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.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

News Aggregator Chased by Photographer

Dear Rich: I run a news aggregator that uses RSS feeds to pull in a headline, a small photo and a few lines of text. We pull content from maybe 2,000 sources. Visitors who want to read the full story click on a “read more” button and get taken back to the original source. I recently have been sued by a photographer whose photo appeared on our site. We gave the original source credit for the story and the photo, and of course we provided a link back to the original site. This photographer says I didn’t have the right to include her photo on our site. Now it looks like we might be heading to court. If I truly have done nothing wrong and if what I’m doing is considered fair use – whatever that is – why should I be punished or even subjected to all this? My site is relatively new and I have put significant money into the enterprise. I need time to build this up, and now I’m being threatened. I have tried to reach the publication that published the photo to see if it can shed more light on this, but nobody answers my emails or voice messages. It’s a big publication; it’s hard for me to believe they didn’t have the rights to publish on the Internet.
We don't believe it matters whether the big publication had permission to publish the photo. If they did have permission, it wouldn't extend to you. If they didn't have permission, you're still in the same pickle.
So, how do aggregators do it? Not all news aggregators operate from an identical model but it's generally considered "safe" -- meaning you won't hear from any lawyers -- to publish only the headline, a link back to the news source, and perhaps some original text describing the content (without reproducing it). How do news aggregators like Apple, Google and Yahoo! reproduce photos and text? These aggregators pay for permission to reproduce publications like the New York Times and the Associated Press. They don't pay smaller news sources and these publications don't object to being aggregated because they reap the benefits of link backs that result in more traffic. As you can see, a free lance photographer who reaps no financial or linking benefit from aggregation may find it more lucrative to chase infringers, especially small companies that can't afford to fight.
Making a case for fair use. We assume you used the complete photo. And we assume you didn't use it for a transformative purpose. Both of these factors make it hard to argue for fair use. If you had displayed a thumbnail of the photo, you may be in a better position. In a 2007 case, a court ruled that Google’s thumbnail reproductions of images from an adult men’s magazine website were permitted as a fair use primarily because the purpose was transformative -- the thumbnail was used for indexing and searching. (See also this 2003 case.)
What should you do? First get proof that the photographer does own the copyright. Obtain a copy of the registration and look for contradictions -- for example, she assigned the photo copyright to someone else, or the photo was a work made for hire. Second, run an image search for the photo. You should contact the websites who have also reproduced the photo to learn if they have been hassled and if so, what was their resolution?  Third, consult with a copyright attorney and ask for an estimate of your odds and your costs. (Be wary of Pyrrhic victories). Also, check your business insurance just in case the policy covers copyright infringement.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

How to Donate Book Royalties

Dear Rich: How do I go about donating a portion of royalty proceeds from a book to a charity? 
If your publisher is amenable, the easiest method to donate royalties is to request that your publisher pay a portion of your royalties directly to the charity. You can formalize the payment (or payment system if you wish to cap payments or limit them to a specific time period) by including the details in your publishing agreement or in an amendment.
If the publisher isn't willing to make separate payments to the charity, you can either pay the charity directly from your royalty payments, or you can contact the charity for assistance. Many nonprofits have a mechanism for receiving royalties while the author is alive (or as "legacy gifts" following the author's death).
Taxes. The practice of donating book royalties to nonprofits was popularized in the 1980s when authors and publishers began to reap the marketing benefits of being aligned with a social cause (for example, a portion of royalties for a Rock Hudson biography was donated to an AIDS foundation). Some editors and authors believed the practice would also provide tax benefits. In reality -- unless you assigned the book's copyright (which means you give up ownership of your work) to the charity -- there may not be any tax benefits from donating a portion of the royalties. For example, if your publisher pays 75% of royalties to you and pays 25% to your charity, you would still be taxed for the full 100%. You can receive an income tax deduction for your donation, but this deduction can't be more than 50% of your adjusted gross income for the year -- a formula that may not provide much tax relief.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Is 1963-1964 Horror Film in the Public Domain?

