R.I.P. Conceptual Separability Test

The US Supreme Court held on March 22, 2017 that a feature incorporated into the design of a useful article is eligible for copyright protection “if, when identified and imagined apart from the useful article, it would qualify as a pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work either on its own or when fixed in some other tangible medium.” The case is Star Athletica LLC v .Varsity Brands. Justice Thomas wrote the opinion of the Supreme Court.

Conceptual Separability is Much Safer

Readers of this blog may remember that this case is about whether cheerleading uniforms can be protected by copyright. Both parties are creating and selling cheerleading uniforms. Varsity Brands has registered some 200 copyrights for two-dimensional designs appearing on the surface of their uniforms and other garments. It sued Star Athletica for copyright infringement, claiming that its competitor had copied five of its designs protected by copyright. The Western District Court of Tennessee granted summary judgment to Star Athletica, reasoning the designs could not be protectable by copyright, as they could not be separated from the utilitarian function of the uniforms. On appeal, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, finding Varsity’s designs to be copyrightable graphic works. The Supreme Court affirmed.

UniformUseful articles cannot be protected by copyright, but a pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work incorporated in the useful article can be protected if it is separable from the useful article. However, such design must be capable of being “identified separately from, and [must be] capable of existing independently of the utilitarian aspects of the article,” 17 U.S.C. § 101. The design can be physically separable or “conceptually separable” from its utilitarian aspect. Physical separability occurs if the feature seeking copyright protection can “be physically separated from the article by ordinary means while leaving the utilitarian aspects of the article completely intact,” Compendium §924.2(B). This is easily understandable, but conceptual separability, which applies if physical separability by ordinary means is not possible, is the stuff [bad] dreams [of IP attorneys] are made of. Or, at least, it was, as today’s opinion signals its demise.

The first part of the new test requires that the design seeking copyright protection must be able to be perceived as a two or three-dimensional work of art separate from the useful article. This was the case here. Justice Breyer dissented from the majority, reasoning that the designs on the cheerleading uniforms are not separable because if one would remove them from the uniforms and place them on another medium of expression, such as a canvas, it would create “pictures of cheerleader uniforms.” But Justice Thomas wrote that this does not prevent these deigns to be protected by copyright, because

“[j]ust as two-dimensional fine art corresponds to the shape of the canvas on which it is painted, two-dimensional applied art correlates to the contours of the article on which it is applied.  A fresco painted on a wall, ceiling panel, or dome would not lose copyright protection, for example, simply because it was designed to track the dimensions of the surface on which it was painted” (p. 11).

The second part of the new test requires that the design must be able to exist apart from the utilitarian aspect of the article, as its own pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work. If it can’t, then it is one of the useful article’s utilitarian aspects. Thus, the design itselfcannot be itself a useful article (p. 7).

This interpretation is consistent with Mazer v. Stein, a 1954 Supreme Court case studied by all U.S. copyright students. Justice Thomas noted that two of its holdings are relevant in our case (p. 9).  The Court held in 1954 that a work of art which serves a useful purpose can be protected by copyright. In the case of Mazer v. Stein, it as was statue which served as a lamp base. The Court also held in 1954 that a work of art is copyrightable even if it was first created as a useful article. Justice Thomas specified that, in our case, the Court interpreted the Copyright Act in a way which is consistent with Mazer v. Stein as today’s opinion “would afford copyright protection to the statuette in Mazer regardless of whether it was first created as a standalone sculptural work or as the base of the lamp.”

R.I.P. conceptual separability test. Justice Thomas explains it is no longer needed, as “[c]onceptual separability applies if the feature physically could not be removed from the useful article… Because separability does not require the underlying useful article to remain, the physical-conceptual distinction is unnecessary” (p.15).

Justice Thomas clarified the scope of the opinion as such:

To be clear, the only feature of the cheerleading uniform eligible for a copyright in this case is the two-dimensional work of art fixed in the tangible medium of the uniform fabric. Even if respondents ultimately succeed in establishing a valid copyright in the surface decorations at issue here, respondents have no right to prohibit any person from manufacturing a cheerleading uniform of identical shape, cut, and dimensions to the ones on which the decorations in this case appear” (p. 12).

But what makes a particular uniform feature of stripes and chevrons particular, is it because they are applied on the uniform, or because the uniform is cut in such a way and uses such contrasting colors  on which the designs are appearing?

Justice Ginsburg concurred, but she took the view that “[c]onsideration of [the separability] test is unwarranted because the designs at issue are not designs of useful articles. Instead, the designs are themselves copyrightable pictorial or graphic works reproduced on useful articles… [and may thus] gain copyright protection as such” (p. 23 and p. 24).

Should we cheer? Time will tell.

This post was first published on The 1709 Blog.

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After Many Twists and Turns, the CJEU held that the Rubik’s Cube Trademark is Invalid

The First Chamber of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) held on 10 November 2016, that the famous Rubik’s cube cannot be registered as a three-dimensional trademark because its shape performs the technical function of the goods, a three-dimensional puzzle. The case is Simba Toys GmbH & Co. KG v. EUIPO, C-30/15 P.

The validity of the Rubik’s cube trade mark was challenged by a competitor

British company Seven Towns Ltd., acting on behalf of Rubik’s Brand Ltd., filed in April 1996 an application for registration of a Community trade mark at the Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market (OHIM), now named the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO), for a three-dimensional sign, the famous Rubik’s cube. The mark was registered in April 1999 and renewed in November 2006.

A few days later, competitor Simba Toys applied to have the trade mark declared invalid under Council Regulation 40/94, which has been repealed and was replaced by Council Regulation 207/2009. The CJEU considered the case to be still governed by Council Regulation 40/94. Articles 1 to 36 are the same in both Regulations, and so the case is relevant under current EU trademark law.
Article 7(1)(e)(ii) of Council Regulation 40/94 prevents registration as a trademark of a sign, such as the Rubik’s cube product, “which consists exclusively of… the shape of goods which is necessary to obtain a technical result.” The CJEU had held in the 2002 Koninklijke Philips Electronics NV v. Remington Consumer Products Ltd. that a sign consisting exclusively of the shape of a product cannot be registered as a trademark if the essential functional features of the shape are attributable only to a technical result (Philips § 79 and § 80).

Simba Toys argued that the Rubik’s cube mark should be declared invalid under the grounds [absolute ground for refusal] that the mark is the shape of the goods necessary to achieve a technical result. According to Simba, the Rubik’s cube black lines are attributable to technical functions of the three-dimensional puzzle.

The OHIM dismissed Simba’s application for a declaration of invalidity and the Second Board of Appeal of OHIM affirmed the dismissal in September 2009, reasoning that the shape of the trade mark does not result from the nature of the Rubik’s cube itself. On 25 November 2014, the General Court dismissed the action for annulment as unfounded. Simba appealed to the CJEU.

What are the essential characteristics of the Rubik’s cube trade mark?

