Archive for the 'Intellectual Property' Category

Net Neutrality: Is This the End?

Towards the end of last month, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai began to take steps to block elements of an order from Obama administration dealing with privacy and net neutrality–the effects of which were set to take effect at the beginning of this month.  Since then, with many already sounding the death knell for net neutrality, the FCC has softened its stance slightly but many remain concerned about the future of net neutrality as a policy as Mr. Pai continues to take steps with the potential to weaken the steps the Obama administration took.

We’ve explored the Obama administrations strides in strengthening net neutrality and an open internet in the past–from the FCC’s Open Internet Order in February of 2015 to last October’s vote limiting the amount of information, types of information and manner in which your internet service provider (ISP) can mine your personal data.  Both of these changes were opposed by Mr. Pai when they were introduced.

Since the advent of the Trump Administration, and the appointment of Mr. Pai, there has been a notable pivoting towards deregulation of ISPs.  With this mind, let’s take a look at what the regulations being affected do, and what their likely future will be.

The FCC’s Approach to Net Neutrality and What it Means?

The Open Internet Order is almost certainly the single most substantial advancement towards net neutrality our government has taken in a decade–finally providing a means of actually enforcing net neutrality as a concept.  Net neutrality, for those unfamiliar with the term, is the concept that internet providers should treat all data on the internet equally—regardless of source.  All information passing through broadband networks and backbone networks should be given equal priority to the extent possible without effecting function.  For instance, text on a website can have data packets arrive in any order while video and audio must arrive in a specific order and in a timely fashion to function—net neutrality doesn’t require companies to ignore the concerns of functionality.

net neutralityWhat net neutrality does is prevent blocking of content, throttling content (intentionally slowing down some content or speeds up others), and paid prioritization where some services are stuck in a “slow lane” because they do not pay a special fee. Essentially, it keeps ISPs in the business of charging users for internet connection as opposed to charging edge providers for users while the people buying internet service from them suffer.

The Open Internet Order, a 183-page behemoth, changed the classification of ISPs to that of a public utility such as telephone services–often known as common carrier status.  It also sets forth five rules that ISPs must abide by:

  1. ISPs “may not block access to legal content, applications, services, or nonharmful devices.” In other words, ISPs can’t block access of any legal user to any legal website.
  2. ISPs can’t throttle, or slow down, the delivery of any legal internet traffic.
  3. ISPs can’t make a company pay to give its data packets priority delivery or prioritize the delivery of data from their own services.
  4. ISPs can’t adopt practices which would harm consumers or people providing services on the internet.
  5. ISPs must offer transparent specifics on how they run their broadband networks.

The policy also provides for an exception for reasonable management of a broadband network. ISPs are allowed to prioritize data so as to keep things running smoothly, but cannot use this for their own commercial advantage.

Getting to this point, however, was quite an uphill battle, both in the courts and within the FCC itself. The FCC initially proposed much weaker regulations.  However, the combination of a call from then-President Obama for stronger rules, 4 million comments filed with the FCC, and protesters who went so far as to sit in the FCC Chairman’s driveway and demand a stronger policy, all came together to convince the FCC to pass the final version of the Open Internet Order.

This progress seemed to come to a standstill after a February 24th statement from the FCC declaring that Mr. Pai had taken steps to block the privacy rules mentioned above–changes which were set to go into effect at the beginning of this month.  This statement was widely taken as a first step towards rolling back the clock on net neutrality and common carrier status for ISPs–many speculated an ultimate goal of deregulating the market as much as possible.  Indeed, the language of the statement included commentary noting that Mr. Pai intended to “harmonize the FCC’s privacy rules for broadband providers with the [Federal Trade Commission]’s standards for others in the digital economy.”  This was taken as an implication that Pai aimed to remove common carrier status from ISPs–treat them the same as others in the digital economy.  This would basically neuter the Open Internet Act by undermining the legal premise on which it applies authority to ISPs in the first place.