Chrysler Avanti 1963-1964
Dear Rich: I restore public domain films so I'm familiar with the rules but I'm having difficulty determining the copyright status of an horror exploitation film from the early 1960s. The copyright registration was made in the 1980s and states that the film was first distributed in 1964. However, a few online sites such as IMDB state the film first debuted in1963. According to my research the different years (1963 or 1964) could make a big difference in copyright status. What should I do if the first release was really in 1963?
If the film debuted in 1963, then it is probably in the public domain. If its debut was 1964, the film is very likely still under copyright. The reason: works first published before 1964 had to be renewed otherwise they became public domain. Only 15% of works were renewed so the odds that a B-picture from fifty years earlier was renewed is slim. However, works debuting in 1964 (and through 1977) did not have to be renewed and are protected for 95 years from publication date. (In the case of a 1964 film, that would be until 2059.)
What do you do? Under copyright law, the copyright registration for the film creates a presumption of ownership and you have the burden of rebutting that presumption. You will need evidence. An IMDB listing is helpful but not determinative. You would be better served with newspaper or trade advertisements or reviews. Also helpful would be the date of the copyright notice on the film or posters, as well as research performed by sites like Horrortheque. Finally, you should have a Copyright Office search performed to see if the film was renewed (only renewals for books are available online). All of this evidence gathering may put you off the project but it will all be necessary if the current copyright claimant comes after you and you need to defend your position.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Can I Set Amelia Earhart's Words to Music?

Amelia Earhart, 1937

Dear Rich: I'm inquiring about setting Amelia Earhart's words to music. She published three books between 1928 and 1937, and a poem (Courage, From an Airplane, To M_). She was declared dead in absentia January 5, 1939 (aged 41). How could we determine whether or not her work is public domain? The website,, states that CMG Worldwide acts as the exclusive agent for Amelia Earhart.
CMG Worldwide represents Amelia Earhart for branding opportunities -- that is, they license Earhart's image, name, or personna to sell a product or service (much like her husband,  G.P. Putnam, licensed her name and image for Lucky Strikes).  Although CMG states that it "specializes in clearing copyrights, trademarks, and rights of publicity," we couldn't find any evidence that the agency claims or clears copyright on Earhart's literary properties.
Copyright research. In any case, a bit of research may moot any need for permission. Literary works published between 1928 and 1937 are protected for 95 years provided that they were renewed 28 years from first publication. (Less than seven percent of books were renewed). Literary renewals can be searched at Stanford's Copyright Renewal Database. A search for Amelia Earhart turned up one renewal for "The Last Flight," first published in 1937 and renewed in 1964 (see below). So, that work is protected until 2032.

We also searched under Earhart's husband's name (Putnam co-authored many books) but found no other renewals for her. In other words, the poem and two of her books, "20 Hours, 40 Min: Our Flight in the Friendship," and "The Fun of It," are not showing up as renewed. Assuming the database is accurate, these two books (and the poem) would be in the public domain and free to use. However, even if this correct, we're not clear whether CMG Worldwide would pursue you should you choose to create a musical based on Earhart's life (or even a t-shirt with Earhart's image).

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Can I Trademark My Cat?

Dear Rich: Can I trademark my cat? I am writing a book about my cat's fictional adventures and using his name. The book contains drawings and photographs of him, too. 
It's possible to use trademark law to obtain exclusive rights for your cat (as one feline has proven). However, there are some things to keep in mind.
The USPTO will only register a book title if it is part of a book series (for example, Pete the Cat for children's books).  So you won't be able to federally register your cat's name for books until you've got a second book. You can, however, register in a different class.
What are classes? When you apply for a trademark, you seek exclusive trademark rights for a class (or classes) of goods or services. For example, if your cat were featured in a series of books, you would register in Class 16 (Paper Goods). If your cat was a superstar on Instagram and earning money from live performances, you would register in Class 41 (Educational and Entertainment Services). Your registrations are restricted to those classes of goods or services that you are currently selling or that you plan to offer (if you are registering on an intent-to-use basis). For each class of goods or services that you register, you must pay a separate registration fee and you must meet the basic trademark requirements.
What about copyright? Copyright provides the exclusive right to reproduce or modify a creative work such as music, art, photographs, books, and movies. You'd use copyright law to protect the text, illustrations and photos. Keep in mind that even though it's your cat in the photo, you don't own the copyright unless you took the picture or paid for the rights. (The photographer usually owns the copyright.) A combination of copyright and trademark will augment your cat's intellectual property rights so you can concentrate on earning the big bucks.
P.S. What about your cat's right of publicity? Humans can stop others from using their likeness to endorse products under the right of publicity, but animals don't have a right of publicity as we explained in a related question.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Can I Use Baseball Player's Image in Book on Batting?