The essential characteristics of three-dimensional signs are the most important elements of the signs, Lego Juris v. OHIM, C-48/09, § 68 and 69. They must be properly identified by the competent trademark registration authority, Lego Juris v. Ohim § 68, which must then determine whether the essential characteristics all perform the technical function of the goods (General Court § 41). The General Court identified the essential characteristics of the Rubik’s cube trademark is a “cubic grid structure,” that is the cube itself and the grid structure appearing on each of its surfaces (General Court § 45). Simba did not challenge this finding on appeal at the CJEU.

Do the essential characteristics of Rubik’s cube perform the technical function of the goods?

Under Article 4 of Regulation 40/94 and Regulation 207/2009, any sign capable of being represented graphically can be a trade mark, unless, under article 7(1)(e)(ii) of both Regulations, the sign consists exclusively of the shape of goods which is necessary to obtain a technical result.

Article 7(1) grounds for refusal to register a mark must be interpreted in light of the public interest underlying them. The public interest underlying Article 7(1)(e)(ii) is to prevent the use of trademark law to obtain a monopoly on technical solutions or the functional characteristics of a product (General Court § 32, citing Lego Juris v. OHIM, § 43). Advocate General Szpunar explained further in his Opinion that allowing such marks to be registered would give the registrant “an unfair competitive advantage” and thus trade mark law cannot be used “in order to perpetuate, indefinitely, exclusive rights relating to technical solutions” (AG Szpunar Opinion § 32 and § 34).

For the General Court, Article 7(1)(e)(ii) applies only if the essential characteristics of the mark perform the technical functions of the goods “and have been chosen to perform that function.” It does not apply if these characteristics are the result of that function (General Court § 53). Simba argued in front of the CJEU that the General Court erred in this interpretation of Article 7(1)(e)(ii).

Simba claimed that the black lines of the cube performed a technical function (General Court § 51). But the General Court found that an objective observer is not able to infer by looking at the graphic representation of the Rubik’s cube mark that the black lines are rotatable (General Court § 57). The General Court held that Simba’s “line of argument… [was] essentially based on knowledge of the rotating capability of the vertical and horizontal lattices of the Rubik’s cube. However, it [was] clear that that capability cannot result from the black lines in themselves or, more generally, from the grid structure which appears on each surface of the cube… but at most from [an invisible] mechanism internal to that cube” (General Court § 58). Therefore, the grid structure on each surface of the cube “d[id] not perform, or are not even suggestive of, any technical function” (General Court § 60). The General Court concluded that registering the Rubik’s cube shape did not create a monopoly on a technical solution and mechanical puzzles competitors could also incorporate movable or rotatable elements (General Court § 65).

But, for AG Szpunar, the General Court erred in its analysis as it should have taken into account the function of the Rubik’s cube, which is a three-dimensional puzzle consisting of movable elements. He noted that in both the Philips and the Lego Juris cases, the competent authorities had analyzed the shape of the goods using additional information other than the graphic representation (AG Szpunar Opinion § 86). While the competent authority does not have to concern itself with hidden characteristics, it must nevertheless analyze “the characteristics of the shape arising from the graphic representation from the point of view of the function of the goods concerned” (AG Szpunar Opinion § 88).

The CJEU followed its AG’s Opinion on this point and found that the General Court should have defined the technical function of the actual goods, namely, the three-dimensional puzzle, and it should have taken this into account when assessing the functionality of the essential characteristics of that sign (CJEU § 47). The General Court “interpreted the criteria for assessing Article 7(1)(e)(ii) . . . too narrowly”(CJEU § 51) and should have taken into account the technical function of the goods represented by the sign when examining the functionality of the essential characteristics of that sign (CJEU § 52). Failing to do so would have allowed the trademark owner to broaden the scope of trademark protection to cover any three dimensional puzzles with elements in the shape of a cube (CJEU § 52).

This case confirms, after Pi-Design AG v. Bodum, that the CJEU takes the view that the essential characteristics of a trade mark must not be assessed solely by the competent authority based on visually analyzing the mark as filed, but that the authority must also identify the essential characteristics of a sign, in addition to the graphic representation and any other descriptions filed at the time of the application for registration. This is necessary to protect the public interest underlying Article 7(1)(e)(ii), which is to ensure that economic operators cannot improperly appropriate for themselves a mark which incorporates a technical solution.

The image is courtesy of Flickr user Robin under a CC BY 2.0 license.

This article was first published on the TTLF Newsletter on Transatlantic Antitrust and IPR Developments published by the Stanford-Vienna Transatlantic Technology Law Forum

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Influencer Marketing and the law

I spoke last January about influencers marketing and the law at a Gemode conference in Paris.

From the Gemode site:

Many fashion companies use social networks for marketing and communication purposes, whether it is the official social media account of the company or the account of its main designer. Some companies also use social media for promotional and commercial purposes, sometimes tapping into the creativity of influencers 2.0, whose social network accounts are followed by thousands of users. Selfies published on social networks by private individuals are an abundant and inexpensive source of content. They can be used by fashion companies following a crowdsourcing model, where the public participates in the creation of a common project that is born from the confluence of this user generated content. A new model of e-commerce has been created, social commerce, where photographs of social media “friends” are used to recommend a particular purchase.

There are laws, on both sides of the Atlantic, regulating the use by fashion companies of personal images published on social networks of private individuals and influencers The publisher must ensure that the person represented in the photograph has consented to have his or her likeness used for promotional purposes, and also ensure the legality of the use of these images from the point of view of consumer law, intellectual property, personal data law, and the right to freedom of expression. #Selfieslaw.

This conference presented some of my research as a Fellow of the Stanford-Vienna Transatlantic Technology Law Forum.

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CJEU rules that lending an e-book is legal if the first sale right has been exhausted

The Third Chamber of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled on 10 November 2016 that it is legal under EU law for a library to lend an electronic copy of a book. However, only one copy of the e-book can be borrowed at the time, the first sale of the e-book must have been exhausted in the EU, and the e-book must have been obtained from a lawful source. The case is Vereniging Openbare Bibliotheken v. Stichting Leenrecht, C-174-15.

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Legal framework

Article 2 of Directive 2001/29/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 May 2001 on the harmonisation of certain aspects of copyright and related rights in the information society (the InfoSoc Directive) provides authors exclusive rights in their works, including, under its Article 3, the exclusive right to communicate their works to the public by wire or wireless means. Its Article 4 provides that these exclusive rights are exhausted by the first sale or by other transfers of ownership of the work in the EU.

Article 6(1) of Directive 2006/115/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12 December 2006 on the rental right and lending right and on certain rights related to copyright in the field of intellectual property, the Rental and Lending Rights Directive (RLR Directive), gives Member States the right to derogate from the exclusive public lending right provided to authors by Article 1 of the RLR Directive, provided that authors are compensated for such lending.

