Monday, June 24, 2019

Does Publisher of Letter Hold Copyright?

Dear Rich: I am trying to get permission to reprint a letter in a forthcoming book that will be a collection of letters. One letter has previously been published in a "Selected letters of ..." book. The copyright page lists the editor as the copyright holder. I learned that he has recently died so I approached the publisher who took a while to reply. I contacted the estate of the letter writer and they quickly granted permission. Now the publisher has replied and claimed they hold the copyright and have requested a much higher fee. Any advice on how I should proceed with this? 
We see you have a UK email address. US and UK copyright laws are similar in many (but not all) ways. Under US law, the letter writer holds the copyright (and the rule is the same in the UK). So, unless the letter writer (or estate) assigned the copyright to the editor or publisher, they (editor/publisher) don't control copyright. Our guess is that the editor/publisher acquired a compilation copyright that gives them the right to prevent someone from compiling a similar collection. If that's the case, you don't need their authorization to use the letter. One way to force the issue is to write to the publisher and ask to see proof of ownership -- a document transferring rights from the letter writer to the publisher. If they balk, it's likely they are mistaken about the rights.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Wants to Use Netflix Series for Language Course

Dear Rich: I am starting a language coaching business, and I would like to create a language class and discussion group around a foreign language Netflix show. The participants would watch the show on their own via their own Netflix account. I would create quizzes, character descriptions and discussion questions around the show. Are there any legal concerns with this idea in general?  Would it be OK to mention the show by name in my ads/promotions for this class? And is there anything I can't/shouldn't do in my promotional materials? (I'm assuming using the show's logo/images is not OK.)
From the Sopranos to Star Wars, TV and movie companies have tolerated and even encouraged courses built around their shows. On the one hand, these companies welcome the publicity but on the other, they're vigilant about fans who borrow too much from the show and commit copyright or trademark infringement (as did the authors of "guides" to Seinfeld and Twin Peaks).
What can you do? Although some course creators freely use logos and imagery, you'll lower your risk of being hassled by not reproducing them. You can include the name of the show in your materials, but you should also include a prominent disclaimer, such  as, "THIS COURSE IS NOT AFFILIATED WITH, OR ENDORSED BY NETFLIX OR THE PRODUCERS OF [NAME OF SHOW]" (See section 1(a)(ii) of this Godzilla case for an example of an ineffective disclaimer.) One thing that's in your favor from a copyright point-of-view is that you're using the show for a different purpose -- teaching a foreign language -- than the show was intended. That may bolster your claim of fair use. Finally, Netflix appears open to educational uses, so you may want to pursue permissions, but beware that by asking them for permission, you would be alerting the people who, for whatever reason, may try to shut you down.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

My Cover Letter Was Copied for Job Ad!

Dear Rich: I applied to (and interviewed for) a job. Apparently, they were so taken by the prose in my cover letter that they decided to rip off two very specific, idiosyncratic sentences. They incorporated this text into a recent re-posting of the same position advertised on a major employment search engine. So, in essence, I told them in my own words how I'd be a fit for the position, and they subsequently used those exact words to advertise the position. Does sending a cover letter amount to publication? If so, are statutory damages impossible to obtain? 
We can't imagine fighting a lawsuit over your cover letter, but it helps to imagine what would happen in federal court before confronting the employer. Let’s assume that your cover letter meets copyright standards and that your claim is not fair use. Let’s also assume that your case isn’t dismissed as “de minimis” and that your cover letter was infringed (not merely plagiarized). Finally, let's assume that you qualified for statutory damages by making a timely registration* -- that is, you don't have the burden of proving actual damages. Even assuming you could jump through all these hoops, you will still have a difficult time showing you were injured or that the employer profited from the misappropriation. A judge, with the discretion to award $750 to $30,000 per infringement for statutory damages, is likely to award on the low end (especially if the judge concludes that your claim is trivial). Even an award of $1500 would be minuscule compared to the tens of thousands in fees for fighting the lawsuit, making the pursuit of a copyright infringement claim a lose-lose situation.
What about the DMCA route? If your goal is to simply get the employer to stop using your work, we suggest starting with a letter. If that fails, you may pursue the DMCA route (though we don't recommend it). Here's a template for a DMCA notice. Two things to keep in mind: you must consider whether the copying is a fair use before sending the notice; and if the employer rejects your notice and files a counter-notice, then your only option is to pursue a lawsuit (which would be a bad idea as described above). We know you're offended by this company's shameless borrowing from your letter, but lacking any provable injury, we'd suggest you drop your pursuit.