The Future for Net Neutrality

The fears of those in support of net neutrality, an end to net neutrality as a concept, does not appear to be in the cards at this point.  Instead the likely outcome, based on the comments coming out of the FCC and those reporting on the FCC, is a substantial weakening of the Open Internet Order.

It is still unclear exactly what form this would take.  However, it has been implied that it would likely to see changes allowing ISPs to prioritize data in certain situations–basically creating carveouts to the general rule.  There’s no particular indication as to what these carveouts might include, but it is easy to imagine a situation where exceptions could swallow the rule.

A large part of why Mr. Pai is likely to take this approach is that the Open Internet Order is already final and has endured the rigors of fierce court challenges; precedent is on its side.  This means that just killing the rule would be fairly difficult for the FCC.  If the rule was to be fully stripped away, it would most likely involve an act of Congress explicitly doing so.  However, Congress and the Trump administration do not seem to be making such legislation a priority.

The argument against net neutrality and the Open Internet Order has always been that it takes away ISP’s motivation to improve the speed and capacity of their networks–although precious little evidence of this has actually been produced.  Frankly, the dangers of allowing ISPs to control access on the internet seem far greater.  The Open Internet Order doesn’t seem to be on the chopping block, but we’ll have to see if what we’re left of the Open Internet Order will actually accomplish what it set out to do.

President Trump Strips Privacy for Non-Citizens

With the furor over President Trump’s immigration ban reaching fever pitch around the nation, conversation around his many other executive orders has died down substantially–especially considering how many we’ve seen in the last few weeks.  However, these many orders have ushered in sweeping changes.  Among these changes, buried in one of these many orders, is a drastic change from recent years in how the protections of the Privacy Act apply to immigrants, refugees, and those abroad.

On January 25th, Trump issued an executive order titled “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States.”  The order is primarily focused on changing policies as to how immigration laws would be enforced.  However, embedded within the order was a section which strips many of privacy rights.

Section 14 of the order, titled “Privacy Act,” reads as follows: “Agencies shall, to the extent consistent with applicable law, ensure that their privacy policies exclude persons who are not United States citizens or lawful permanent residents from the protections of the Privacy Act regarding personally identifiable information.”

The changes have the potential to remove privacy protections from not only green card, visa holders, and would be immigrants–but also citizens of every other county.  Thus, this order has led to serious concerns both in terms of the dangers created for some by this loss of rights and the potential to shatter treaty agreements with the EU undermine companies big and small doing business abroad that requires data collection.  In order to explore both these concerns, let’s first look at privacy rights and what exactly the Privacy Act itself does.

PrivacyUnderstanding the Privacy Act and Privacy Rights

The Supreme Court has ruled that the constitutional right to privacy is implied through a combination of the 1st and 14th Amendments.  However, the exact breadth of this right is a bit more amorphous.  The privacy rights you have are mostly a product of combination of federal statutes and state law–most notably in Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Montana, South Carolina and Washington where the right to privacy is guaranteed by the state constitutions.  Among the federal statutes guaranteeing privacy rights, the U.S. Privacy Act of 1974 provides some of the broadest protections.

The Privacy Act prevents government agencies from disclosing personally identifiable information about U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents without the consent of the person whose information they are disclosing.  Personally identifiable information is a concept which has seen many different definitions under the law.  However, here it can be understood to refer to information that, alone or in conjunction with other information, could be used to contact, identify, or find any given person.  The Privacy Act also allows a person to request access to information on them and request corrections to any mistakes.  There are a number of (occasionally quite broad) exceptions to these protections such as when the information is disclosed for law enforcement purposes, national security purposes, census taking, or congressional investigations.