Article 15c(1) of the Dutch law on copyright, the Auteurswet, authorizes lending of a copy of a literary, scientific, or artistic work, provided that the rightsholder consented to the lending and is compensated for it. The Minister of Justice of the Netherlands set up a foundation to that effect, the Stichting Onderhandelingen Leenvergoedingen (StOL), which collects lending rights payments as a lump sum from lending libraries and then distributes those payments to rightsholders through collective management organizations.

The Dutch government took the view that e-books are not within the scope of the public lending exception of the Auteurswet and drafted a new law on that premise. The Vereniging Openbare Bibliotheken (VOB), which represents the interests of all the public libraries in the Netherlands, challenged this draft legislation and asked the District Court of The Hague to declare that Auteurswet covers lending of e-books.

The Court stayed the proceedings and requested a preliminary ruling from the CJEU on the question of whether Articles 1(1), 2(1)(b) and 6(1) of the Renting and Lending Rights Directive authorize e-lending, provided that only one library user can borrow the e-book at a time by downloading a digital copy of a book which has been placed on the server of a public library.

If this is indeed authorized by the Directive, the District Court asked the CJUE whether article 6 of the Directive requires that the copy of the e-book which is lent has been brought into circulation by an initial sale or other transfer of ownership within the European Union by the rightsholder, or with her consent within the meaning of Article 4(2) of the InfoSoc Directive.
The District Court also asked whether Article 6 of the RLR Directive requires that the e-book which is lent was obtained from a lawful source.

Finally, the District asked the CJEU to clarify whether e-lending is also authorized (if the copy of the e-book which has been brought into circulation by an initial sale or other transfer of ownership within the European Union by the right holder or with her consent) when the initial sale or transfer was made remotely by downloading.

First: Is e-lending legal under the renting and lending rights directive?

The CJEU noted that Article 1(1) of the RLR Directive does not specify whether it also covers copies which are not fixed in a physical medium, such as digital copies (§ 28). The CJEU interpreted “copies” in the light of equivalent concepts of the WIPO Copyright Treaty of 20 December 1996, which was approved by the European Community, now the European Union. Its Article 7 gives authors the exclusive right to authorize “rentals” of computer programs. However, the Agreed Statements concerning the WIPO Copyright Treaty, which is annexed to the WIPO Treaty, explains that Article 7’s right of rental “refer[s] exclusively to fixed copies that can be put into circulation as tangible objects,” thus excluding digital copies from the scope of Article 7.

The Court noted, however, that “rental” and “lending” are separately defined by the RLR Directive. Article 2(1) (a) defines “rental” as “making available for use, for a limited period of time and for direct or indirect economic or commercial advantage,” while Article 2(1) (b) defines “lending” as “making available for use, for a limited period of time and not for direct or indirect economic or commercial advantage, when it is made through establishments which are accessible to the public.” The Court examined preparatory documents preceding the adoption of Directive 92/100, which the RLD Directive codified and reproduced in substantially identical terms, and noted that there was “no decisive ground allowing for the exclusion, in all cases, of the lending of digital copies and intangible objects from the scope of the RLR Directive.” The Court also noted that Recital 4 of the RLR Directive states that copyright must adapt to new economic developments and that e-lending “indisputably forms part of those new forms of exploitation and, accordingly, makes necessary an adaptation of copyright to new economic developments” (§ 45).

The CJEU noted that borrowing an e-book as described by the District Court in its preliminary question “has essentially similar characteristics to the lending of printed works,” considering that only one e-book can be borrowed at the time (§ 53). The CJEU therefore concluded that that “lending” within the meaning of the RLR Directive includes lending of a digital copy of a book.

Second: May only e-books first sold in the EU be lent?

The InfoSoc Directive provides that the exclusive distribution rights of the author are exhausted within the EU after the first sale or other transfer of ownership in the EU of the work by the right holder or with his consent. Article 1(2) of the RLR Directive provides that the right to authorize or prohibit the rental and lending of originals and copies of copyrighted works is not exhausted by the sale or distribution of originals and copies of works protected by copyright.

The CJEU examined Article 6(1) of the RLR Directive in conjunction with its Recital 14, which states it is necessary to protect the rights of the authors with regards to public lending by providing for specific arrangements. This statement must be interpreted as establishing a minimal threshold of protection, which the Member States can exceed by setting additional conditions in order to protect the rights of the authors (at 61).

In our case, Dutch law required that an e-book made available for lending by a public library had been put into circulation by a first sale, or through another transfer of ownership, by the right holder or with his consent within the meaning of Article 4(2) of the InfoSoc Directive. The Court mentioned that Attorney General Szpunar had pointed out in his Opinion that if a lending right is acquired with the consent of the author, it may be assumed that the author’s rights are sufficiently protected, which may not be the case if the lending is made under the derogation provided by Article 6(1) (Opinion at 85). AG Szpunar concluded that therefore only e-books which had been made first available to the public by the author should be lent. The CJEU ruled that Member States may subject as condition to e-lending the fact that the first sale of the e-book has been exhausted in the EU by the right holder.

Third: May a copy of an e-book obtained from an unlawful source be lent?

Not surprisingly, the CJEU answered in the negative to this question, noting that one of the objectives of the RLR Directive, as stated by its Recital 2, is to combat piracy and that allowing illegal copies to be lent would “amount to tolerating, or even encouraging, the circulation of counterfeit or pirated works and would therefore clearly run counter to that objective” (at 68).
The Court did not answer the fourth question as it had been submitted only in the case the Court would rule that it is not necessary that the first sale of the e-books being lent had been exhausted in the EU.

This is a welcome decision since, as noted by AG Szpunar in his Opinion, it is crucial for libraries to be able to adapt to the fact that more and more people, especially younger ones, are now reading e-books instead of printed books.

Photo is courtesy of Flickr user Timo Noko under a  CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

This article was first published on the TTLF Newsletter on Transatlantic Antitrust and IPR Developments published by the Stanford-Vienna Transatlantic Technology Law Forum

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CJEU: The exhaustion rule does not authorize the resale of the back-up copy of a computer program

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled on 12 October  2016 that while the original acquirer of a software can resell his used copy of the program because the exclusive rights of the copyright holder have been exhausted by the first sale, reselling a back-up copy of the program is subject to the authorization of the rightsholder. The case is Ranks and Vasiļevičs, C-166/15.
Mr. Ranks and Mr. Vasiļevičs (Defendants) sold online, from 28 December 2001 to 22 December 2004, more than 3,000 back-up copies of Microsoft computer programs protected by copyright, for an amount evaluated at  264,514 euros. Defendants claimed to have bought these copies from the original owners. However, some of these programs were copies, which Defendants claimed had been legally made by the original owners after the original programs had been damaged, destroyed or lost.

thriftDefendants were charged by a Latvian court for selling unlawfully objects protected by copyright and found guilty. On appeal, the Criminal Law Division of the Riga Regional Court requested a preliminary ruling from the CJEU, asking the Court (1) if the acquirer of a copy of a computer program stored on a non-original medium can resell this copy, in such a case that the original medium of the program has been damaged and the original acquirer has erased his copy or  no longer uses it, because in such case the exclusive right of distribution of the right holder has been exhausted, and (2) if the person who bought the used copy in reliance of the exhaustion of the right to distribute can sell this program to a third person.

