Category Archives: good law

Blow up the FCC (or so was this titled when I submitted it in October)


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Posted in good code, good law | 15 Comments

A nice welcome home present (or early birthday present)

We (Stanford’s Fair Use Project) got word of another great success today. We’re representing the filmmakers of Ben Stein’s Expelled. The film is an attack on the culture that forbids “intelligent design” from being considered seriously. (I’m a member of that culture.) The film uses a 15 second snippet of John Lennon’s “Imagine.” Yoko Ono was not happy with the use, and sued. In a decision issued this morning, Judge Stein denied Ono’s motion for an injunction against the film, finding we were likely to prevail on our fair use defense.
To borrow a bit more:

“Imagine all the people
Sharing all [at least some of] the world[s].”

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Very sweet victory: Shloss

You’ll recall Shloss v. Sweeney, the fair use challenge brought by the Stanford Center for Internet and Society’s “Fair Use Project” last June, on behalf of Carol Shloss, a Joyce scholar at Stanford. The case challenges the abuse of copyright by the Joyce Estate, interfering with the academic work of Joycean scholars. (The story of that abuse is recounted in this fantastic piece in the New Yorker.)

On Friday, we passed an important hurdle. The district court has denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss. The decision was quick, and is very well and completely reasoned. Judge Ware did permit the estate to strike a paragraph from the complaint (we were probably getting wordy in any case). But every element of our complaint remains — including, importantly, the copyright misuse claim.

Most of the work in the case has been handled by Stanford CIS Fellow David Olson. Since joining CIS to head the “Fair Use Project,” Tony Falzone has also become a key player in the case. Tony argued the case before Judge Ware. We’ve also had great support from a Joyce scholar, and lawyer with Howard Rice, Robert Spoo, as well as the firm of Keker & Van Nest. These attorneys, and the others at CIS (including many extraordinary students) deserve a great deal of thanks.

It is rare for the press to talk about issues in the copyright beyond “piracy.” The New Yorker piece is a nice exception. My hope is more cases like this will lead people to recognize the many more issues here beyond whether people “take” music for free. Continue reading

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Copyright Policy: Orphan Works Reform


For almost a decade now, many of us have been pushing for copyright reform that would address the problems of orphan works. That was a key motivation behind the attack on the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act. It was the focus of my op-ed in the NY Times after we lost in that attack. That op-ed proposed one system for dealing with orphan works — register your copyright after 50 years and pay $1; if you don’t the work passes into the public domain. That proposal was the basis of Congresswoman Lofgren’s “Public Domain Enhancement Act,” which was partly responsible for Senators Hatch and Leahy asking the Copyright Office to study the problem of “orphan works.”

The Copyright Office’s report is brilliant. Its proposal is less brilliant. Its essence is that a work is deemed an “orphan” if you can’t discover the copyright owner after a “reasonably diligent search.” If the work is deemed an orphan, then the copyright owner’s rights are curtailed.

I think this both goes too far, and not far enough.

Too far: By applying the remedy to all works immediately, the work imposes an unfair burden on many existing copyright holders — who have followed a rule which since 1978 has said, don’t worry about such details; it puts an especially unfair burden on foreign and unpublished copyright holders. In my view, photographers and other existing copyright holders are right to be outraged at the proposal. Hiding under the cover of “reasonably diligent search,” much of their work will be — unfairly — threatened.

Not far enough: The trigger to the Copyright Office’s Orphan Works Remedy is whether a copyright owner can be found with a “reasonably diligent search.” That standard is just mush. The report outlines six factors to be considered in determining whether a search is “reasonably diligent.” The effect of this complexity is simply make-work for lawyers. Libraries and archives will be unfairly burdened. Users won’t be able to achieve any real security.

The alternative I propose is a kind of copyright maintenance procedure (like patent maintenance). It differs from the Copyright Office’s proposal in three critical ways:

First: It applies just to old works, not to new works. For works after enactment, copyright owners get a 14 year grace period where they need not worry at all about any orphan work requirement. For work published between 1978 and today, there’s no orphan work requirement until 2021. And for work published before 1978 (in a time when formalities were the norm), there is no requirement until 2012.

Second: It applies to published “United States works” only — not to foreign works or unpublished work.

Third: The requirement it imposes after the 14/5 year delay is registration. But not registration with the copyright office; instead, registration with a private registrar approved by the copyright office. No government run registries here. Instead, something more like a DNS for copyright.

This chart at the top summarizes the differences.

You can download a one-page description of the proposal here.