While the Privacy Act doesn’t require the inclusion of people other than U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents, since 2007 it has been the policy of the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies to extend its protections more broadly and include non-citizens.   In 2014, a policy directive signed by President Obama also imposed limits on the ability of U.S. agencies to use intelligence collected in bulk “whatever their nationality and regardless of where they may reside.”  Trump’s order rolls back the clock on these changes–and governments abroad have taken notice.

Privacy Shield: Potential Problems for Businesses Big and Small?

Among the governments keeping an eye on our changes in privacy policy, the EU is certainly going to be keeping a particularly close eye.  This is because, in the wake of the Edward Snowden leaks and many complaints to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) of privacy violations by companies such as Facebook, the ECJ decided in 2015 that the Safe Harbor arrangement between the EU and US was no longer valid.  These Safe Harbor Privacy Principles allowed U.S. companies whose business involved storing the data of EU citizens to operate without fear of lawsuit so long as they enacted policies complying with the principles.  Without these protections, over 1,500 businesses–including many of our largest tech giants–were left in legal limbo.

With so many businesses and so many jobs at risk, the U.S. was quick to begin negotiations to establish a new agreement setting up a framework of privacy policies within the U.S. that could restore the protections the Safe Harbor Privacy Principles provided.  Last year, these negotiations finally culminated into an agreement known as the EU-US Privacy Shield.

The Privacy Shield hinges on agreements by the U.S. to provide a certain level of privacy protection to EU citizens.  Trump’s order would, at least at first glance, remove these protections–at least when it comes to the Privacy Act.  This has understandably led to concern and outcry from businesses worried that order has, in its haste, torpedoed the Privacy Shield and their businesses along with it.

Fortunately, this is not the case.  The reason being that the order acts “consistent with applicable law;” as it must because executive orders do not have the power to overturn laws enacted by Congress.  When it comes to the Privacy Shield, that applicable law is the Judicial Redress Act.  This Act specifically extends the protections of the Privacy act to citizens of 26 countries, including the EU, and provides access to U.S. courts should they need to sue over any violations.  The order cut it close however–the protections of the Judicial Redress Act were signed into effect by the previous Attorney-General just three days before Trump took office and only truly became law on February 1st of this year.

EU officials have made statements announcing that the Privacy Shield is not affected by rights under the Privacy Act–instead relying on the Judicial Redress Act.  However, they have made it very clear that Trump’s executive order has raised alarm bells and that they will be keeping a close eye on how privacy rights develop within the U.S.  This means that, even though this particular order hasn’t set businesses adrift just yet, if your business operates internationally through the internet–specifically if it services EU citizens–it’s going to be very important to keep an eye for any developments when it come to Privacy Shield protections.

Dreamers in Danger

While the Privacy Shield may not be in danger, the order certainly strips privacy protections from many individuals.  In some cases, this loss of protection has created a particularly awful situation–the potential to turn a dream into a nightmare.

Dreamers is a term commonly used for those who would be granted citizenship under the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act or DREAM act.  The act, which would have provided a path to legal citizenship to younger illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as child, has been introduced in Congress several times but has never succeeded in becoming law.  However, in 2012, President Obama implemented the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program through a policy directive.  The directive allowed those who might have applied for citizenship under a DREAM act to instead apply for a stay on deportation.  The act also provided those who applied to receive a social security number and apply for a work visa.  Those who applied under the directive where called Dreamers and over 700,000 people benefitted from DACA.

However, applying for DACA requires an applicant to provide quite a bit of personal information–from addresses and phone numbers to what school the young person attends.  Under Trump’s executive order, all protections on this information have been stripped away.  Immigration and Customs Enforcement need only ask to access information provided in hopes of obtaining a visa and turn that information towards deporting those people.

Uncertain Orders Affecting Sweeping Areas of Law

President Trump’s order has, much like his immigration ban, applied broad strokes to complicated areas of law and left the public puzzling over its exact breadth and struggling to pick up the pieces.  For example, it’s still unclear whether this order is meant to revoke privacy rights for people around the country with dual citizenship.  As time passes, lawsuits will certainly develop to figure out the exact boundaries of this order.  However, for now, we are simply left to assume the broadest possible interpretation–stripping privacy rights from an enormous number of people–from foreign students to refugees to dreamers.