*we consider your cover letter "unpublished," as you've distributed the letter to a select and limited number of people, not to the public.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Does "No Renewal" Equal Public Domain?

Dear Rich: I am an independent director/producer and I have a book and movie that I would like to remake into new films and I'm running into deadness on both fronts. The book is a sci-fi thriller from 1968 and the author died in the early '70s. The publisher is no longer around, and I have only found registration for the original 1968 copyright to the book.  I looked 28 years later and there is no renewal. There are renewals for other titles from the same author made by a woman with same last name (presumably a member of the family). She didn't renew any of his sci-fi pulp novels though. On the other end, I have a low budget war movie from 1958, the director has passed, all the actors have passed and the company dead ends after it's been bought and passed along multiple times. 
Works published after 1963 did not need to be renewed. So, the sci-fi author's copyright would go to his heirs and would last for 70 years from the author's death. (If the book had been published before 1964, a failure to renew would put the book in the public domain.)
As for the low-budget war movie, according to Copyright Office records, it was assigned in 1998 along with 31 other films (see below)  to American Movie Classics (now known as AMC).


Monday, April 29, 2019

How Can a 100 Year-old Autobiography Still Be Under Copyright?

Dear Rich: I am writing a play about a real woman who lived from 1839 to 1930. She wrote an autobiography which was not published in her lifetime. In 1994, it was finally published after some editing by a family member. I am using a lot of the original wording from her autobiography in my play because her voice is really interesting. I’m sure that I’m going far beyond what would be considered fair use so I would like to get permission from the copyright holder. Unfortunately, the publisher has gone out of business and the editor/relative has a very common name, so I can’t find him. He could well have passed on by now. I’ve tried to track the relatives, but the trail is cold. Would her heirs still hold copyright in her words at this point? Would the relative who edited her autobiography for publication have some copyright? Is there a best way to prove I’ve shown due diligence in attempting to contact the copyright holders?
Copyright protection typically lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years. So, you would think that copyright for the autobiography would have expired in the year 2000. But the autobiography is still protected because of a quirk in the law that says if an unpublished work created before 1978 was published before January 1, 2003, its copyright would last at least until January 1, 2048, regardless of when the author died. That may have been the reason the relative edited and had the book published in 1994.
Getting (or not getting) permission. Considering the work is under copyright, you'd need permission from the copyright holder (unless you can demonstrate it's fair use). We guess that the relative who edited the work holds the copyright (or his heirs). He apparently instigated the edits and the distribution, so, hard as it might be, you would be tasked with tracking that person down. As you're probably aware "people finder" web searches are available for a fee. (BTW, we don't believe that basic book editing amounts to a separate copyright.)
If for some reason, there are no heirs and after diligently searching, you can't find anyone to ask for the autobiography rights (referred to as an "orphan work"), then you have to decide whether to proceed without permission. If you do proceed, keep a record of the steps you took to find the owner. Those records could minimize (but not eliminate) damages in the event the copyright owner steps forward. Finally, if you have success and a company wants to produce your play, you may be required under the contract to clear all rights in which case you may have to hire a researcher or clearance service.

Monday, April 15, 2019

I Framed a Website; Now PicRights Wants Money!

