Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Can I Use Old Trademarks on T-Shirts?

Dear Rich: I'm a designer and antique collector. I have an idea to recreate old logos, screenprint them on t-shirts and sell them on an e-commerce website. I understand if these logos were trademarked before 1924 they are in the public domain and free to use for commercial purposes. But if this company is still around and uses a new, redesigned logo, am I allowed to use that company name in the product description of my e-commerce website and advertisements? For example, I might name it something like "Vintage COMPANY NAME T-shirt with Distressed Logo." 
Apples and Oranges? You may be confusing trademarks and copyrights and we think you should put your t-shirt plans on hold until you sort things out.
What's the diff? Copyright, which protects literature, music, art, and similar expressions, has a limited shelf life (generally 95 years from first publication). That's why any copyrighted work first published in the United States before 1925 is now in the public domain and free for you to print on a t-shirt.
Trademark law, however, protects any distinctive word, phrase, logo, graphic symbol, or other device that is used to identify a product or service. Trademark rights don't expire as long as the trademark owner continues to use the mark in commerce. So, vintage trademarks, once used by existing companies may still be protectable, particularly if they contain a word mark that is still in use or a logo that has been freshened up over the years.
Abandonment. If, however, the vintage mark is for a product that is no longer in existence, you may be free to use it, provided the mark has been abandoned. Abandonment occurs when the mark is no longer used in commerce and there is sufficient evidence that the owner does not intend to use it. Under the Lanham Act, a trademark is presumed to be abandoned after three years of nonuse. This presumption does not mean that the mark is automatically classified as abandoned after three years of nonuse. It means that the burden of proof shifts to the owner of the mark to prove it is not abandoned. The owner must prove an intention to resume commercial use.
P.S. Dept. Beware, some previously abandoned marks may have been revived as zombie trademarks.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Is D.H. Lawrence Poem in the Public Domain?

Dear Rich: We are publishing a book in conjunction with a museum exhibit. The artwork in the exhibit was inspired by D.H. Lawrence's poem, "Whales Weep Not!" On the website,, they indicated the poem may still be under copyright by the poet's estate (Copyright © 1964, 1971 by Angela Ravagli and C. M. Weekly, Executors of the Estate of Frieda Lawrence Ravagli. Used by permission of Viking Penguin, a division of Penguin Books USA Inc.) Is the poem in the public domain or do we need permission? 
If the copyright for "Whales Weep Not!" was renewed, it is still under copyright and will not fall into the public domain for several years. The poem was published posthumously in 1932 in the collection, "Last Poems" (Lawrence died in 1930). Copyright law protects such works for 95 years from first publication, provided that it was timely renewed. However, we couldn't find evidence of renewal of "Last Poems" at the Stanford Renewal database. That's not conclusive ("Absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence") and may be due to an error in data conversion or imprecise searching. (The estate had been diligent in renewing Lawrence's other works, including his poetry.) The only definitive proof would be to pay for a certified Copyright Office search.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Can I Publish Library Sketch?

Dear Rich: I am an architectural historian studying libraries. If I have permission to enter a famous house in order to measure and sketch the library, can I publish my sketch without further permission? Would it make a difference if the sketch is a floor plan of the library instead of an elevation? 
It's likely you won't need further permissions ... but you should consider the following before publishing:
Copyright hassles? Not! You won't have to worry about copyright claims if you are (1) the sole author of the sketch, and (2) you haven't reproduced a copyright-protected work within the library, for example, a watercolor, poster, or sculpture, and (3) the famous house was designed before December 1, 1990. (Copyright only protects buildings created after December 1, 1990, and if the house was designed after that date, you should review our article on architectural copyright.)
Contract and privacy hassles? Maybe. Did you sign anything, or make any agreements that conditioned your entry into the home? For example, were there any discussions or requirements regarding privacy or confidentiality? Would the publication of the sketch reveal any private or potentially embarrassing information -- for example, the location of valuable, rare books, or the presence of a pornography collection? Are you publishing the sketch as an advertisement for a product or service? Is it likely that the homeowner would learn of your publication and be unhappy?
Bottom Line Dept. Most likely, your publication of sketches of the library won't give rise to legal claims. But if you answered, "Yes" to any of the questions above, particularly the last one, then publication may trigger a breach of contract claim, invasion of privacy, or violation of the right of publicity. In such cases, your liability would be reduced if you published the floor plans rather than a detailed sketch.