TPP: Trump Backs Out of the Trans-Pacific-Partnership

Trump is no stranger to making controversial headlines and his recent decision to withdraw the United States from the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement is no different.  Obama spent the last 7 years negotiating the deal, so the decision comes as a blow to those loyal to the Obama administration.

The agreement was designed with the hope of eventually creating a single market, which would be similar to that of the European Union.  Since Trump has pulled the U.S. out of the agreement, the TPP will be nearly impossible to ratify as is; the agreement required all 12 countries to ratify within a 2-year period.  For those nations wanting to renegotiate a trade deal without the U.S., other key players, such as Japan, say U.S. participation was the carrot on the stick.

What is the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement?

The TPP was a trade agreement between nations consisting of 40% of the world’s trade market: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam and the United States.

If you’re not familiar with trade agreements, they’re treaties between two or more nations agreeing on terms of trade between them.  These agreements are typically aimed at reducing or eliminating tariffs, quotas, and other trade restrictions.  The intention is to grow economies by increasing the trade of goods and services between the nations party to the agreement.

TPPOf course the TPP agreement focused on reducing tariffs, but it went beyond the standards of the World Trade Organization and focused on negotiating labor, environmental and intellectual property protections as well.  Here’s a few highlights of what the TPP would have done:

  • Trade barriers. The TPP agreement would have cut over 18,000 tariffs on all U.S. manufactured goods and farm products.  The agreement also would have mandated expedited customs procedures.
  • Environmental protection. The TPP is argued by some to be the most environmentally friendly trade deal ever negotiated, as the agreement requires signatories to commit to take appropriate measures to protect and conserve wildlife.
  • Good governance. The TPP agreement required all signatories to join the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, which is focused on criminalizing bribery of public officials and the general governance enforcing anti-corruption laws.
  • Intellectual property. The TPP would have required signatories to establish uniform standards for patentability and copyright
  • Labor standards. The agreement would have enforced obligations to protect the freedom to form unions, as well as enforce fair labor practices.
  • Investor-state arbitration. The TPP would have granted investors the right to sue foreign governments for violating the treaty.

The Good and the Bad

Of course there’s two sides to every story.  Critics of the TPP applauded Trump for withdrawing from the agreement, arguing withdrawing will bring jobs back to America.  Proponents of the TPP feel the withdrawal will give China more control over the Asian market.

Since tariffs would have been reduced on industrial goods, Japanese car companies such as Toyota and Honda would have had cheaper access to the U.S., while vehicles exported from the U.S. could have increased because of new access to markets such as Vietnam.  Cuts on poultry, beef, dairy, sugar, wine, rice and seafood would have benefited several agricultural companies.

International labor laws were negotiated as part of the agreement, which is a major benefit for less developed countries, however, many argue this would have resulted in job losses from developed countries like the U.S.  The agreement is said to not be favored by pharmaceutical companies because the intellectual property rights were too lenient.  Additionally, those against the agreement urge it would have driven up prescription costs and, thus, left many without the means to afford life-saving drugs.  Decreased global roaming charges seems like a great idea, however, this could lead to increased competition between telecommunication companies and end up resulting in higher prices for consumers.

What’s Next for the U.S. and Trade?

As part of his “America First” stance, Trump promised throughout his campaign to be more aggressive against foreign competitors and backing out of the TPP agreement draws a stark line.  This global cooperation attitude risks doing more harm than good.  There’s been threats of increasing tariffs up to 10% on all foreign imports, not to mention Trump’s most recent plan to tax Mexican imports 20% in order to pay for construction of the border wall, which risks starting a trade war with other countries that could ultimately result in a financial spike in consumer goods.

