Archive for the 'Intellectual Property' CategoryPage 2 of 10

Spotify: The Next Generation of (Legal) Online Music

Since the beginning of the Internet, people have been finding new and creative ways to play, buy, and steal music online.

SpotifyNapster pioneered the first mainstream pirating software, allowing users to swap individual Mp3s and malware over 1999 dial-up modems. However, the law quickly caught up with them when Metallica got angry and sued all of their fans for copyright infringement, and Napster eventually had to shut down that business model. So went the way of Kazaa and Limewire.

Next, websites like PirateBay introduced torrents, allowing users to download full high quality albums at faster speeds for a superior music stealing experience. However, this led to more legal battles, and even some international arrests. Still, the U.S. has had a hard time shutting down many of these oversea artist-starvers.

Somewhere along the way, iTunes began offering a legal alternative where users could download individual songs and albums for a small fee, though many still found this to be more expensive than music stealing.

Fortunately, today there is a new player on the block that delivers free music with all of the ethics of being a law-abiding citizen who compensates artists for their work. Meet Spotify.

What Is Spotify and How Is It Legal?
Spotify is the new music streaming software that allows users to play just about any song ever on their computer for free. For premium service (at $9.99 a month) users can even make and share playlists and stream music from their phones, cars, TVs, and other mobile devices without ads.

Spotify makes this all legal by contracting with countless record labels and artists for the rights to stream music in exchange for royalties.

Each month, Spotify takes in revenue from user fees and ads. Spotify then keeps 30% percent of the revenue for themselves and divvies up the remaining 70% to the record labels and artists.

The record labels and artists each receive a small portion of the distributed royalties based on the percentage of Spotify “plays” they received that month.

Thus, artists don’t earn a set fee per Spotify play. Rather, their total play-count is calculated as a percentage off all the plays on Spotify, which then determines their cut of the revenue.

For example, a band that receives .001% of all the Spotify plays in a month will receive .001% of the distributed royalties that month.

So Artists Are Making Lots of Money from Spotify?
Not really. Currently Spotify is not generating enough user revenue to offer very substantial royalty distributions. Further, most of the music on Spotify is contracted through record labels, so record labels are generally getting a large cut of the royalty distribution before the artists get anything.

However, with only 30 million users, Spotify has a lot of room to grow as people catch on. The more users Spotify has, the more revenue Spotify will generate, and the more artists will get paid. But, for now, you can at least enjoy free music without having to litigate Metallica.

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Christian Louboutin: Lawsuits for Fashion

The renowned fashion designer Christian Louboutin is one of the first people in the fashion industry to adamantly enforce his branding and designs rights. Although he is often disparaged for his extreme litigiousness, it’s a fact that he’s setting a precedent for the other fashion houses and revolutionizing the fashion industry.

Christian Louboutin LawsuitChristian Louboutin is the owner of all red sole shoes and he would like the world to know it. He first started making red sole shoes over 20 years ago when he painted red nail polish on the soles of a pair of shoes. He is not afraid to sue other shoemakers and to develop a reputation of being a vexatious litigant.

This ownership battle started in April 2011 when Louboutin sued Yves Saint Laurent (YSL) for trademark infringement of his red soles. The specific shoe in question is a pair of monochromatic red pumps. Although he filed for trademark protection in 2008, YSL questioned its legitimacy. After all, Louboutin claims he is the owner of the color red and that no other shoemaker is allowed to use red.

During this 18 months lawsuit, Louboutin stuck to his beliefs even after Judge Victor Merrero denied his request for a preliminary injunction to prevent YSL from selling those monochromatic red shoes. Luckily for Louboutin, the case eventually went up to the New York federal appeals court, and the judge stated that he did indeed have a valid trademark for red soles but with a contrasting upper only. Thus, Louboutin can prevent others from making shoes with a distinctive red sole only when the shoe is not entirely red.

Louboutin has subsequently brought a string of similar lawsuits—some successful, other’s not so much. Even if you view such litigation as unnecessary or ridiculous, he is making the point clear that fashion trademarks actually hold legal significance. Other fashion designers can review cases brought by Louboutin to learn how to protect their designs from infringement.

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Google Glasses Legal Issues

With the brave new frontier of Google Glasses just on the horizon, there are a lot of interesting legal issues that legislators and courts will need to address. Can the glasses be worn while driving? Will the glasses violate privacy rights? These and other pressing issues are addressed below.

google glassAccidents Caused by Distraction

One basic issue that will come with the widespread use of Google Glasses is accidents caused by Glassing on the move. Whether one is stuck in traffic during rush hour or zipping through city streets on a bike – Google Glass will be there to distract.