Dear Rich: I build websites, and one of my clients is a small auto shop. The auto shop's website includes a listing of brands that they carry and includes links. Some of the links steer the user to the brand website. Some of the links allowed the user to stay at the auto shop website and to view the brand website within a frame. Several months ago, the auto shop got threatening letters and emails from PicRights.com, a photo rights company, saying that two of the framed brand sites each had a photo that was "copied" from one of their stock photo clients. Naturally, the auto shop nor I had any knowledge or control over what one of these brand companies or their web people used on those sites. I removed the links to those companies, and we told PicRights that via email. But the auto shop continues to get threatening letters including one from an attorney. 
We can't predict how the auto shop would fare if this matter proceeded to court (and we assume the auto shop doesn't want to litigate), but if we were a betting blog, we'd wager that the auto shop's liability would not exceed $1500. It's even possible that the shop would owe nothing. Here's why:
Framing and copyright. What makes framing different from typical linking is that instead of taking the user to the linked website, the information from that website is displayed in a special “frame.” When you’re viewing framed information, your computer is connected to the site doing the framing, not the site whose page appears in the frame. But in reality, the image isn't duplicated because the link is just HTML code pointing to the image or other material. (A similar result occurs when a single photo from one site is embedded in another site -- a process called "inlining.")
Conflicting case law. Framing and inlining are often used to deliver search engine results. Courts have held in two cases where search engines linked to thumbnail images, that such uses are permitted as fair use. In one of those cases, Perfect Ten, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals devised the “server test" in which the court ruled that if the allegedly infringing work is on your server, you infringed. Under the server test, the auto shop might prevail, assuming no copies of the infringing photos were stored on the auto shop servers. Complicating the analysis, a New York judge in 2018 rejected the server test in a case about an embedded Twitter photo. In other words, your case might achieve a different result in California than in New York. (Hopefully, an appellate court or the Supreme Court will resolve the difference between circuits.)
What should the auto shop do? You were wise to remove the framed links immediately as that demonstrates your good faith responding to the claim as well as limiting your potential damages. It's also reasonable for the auto shop to request proof that the images have been registered in the Copyright Office. If they haven't been registered before your posting, PicRights or the stock photo company could not claim statutory damages or attorney fees. Also, they can't sue you in federal court without the registration. (Although not conclusive, we found no copyright registrations under either complaining party's name in the Copyright Office database.) If they have registered the copyright before your posting, the minimum for damages would be $750 per photo (or $200 per photo if you were determined to be an "`innocent infringer"). Feel free to write to the photo rights company and share our information but don't expect a reasoned response. (If we analogize to fishing, the company's policy is to use drift nets, not catch-and-release.)
Will you get sued? Oddly, when we searched PACER, we couldn't find any records of copyright lawsuits filed either by PicRights or by the stock photo company claiming to own rights. Perhaps the companies sue under other names, but it's possible that they never file lawsuits, only threaten them. To be prudent, the auto shop should obtain an opinion from an attorney before blowing off the letter.
P.S. Dept. It’s possible that you may be threatened with contributory infringement. We believe that under Ninth Circuit standards, you would prevail.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Can a California Employer Claim Employee Copyrights?

If Franz Kafka had an overreaching copyright provision in his
employment agreement, his insurance company employer
might have owned the rights to "The Trial." 
Dear Rich: As a condition of working for a large company, I am required to agree to an Intellectual Property and Confidentiality Agreement. The only mention of copyright is in the section with "all copyrights in works authored by me ... during the term of this Agreement are and shall be the exclusive property of the Employer." Unlike Work Product or Inventions, there are no qualifiers on copyrights, such as that the works have to be related to the business of the employer, done as part of working for them, etc. It seems to me that this means that a hypothetical, say, an automotive company would then own the copyright to anything I write on the weekends, even if completely unrelated to the company such as a fiction novel I write about a dog with superpowers. Is there anything in the (specifically California) law that protects copyrights against this very broad-reaching clause?
We doubt that a California judge would permit an employer to own an employee's superpowered dog novel. Here's why:
Public policy. A contractual provision won't be enforced if the provision violates public policy (public policy is the moral and ethical principles upon which the legal system is created). Your provision appears to violate California's public policy which aims to protect employees from overreaching employers as evidenced by (1) a California labor statute that prevents employers from claiming non-work related inventions (innovations that don't involve employer time or resources), and (2) a law that prohibits non-compete agreements. The public policy behind federal copyright law supports an employee's right to own works unless created within the course of employment.
Unconscionability. A contractual provision also won't be enforced if the provision is unconscionable (grossly unfair). What if the Superdog novel is published, attracts a movie deal and becomes a blockbuster with sequels? Your agreement might be considered to be unconscionable because your payment (your paycheck) is so disproportionate in value as to demonstrate bad faith (or “unconscionability”) in the bargaining process.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Can Festival Domain Name Stop Similar Name?