Dear Rich: I'm writing an educational book teaching techniques on how to hit a baseball,  using images of professional baseball players showing their swings. Are releases or consents required from each of the players to use their likeness? 
No, you probably don't need permission from the players to use their image but you will need permission from the copyright owners of the images you are using.
The right of publicity. The right of publicity gives individuals the ability to stop the unauthorized commercial use of their likeness or personna. The right of publicity typically does not prevent editorial or informational uses, only commercial uses. For example Michael Jordan could prevent the unauthorized use of his likeness in a supermarket advertisement, but James Brown could not halt the sale of James Brown images by Corbis, a stock photo company that provided images for editorial uses. As long as you avoid creating the impression that the baseball players endorse your book -- that is, you don't use the player's likeness in the ads or on the cover of the book -- you should not have any right of publicity issues.
Copyright permissions. What's the source for your photographs? If you've been grabbing screenshots from the Internet, you may run into a problem if the copyright owner sees your book. That's because most baseball imagery from the past fifty years is still protected by copyright. If you've been operating with pictures from fee-based stock photos services such as Getty, AP Images, or MLB, you should be fine.
P.S. Don't forget trademarks. If prudence is your thing, avoid MLB references in ads or on the cover of your book.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Whistleblower Wants to Blow Off NDA

Dear Rich: Does an NDA (nondisclosure agreement) prevent me from reporting illegal activity at work?
A whistleblower -- an employee who has a reasonable belief that an employer is violating the law and who reports the violation -- is often protected from retaliation by a patchwork of whistleblower laws. In some cases, these laws are aimed at specific employees -- for example, federal employees, military personnel, and employees of companies regulated by federal agencies. In other cases, when whistleblowing involves disclosure of trade secrets, and the employee has signed an NDA (nondisclosure agreement), federal and most state laws grant immunity to the whistleblower for violation of the NDA. In one case, a court ordered a company to revise its NDA to include a clause recognizing whistleblower rights. In addition, some companies have internal whistleblower reporting procedures that may have to be followed. For all these reasons, and because of the risks involved in whistleblowing, an attorney's advice is essential.

Monday, October 1, 2018

How Does Landlord Legally Remove Mural?

pre-historic Lescaux cave drawings 
Dear Rich: I own a building and the previous owner had commissioned an artist to paint a mural with maritime themes. The new tenant doesn't want to keep the mural. I was told by another landlord that there is a law to follow before getting rid of a mural. What's the correct legal procedure? 
Assuming the mural was created after December 1, 1990 and is recognized as having “artistic merit” or “some level of local notoriety," or is of “recognized stature” as an artistic work, the mural cannot be destroyed without properly notifying the artist. This is based on the federal Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA) and is true regardless of whether the artist owns copyright or whether the artwork is finished. Under VARA, the property owner must give the artist 90 days notice. This article details what happens in the real world and explains that the landlord's primary responsibility is to "give notice at the artist’s last-known address and wait 90 days for the artist to remove [the artwork] at his own expense." A few states have art preservation laws as well. The California Art Preservation Act (CAPA) is often used in combination with VARA lawsuits. For example, when a building owner painted over a famous L.A. mural without first providing notice as required under California law, the artist sued under the California and federal laws and recovered 1.1 million.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Sony Complains About Bach Soundtrack Music

Dear Rich: I am an animation student working on a short film that uses Bach's Unaccompanied Cello Suite 1 Prelude as a background audio track. The Bach music track is nine minutes long, edited down to 90 seconds. Since Bach was a composer from the 1700s, I figured I wouldn't be facing copyright claims, but upon posting it to YouTube, I received a copyright claim from Sony Music Entertainment on behalf of Sony Classical. I planned on sending my short to a student film festival.
Two copyrights are associated with musical recordings: the "musical composition" copyright for creating the music (what would have been Bach's copyright); and the "sound recording" copyright for the audio recording and arrangement (Sony's copyright). Although all of Bach's musical compositions including Cello Suite 1 Prelude are in the public domain, some of the recordings are protected. Apparently YouTube's Content ID police tracked down your use. 
Getting "master use" rights from Sony for a student film may be difficult, expensive, or impossible. You can start by contacting Sony Music Licensing. If that doesn't work, here are three other choices.
Stock music version. The easiest solution is to license a stock music version of the piece. Companies such as feature multiple versions for $20 to $30. Run a Google search to find other Creative Commons or public domain versions of the cello suite.
Fair use. You could respond to the YouTube copyright claim by claiming fair use. However, if Sony disputes your fair use argument, you may have to make your case in federal court. Also, there could be a problem entering festivals because you may have to warranty that your movie contains no infringing material. Festival directors may not appreciate the fair use analysis.
The semitone/transpose hack. There are anecdotal reports that transposing the audio by a semitone or speeding it up slightly can prevent Content I.D. from catching infringing uses. (There are contrary indications as well.) In any case, it's still infringement.
For your FYI Dept. There was no copyright law in Germany during Bach's life, and according to some scholars, the composer allegedly took advantage of that fact.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Mom Wants Tax Loss From Daughter's Recording