Most current traffic laws permit hands-free mobile device use for conversation and navigation, but may prohibit front-seat entertainment video screens visible to the driver. Here, Google Glass will be hands free for navigation purposes, but who knows what drivers will actually be watching.

To resolve this issue, state legislators could take measures to strictly ban all Google Glass use while driving cars, bikes, and other vehicles. Alternatively, perhaps Google can add a “drive-mode” feature that restricts Google Glass use to only permissible features while the user is driving.

In the meantime, anyone who falls victim to a Google Glasser on the road may be able to look up the driver’s Glass-history to find out what exactly they were watching at the time of the accident. This can help prove negligence and enforce safe Glass driving practices before the rest of the laws catch up.

Intellectual Property Issues

The next set of Google Glass woes may come to movie theaters, concert halls, and any other entities trying to protect their intellectual property rights. Here, Google Glasses will make it ever-easier to snap a photo or video with the wink of an eye and record copyrighted material or document a company’s trade secrets.

However, smart-phones have already leaked miniature cameras into every forum imaginable, and in some ways Google Glasses may be less discrete than a sneaked smart-phone camera. Expect to see Google-Glass prohibitions in most entertainment forums. Companies trying to protect trade secrets can certainly maintain policies prohibiting cameras in areas with secret documents.

Discoverable Evidence

Sometimes at trial an attorney may say something like, “unfortunately, unlike CSI we can’t just go back in time and watch a video of what actually happened.” With Google Glass, that may no longer be the case.

With millions of little video cameras wandering around the streets on people’s faces, it will become all the more likely that torts and crimes will be documented.

These videos and pictures may come from the victim, the perpetrator, or a passerby. So, if you happen to witness an accident with your Google Glasses on, don’t be surprised if you receive a discovery request from an attorney requiring you to hand-over all of your Google Glass data related to the incident.

Reasonable Expectation of Privacy

On the one hand, the increased documentation of events will help courts solve crimes and reach just outcomes. However, what affect will this have on our privacy rights?

The Fourth Amendment protects all persons from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. A search is considered unreasonable if it violates a person’s reasonable expectation of privacy. For example, a Federal Judge recently ruled that the NSA violated reasonable expectations of privacy by intercepting private phone records.

However, what happens to one’s reasonable expectation of privacy if we can reasonably expect everything we do to be documented by Google Glass. As our privacy expectations decrease, will police ability to reasonably document citizen activity increase?

Further, with face recognition technologies, will police be able to scan the streets with Google Glasses and pick up anyone with outstanding warrants or unpaid parking tickets?

Time will tell how legislators and courts respond to the tough legal questions raised by these brave new technologies. However, undoubtedly, any solutions reached will only be muddled by whatever must-have cyborg technology Google has in store for us next.

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Free “Happy Birthday to You” From Corporate Copyright

Picture this: You’re watching a movie and it’s the hero’s birthday. His friends throw a surprise party and everyone at the party sings “Happy Birthday to You” when they pop out. The moviemakers must have had a large budget, because it costs $1500 just to use the song “Happy Birthday” in a movie.

Warner Music has held the copyright to the song “Happy Birthday to You” since 1988, after acquiring the song from the previous copyright holder, Birch Tree Group Limited.  Warner Must has collected royalties on the public use of “Happy Birthday” since the day the company received the rights to the song. In 2008 alone, Warner Must made $2 million in licensing fees for “Happy Birthday.”

Happy Birthday to YouWarner Music’s copyright over the song is not expected to end until 2030, but a new case may curtail the copyright sooner than the company thinks it will. On June 13th, a documentary filmmaker named Jennifer Nelson filed suit in federal court in order to recover her licensing fee, as well as the royalties collected from other filmmakers since 2009.

So what does this battle between filmmakers and a multi-million dollar corporation mean for everyone else? If Warner Music is allowed to keep its copyright of the song, the current state of affairs remains the same. Warner Music can collect a licensing fee for public use of the music it owns, although private renditions of the song (i.e. between friends and family) are not subject to such fees. If the film makers win, “Happy Birthday,” and songs with similar history, would be open to public use without any individual ownership over them.

If this copyright debate is distilled down to its most essential elements, it’s a question of individual rights against community use of a property. Warner Music, the individual, has the right to exercise its ownership over its property. This includes the right to not use the property other than to collect money from lending the property off to others; collecting licensing fees is not different from collecting rent. For Warner Music, the lawsuit is not only a tremendous loss of revenue, but also a violation of its right to control property.