Rasta Hat
Dear Rich, I decided to create a brand and annual music festival called The Houston Reggae Festival. I registered the domain HoustonReggaeFestival.com, I created social media handles on every major platform, and I've paid for business cards, Facebook advertising, custom brand merchandise like stickers, T-shirts, etc. I registered my domain in May 2015, and I've been publishing content and promoting my event ever since. I own my own small business and listed the festival as a production of my business. I recently discovered another festival infringing on my name, but I've only trademarked under common law so far. I was wondering if I should send a friendly message asking the other events producers to respect my mark for the Houston Reggae Festival, send a cease and desist letter citing my common law trademark/servicemark, or send in my mark application first and send a cease and desist under a pending mark? I'm a little worried my mark might be too generic, but I've listed Houston and Reggae Festival as disclaimers on my application so far. I was also curious what would be the best three services to list for my services as a reggae festival and brand for my SM application?
As you can imagine, legal disputes over festival names are not uncommon (even when the festivals offer different services). But to stop someone from using a similar festival title, you need more than a domain name; you need trademark rights. You receive those rights by being the first to use the name in commerce. In other words, if you used Houston Reggae Festival in commerce starting in May 2015, you might have superior rights (referred to as "priority") over subsequent users.
What is "use in commerce?"Your mark is "in use in commerce" when the services are actually advertised, and you can legitimately deliver festival services to customers. Actual use must be a commercial use, not simply a token use to obtain trademark priority. So, if you promote a festival but you cannot provide festival entertainment, your mark is not in use.
Should you apply for federal registration? We believe Houston Reggae Festival is registrable. You will need to disclaim "Reggae Festival" (but not Houston), and you should register in Class 041. That's based on two existing trademark registrations: Kentucky Reggae Festival (Reg. No. 2292636) and Charlemont Reggae Festival (Reg. No. 88104947).
Registration complications. Although the mark is not generic, a USPTO trademark examiner will likely object to it as being "descriptive." To overcome this and achieve registration, you will need to demonstrate that your mark has become distinctive for reggae festivals. You prove this by demonstrating substantial marketing and advertising, or by five years of continuous use. If the examiner classifies your mark as descriptive and you can't prove distinctiveness, you may need to switch your application to the Supplemental Register. Also, you cannot file an ITU application for a descriptive mark.
What should you do? There are too many variables in play -- your date of first use, whether the mark is descriptive, whether you have the financial support needed to take on a trademark dispute -- that we cannot plot your next move. Surely, if you're hosting or planning to host music festivals, you should resolve your name dispute, and apply for trademark registration. As to the order of events, you'd be best served by consulting an attorney. Consider contacting Texas Accountants and Lawyers for the Arts.

Friday, March 22, 2019

What Type of Drawings for PPA?

Dear Rich: I have created a very simple product with very few components. I am in the process of preparing a PPA [provisional patent application]. Will the USPTO accept photographs that explicitly show the product and how it functions and is made instead of drawings? 
There are no rules for provisional patent application illustrations (referred to as "drawings"), except that they must be understandable and fit in a regular file folder. You can use black-and-white or color photographs, computer-created drawings, or handmade drawings. But whatever method you use, your drawings should -- as yours do --  explain how to make and use your invention.
The reality is: The USPTO will accept just about anything that is submitted as a PPA. That's because provisional patent applications are not examined on their merits. The only time they are likely to be read and evaluated is if (1) within one year you file a regular patent application (RPA), and (2) the RPA results in a patent, and (3) a competitor challenges your claim to the earlier filing date of the PPA. The chances of meeting all three criteria are rare. Even so, prepare your PPA drawings diligently. Making the drawings  -- whether schematics, photos, or pen and ink -- can help you visualize, and sometimes improve your invention. For more information on patent drawings and PPAs, check out our book, Patent Pending in 24 Hours.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

When Beatmakers Collaborate

Dear Rich: If a beatmaker gives me a song to write lyrics to, my understanding is that based on their intent to have words created for the beat we split the copyrights and publishing equally. Is my understanding correct? What happens when the beatmaker gives the same song to another person to write a rap or lyrics to it? Can they legally do that?
Your understanding of copyright is correct. Assuming you don't have a written agreement to the contrary, and assuming you both intend to merge your contributions into one song, you and the beatmaker are considered co-authors of a joint work and share in the copyright of the whole song equally. (Note: it's not always clear as to whether "beats" alone qualify for copyright protection.)
Multiple lyric versions. Songs can have more than one lyric -- for example "Love Me Tender/Aura Lee," or "Mr. Sandman/Mr. Santa." Although it may complicate ownership, the beatmaker can solicit different lyrics for the same instrumental tracks. These may be separate joint works, or derivatives of your joint work, depending on the timing of events (whose song is completed and recorded first) and the significance of your contribution (whether your contribution to the song is substantial). The most straightforward course of action is to document your arrangement with a co-writer agreement -- a simple document setting forth the intent of the parties, what the ownership percentages are, and signed by both parties. You can find more information about co-writer agreements at our LinkedIn Learning Course: Music Law: Copyrighting a Song.

