “title insurance,” but real estate transactions are pretty well-recorded, so such awful surprises are pretty rare, which is why anyone would dare to offer “title insurance.” At a minimum, you wouldn’t expect two different people to be mining the gold without, you know, their coming to blows.
But this sort of thing happens with copyrights and royalty streams with surprising frequency. It can be very difficult to tell how owns a copyright. Copyrights can be sold just like real or personal property can, but you don’t need to record the sale anywhere.* True, transfers of copyright have to be in writing, but many industries that deal with copyright—I’m looking right at you, music industry—suck at keeping records.
Jamaica, where, apparently, they didn’t do paperwork in the 1960′s.
Copyright ownership vests initially in the author, or maybe … Read More»
We hardly ever do this at Aaron | Sanders, that is, talk about cases that have just been filed and for which there is no actual judicial opinion yet. We refrain from talking about newly-filed cases for two main reasons: 1) There are too darn many of them and 2) It forces us to end the post by saying something totally lame like “Stay tuned….” But I couldn’t resist this time. For starters, I adore Sherlock Holmes (in no small part because of his recent resurrection in the body of Benedict Cumberbatch, but also because he said it better in A Study in Scarlet than any lawyer ever did: “I listen to their stories, they listen to my comments, and then I pocket my fee.“). But also the copyright issues in the case raise some pretty good questions which will almost certainly come up again, in circumstances that are less clear even than here.
The case of which I speak is currently styled Klinger v. Conan Doyle Estate, Ltd., and is pending in a District Court in Illinois. Leslie Klinger is a well-known expert in “those twin icons of the Victorian era, Dracula and Sherlock Holmes.” … Read More»
BitTorrent Swarm ≠ “Transaction or Occurrence”
I used to blog about BitTorrent lawsuits quite a bit, but dropped that in favor of folks who blogged about them much more comprehensively. But there was one BitTorrent lawsuit that I’ve been following pretty carefully because it’s in Tennessee: Dragon Quest Productions, LLC v. Does 1-100, Case No. 3:12-cv-597. The judge* in that case has just severed the case from one case with 100 defendants, to 100 cases with one defendant each. And that’s pretty significant.
* I’m linking to the magistrate’s “Report and Recommendation,” but the judge accepted it in full.
A quick primer about BitTorrent lawsuits. Usually, the plaintiff is the owner of the copyright in either (a) a pornographic film, or (b) a non-pornographic film that didn’t do so well at the box office.* Dragon Quest LLC is definitely in the latter category, its movie, Age of Dragons, having bombed at the box office, despite somehow starring Danny Glover. In either case, the idea is to settle with as many defendants as possible for what lawyers call “nuisance value,” the amount the defendant is willing to pay to avoid the expense and hassle of … Read More»
Lawyers Sue Too Much, Except When They Don’t
Last week, I discussed the scary court decision, Universal Furniture Int’l, Inc. v. Frankel, in which the owners of a company were found liable for their company’s copyright infringement, even though they were not defendants in the original lawsuit against the company. The copyright owner sued the company and won, and then, when the company filed for bankruptcy, the copyright owner filed a separate suit against the owners. As I explained, if the company is small enough, the owners will be too close the acts of infringement to avoid personal liability. To the court, the only question was whether the copyright owner had to re-prove the copyright infringement. The court held that it didn’t have to because the exact same acts of infringement were involved.
So how does one explain Burberry Ltd. v. Horowitz? In that case, Burberry, the well-known clothing manufacturer, brought an action for trademark infringement against a company called Designers Imports, on grounds that Designers Imports was selling counterfeits of Burberry’s clothing. The court agreed, found Designers Imports liable for $1.5 million, and issued an injunction. Somewhat later, Burberry sued one Asher Horowitz for exactly the … Read More»
Since Aaron & Sanders is in the business of (among other things) helping start-ups get started up, one of the most frequent questions Tara and I get is whether it was worthwhile to incorporate or form some similar corporate entity, such as an LLC. The short answer is it depends on (1) whether you will need to be entering in any scary contracts (i.e., if you breach it, will you be personally devastated?), and (2) how many owners would there be (a single owner is about ten times easier and cheaper to form than two owners, then it get more complex and expensive from there).
It’s well known that corporate entities “protect” the owners somehow, but there is often some confusion about what the owners are protected from. Corporate entities protect against contract liability only, and even then, only if you are clear it’s your company and not you who is forming the contract.* And, only if you have been treating your corporate entity as something separate and apart from you (otherwise, the contract creditor can “pierce the corporate veil” and reach your personal assets).
* I.e., In the part where it says who … Read More»