The Latvian court cited Directive 2009/24 in its request. However, as the facts took place before the Directive entered into force on 25 May 2009 and repealed Directive 91/250, the CJEU considered that these two questions had to be interpreted under the equivalent provisions of Directive 91/250, that is, its articles 4(c) about the first sale of computer program doctrine, and its articles 4(a), 5(1), and 5(2) about the exceptions to the exclusive right of reproduction of a computer program.

The exhaustion right protects the right of the original acquirer to resell his copy of the program

Article 4(a) of Directive 91/250 and Article 4.1(a) of Directive 2009/24 give the rightsholder the exclusive right to reproduce a computer program, by any means whatsoever, whether temporarily or permanently. That right is, however, exhausted, under Article 4(c) of Directive 91/250 and Article 4.2 of Directive 2009/24, if the copy of the program has been placed on the market in the European Union (EU) by the rightsholder or with her consent. The CJEU held in UsedSoft that the right of distributing a computer program is thus exhausted regardless of whether it is a tangible or an intangible copy of the program (UsedSoft paragraphs 55 and 61) and specified that “sale,” within the meaning of Article 4(2) of Directive 2009/24, includes purchasing the right to use a copy of a computer program for an unlimited period (UsedSoft, paragraph 49).

The CJEU noted that “the holder of the copyright in a computer program who has sold, in the European Union, a copy of that program on a material medium, such as a CD-ROM or a DVD-ROM, accompanied by an unlimited licence for the use of that program, can no longer oppose the resale of that copy by the initial acquirer or subsequent acquirers of that copy, notwithstanding the existence of contractual terms prohibiting any further transfer” (Ranks and Vasiļevič paragraph 30).

Reselling a back-up copy of a computer program is subject to the authorization of the rightsholder

However, the issue in our case was not about the right of the original acquirer to resell his used copy of a computer program, but instead whether the right of exhaustion gives a person who acquired, either from the original acquirer or from a subsequent acquirer, a used copy of a computer program stored on a non-original material medium, the right to resell that copy.
Microsoft argued that a non-original copy of a computer program can never benefit from exhaustion of the right of distribution and thus cannot be sold by the user without the rightsholder’s authorization. Defendants argued that even non-original copies benefit from the exhaustion right, if, as stated in UsedSoft, the right holder gave the acquirer of a program, in return for a fee corresponding to the economic value of the work, the right to use the copy for an unlimited period, and if the original acquirer had made every copy in his possession unusable at the time of the resale of the program.

Advocate General Saugmandsgaard wrote in his 1 June 2016 Opinion of the case that article 4(c) of Directive 91/250 must be interpreted as meaning that the right holder’s exclusive right of distribution is infringed if the user makes a copy of the computer program and then sells it without the right holder’s authorization, even if the original medium has been damaged and the seller makes all of his copies unusable (Opinion at 25 and 54). The CJEU followed the opinion of its AG.

While article 5(2) authorizes making a back-up copy of the computer program, it may only be done “to meet the sole needs of the person having the right to use that program” and, therefore, such copy cannot be made to resell the computer program to a third party, even if the original copy has been destroyed, damaged or lost (Ranks and Vasiļevič paragraph 43).

The CJEU had held in UsedSoft that the exclusive right of distribution of a computer program is exhausted after the first sale of the program in the EU. However, UsedSoft could be distinguished from this case as Mr. Ranks and Mr. Vasiļevič were not the original acquirer of the computer programs, and instead had been selling copies of computer programs “on non-original material media.” There was “nothing to suggest that they initially purchased and downloaded those copies from the rightholders website”( Ranks and Vasiļevič paragraph 51).

A back-up copy of a computer program cannot be transferred to a new acquirer without the authorization of the copyright holder, even if the original copy has been damaged, destroyed or lost (Ranks and Vasiļevič paragraph 44). For the CJEU, Mr. Ranks and Mr. Vasiļevič thus indeed possessed infringing copies of a computer program, which is forbidden by article 7.1(b) of Directive 91/250 and Directive 2009/24, and sold them, which is forbidden by article 7.1.(a) of Directive 91/250 and Directive 2009/24.

This case restricts the scope of the digital resale market.

Image is courtesy of Flickr user get directly down under a CC BY 2.0 license.

This article was first published on the TTLF Newsletter on Transatlantic Antitrust and IPR Developments published by the Stanford-Vienna Transatlantic Technology Law Forum.

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When is the output of a copyright-protected software program itself protected by copyright?

When is the output of a copyright-protected software program itself protected by copyright? This is a case of first impression for any court of appeals which is pending at the Ninth Circuit. The case is Design Data Corporation v. Unigate Enterprise, Inc., 14-16701. On 17 October, 2016, counsels for both parties presented their arguments at the Ninth Circuit to a three-judge panel, composed of Judge Consuelo M. Callahan, Judge Michael Daly Hawkins and Judge Andrew D. Hurwitz.

Design Data Corporation (DDC) has created a computer aided design (CAD) steel detailing software, SDS/2, which can be used to draw 2-D and 3-D drawings and models of structural steel components. The designs can only be viewed through the SDS/2 software, the SDS/2 Viewer software, and in electronic images exported from SDS/2. Unigate Enterprise (UE) is a company which provides steel detailing CAD files to its clients in the U.S. It does not produce the files itself, but instead outsources their production to contractors in China.

DDC believed that UE had used the SDS/2 software illegally. Representatives of DDC visited UE’s office in August 2012 and UE allowed the representatives to search UE’s computers and copy some files. They found a folder containing installation files for SDS/2 and three patch files which can be used to circumvent SDS/2’s licensing requirement. Defendants admitted during discovery that one of its co-owners downloaded a copy of SDS/2 to an external hard drive, but that she believed this copy to be a free demonstration copy of the software, and that she did not install the software, nor did she try to use it. UE admitted that SDS/2 had been used to create files and drawings in five of its projects, but argued that they were made by contractors in China.498865023_f7ccc2e888_z

DDC sued UE for direct copyright infringement, claiming it had illegally downloaded a copy of the software and also had copied files and images which are output of the SDS/2 software protected by copyright. It also sued UE for contributory copyright infringement claiming that UE imported from China infringing files and images generated by SDS/2 in violation of 17 U.S.C. §602.

UE moved for summary judgment, claiming that merely downloading a software program without installing or using is de minimis copying and that therefore not direct infringement. UE also argued that it cannot be held liable for contributory infringement, as “wholly extraterritorial acts of infringement cannot support a claim under the Copyright Act even when authorized by a party in the United States,” quoting Subafilms, Ltd. v. MGM-Pathe Communications Co., 24 F.3d 1088, 1092, 1995 (9th Cir.1994).