Friday, March 8, 2019

I Didn't Get a Model Release

If Leonardo DaVinci were to paint Mona Lisa today, 
he would need a release before licensing her image.

Dear Rich: A long time ago, I took a picture of two girls after asking permission from their parents (the two girls were minors). Sometime in 2016, I displayed this picture in an art gallery. I realized that I don't have a model release. What can I do? 
If all you've done is display the girls' photo at a gallery, a release probably isn't required.
When you need a release. A properly drafted release protects you from two types of lawsuits: (1) if you use the girls' image to sell or endorse something; or (2) if you use the image in a way that defames, or invades the subjects' privacy. By signing the release, the subject promises not to sue over these uses. A release is usually not required for informational or artistic uses (that is, those uses considered an expression of free speech).
Going forward. If you plan on making other uses of the image, it's not too late, to get a model release.  If the women have reached the age of majority, they can sign the release. If they're still minors, a parent/guardian should affirm the contract. You can download free model releases at our crafts law site.



Monday, February 25, 2019

TEDx Talk Remix?

Dear Rich: I am giving a TEDx Talk about remixing education where I would like to use 10 seconds of three songs looped to show how a remix is designed using skills that should be taught to students. I have reached out to one record company who owns the rights to two of the songs while the third song is from 1983. Does the use of these song snippets fall under fair use or do I need to continue trying to find permission?
It's possible that your remix may qualify as fair use (discussed below). But even if it does, you may still have to ask for permission depending on what your TEDx Talk contract/license has to say about using copyrighted material. For example, the standard license for a TEDx event includes a requirement for indemnification for any damage caused by your talk, as well as intellectual property insurance (advertising injury). If the record company wants to challenge your interpretation of fair use, you might be denied insurance coverage (for failing to get permission), and you might have to pay your legal fees as well as legal fees for TEDx Talks' defense.
What about fair use? Keep in mind that fair use is a defense that you make in litigation. In other words, it's not enough to simply claim fair use, you have to prove it in court. With that in mind, we believe that reproducing ten seconds of music for educational purposes is likely to be permitted as fair use. Complicating the analysis is that there are two copyrights at issue: the song copyright and the sound recording copyright. And although we disagree with the decision, there is one case that indicates that a two-second use of sound recording copyright requires permission.
Solutions. Of course, there's always the possibility that (a) the copyright owner won't learn of your use, or (b) learns of your use but doesn't pursue it. If you're risk-averse, one solution is to use Creative Commons music or use music from a production music library (PML). PMLs are companies that acquire licensing rights from copyright owners, group compositions into libraries, and offer them on a nonexclusive basis. A typical PML package may contain 10 to 15 original compositions, including a full-length version of each composition as well as shorter “tag” or “cue” version. Because the PML owns both the music publishing and sound recording rights, obtaining permission to use PML recordings is simple. The downside is that PMLs do not include well-known pop music. If using recognizable music is important, you can also consider the assistance of a music clearance expert (search "music clearance").

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Can I Post Performer's Image Without Consent?

Photo by Mark Marek Photography 
Dear Rich: I am building a webpage where visitors can register how much they would pay to see an artist's concert. Would the use of an artist's image without their consent be considered fair use?
You probably don't need the performer's permission (more on that later), but you would need permission from the owner of the copyright in the performer's photo. That could be the performer, but more likely it's the photographer, a stock photo business or a record label (or management).
Is it fair use? Your use of the pictures doesn't seem transformative, and whether your site sells tickets, or just operates as a virtual tote board of performer popularity, it's a commercial venture. These factors weigh against a finding of fair use.
But no matter ... You can get by without seeking permission by using public domain or Creative Commons images or promotional photos supplied by record labels or a band's management. Another pre-cleared source of imagery is Wikipedia where the provenance of each photo is provided by double-clicking on the Wiki picture (that's where we got the photo of Motörhead, above). If you're especially concerned about disputes, pay attention to any license limitations connected with the license -- for example crediting requirements.
Right of publicity. Aside from copyright, another legal concern is the right of publicity -- the legal right to prevent the unauthorized use of a person's image for purposes of endorsement. This shouldn't be an issue unless you are using a performer's name or image to promote your website, for example in banner ads.
Hassle factor. You may wonder -- after sorting through this legal maze -- how some sites get away without asking for permission when they use copyrighted photos. Three factors make that possible: (1) the owner isn't aware of the use; or (2) the owner doesn't consider the matter worth pursuing; or (3) the owner sees a benefit to the use and doesn't want to remove it.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Musician Looking For YouTube Royalties