Monday, January 27, 2020

FRANDs as a Royalty Guide

Dear Rich: I've invented something for the cell phone market and a company I used to work for has expressed an interest in licensing it (and paying for the patent). I'm trying to figure out what is a fair royalty rate. Can I use a FRAND to determine the right rate? If so, where can I find a FRAND for the cell phone industry? 
ACRONYM WARNING!!  Readers who are upset by the overuse of acronyms should bypass this blog entry.
What's a FRAND? Competing companies often must cooperate to create industry standards. For example, computer manufacturers like Apple and Microsoft must agree on the size, shape, and functionality of USB ports and cables. To establish these industry standards, competing companies cooperate to create standard-setting organizations (SSOs). To implement these standards, companies may need to share patents. Patents that are essential to meeting the standard are referred to as "standard-essential patents" (SEPs). To guarantee that SEPs are available to all competitors, industries have adopted FRANDs (Fair, Reasonable, and Non-Discriminatory terms) for SSO members. In some industries, SSOs are bound by FRANDs; in others, FRANDs are advisory.
Your patent. Unless your invention results in a patent that is essential for establishing a cell phone standard, FRANDs wouldn't provide any assistance. In the rare instance that your patent is standard-setting, there is no consensus or template for resolving FRAND interpretation or application. We recommend that you consult an attorney familiar with patent licensing in order to determine appropriate royalty rates (and to look out for your rights during the drafting of your patent application).
More on FRANDS ... You can learn more about FRANDs in two federal decisions:  FTC v. Qualcomm (in which a court imposed a reasonable royalty standard for the licensing of Qualcomm modem chips), and  HTC v. Ericsson (in which a court determined that Ericsson's licensing of 4G cell phone technology was FRAND-friendly).

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Sold Business, Can I Compete?

Calvert Vaux - Landscape Architect
Dear Rich: If someone sells their business which owns their copyrighted landscape design work, can they still send pictures of the work to potential clients as something they created? Can they post these photos on a website? If the business they sold has their name in it (e.g. Ann Jones Landscape Group), could she start another business (there is no non-compete) with the name? (i.e. Ann Jones, PLA, LLC)?
If the sale of your business included the transfer of your landscape design copyrights, then you would need permission to reproduce those designs. The transfer (or "assignment") of copyrights must be in writing so check the paperwork connected with the sale of the business. (Look for an "Intellectual Property" provision in the sales agreement.) Portfolio rights. Keep in mind that the purchaser of the copyright may be willing to grant you "portfolio rights" (permission to reproduce as part of your resume or to seek clients). If the sales agreement doesn't address the designs, it's very possible you retain ownership of the copyrights and you can do as you wish with them.
Using your name for a new business. Most sales of businesses include the transfer of the business name. After all, customers associate the name and goodwill with the business. If the buyer acquired the name, then your use would violate the sales agreement. Even if the sales agreement wasn't clear about name ownership, the purchaser could still pursue you under state laws based on unfair competition.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

How Do I Fix an Error on Copyright Application

Dear Rich: How do I correct a mistake on a song copyright that I recently filled out? I need to add a third songwriter. 
We assume you're referring to an error made on a copyright application you filed online. If your application is still pending (that is, the Copyright Office hasn't issued a registration certificate), you can submit a request to address the error or omission on the Copyright Office’s website. Alternatively, once the application is being reviewed, you can inform the registration specialist (the Copyright Office examiner of your application) of the required changes.
Registration issued. If the certificate was issued, you should file a supplementary registration to correct errors or omissions. This is done online using the ECO portal. To learn more about supplementary registrations (and the exceptions to online filing), read Circular 8.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Who is the Copyright Claimant? Publisher or Composer?