Many moms have encouraged their pop star daughters' success
Dear Rich: I'm a CPA and I can’t find much information on how a parent of a minor should structure a business with their child. My daughter is a 16-year-old singer/songwriter and she is recording her first EP. Obviously, I am paying for everything. I can’t decide whether an LLC is best and if I did that how would I do the ownership. I’d love to get the tax loss on my tax return.
Your daughter's lucky to have a savvy mom who recognizes the importance of managing her music finances. If the money you spend on your daughter's business exceeds your daughter's income for the year, your business incurs a loss. There are a few ways to address your losses:
Sole proprietor (You own the business). [Pros: Easy to create and manage. Cons: No limitation on liability, only suitable for a single owner.] Claiming the loss as a sole proprietor as a "Schedule C" business requires the least paperwork. You create a business to promote your daughter's music and as sole owner, you file a Schedule C with your Form 1040. That allows you to deduct your music business losses against regular income. There are some caveats, as you probably know, the main one being the 3-out-of-5 year rule. You may want to sign an agreement with your daughter compensating you when she begins making money from music performances or recording.
General partnership (You and your daughter own the business). [Pros: Easy to create and manage. Cons: No limitation on liability, each partner is liable for other partner's actions.] If you want to own the business with your daughter, you can form a general partnership. You don't have to register your partnership with the state and you don't need a written partnership agreement although it is helpful for documenting the percentage of ownership. A partnership does not pay taxes, but it must complete and file a tax return (Form 1065, called an “informational return”) and each partner also receives a Schedule K-1, which contains the relevant profit or loss information. Based on the information in the K-1 form, the partners declare the loss (or profit) on their individual 1040 tax returns using a Schedule E. Like a sole proprietorship, you can deduct the partnership loss against regular income.
LLC (You -- or you and your daughter -- own the business). [Pros: Limits personal liability. Cons: Must register with the state; fees required for formation (and in most states, owners must pay annual maintenance fees).] An LLC reduces personal liability, a factor which may not be of great importance at this point in your daughter's career. Tax forms for an LLC are prepared in the same way as they are for a sole proprietorship (as in the case of a 1-person LLC) or partnership (in the case of an LLC with two or more members). Because of the expenses of forming an LLC, we'd suggest waiting until your daughter has achieved some measure of success with downloads or bookings.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Coach and Player Interview Release

Dear Rich: I am interviewing members of a high school team and their coaches for a book. I have a release agreement for players but not for the high school coach. How should I adapt the release?
A signed release (as we explain here) should serve two purposes: the subject consents to use of interview statements, and the subject releases you (and your publisher) from being sued for libel, invasion of privacy, or copyright infringement (since the speaker’s words may be copyrightable).
Player v. coach. There shouldn't be a substantive difference between a player's release and a coach's release except for the "parental consent" provision that you can use for players under the age of majority (18 in most states). We've posted a sample interview release at the Stanford Fair Use site that includes an optional "parental consent" provision. (We've written about parental consents here and here).

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Private Facts

Dear Rich: I'm thinking of doing a podcast where people share their personal stories of struggle and triumph, which in many cases might include private facts. In your podcasting course, you mention that it's not okay to share private facts, even if they are true. What can I do to minimize that concern? 
When potentially embarrassing information is disclosed about an individual without relation to a legitimate public concern it may give rise to a claim of invasion of privacy. For example, wrestler Hulk Hogan sued Gawker for publishing sex tapes.
The claim. The Reporter's Committee has summarized the elements of a private-facts invasion of privacy claim: (1) the information is so personal and intimate that its disclosure would offend a reasonable person, even if the information is true; (2) the information is not generally known to the public; (3) the information is not newsworthy; and (4) the disclosure of the information is widely communicated. You can find summaries of a few lawsuits at the Digital Media Law Project.
Limiting liability. Your interview subjects can safely disclose any facts about themselves, for example, "I used to shoplift." But you would want to avoid identifying others involved, for example, "I used to shoplift with my cousin, Mark." You're okay disclosing private facts about a dead person as the dead have no privacy. You may also defend against a claim by demonstrating that your podcast is not "widely communicated," that the information is newsworthy, or that the information is generally known (for example, it's a matter of public record). If your podcast has a corporate affiliation or you've indemnified the sponsors, you should take a conservative approach as injured parties tend to pursue defendants with deep pockets (Although sometimes the injured parties are bankrolled by equally deep pockets).

