The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) makes it illegal to circumvent technological measures used to prevent unauthorized access to copyrighted works. Certain activities and classes of works, however, are exempted from this prohibition. The exempted classes of works are determined by the U.S. Copyright Office every three years and remain in effect for the ensuing three-year period.
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that Google’s scanning of printed books and subsequent use of the resulting digital copies is fair use under the Copyright Act (17 U.S.C. § 107). Google was first sued by the Authors Guild a decade ago over its Library Project and Books Project, which involve scanning published works to create digital copies, making the text searchable, and displaying at least snippets of the work in connection with search results. The decision affirmed the lower court’s grant of summary judgment and focused on the transformative nature of Google’s use. The Second Circuit noted that Google’s use provides information about a book without being a substitute for the book itself. The decision may not be the final word in this case—the Authors Guild states on their website that they intend to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.
Bikram Choudhury, one of the most famous names in modern yoga, sought copyright protection in 2002 on a series of twenty-six yoga poses and two breathing exercises he developed and later called “the Sequence.” On October 8, 2015, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Sequence is not entitled to copyright protection because it is an “unprotectable idea.” The judges noted that the Sequence is akin to cooking recipes or surgical procedures. Accordingly, yoga studios that are not owned or operated by Choudhury are able to practice and teach the Sequence without concern for copyright infringement claims.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit this week issued a decision with implications for owners of music and audiovisual works. The court ruled that copyright owners first must assess whether a use of their content is in fact lawful “fair use” before sending a takedown notification under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Considering fair use involves a balancing of subjective factors, this newly-clarified requirement may make it logistically more difficult and time consuming for content owners to evaluate whether a use of their content discovered online qualify for takedown notices.
Prior to March 2, 2010, the law was well settled that in order to enforce a copyright in court, the party bringing the claim must have a registration. Copyright standing is governed by Section 411(a) of the Copyright Act of 1976, which states that “no civil action for infringement of the copyright in any United States work shall be instituted until preregistration or registration of the copyright claim has been made in accordance with this title.” Accordingly, copyright infringement lawsuits would be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction if the plaintiff did not have a registration.
In November 2013, a federal judge in the Southern District of New York dismissed a lawsuit against Google, Inc., finding that Google’s copying of print works in connection with its Google Books project represents fair use under 17 U.S.C. § 107. The Google Books project includes two main programs: a “partner” program, in which Google stores and displays material provided by book publishers or other rights holders, and a “library” project, in which Google digitizes the entire collection of a library to make its text available for search and other uses. Back in 2005, The Authors Guild, Inc., along with several individual authors, brought suit against Google for copyright infringement based on unauthorized copying that occurs in connection with the digitization of printed works. In the opinion, Circuit Judge Chin analyzed the alleged copyright infringement in view of several fair use factors laid out in § 107, including the purpose and character of the use of copyrighted material, the nature of the copyrighted work, the amount and substantiality of the portion used, and the effect of the use on the potential market for the work. Judge Chin found that the Google Books project provides many previously-unavailable benefits to the public without superseding or supplanting the books themselves, and therefore held that any copyright infringement associated with the program represents fair use under the law. This decision highlights the ever-changing landscape of fair use—and copyright law in general—in the digital age. Practitioners dealing with fair use and other copyright issues should be mindful of the dynamic landscape surrounding copyright and digital media.
Like everything else related to copyright in The Digital Millennium—which, let’s face it, we should start calling The Digital Eternity—the publishing concept of “out of print” (OOP) has been turned inside out (or maybe upside down, it is hard to say, maybe both).
The recent Supreme Court decision in Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons represents a significant victory for college students in their struggle with media companies over copyrighted media. In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court assented to college student Supap Kirtsaeng’s resale of textbooks in the United States that were bought in Thailand at low cost, reasoning that the Copyright Act does not create a right to divide foreign markets from domestic markets. Effectively, this decision establishes international copyright exhaustion, i.e., that the first sale of a copyrighted article, whether manufactured domestically or abroad, is sufficient to “exhaust” the copyright owner’s rights to that article.
OK, let's go over it again—just because you hire and pay someone to write something for you, or to design a logo or a website, or to paint a portrait of the family dog, it does NOT mean that you own the copyright in the writing, logo, or canine portrait. You DO OWN the physical object you paid for, but you CANNOT make copies of it.
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