Trademark Name: Can Anyone Be a Kardashian?

In ridiculous but entertaining trademark news, last month the Kardashians filed documents in court trying to block Blac Chyna (real name Angela Renee) from filing a trademark on “Angela Renee Kardashian” as a brand name for her makeup line Lashed.  Ms. Renee is the significant other of Rob Kardashian–the brother of the trio of sisters–and first child.  The two have been discussing getting married, so she may well simply be trying to protect her future name but jumped the gun.

However, the Kardashian sisters’ filings vehemently opposed Ms. Renee receiving this trademark, alleging that they would suffer irreparable injury to their reputation and goodwill should the mark be allowed to move forward.  They further stated that they own and control the rights to the Kardashian brand and its associated marks–having invested a substantial amount of time and money into the name Kardashian.  What’s more, they argued that the public associates the name Kardashian strongly with the three sisters.  This makes sense, because a trademark is designed to distinguish a brand and is damaged where a similar mark may confuse the public as to the source or sponsorship of goods–a concept usually known as trademark infringement.

Understanding the Kardashian’s Claim

Kardashian Family TrademarkThe Kardashians are also not wrong about their assertions, they own trademarks on their name, are extremely famous and have all made businesses around their names–Khloemoney Inc., 2Die4Kourt, and Kimsaprincess Inc.  However, the initial opposition turned out to be a mistake and the sisters have since said that they will try to privately work out the details of using the Kardashian name with Ms. Renee.  Apparently, the lawyers for their businesses are in the practice of moving quickly to block any marks that may infringe on the Kardashian brand.

This is no surprise, protecting your trademark often necessitates vigilance and swift action.  Filing for a trademark is fairly easy–you simply file with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, pay a fee, and you’ll generally have a ruling on your mark in about half a year.  The majority of applications are approved, especially when the applicant is assisted by a trademark attorney.  Once somebody in the trademark office gives a mark the stamp of approval,  it is published that the mark has been approved there is a short 30-day period to file a notice of opposition to the mark before it takes effect.  An opposition notice is much less formal, and much cheaper, than bringing a suit to cancel a mark once it is already in effect–which you can do within five years of a trademark being granted.  Thus, it is often preferable to hire an attorney to keep an eye on trademarks being filed which might infringe your own mark and quickly respond. Generally, an opposition or cancellation action is brought where the mark is either invalid on its face (something that can happen for quite a number of reasons such as being so generic as to not serve to identify the brand) or where the mark damages the person bringing the action–usually by confusing the public.

Thus, it seems quite reasonable for the Kardashians’ lawyers to act as they did.  The Kardashian name is very well known and almost exclusively associated with the sisters’ family.  They have built up the name as a mark and most of the public think of them and their brands when they hear the word “Kardashian.”  However, the situation becomes a bit more complicated because the trademarks sought are a surname–a situation where special rules apply.  So how can you apply for a trademark on your own name or the names of others?

Name Calling: Trademarking First and Last Names

In order for a person’s name to receive a trademark, it has to have already become so distinctive in the eyes of the public.  So much so that hearing the name makes the average person think of the products or services offered by the person who’s name they’ve heard.  This is often too high of a bar for the average Jane or Joe off the street.  However, it’s simple enough to achieve for celebrities.  Thus, it’s fairly common for celebrities and star athletes to trademark their own names along with their personal brands–just like the Kardashian’s did.  Lebron James, Arnold Schwarzenegger and the King himself–Elvis Presley–have all done so in the past. This means that you may not be able to file a trademark on your own name if you share it with another particularly famous person–a situation most would consider fairly odd–and in fact it may be unlikely that you could receive trademark protection on your own name even if you wanted to.  However, many a businessman has made their name so famous as to receive protection from a trademark.  Some surnames have become such famous trademarks that you barely even consider that they were once the names of an individual–McDonalds probably being the most famous example.