Dear Rich: I signed a publishing deal with a major publisher several years ago. I had established a relationship with a popular Youtube celebrity who began using my music heavily in her posts. I made the publisher aware of this use and asked them to handle monetization. My music was streamed in the background of these posts tens of millions of times, and so far according to my publisher, my total Youtube royalties are less than a dollar. The publisher stated that it would have been the responsibility of the publisher's rep, a person who no longer works for them, to make sure that Youtube had what they needed to pay me for my music. The publisher also stated that it would have been my distributor’s responsibility, although I don’t have a distribution agreement. What can I do?
Your options are limited. There are three types of income generated when someone uses your music as the soundtrack for a YouTube video (referred to as user-generated content, or UGC) and each type of revenue has its own rules.

  • The performance royalty is paid by the songwriter's performing rights society (either BMI, ASCAP, SESAC or SOCAN). These payments are small (one songwriter reported receiving $80 for nine million video views). To get paid you have to belong to a performing rights society and have registered your song titles. The society's payment is based on data from YouTube's Content ID system (more on that, later).
  • The mechanical-sync payment is made to the owner of the song (usually the songwriter or a music publisher). It's a payment for the right to use the song on the video's soundtrack. Your publisher may have made a confidential blanket arrangement with YouTube and your payment, if any, would be determined by your publishing agreement. Songwriters who have not signed with a publisher can affiliate with a company that collects these payments such as Songtrust, Audiam, or CDBaby Pro Publishing.
  • The sound recording royalty is paid to the owner of the master recording of the song (usually a label, producer, or the artist). When your music is included on user-generated content -- for example, your song is used as the soundtrack for a dancing puppies video -- you are entitled to a cut of the revenue from advertising on the dancing puppies' page. However, you are entitled to the revenue only if YouTube has notice that your recording is used on that video. The notice is usually supplied by YouTube's Content ID system.

The Content ID system makes an audio fingerprint of your music and scans YouTube. If it finds a match, the music owner can shut the video down, or monetize it for ad revenue. Music labels have partnered with YouTube to bring their music into Content ID. Unsigned musicians, if they qualify for Content ID, can apply directly to YouTube to be part of the program. Distributors like CDBaby will manage the Content ID collections for you.
What to do? Assuming you own the master recording, you'll have a hard time obtaining sound recording royalties. YouTube pays ad revenue after it receives notice and apparently somebody failed to register your music with Content ID. You should have received performance royalties if you registered your compositions with BMI, ASCAP, etc. Your publishing agreement, if you can decipher it, should spell out your publisher's obligation. Speaking to a lawyer would be your best bet, but unfortunately, considering what musicians earn on YouTube, hiring a lawyer might not be worth it.


Thursday, January 31, 2019

Needs Historic Football Photos

Dear Rich: I am a retired NFL Veteran and also a retired Special Educator. I have written a book called "THE FIRST GAME" which is about the evolution of American Football. I need a recommendation for someone who specializes in historic American football photos. 
If you're writing about the first college game (1869) or the first NFL game (1920), keep in mind that all photographs published before 1924 are in the public domain, meaning you are free to use them without anyone's permission. To give you an idea of the breadth of imagery check out the 1,023 historic football photos, prints, and drawings available at the Library of Congress. Other sources of public domain content, for example, the Public Domain Review also contain historic football imagery.
Football photos published after 1923. If the photo you want was published from 1924 through 1963, chances are also good it is free to use if the owner failed to renew it (which 85% of owners failed to do). You can check whether a work was renewed by following the instructions in Circular 22.
If you're seeking photos protected by copyright, you'll need to either (1) deal with a photo researcher/clearance expert, or (2) deal with a photo licensing service. You can find the former by  searching online for "freelance photo researcher" or "photo clearance." As for finding photo licensing services, you're best off checking out AP Images, Icon Sportswire, and Getty (for Sports Illustrated's photo collection).