On August 6, 2014, Judge William Orrick from the Northern District Court of California granted Defendants’ motion for summary judgment both for contributory infringement and direct infringement. Defendants had correctly argued that they could not be sued for contributory infringement. Judge Orrick also found that downloading a copy of SDS/2 “without any evidence that the copy was installed or used… amount[ed] at most to a de minimis ‘technical’ violation that is not actionable as a matter of law.”

DDC appealed to the Ninth Circuit, asking the Court to reverse summary judgment. DDC’s counsel argued before the Ninth Circuit that UE did “consciously implement a business model… that was designed to exploit a breach in the copyright protection afforded to software developers by shifting its infringement of [Plaintiff’s software] overseas.” However, as UE cannot be sued for contributory infringement, DDC argued instead that UE directly infringed its copyright by downloading the software and by reproducing the output of the software program which is protected by copyright.

Direct infringement: did UE violate copyright law by copying DDC’s software?

Judge Callahan and Judge Hurwitz were both troubled by the fact that UE had advertised on its site that it used the SDS/2 software. UE’s counsel answered that UE was counting on contractors to use it, but admitted that UE had never asked DDC if it was indeed true that the contractors were legally using the software. UE admitted it had downloaded the software, and therefore copied it, but argued it had not used it and therefore this de minimis copying was not actionable. DDC argued that, by downloading the software, UE had copied the entire SDS/2software code and therefore the copying was not de minimis.

Judge Hurwitz asked UE’s counsel whether the de minimis doctrine should apply each time someone copies a work protected by copyright, even if he does not use it, and the UE’s counsel answered in the affirmative.

Direct infringement: is the output of the software protected by copyright?

DDC argued also that UE has directly infringed the SDS/2 software because it has copied the steel component designs which are a visual display of the software, and are as such output of the software also protected by copyright. For Judge Hurwitz, this is the “really interesting issue in this case.” However, not every output of a software is protectable by copyright. The question of when the output of a computer program is protectable by copyright has not yet been answered by any court which makes it an issue of first impression.

Software’s source code, which is human-readable, and its object code, which is machine-readable, are both protectable by copyright as literary works, if they are original and fixed in a tangible medium of expression. However, the functional elements of the software, such as its systems or procedures, are not protected by copyright since copyright law does not protect process, system, and method of operation. Judge Orrick had quoted Altai and found that the “job files” and the other documents produced by the SDS/2 software “are data not covered by copyright.”

Courts often use the abstraction-filtration-comparison test, first coined by the Second Circuit in Computer Assocs. Int’l v. Altai, to assess which parts of a software program are protected by copyright. The Second Circuit specified that the decision “[did] not control infringement actions regarding categorically distinct works, such as… products of computer programs.” There is no case where a court used the abstraction-filtration-comparison test to determine whether the output of a software has been infringed.

Judge Hurwitz asked DDC’s counsel what makes in her view a particular output protectable by copyright. She offered a test: an output would be protected by copyright if one can tie some sort of creative expression that is included in that output as having emanated from the software. Judge Hurwitz asked her what percentage of creative expression would trigger copyright protection. What if 80% of the creative expression originates from the software user? She conceded that in this case the output would “probably not” be protected by copyright. Judge Callahan found this test too complicated.

UE’s counsel then proposed another test. The output would be protected to the extent that it includes creative expression that has been fixed in the software and embodied in the output. However, if there is additional creative content added to the output by a user, and therefore the proportionality is too imbalanced and weights too heavily in favor of the user, it could be found under the abstract-filtration-comparison test not original and thus not protected. Judge Hurwitz said, that while there is no case addressing the issue, some seem to suggest that the output of a software program may be, in some instances, so substantially similar to the software program that it deserves protection. Judge Hurwitz noted, however, that plaintiff must show substantial similarity.

DDC’s counsel argued that there is not only substantial similarity, but even identity, because, if one inputs the same data into the software, one gets the same design out of it, in an expression which is fixed. But Judge Callahan quoted paragraph 721.6 of the Compendium of U. S. Copyright Office Practice about the “Relationship Between a Computer Program and a Work Created with a Computer or a Computer Program,” which explains that “ownership of the copyright in a work is distinct from ownership of any material object that may be used to create that work.” Judge Callahan asked DDC’s counsel whether this was relevant to the case and she answered that DDC owns the copyright in the software and also owns a copyright in “unnecessary creative expression that accompanies that.” She specified that DDC is not arguing that it owns the copyright in the entire design of the component, only in the expression that accompanies it. DDC considers this to be direct infringement, as it is a derivative work of the component of the software image files.

On rebuttal, Judge Hurwitz asked again DDC’s counsel to explain the relationship between both the creative input of the software and the creative input of its users, and how and when the ratio of these two creative inputs would trigger, or not, the copyright protection of the output. DDC’s counsel answered that DDC is focused on expressive content that is not in the actual design of the component, such as the font or the colors used, the shape of a comment box, or the placement of certain components around the design which appear in the design file, but which are not the design itself. She argued that these elements must be identified using the abstraction-filtration-comparison test to find out whether some elements are protected by copyright, but conceded that there was not any computer software case which used this test.

Image is courtesy of Flickr user Rick Kimpel under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

This article was first published on the the TTLF Newsletter on Transatlantic Antitrust and IPR Developments published by the Stanford-Vienna Transatlantic Technology Law Forum.

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U.S. Bill Would Introduce a Copyright Claims Board

Representatives Judy Chu (CA-27) and Lamar Smith (TX-21) introduced this month a bill, the Fairness for American Small Creators Act, which would amend the Copyright Act to introduce a Copyright Claims Board (the Board). The press release is here.

The Board would be established within the Copyright Office and would be an alternative forum to resolve some, but not all, copyright claims (collective sigh of relief from IP attorneys).

15500658421_d0d4806dda_zThree Copyright Claims Officers

Three full-time copyright claims officers would serve on the board for a six-year term. They would all be attorneys with at least seven years of legal experience. Two of the copyright claims officers would “have substantial experience in the evaluation, litigation, or adjudication of copyright infringement claims and, between them, … have represented or presided over a diversity of copyright interests, including those of both owners and users of copyrighted works. The third copyright claims officer [would] have substantial experience in the field of alternative dispute resolution.”

They would be independent from the Register of Copyrights, but could consult it on general issues of law, but not with respect to the facts of any particular matter pending before the Board or the application of law to a particular matter. The Board’s decisions could be reviewed by a court.

Copyright Claims Attorneys

No less than two attorneys would be appointed by the Register of Copyrights to assist in the administration of the board. They would have to have at least three years of copyright law experience.