Monday, September 10, 2018

Can We Modify "Edelweiss" for Prison Retreat?

Dear Rich: My church group travels to prisons to conduct retreats for inmates.  We'd like to use the song Edelweiss, but with different words.  Would this be okay?
Many music lovers believe that "Edelweiss" is an Austrian folk song and that it was included in the Sound of Music to add cultural authenticity. However, the song was co-written in 1959 by Rodgers and Hammerstein (their last song before Hammerstein's death). The song is still protected by copyright. To seek permission, you should contact Concord Music publishers. Under copyright law, altering song lyrics requires permission unless excused by fair use (an issue which is difficult to predict and expensive to litigate). As a practical matter, you're probably not going to run into problems with a "don't ask - don't tell" approach as the copyright owner may not want to bother chasing after a church group for this type of infringement.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Fail to Register Song - Lose Copyright?

Dear Rich: I read that the government is planning a song database and songwriters who don't register will lose all copyrights. Can you explain?
The Transparency in Music Licensing and Ownership Act (TMLOA) is a proposed law that, should it be enacted, would create a song database run by the Copyright Office. Supposedly, the database would make it easier to locate the song owner or PRO. Note:  A song owner does not have to register copyright to provide information to the TMLOA database.
Failing to register. A song owner who fails to register will not lose copyright. The "punishment" for not registering is that if the song owner sues a store, restaurant, web radio, or other industries mentioned in the TMLOA, the song owner can only collect the actual damages, not the statutory damages or attorney fees. The underlying effect of the proposed law would be to discourage lawsuits against various industries. The TMLOA is not considered particularly favorable to song owners, and has been characterized as "an all-stick, no-carrot deal."
Bottom line dept. A few things to keep in mind: (1) ASCAP and BMI are cooperating on their own publicly accessible database in order to discourage passage of this legislation. (2) Regardless whether the legislation passes, any song owner who doesn't file for copyright before infringement occurs, cannot collect statutory damages. (3) Considering the track record for proposed copyright legislation, the cost and technology required, as well as the rumors spreading about the TMLOA, the odds disfavor passage of this partisan business legislation.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Using Midi Music From a Video Game Cartridge

Dear Rich: I want to know if it is considered sampling when you record sound coming from a synthesizer that is playing electronic note data stored on a memory chip. Technically when you play an NES game (80s video game system), the music that is playing is not pre-recorded. It is actually played "live" from musical note data on the game cartridge (gameplay triggers a MIDI pattern) in the console into the internal synthesizer. When I record synthesized sounds for the purpose of using them in new music, would it count as a sample or a cover? 
When MIDI code triggers a synthesizer, it's similar to a piano roll triggering a player piano. In both cases, music written by a human is programmed to be played by a machine. Whenever a human creates an original fixed work (the code is fixed on the game cartridge), it's protected by copyright. In order to record, remix, or repurpose the NES/MIDI melodies or themes, copyright law requires that you get permission from the composition's owner -- either Nintendo, the game company, or in rare situations, the composer. Unless the music has been released on CD or authorized downloads such as MP3s, you would not use the compulsory mechanical license used for cover songs because that only applies to compositions that have been released on sound recordings (not video games or movies). Sample licensing usually includes two licenses, one for the composition, the other for the recorded performance. You wouldn't need the license for the recorded performance (aka the master recording).
What if you don't get permission? Failing to acquire permission won't matter if the copyright owner never learns of your use (a good possibility unless your track goes viral). And even if the owner does learn of your work, the owner may not want to hassle you for financial or publicity reasons. The owner may be most likely to care if you use your music in a video game or movie.
Permission may not be needed. Authorization is not needed if your sampling is excused as a fair use, determined by the four fair use factors. Your use differs from the original purpose of the music -- to enhance the gameplay experience. So, that's transformative (and in your favor). Another fair use factor is how much material you have used. The less you sample, the less you loop, and the less that the song is built around the loop, the stronger the fair use argument. Still, as we always warn: Fair use can only be used as a defense to copyright infringement. That is, you must already be in court. Also, permission might not be necessary if the MIDI composition is not original (for example based on folk music) or is so simple the pattern is considered an essential building block of music composition (for example, the arpeggio associated with boogie-woogie piano). Again, like fair use, these are defenses raised at trial.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Can I Use Promo Photos from The Virginian?