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Obtaining 1960 Song From Copyright Office

Dear Rich: My husband published and obtained a copyright on a song and music in 1960. He subsequently misplaced his copy of the material. How would he go about receiving a copy of his song and music from the Copyright Office? 
Because it's been almost 60 years since the song was deposited at the Copyright Office, we think it will be difficult, if not impossible to access your husband's "deposit materials" (as they are known in copyright parlance). Here's why.
The material may not be under copyright. At the time (1960) that your husband's song was registered, works had to be renewed after 28 years. So, unless your husband renewed the registration in 1988, the song is no longer under copyright.
The deposit materials may have been destroyed. In order to reconcile "the storage limitations of the Copyright Office with the continued value of deposits," the Register of Copyright is empowered to destroy deposit materials when necessary. In other words, decades-old deposits without historical value are typically destroyed.
Your husband may not qualify to request deposit materials. The Copyright Office will only furnish a copy of deposit materials if the materials are the subject of litigation, a court has ordered a copy, or "written authorization is received from the copyright claimant of record or the owner of any of the exclusive rights in the copyright..." Because a lack of renewal may have terminated copyright, your husband is no longer the copyright owner.
How to obtain deposit materials. If you still want to try for your deposit materials, follow the instructions at the Copyright Office site and pay the search fees required.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Band Wants to Use President's Name

Dear Rich: I read your Music Law book, but it didn't have the answer to my question. I'm the leader of a covers band. As a side project, some members created a group called Trumpelstiltskin and the TrumPets. The bass player's wife is a paralegal, and she said we could get in legal trouble for using the president's name. I can't believe that's true. 
If your band is making a statement with its music -- that is, providing an opinion, commentary, parody, or another form of protected speech -- you are most likely free to use the name based on the free speech protections provided in the First Amendment. Equally important, despite their rights under trademark and right of publicity laws, most presidents don't chase after typical uses  (or abuses) of their name or persona.
That being said ... Your paralegal friend may be referring to the fact that you won't be allowed to register your band name at the USPTO. For example, in 2017 an individual sought to register DONALD AND THE TRUMPETTES for purposes of a website and a blog. The Trademark Examiner rejected the application unless Trump's consent was provided. (The application was abandoned.) However, registration is not mandatory, and an inability to register does not preclude your use in commerce.
Two final thoughts: (1) If your band does generate sufficient publicity (for example, make it on to Fox News) you may hear from one of Trump's lawyers (presumably, one that's not in jail). After all, Trump is the first president with a trademark portfolio. (2) As to "TrumPets," beware that the sound-alike term, Trump Pets,  may eventually become another of the president's marks.





Thursday, December 20, 2018

Should I Trademark T-Shirt Phrases?

Dear Rich: I have a t-shirt company, and I want to know if I need to trademark each phrase or saying I want to print or do I have to list with the Supplemental Register? $325 for each saying doesn't seem to add up.
Save your money for marketing purposes. You're unlikely to get any protection at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) if you try to register clever t-shirt phrases.
But if Nike can "Just Do It" why can't I? Companies can register slogans and phrases if they signify a source for goods or services. So, if M&Ms brings back their slogan, "Melts in your mouth, not in your hands" on a t-shirt, that's branding for their business. But funny short phrases that are meant to provoke thought or laughter don't serve as branding for your t-shirt business. These phrases are considered "ornamental" by the USPTO because they are a form of decoration, not a source-identifier. You will have a hard time overcoming the trademark examiner's objection ... and the $325 trademark fee is not refundable.
What about the Supplemental Register? The Supplemental Register is like a bullpen for descriptive trademarks that don't presently qualify for Principal Register now but will, after several years of use. A trademark application that's rejected for ornamentality would not qualify for the Supplemental Register. We've written more about the t-shirt business here and here.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