On the other hand, the community has the right to use the property that is thought to be owned by everyone. Music in the public domain is like air; it is available to everyone and no one can claim control over it. By holding on to its copyright and not doing anything with the song other than collect money, Warner Music is selfishly inhibiting the use of a popular song used and widely recognized by the community.

How do we resolve this dispute of rights? The easiest solution is to look at the Constitution. The right to hold intellectual property is controlled by Congress, which has been given the authority to “promote the progress of Science and useful arts” by the Constitution. The Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA), the law which gives copyrights a lifespan after the death of the original authors, has been ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court. Still, it would be absurd for individual cases to obey an ordinary statute but break the Constitutional provision which the statute derives its authority from.

Warner Music’s copyright holding of “Happy Birthday” violates the spirit of the Constitution, even if it meets the statute passed by Congress. The goal of the Constitution is to “promote the progress” of art, including music. Warner Music is purposely hindering the use of music. Charging $1500 (or more!) for the public use of a commonly recognized song has prevented more than one film from being aired, such as the documentary Eyes on the Prize. Warner Music has done nothing with the song to justify this private condemnation of the song.

Indeed, Warner Music’s use of the song vindicates the critics of the Copyright Term Extension Act, since Warner Music uses “Happy Birthday” as a means of collecting millions of dollars even though Warner Music wasn’t the original creator. Warner Music wasn’t even the original publisher, but Warner Music derives substantial benefits from the song as though it were. In short, the CTEA has allowed Warner Music to use the song as a form of corporate welfare. The Constitution gave Congress the power to promote the progress of the arts, not the progress of corporations.

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Do We Have the Right to Be Forgotten?

The Boston Marathon Bombing unfolded like the latest Batman movies. Real life was eerily similar to the plot of those movies.  It wasn’t just the explosions or the long manhunt or the lock-down of an entire city. Watching people online accuse others of being part of the bombings gave credibility to the Joker’s claim that “people are only as good as the world allows them to be.”

The most prominent example was the story of Sunil Tripathi. Tripathi was a student at Brown University until he disappeared last March. After the bomb attacks devastated Massachusetts, websites such as began “looking” for the culprits. Reddit users pointed fingers at Tripathi, but as of late April, police believe that Tripathi’s body has been in a river for some time.

Reddit has since apologized to Tripathi’s family, but other individuals had been falsely accused as well.  Although the terror of the bombing has since faded, the underlying issues have existed for awhile and will continue to exist into the future. Those falsely accused of the Boston Bombing could bring a libel or slander lawsuit if they suffered any harm, but the larger problem of people being involved in legal problems and then having that information persist forever on the internet is not so easily addressed.

computer delete buttonFor example, a person could be arrested for possession of marijuana, but then have the charge dismissed. Although the public record can be expunged, this doesn’t apply to the internet. Employers, landlords, and the public in general could see “facts” which are legally non-existent. Libel laws cannot cover these types of cases because the information is often true, and truth is the best defense to libel. The information, however, will often prevent their subjects from getting a job or getting a room to live in. This problem is most common in criminal law, but the internet could have a chilling effect across multiple fields of law.

These privacy concerns are difficult to address since there are number of other interests that must balanced against it. First, the legal system has to be transparent. If lawsuits were not in public records, corruption would be a larger problem than it is right now. Second, free speech and free press are essential rights which cannot be sacrificed. Third, with regards to employers and landlords especially, they have the right to operate their business as they please, and a successful business involves researching and choosing good employees or tenants.

How, then, should we address these privacy concerns? Some people might not see an issue at all. Actions have consequences, and adults have to live with the consequences of those actions.  As an internet writer, I have to accept that my opinions won’t always be liked or accepted, and my writing might result in certain opportunities being closed to me in the future. The fact that plaintiffs might have to think before filing a lawsuit, or that defendants might want to consult an attorney before taking an action, is something that the law should consider promoting. People who support transparency over privacy would say that the internet might turn everyone into a public figure, but the status quo is hardly a nightmarish dystopia.

The opposite approach is taking form in Europe. Most European countries don’t have the same robust right to free speech that the United States has, so the “right to be forgotten” has gained far more traction across the Atlantic. This right includes the consumer’s right not to have information sold to the highest bidding advertiser (Facebook is notorious for this). The most extreme application of this right would be the ability to request that some writing, picture or video be permanently removed from a site.

Although censorship is not an exercise that the United States can take part in, requiring major news organizations, social networks, and search engines to update previous stories with the most relevant and up to date information could serve our needs for privacy while maintaining transparency. Deleting information is dangerous, as indicated by the fact that editing photos was a favored tactic of Joseph Stalin to rid himself of political opponents. Combating bad information with up to date information, however, seems like a method more in keeping with American tradition.

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