Dear Rich: I was one of the co-stars in The Virginian TV series and a friend who is creating a Wiki page for me (about to publish my first novel) and asked if the publicity photos taken of me back in the mid-60s were my property or had the copyright to them expired. I know they aren't my property, but don't know about expired copyrights and wondered if you could shed some light on whether I need to contact NBC for use of the photos on Wiki?
We can't say for sure who owns the rights to The Virginian's publicity photos, but if they're like many other publicity photos from that time (The Virginian ran from 1962-1971), there's a good possibility that they're in the public domain.
The Wind and the Wizard.  Works published before March 1, 1989, were required to include copyright notice so if the Virginian's publicity stills were distributed without a notice (the word "copyright" or "©" and the name of the owner), you're free to use them. It wasn't uncommon for stills to lack notice.
"An issue of recurring application is publicity photos for motion pictures from the 1920's through 1970's. The films themselves from that era were routinely protected as validly noticed and registered works; but much less care was typically exercised during production and in the publicity office. (1-4 Nimmer on Copyright § 4.13[A][3].)
In some situations, the lack of notice might have been deliberate. A notice might have discouraged reproductions and the whole point of these 8 x 10 glossies was to get publicity. In one case that arose over the use of posters and promo photos from the films The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the materials entered the public domain when they were distributed without a copyright notice.
Before 1964?  If any of the stills were distributed before 1964 it's likely they entered the public domain. Works published before 1964 had to be renewed and only a small percentage (estimated to be less than11%) met that requirement.
If it is still under copyright ... there are a few things to consider:
  • Who owns the copyright? It's probably either NBC or the production company that created the show (or an assignee of either of the two). It's possible but unlikely that the rights for promo photos were transferred to a third party stock photo house such as Getty. That's easy enough to check using Google's Reverse Image Search
  • Will the copyright owner learn of your use, and if so, will they care? If a reverse image search confirms several unauthorized uses, that may indicate that either (1) the copyright owner is not trolling the web for old promo photos, or (2) the copyright owner doesn't care about those reproductions. If the owner of the photos also owns rights to the TV series, it wouldn't be good publicity to go after a former star of the show while the show is still in syndication.
  • Does your posting of the picture constitute fair use? Based on the four fair use factors, we think you have a strong fair use argument. However, as we always warn, fair use is a defense made when the case is being litigated --  already an expensive proposition.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Can Trader Joe's Stop My Book?

Dear Rich: I wrote an 84-page culinary history book proposing that Trader Joe's changed the way America eats. I self-published it recently (as it is their 50th anniversary this year.) The book analyzes a March 1982 flyer, which TJ's had mailed to our house. I scanned the flyer and cut up the food descriptions, then organized them into types of food to provide commentary on food "then and now" as well as commentary on the writing in the flyer as the company encouraged people to discover new foods. There are multiple disclaimers on the book that this was not published by TJ's, and the text of the book is all positive. Once I published the book on Amazon, they stated I did not have the right to use the flyer images. Is this fair use? The illustrations and artwork are all original. There is no copyright statement on the flyer! Only an (R) to trademark the flyer name of "Insider Report."
We've reviewed your book and we're not sure why the company is objecting.
No copyright, no cry. We believe that the failure to include copyright notice placed the flyer into the public domain, making it available for anyone to use. For works published before March 1989, authorized publication without notice typically doomed works, unless excused. (By the way, the U.S. was the only country following this rule.) Even if the flyer were not in the public domain, you have one of the stronger cases for fair use that has crossed the Dear Rich Staff's desk. Only one of the four fair use factors -- the amount and substantiality of the portion taken -- weighs against you. Otherwise, your reproduction of this 35-year old advertisement is highly transformative and should not deprive the $13-billion-a-year chain of any potential market share.
Trademark rights. A company can object if its trademark is used in a manner that confuses consumers as to source --  for example, consumers believe your book is sponsored or authorized by Trader Joe's. This is unlikely considering your prominent disclaimer and your failure to include the company's distinctive lettering or logos. Further, as we've written before, the use of a company's trademark is permitted for editorial purposes, which is clearly the case here. We also don't think there's any trademark dilution.
Bottom Line Dept. It's difficult to understand why the grocery chain is objecting to your book, especially considering how TJ-positive it is. We can only chalk it up to too much Cookie Butter.