You can download or stream the (35 minute) presentation here, or watch it on Google Video below.

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Internet Policy: What Congress Should Do

Over the next couple months, I’m going to try to put together short presentations outlining arguments for six Internet-related proposals that I believe Congress should enact over the next year. The trailer-description for each follows:

Copyright: Orphan Works: Orphan Works legislation is critical. Nonetheless, I strongly oppose the Copyright Office’s “Orphan Works Proposal.” I think it is extraordinarily unfair to current copyright owners, and insanely inefficient. My proposal applies an “Orphan Works Maintenance Requirement” to older works only; the requirement is a form of registration.

Copyright: Remix Culture: Congress should carve a robust exemption to the law for non-commercial remix. Commercial use of such remixes should be regulated by a baseline statutory license.

Network Neutrality: No surprise: I support Network Neutrality legislation. Unfortunately, too many of the reigning proposals are, imho, radically too difficult to enforce. I’ll propose a much simpler rule to enforce that would achieve the legitimate objectives of NN.

Spam: The email system is broken. A bazaar of private remedies to deal with spam now clog the system to defeat many of its original objectives. I’ll propose a modified version of an earlier idea to deal with this problem — a problem that costs the American public many times the total profits of the recording industry, but has gotten but a fraction of Congress’s attention.

Harmful to Minors Material: There’s a simple and minimally burdensome way Congress could protect kids online from material deemed “harmful to minors.” Not perfectly, but certainly better than the current regime. And without constitutional risk.

Deregulating Spectrum: Crude radio technology used to make regulating spectrum necessary. Smart radio technology makes it — in many cases at least — unnecessary. We should be pushing to deregulate where technology makes that possible.

I hope these presentations will be no more than 15 minutes long. The first presentation will be posted later today. Unfortunately, it is about 35 minutes long. Continue reading

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Fair Use seeks an attorney

As you may recall, the Stanford Center for Internet and Society launched a “Fair Use Project” this year. The focus of this project will be litigation to help mark (and push a bit) the boundaries of fair use. We formed this project because of a large amount of advice we were giving especially in the context of film. But the first case we filed was in defense of a scholar’s ability to quote material from Joyce in an academic work. (The story is described in this New Yorker article.)

The Project is led by a former partner from Bingham McCutchen, Anthony Falzone. We’re now looking for another attorney to work with him. Information is available at the CIS site. Continue reading

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Very important Fair Use decision

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision in Graham v. Dorling Kindersley Limited
is fantastic. Could this signal general progress? Continue reading

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Those very sensible British

So the British are considering extending the terms of copyrights for recordings from the current term of 50 years to 95 years — this to “harmonize” with the US, after the US extended its term to “harmonize” with Europe. Anyway, you know my views about term extensions for existing works, so I won’t repeat all that here.

But last night in the British Parliament, there was an extraordinary breakthrough in thinking about this issue. While the best rule would be that copyrights of existing works would never be extended, a second-best rule would be that, at a minimum, any extension should be limited to those copyright holders who take steps to claim that extension. And so has Mr. Don Foster now proposed.

This is the first such proposal that I’ve seen a government official make. (If I’m wrong about that, please let me know.) But it is fantastic progress in the second-best world we inhabit. Continue reading

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Google Book Search: The Argument

So there’s a corrected version of the Google Book Search video here on youTube. Very cool video sharing service, just ripe for CC licenses.

The essence of the argument here builds upon the “market failure” justification for fair use: We recognize fair use where there’s a prominent market failure. Here, the market failure is caused by the insanely inefficient property system copyright law is. Given that, the use Google makes is plainly “fair use.”

Update: This is an updated version that substitutes a photograph. I stupidly used a photo without checking the license. The substituted photo is a beautiful image by fuzzbabble on Flickr. My apologies to the very talented Andrea K. Gingerich. Continue reading

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Patent progress at MSFT?

There’s been lots of interesting commentary about Microsoft’s recent decision to submit its Office Document Formats to ECMA for “open standardization.” That’s good news, depending, of course, on the details.

But this is even better news: Microsoft has also promised that “it will not seek to enforce any of its patent claims necessary to conform to the technical specifications for the Microsoft Office 2003 XML Reference Schemas.”

This shows some hope to the complex of issues around patents affecting software in the land of Microsoft. Even opponents of software and business method patents will advise companies to secure them — given others can as well. But behavior like this goes a long way to neutralizing the negative effect of such patents. No license. No agreement. Just an unequivocal promise — at least with respect to those who don’t sue Microsoft. Continue reading

Posted in good law | 11 Comments