Authority and Responsibilities of the Copyright Claims Board

The Board would determine whether a particular copyright claim, counterclaim, and defense could be brought before the Board, and would ensure that they are “properly filed and otherwise appropriate for resolution by the Board.” The Board would manage the proceedings of the Board and render rulings relating to the consideration of these claims, which would include scheduling and discovery. Indeed, the Board would have the power to request the production of information and documents relevant to the resolution of a claim, and to conduct hearings and conferences. The Board would also have the power to facilitate the settlement of any claim or counterclaim of parties and to require cessation or mitigation of an infringing activity, including takedown or destruction of infringing materials, but only if the party asked to do so agrees.

Authority and Responsibilities of the Copyright Claims Attorneys

Copyright Claim Attorneys would have to provide assistance to the copyright claims officers in the administration of their duties, and provide assistance to members of the public with respect to the procedures and requirements of the Board.

Proceedings

Parties would only participate in a Board proceeding on a voluntary basis and the right of any party to pursue a claim in any court of law would be preserved. The claim would have to be filed no more than three years “after the claim that is the basis for the proceeding accrued.” The Board could review claims for infringement, or provide a declaration of non-infringement, unless the claim is already pending before, or finally adjudicated by a court of law. Both parties would have to be in the U.S. The Board could award actual damages and limited statutory damages, but the latter could not exceed $15,000 per work infringed.

This would be a centralized process, as the Board would conduct proceedings “by means of Internet-based applications and other telecommunications facilities, except that in any case involving physical or other nontestimonial evidence, the Board may make alternative arrangements for the submission of evidence if the arrangements do not prejudice another party to the proceeding.”

The parties could be represented before the Board by an attorney or law student who is qualified under applicable law to represent a party on a pro bono basis.

It is an interesting proposal, especially as the whole procedure could be conducted electronically. Allowing qualified law-students to represent parties may, however, have a somewhat limited impact on the ability of parties to seek pro bono counsel, as U.S. states typically require law students representing parties pro bono to be supervised by a faculty member or a practicing attorney.

This article was first published on The 1709 Blog.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Michael Coghlan under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

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Fair Use… The Final Frontier?

Judge Klausner from the  Central District of California Court denied summary judgment on January 4 for both parties in the Paramount v. Axanar case. Plaintiffs Paramount Pictures and CBS Studios were moving for partial summary judgment for direct, contributory and vicarious copyright infringement claims against Defendants Axanar Production and its owner Alec Peters. Defendants were moving for summary judgment. Hat’s tip to Ars Technica for providing the link to these two motions.

Star Trek Pizza CutterI am writing here only about the two motions and will comment on yesterday’s ruling later on.

Readers of this blog may remember that Paramount Pictures and CBS Studios are suing Axanar Productions and Alec Peters, “one of Star Trek’s biggest fans” (Defendants motion p. 7), claiming that the short movie Star Trek: Prelude to Axanar and the full-length movie titled Star Trek: Axanar, which Defendants plan to release soon(ish), are infringing unauthorized derivative works of the original Star Trek works.

Defendant’s short movie is a prequel to the original television series and movies. Defendants call it a “mockumentary, ”with direct interviews of characters, in “a style never before used by either Plaintiffs or in any other Star Trek fan fiction” (Defendants’ motion p. 10). It features Klingons, Vulcans, and some other characters originally created for the CBS television series. Axanar is a battle between the United Federation of Planets and the Klingon Empire which was won by one of Captain Kirk’s hero, Starfleet Captain Garth of Izar. CBS will premiere in 2017 a new Star Trek series, Star Trek: Discovery, which will be a prequel to the original series, taking place about twenty years before Captain Kirk took command of the U.S.S. Enterprise.

Let’s first note that both of the Defendants’ movies are crowd-funded. The issue of whether the individuals who contributed to finance these movies, and the crowdsourcing platform, could be sued for contributory infringement would make a fun “additional question” in a copyright law exam.
As the full-length Axanar movie has not been made yet, let alone released, Defendants are claiming that Plaintiffs‘claims with respect of the full length movie are premature, as the Court cannot compare the two works for similarities to decide whether or not there is infringement. The movie’s script is still evolving, and thus the dispute is not ripe. Defendants cite in their motion several cases where courts refused to review drafts to determine substantial similarities (Defendants’ motion p. 15).

Copyright Infringement Claims

Plaintiffs are claiming that Defendants’ works are substantially similar to the original Star Trek works and that Defendants‘works are not fair use. Plaintiffs claim that these works are not “fan films” but rather unlicensed professional productions, and that they take place in the “alien star systems created by Plaintiffs, on spaceships belonging to the United Federation of Planets, on Klingon battlecruisers fighting the Klingon Empire, and on planets such as Qo’nos, Vulcan and Axanar” (Plaintiffs’ motion p. 21 and 22).

Defendants are arguing that their works are not substantially similar to Plaintiff’s works and that Plaintiffs, while owning a limited number of Star Trek episodes and films, “do not own a copyright to the idea of Star Trek, or the Star Trek Universe as a whole” (Defendants’ motion p. 7). Defendants further argue that Plaintiffs cannot claim copyright in “the general mood and theme of science fiction; names and words used in Plaintiff’s Works; elements in the public domain and nature; the Klingon language; Scènes à Faire [for once spelled correctly, I tip my hat to Defendants’ attorneys]; most specific characters; and the general costuming and appearance of, or shapes affiliated with, characters in Plaintiffs’ Works.” Once these unprotectable elements are filtered out, Defendants claim that both Plaintiffs and Defendant’s work are not substantially similar (Defendants’ motion p. 17).

Characters

Plaintiffs claimed that Defendants infringed on the Star Trek characters which are protected by copyright. They cited the Ninth Circuit DC Comics v. Towle case, where the Court found the Batmobile to be a character protected by copyright. The Court laid out then a three-part test to determine whether a particular character is protected by copyright: the character must have “physical as well as conceptual qualities,” the character must be “sufficiently delineated” to be recognizable as the same character whenever it appears, and the character must be “especially distinctive” and “contain some unique elements of expression.”

Defendants argued that such elements as “pointy ears” cannot be protected but, as noted in Plaintiffs’ motion, though ideas are not protectable by copyright, the expression of these ideas can be protected. Plaintiffs claim that Defendants have copied the exact Star Trek characters in their movie. Defendants admit that Plaintiffs own the copyright in the Spock and Captain Kirk characters, but that its works do not include them, “or any other characters to which Plaintiffs own separate copyright” (Defendants’ motion p. 9). Defendants also noted that the still unfinished script of the full-length movie features 50 original characters out of 57 characters in total.

Is Prelude to Axanar Fan Fiction?

Defendants are claiming that their work is fan fiction, made “to celebrate their love of Star Trek” (Defendants’ motion p. 9), and is protected by fair use. They note that there is a “longstanding tradition of Star Trek [f]an [f]iction” and that Star Trek’s creator, Gene Roddenberry, encouraged fan fiction (Defendants’ motion p. 13 and p. 14). As there is no “fan fiction” provision in the Copyright Act, fan fiction is not infringing if it is fair use. Is it the case here?