The restriction also makes sense when you think about it.  Trademark law is designed to protect the public from confusion as to the source of a good by providing a protected indicator of the source of a good.  If nobody knows who you are, then your name doesn’t serve as a particularly good indicator for the average member of the public.

Applying for such a mark also carries its own special set of requirements, apart from those described above and those required by any other trademark applications.  When attempting to trademark somebody else’s name–whether first name, last name, or even a well-known nickname–it is required that you receive their written consent so long as they are living.  Even if they are dead, there are a number of issues with using a person’s name if they were famous in life–an issue of state by state right of publicity law which is its own can of worms too complicated to address in this article.  When filing a trademark on your own name, your consent is simply presumed for obvious reasons.

On the flip side of this, just because somebody else is trying to trademark your name you will not necessarily be able to stop them just because it is your name.  Unless your name is well-known enough, as discussed above, and famous enough in the same field as the mark you are challenging you are unlikely to get much traction. 

Even Though It’s Over, This Could Be an Ongoing Problem

So, if Blac Chyna’s trademark were not being resolved in private by the Kardashian sisters and Ms. Renee, would she succeed against the might of the Kardashian mark?  It’s hard to say with so little information before us.  However, while she may have the Kardashian name eventually, she certainly did not have it at the time she applied for her mark.  What’s more, even if she obtained written consent from her fiancé Robert Kardashian, it is unlikely that the public at large associates her products with the Kardashian brand.  Thus, if the sisters don’t want Ms. Renee to use their name on her products, they likely could dash her hopes–barring her from using the family name in business. 

Bieber and Usher “Usher” Out Copyright Claims

Many of the most famous musicians have faced high-profile copyright cases accusing them of stealing their music from another artist. From Led Zeppelin to the Beatles to Skrillex to the guy who wrote the Ghostbusters theme song, the list of musicians who’ve stared down a copyright infringement claim is a long on indeed,  In the last few years, Usher and Justin Bieber have been dealing with their own copyright infringement lawsuit.  The two were accused of stealing parts of their collaborative song “Somebody to Love” from an identically titled song written by two Virginia artists–Devin Copeland and Mareio Overton.

Understanding the Claim

Mr. Copeland and Mr. Overton wrote their own “Somebody to Love” back in 2008, two years before Usher and Bieber came out with their song in 2010 which then went on to peak at No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100.  Copeland and Overton argued that Bieber’s song’s chorus
was incredibly similar to their own work and demanded $10M from the two artists.  However, the courts disagreed.  The case was dismissed, sent back down for reconsideration after appeal and Bieber and Usher finally succeeded in having the copyright lawsuit against them dismissed once and for all just a few weeks ago. 

The court’s decision revolved around the inability of the plaintiffs to show that Justin Bieber had access to their song before he wrote his own version–a fundamental element of proving copying in a copyright infringement case.  However, in order to truly understand the ruling it is necessary to understand exactly how copying is shown when somebody is accused of infringement.

Justin Bieber Copyright Claims

How to Put the “Copy” in Copyright Infringement

In order to succeed in a copyright infringement case you have to establish that the person you’ve accused of infringement, lo and behold, copied your protected work.  This makes sense, if you can’t show that a defendant copied from you, then why are you in court?  However, the evidence required to show copying has two parts.  First, you need to show that the accused work is similar to yours.  If it isn’t, that’s not exactly a copy is it?  Second, you need to show that your defendant had access to your work.  Once again, if they never saw your work how could they have ripped you off?

So we have our two elements but, like most things in law, it’s more complicated than that.  The two elements, similarity and access, are analyzed on a sliding scale.  The more proof of similarity, the less evidence you need of access and vice versa.  To add one more wrinkle, it was established in a case against the late Michael Jackson (and reaffirmed when the Isley Boys later sued Michael Bolton) that if the two works are similar enough you don’t actually need any evidence of access because the court is willing to presume that a defendant copied your work if it’s similar enough to what you made originally.  This is a concept known in law as striking similarity, courts look to a number of things to decide if two works are this similar but common examples would be where your work had particularly unique qualities that were copied nearly verbatim or that you messed something up in your work and they were dumb enough to copy your error.