All the News That's Fit to Recite With Music

Dear Rich: I'm a musician who composed a piece of instrumental music inspired by a 1995 New York Times article. When performing the music, there is a section during which I recite 110 words of the 2,443-word article. I am familiar with the Gerald Ford case, and I don't believe the text in question would stand out as the "heart" of the story. When I perform the piece, I tell audiences the source of the text. I'm now planning to record it, and credit for the text will be noted in the attendant printed material.  Does this sound like fair use? If not, what do I do? Pay for a reprint?
We think your work qualifies as "fair use" (as explained below). If the New York Times finds out about your use, we hope their lawyers agree with our analysis and leave you alone. But if they don't, they can file a lawsuit and make you prove your right to fair use. That could quickly turn into a battle of financial attrition in which your legal rights take a backseat to your bank account.
What about asking for permission? We believe that you're performing, editing, and adapting the article to a new medium, so pursuing reprint rights won't help. The Times doesn't seem eager to encourage adaptations like yours.
Editing and adaptation of New York Times content is generally not permitted, and must be approved by The New York Times. Use of article excerpts is possible with permission from The New York Times, without alteration to the intended meaning of the original text. 
You can try asking the Times for clearance. If they entertain your request, expect to pay a fee of more than $200. If the Times turns down your request, you'll find yourself in an awkward position because the newspaper is now aware of the details of your work. That doesn't prohibit you from using the article and claiming fair use (as this Supreme Court case indicates).
Is it fair use? Juxtaposing text from a New York Times article with original music gives the text a different character, a new expression, and "new aesthetics with creative and communicative results distinct from [the original work]."(Cariou v. Prince). There are other factors to consider when a judge determines fair use but as the Supreme Court stated two decades ago, "[t]he more transformative the new work, the less will be the significance of other factors." Nonetheless, two of the other three factors lean in your favor -- the amount and substantiality of the portion taken (4.5%, and it's not the heart of the work), and the effect of the use upon the potential market (what potential market is there for a 23-year old news article?). BTW, the Gerald Ford case was primarily about the right of first publication which doesn't apply to your situation.
What should you do? We want you to achieve your musical vision and we want you to stay out of court. As for the latter, here are some things to consider.

  • Is the Times likely to find out about your use? Obviously, you're better off if the answer is "No."
  • Will the Times pursue the matter if they find out? We like to think that the Times would be reasonable, recognize your borrowing as fair use and, as champions of free speech, would not want the publicity of going after a music composer.
  • Are you a worthwhile target? If you're not wealthy and not selling a lot of records, you're usually less appealing as a defendant.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Satire, Parody and Fair Use -- Gulliver's Travels

Dear Rich: I'm working on a modern update of Gulliver's Travels. Like the original it's a satire, and in one of the chapters Gulliver travels to an island populated by film characters like Forrest Gump and Dirty Harry. I am concerned that my use of the characters will infringe copyright. I have read that parody can be protected as fair use but satire cannot. 
Yes, parodies are more likely to receive protection but don't give up on fair use just because the work is a satire.
What’s the difference between parody and satire?
Parody is the imitation or copying of a work or a genre to make fun or comment on that work. For example, the film Blazing Saddles copies and imitates many classic western films to make fun of those works. The same is true of Austin Powers, Scary Movie, Spaceballs, This is Spinal Tap, and Shaun of the Dead. In a satire, the work ridicules or derides some aspect of society or human behavior. Some well-known movie satires include Dr. Strangelove, Catch 22, Office Space, Animal Farm, and Idiocracy. 
Dr. Seuss v. Dr. Juice. Satire and parody are not mutually exclusive and may be confused with each other. That was the case when the estate of Dr. Seuss sued the creators of The Cat NOT in the Hat!, a book that retold the O.J. Simpson murder trial in the poetic meter used in Dr. Seuss books (known as anapestic tetrameter). Billed as "A Parody," the Dr. Juice book featured a front and back cover illustration similar to The CAT in the HAT. The district court found that the Dr. Juice book infringed Seuss copyrights. On appeal, the creators of Dr. Juice claimed fair use based on parody. The Ninth circuit disagreed ruling that the Dr. Juice book was merely a retelling of the OJ murder trial:
"Although The Cat NOT in the Hat! does broadly mimic Dr. Seuss' characteristic style, it does not hold his style up to ridicule. ... [The creators of Dr. Juice] merely use the Cat's stove-pipe hat, the narrator ("Dr. Juice), and the title (The Cat NOT in the Hat!) "to get attention" or maybe even "to avoid the drudgery in working up something fresh.
The underlined sections are taken from the Supreme Court's holding in the Two Live Crew case in which the court also stated:
"Parody needs to mimic an original to make its point, and so has some claim to use the creation of its victim's (or collective victims') imagination, whereas satire can stand on its own two feet and so requires justification for the very act of borrowing."
What can you do? Just because your work uses humor doesn't mean you have to get caught up in the parody/satire conundrum. The "parody defense" places most of its emphasis on the first of four factors but these factors are configured in many ways to build a fair use defense. The best approach is to review the case law summaries at the Stanford Fair Use site or at the Copyright Office Fair Use Index.