Plaintiffs claim that the use of the Star Trek characters, setting and plots are not fair use, as they are not a parody or a satire, nor were they created for purposes of criticism or teaching, and thus furthered the goals of the Copyright Act. They also argue that the use is not transformative enough to be fair use, but that, instead, Defendants have “meticulously replicate[d]” the Star Trek works. For Plaintiffs, merely setting the action of the movie in a different time is not transformative enough, as the “creation of a derivative work that is set in a (slightly) different time than the original does not constitute a “transformative use” (Plaintiffs’ motion p. 19).

Defendants are arguing that their works “are transformative-going where no man has gone before” [ah!), and feature “numerous original characters, original dialogue, a unique plot, and an unexplored timeline” (Defendant’s motion p. 8). Also, “the styling of Prelude [to Axanar] as a short mockumentary featuring first-person interviews makes it especially unique and distinctive from Plaintiffs’ Works”(Defendants’ motion p. 22).

Plaintiffs claim that Defendants’ plot is directly taken from the original Star Trek television show episode which introduced Garth of Izar and also took story elements from a Star Trek role playing game book. For them, the effect on the market, which is one of the four fair use factors, is significant, as Defendants damaged Plaintiffs’ potential market for derivative works (Plaintiffs’ motion p. 23). Defendants are arguing instead that their works have no effect on the potential market, but instead “offer free promotional value to Plaintiffs (Defendant’s motion p. 19 and p. 20).They “do not act as a substitute for Plaintiff’s work.”

Defendants are claiming that their works “are not intended to be commercialized” and that “Defendants have no ambitions of competing against Plaintiffs’ Works in movie theaters, on television, over premium streaming services or to otherwise sell their [w]orks for profits” (Defendant’s motion p. 11). In the eyes of the  Defendants, their works are protected by fair use.

Image is courtesy of Flickr user Joe Hall, under a CC BY 2.0 license.

This blog post was first published on The 1709 Blog.

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Who’s on Second (Circuit)? Transformative fair use

The Second Circuit found on 11 October 2016 that verbatim use of the famous ‘Who’s on First’ Abbott and Costello routine in the Hand to God play was not transformative enough to be fair use. The Second Circuit nevertheless affirmed the dismissal of the lower judgment as Plaintiffs did not have a valid copyright interest in the routine. The case is TCA Television Corp. v. McCollum, No. 1:16-cv-0134 (2d Cir. Oct. 11, 2016).

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William ‘Bud’ Abbott and Lou Costello formed a comedy duo which was popular in the thirties and forties. Who’s on First is one their most famous routines, where Abbott plays the manager of a baseball team which Costello just joined. The newbie wants to know the name of his fellow players and the manager obliges: they are “Who,” “What,” and “I Don’t Know.” Misunderstandings ensue, fired up at a rapid pace. The routine was named “Best comedy routine of the 20th Century” by Time magazine in 1999.

The play Hand to God, written by Robert Askins, was shown off-Broadway in 2011 at The Ensemble Studio Theatre, and has since been shown on Broadway and in London. The play is about Jason, an introverted young man from a small Texas town who participates in his church’s “Christian Puppet Ministry,” a sock puppet show. Tyrone, Jason’s sock puppet takes a life on its own and blurts out embarrassing facts, maybe because it is an incarnation of the devil, maybe because Jason uses him to say what he truly thinks. Jason recites Who’s on First, with Tyrone as his partner, to a young woman in order impress her, and then pretends that he is the one who came up with the routine. Tyrone then calls him a liar and tells the girl she is stupid for believing that Jason indeed created the routine. An excerpt of that scene was used in a promotional video for the play.

When Abbott and Costello’s heirs learned about this use, they filed a copyright infringement suit against the Ensemble Studio Theatre and the playwright in the Southern District of New York (SDNY). Defendants conceded that they had used part of the routine, but argued in defense that is was “part of a sophisticated artistic expression” and also that Plaintiffs do not own a valid copyright in the routine.

On December 17, 2015, Judge Daniels from the SDNY dismissed the copyright infringement suit brought by Plaintiffs because, while Plaintiffs had indeed established a continuous chain of title in the copyright, use of the routine by Defendants was fair use. Plaintiffs appealed.

The use of the routine is not protected by fair use

Plaintiffs had argued that the play had not added anything new to the original routine as Jason merely recited it without transforming it, and that therefore is was not fair use. The Second Circuit agreed.

When examining whether a particular use of a work protected by copyright is fair, courts use the four factors enumerated by Section 107 of the Copyright Act: the purpose and character of the use, the nature of the copyrighted work, the amount and substantiality of the portion used and the effect of the use on the market.

Judge Daniels had found, when examining the purpose and the character of the use of the routine in the play, that it was transformative enough to be fair use. He had cited the Second Circuit Cariou v. Prince case, where the Court had found that Richard Prince’s use of Cariou’s photographs to create new works was transformative enough to be fair use because Prince had “employ[ed] new aesthetics with creative and communicative results distinct from Cariou’s” and also had incorporated “new expression” in his works.

For Judge Daniels, “the performance through the anti-hero puppet… create[d] new aesthetics and understandings about the relationship between horror and comedy that are absent from Abbott and Costello’s… routine.” He further explained that “[t]he contrast between Jason’s s seemingly soft-spoken personality and the actual outrageousness of his inner nature, which he expresses through the sock puppet, is, among other things, a darkly comedic critique of the social norms governing a small town in the Bible Belt.”

The Second Circuit found this reasoning to be “flawed in what it identifies are the general artistic and critical purpose and character of the [p]lay” and that the court did not explain how “extensive copying of [the] routine was necessary to this purpose.” Section 107 enumerates the uses which are fair: criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship and research. For the Second Circuit, the use of the routine “does not appear to fit within any of these statutory categories.”

Even though the Second Circuit had held in Cariou that it is not essential that a use comments on the original work to be transformative, it also held that a use is transformative only if it alters the original work with “new expression, meaning, or message.” For the Second Circuit, this was not the case as the routine had not been altered in the play, but used for what it is, a famous classic routine, instantly recognizable by the audience. The Court quoted its own On Davis v. Gap, Inc. case which explained that a use is not transformative if it used the original “in the manner it was made to be” used. The Court pointed out that it was necessary that the routine is not altered, so that the audience can recognize it and laugh when Jason pretends he created it. For the Second Circuit, the use of the routine is  a mere “McGuffin,” an event which sets the plot, in that case informing the audience that Tyrone the sock puppet can speak unprompted and has a foul mouth. However, not “any new dramatic purpose justif[ied] [d]efendants’ extensive copying of the [r]outine.” As the use was not transformative, the purpose and character of the use factor weighed in Plaintiff’s favor.