In Bieber’s case, Mr. Copeland and Mr. Overton tried to establish striking similarity–arguing that the chorus of their version of “Somebody to Love” had a near identical chorus to the one put out by Bieber and Usher.  Unfortunately for them, their judge didn’t agree.  Thus, while they could show some level of similarity, they were required to produce evidence that Bieber or Usher had actually listened to or been exposed to their 2008 song before they wrote their own version in 2010.

Access Hollywood: A Star-Studded History of How to Prove Access

Unlike similarity, no matter how evidence of access you have you always need to show at least a little bit of similarity.  Otherwise if enough people see your work, anything they made would be copyright infringement.  However, just like in the Bieber case, it is frequently a crucial sticking point in copyright cases as it can be hard to prove at times.  Over time, exactly what is acceptable as evidence of access has been refined–often in cases featuring some particularly famous names.

First and foremost, the evidence required is a sliding scale.  The more similar the works, the weaker the evidence of access that is required.  For instance, there have been cases where evidence as weak as the fact that a work was published to the internet–and the defendant had internet access–was enough.  Where a work is particularly famous and widely distributed, that can also be evidence enough to show access.  However, just a few years ago a case dealing with the script to the Matt Damon’s Sci-Fi movie Elysium established that, just because something is posted to the internet once, that doesn’t by itself show that a work was widely distributed and won’t always be enough evidence to establish access.  This served as a counter point to a lawsuit brought by the developers of Angry Birds, where being posted online and subsequently downloaded approximately a billion times was enough to show widespread distribution.

In the internet age, availability online is often central to establishing access.  However, the cases above leave you with the helpful understanding that a single post is generally not enough to show access but content posted and then downloaded a billion times is.  Just to fill in the small gaps in the middle there, a couple factors to think about are how often something is viewed or shared, how publicly available the internet content is, how popular the site the content was posted on is, and how high the content appears in search results.

Also important in understanding access is the fact that copying does not need to be done consciously.  This was established in a case brought against George Harrison of Beatles fame.  His song “My Sweet Lord” led to a lawsuit as it was nearly identical to another song called “He’s So Fine.”  Harrison admitted that he knew of the song and had heard of it, but said he just wasn’t thinking about it when he wrote his own song.  The court, in a nearly apologetic ruling against the rock star, said that just because you weren’t intentionally copying or thinking about the work at the time, the subconscious knowledge of the work through previous access is sufficient to show copying.  This was highlighted more recently when Marvin Gaye’s children sued Robin Thicke.  Thicke testified that he was so high while the song was written that he could not have possibly recalled Gaye’s work–although he did admit Gaye was an inspiration to him.  This was irrelevant to access. however, as the actual access itself was all the evidence needed. 

Finally, a particularly common type of confusion in access cases dealing with music deals with cases where an artist gave their song to music industry executive who works with an artist who later makes a similar song.  Unless there is actual evidence that the executive showed that song to the artist accused of infringement, a devilishly tricky thing to find, there’s generally not enough there to establish access.

Ultimately, Why the Case Failed

Mr. Overton and Mr. Copeland were trying to argue just that, saying that they had given their songs to music executives working alongside Bieber and Usher.  However, they couldn’t produce any evidence of those executives passing on anything to Usher or Bieber.  What’s more, their song wasn’t particularly widely distributed–either over radio, the internet, or other methods.  They were left in a situation where they couldn’t show that either singer had ever even heard of their work–and that killed their case.  Bieber and Usher claimed that their song was based on a November 2009 song by a woman named Heather Bright with which they had previously reached an agreement to use her work.  Overton and Copeland simply couldn’t prove otherwise.