Dear Rich: Should an artist who owns a publishing company register it as claimant of copyrights instead of him/her self? In this case, is there a better option? 
When filling out the online copyright application, the "claimant" is the copyright owner. So, if you (the composer/author) have assigned the songs to your own publishing company then the claimant would be the publishing company. Assigning a song is fairly simple but it must be in writing. (We've posted a basic copyright assignment online.) For practical purposes, if there is only one composer, and that composer owns the publishing company as a sole proprietor (single owner), then it won't matter whether the publisher or composer is listed as claimant as they are one and the same.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Has Academic Journal Stolen My Copyright?

Dear Rich: I am a university professor. Two French colleagues organized a conference in 2017 and invited me to speak at it. After the conference, they said they wanted to publish our talks (expanded into articles) in a book, and they told us we should start to revise our talks. Several months later, they wrote to say that a Swiss-based academic journal had agreed to publish the essays as a special issue. I responded to say "sounds good," and I submitted my essay to the two French colleagues, who copyedited it, and I did not hear another word for months until a PDF of the final version of my article arrived in my inbox. I was surprised to see that the article was Copyright 2019 by the Swiss publisher and that I was authorized to distribute no more than 25 copies of this PDF, and that it was not permissible to put the PDF on the Internet. I wrote to the Swiss publisher and asked on what basis they claimed the copyright, given that I never signed an agreement with them. The head of the press cheerfully admitted that there is no signed agreement of any kind and that they claim the copyright by fiat, simply as a consequence of publishing the text ("We pay the printer"). It seems to me that they have illegally usurped (or tried to usurp) my copyright. Am I correct about this?
Yes, you're correct. The concept of claiming copyright because "we pay the printer" went out with quill pens and hoop skirts. To claim the copyright to your article (which many journals do), the Swiss would need to have acquired documentation: a written assignment agreement or a work-made-for-hire agreement.
Implied license. Under U.S. copyright law, you retain copyright ownership, and the Swiss publisher probably has an implied license to publish your article in the journal. Licenses can be implied from the parties' conduct and reasonable expectations. For example, if a written license expired, but the parties continued as if it hadn't, the license for the extended use would be implied. Your consent to publication was implied by your "sounds good" and by furnishing, revising, and copyediting your article. However, the implied license doesn't permit the Swiss journal to dictate the terms of your use and doesn't allow them to distribute the article in any way other than in the journal.
P.S. Dept. The Swiss publisher would be permitted to claim a compilation copyright in the journal. The compilation copyright does not protect the individual articles, but instead, it protects the particular selection and arrangement of those articles together in one journal.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Do You Have to Be a U.S.citizen to register copyright?

Dear Rich: Can a non-U.S. citizen or alien register a copyright at What if one co-writer is a U.S. citizen, but the other co-writers are not?
Non-U.S. citizens can register works at the U.S. Copyright Office, and it shouldn't matter what percentage of co-authors are U.S. citizens. According to the Copyright Office, anyone, regardless of citizenship status can register their work provided it is: (1) unpublished, or (2) first published in the U.S., or (3) first published in a country with which we have a copyright treaty, or (4) the work was created by a citizen or domiciliary of a country with which we have a copyright treaty. See Circular 38a, International Copyright Relations of the United States, for the treaty status of specific countries.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Can I Sell Cecil Aldin Coloring Book?

British illustrator Cecil Aldin (1870 - 1935)
 with one of his furry subjects
Dear Rich: Can I sell black and white images by Cecil Aldin? I would like to sell them to potential customers who could color them in?
Yes, you're free to sell the animal illustrations of Cecil Aldin. Except for his imagery for "His Apologies" (Rudyard Kipling's 17-page poem about a Scottish Terrier puppy), all of the artwork by Aldin (sometimes mistakenly spelled "Alden") is public domain. The works were either published before 1924 or were not timely renewed (according to the Stanford Renewals database). "His Apologies" was renewed in 1959, and the drawings are under copyright until 2027.

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, 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, 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.