The Court also found that the nature of the work factor weighed in favor of Plaintiffs, as the routine was created to entertain the public, and thus is “at the heart of copyright’s intended protection.” It dismissed Defendants’ argument that use of the routine was justified by the need to use “an instantly recognizable “cultural” touchstone in the relevant scene” because Defendants could have used another cultural touchstone, such as “inventing the Internet” or “out-swimming Michael Phelps.” These examples are not convincing as they are not examples of cultural touchstones performed by a duo, a format which was needed in a play about a man and his evil sock puppet.

The amount and substantiality of the use factor weighted “strongly” in favor of Plaintiffs as the copying of the original work was “substantial” and because, while even a substantial use can be fair use “if justified,” it was not the case here. The fourth factor, the effect on the potential market, also did weigh in favor of Plaintiffs because there is a licensing market for the routine.

However, even though all of the fair use factors weighed in favor of Plaintiffs, the Second Circuit nevertheless affirmed the dismissal of the case because Plaintiffs failed to prove they own a valid copyright in the routine.

Plaintiffs do not own the copyright in Who’s on First

Judge Daniels had found that Plaintiffs had proven a continuous chain of title in the copyright of the routine, but the Second Circuit disagreed.
The routine was first performed in 1938 on the radio. It was also performed by Abbot and Costello in their 1940 One Night in the Tropics movie (Tropics) and in 1945 in their Naughty Nineties movie. As both the routine and the two movies were created before January 1, 1978, date of the entry into force of the 1976 Copyright Act, they are subject to the 1909 Copyright Act, which only protects published or registered works. A work was protected for twenty-eight years under the 1909 Copyright Act, if it was published with the required copyright notice. However, public performance of a work was not a publication under the 1909 Copyright Act, Silverman v. CBS Inc. (SDNY 1986), and therefore the routine was not first published in 1938, but in 1940. Unpublished and unregistered works were protected indefinitely by common law, but became automatically protected by copyright on January 1, 1978.

In November 1940, Abbot and Costello allegedly assigned their rights in the routine as performed in the two movies to Universal Pictures Company (UPC), which registered the copyright of Tropics in 1940 and of The Naughty Nineties in 1945, and timely renewed both copyrights. As the common law copyright of the routine as first performed in 1938 was never assigned, Abbot and Costello had retained it. They registered a copyright for “Abbott and Costello Baseball Routine” in 1944, but did not renew it and thus the work is in the public domain since 1972.

Plaintiff did not rely on the 1944 registration to claim they own the copyright, but rather in an agreement made in 1984 where UPC quitclaimed all of its rights in the performance of the routine to Abbott &Costello Enterprises (ACE), a general partnership formed by the comedians’ heirs. ACE was later dissolved and copyrights’ ownership were divided among Abbot and Costello heirs.

Defendants had argued that the routine was in the public domain because only Abbott and Costello could have renewed the copyright of the movies, but Plaintiffs argued that UPC had the authority to do it because the comedians had assigned ownership of their common law copyright in the routine to UPC, the routine had merged into Tropics, and the copyright was transferred to ACE by the quitclaim.

For Judge Daniels, the 1940 registration of the One Night movie by UPC in 1940 “extinguished whatever common law copyright Abbott and Costello had in the unpublished version of the [r]outine.” However, the Second Circuit found that Abbott and Costello had merely intended to license the use of the routine to UPC, not to assign their common law copyright in it. The Second Circuit did not interpret the agreement as being a work-for-hire agreement either, because the routine had already been created in 1938 and thus could not have been created at UPC’s “instance and expense” as required it to be a work for hire, Playboy Enters., v. Dumas (2d Cir. 1995). The routine had not merged in the movies either, as “authors of freestanding works that are incorporated into a film… may copyright these ‘separate and independent works’”, 16 Casa Duse, LLC v. Merkin (2d Cir. 2015) and the routine is such a freestanding work.

Image is courtesy of Flickr user Jinx! under a CC BY 2.0 license.

This article was first published on the TTLF Newsletter on Transatlantic Antitrust and IPR Developments published by the Stanford-Vienna Transatlantic Technology Law Forum.

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Corporations Have No Moral Rights over Works in France, Even if They Commissioned It

The French Cour de cassation, France’s highest judiciary court, held on November 16 that a corporation cannot have moral rights over a work, even if it had commissioned the work or if the work was created by one of its employees.

Article L. 111-1 of the French intellectual property Code (CPI) gives authors both patrimonial and moral rights. Moral rights, which are perpetual, inalienable and imprescriptible, are the right of respect for the author’s name and status, and the right of the respect of the integrity of the work.

In this case, an advertising agency, which rights now belongs to the Maetva corporation, had commissioned a corporation, G. studio, to take photographs of watches to illustrate a catalog published by the Pierre L. corporation, a watchmaker.5802530663_45c7b853d7_z

The Pierre L.corporation used these photographs a year later for a new advertising campaign, which was featured on bus stops, magazines and online. G. studio found this new use to be infringing, as it claimed that it had only sold the rights in the photographs for their use in the catalog. G. studio sued the Pierre L. corporation for copyright infringement and Pierre L. called Maetva into the proceedings.

As you can see, no physical person is part of the procedure, only corporations. The issue of which corporation owned the patrimonial rights of the photographs was debated in the lower courts, and the Court of appeals found that they belonged to G. studio, as did thus, necessarily, the moral rights.

The Cour de cassation refused to rule on the issue of patrimonial rights, arguing that reviewing them would impinge on the exclusive rights of the lower courts to estimate the amount of prejudice. However, it ruled on the issue of moral rights ownership. For the Court, the author, if the author is a physical person, enjoys an inalienable right to respect for his name, his quality and his work. Therefore, even if the author created the work as part of an employment contract, “neither the existence of a contract of employment nor ownership of the material support of the work are likely to confer on the corporation employing the author the enjoyment of that right.” The Cour de cassation did not send the case back to the Court of appeals for remand, as there is no need to estimate the amount in damages for violation of the moral rights, as these rights simply do not belong to G. studio.

Corporations cannot own the moral rights of a work under French law, even if they commissioned it, even if the work was created by an employee, and even if they own the patrimonial rights. The moral rights to the photographs at stake belong to the physical person who took them: whoever she is, she was not a party to this lawsuit. For the sake of this discussion, let’s add that if is true that the photographs were used without mentioning her name, she would have the right to sue Pierre L. for failing to disclose her name, as this is a violation of her moral right to paternity of a work.

Even if the photographer had signed a contract transferring all her rights to the pictures, the contract could not have transferred her moral rights, even if the contract would have explicitly, but illegally, mentioned them as being ceded, because moral rights cannot be transferred under French law.
This case should serve as a warning for corporations acquiring the patrimonial rights of a work in a country which recognizes perpetual and inalienable moral tights, such as France, that the physical person who took the picture retains his moral rights forever. This is the case even if the law of the contract is the law of a country which does not recognize such rights, as in the U.S.; see for instance Paris Court of appeals, February 1, 1989, (D. 1990. 52).

Image is courtesy of Flickr user JBBrazito under a CC BY 2.0 license.

This blog post was first published on The 1709 Blog.

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