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.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Can We Get Patent Rights Back From Our Employer?

Dear Rich: Almost two years ago I had an idea and with two other guys that I worked with. We developed a product completely outside of work (none of our jobs were in hardware design etc.). We took almost a year to get the product right, but at the end, we had 10 prototypes created and decided to let our boss know about it as he could benefit from it and we could benefit from his funding us. We came to a verbal agreement that he would fund our further development and that we could use time/space at work to further work on it. He would loan us funding for inventory and circuit changes etc. In return, we would give his company exclusivity for one year before we sell it publicly. That would give him the advantage in the market and after the year we would also give him favored nations pricing. He said he would pay for the patent and wanted us to assign it to him as insurance that we would pay off the debt to him. Once we did that, he would assign it back over to us (it did sound strange but we trusted him). We did try to get our agreement in writing. We have various emails and instant messages with him and the point of contact he wanted us to brief. In hindsight, it seems he was stalling because he recently sold the company and is claiming that we never had an agreement or that since we assigned it to him we don't own anything. But we were never compensated and would never have assigned without the agreement we came to. So, in our minds, we wondered whether it was an assignment based on fraud or was unconscionable? Why would we assign without getting anything at all? Is there anything we can do?
Unfortunately, like many inventors, you've lost control of your invention. To get the rights back, you need to (1) convince your employer to assign the rights back to you (through negotiation or litigation), or (2) convince a judge to invalidate the patent assignment. This may be difficult (and expensive). Note: your employer has only prospective rights. That is, there are no patent rights until a patent is granted.
The Assignment. You and your co-inventors signed a written assignment transferring the patent application for "good and valuable consideration, receipt of which is hereby acknowledged." That document was recorded at the USPTO and your employer subsequently transferred the patent from a corporation to an LLC. Assignments are presumed to be valid
Was the assignment fraudulent or unconscionable? Fraud, also known as misrepresentation, occurs when a false statement is made upon which another party justifiably relies, resulting in damage. In other words, if you can prove that your employer lied to you (or concealed the truth) and you had reason to believe the lie and were damaged, a court may invalidate the assignment. (Damage may be difficult to prove because a patent hasn't yet been granted.) A contract also won’t be enforced if it is unconscionable or grossly unfair. This almost always occurs in situations where the bargaining power is severely imbalanced and the party with more power takes advantage by forcing unfair conditions, clauses, or waivers on the other party. Fraud is often successful as a contract defense; unconscionability is not as successful.
The employment relationship. Further complicating your situation is your relationship with the employer. Ownership rules -- "employed to invent" and "shop rights" -- are more difficult to sort out if (1) the employer funds development, (2) the employee works on the invention on the job, or (3) the employee uses company facilities. Another issue is whether the invention is something that is related to the employer’s business or actual or anticipated research or development.
What to do? We suggest you retain a patent attorney to analyze the situation, and if necessary, apply pressure on your former employer to work out a solution. We doubt whether you want to bear the cost of patent litigation, so be prepared to compromise. You may be able to save on costs by using the services of an attorney connected with California Lawyers for the Arts.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Should I Submit Fabric Designs to Vida?

Dear Rich: I built my business on printing my designs on fabric and making stuff. Now there's a handy service (VIDA) that makes stuff with your uploaded design and sells it to others. That makes it easier. I am just leery of any "catches." Can you look at the licensing agreement?
VIDA is a socially responsible e-commerce company, launched in 2014, that connects designers with manufacturers around the world and sells the resulting products at its site. Artists and designers submit original fabric designs which, if accepted, are converted to fabric and used for apparel and housewares merchandise. The designer receives a 10% royalty for each sale.
Nonexclusive and Exclusive Licenses. According to Vida's Designer's Submission and Licensing Agreement, by submitting your designs, you give Vida a nonexclusive license to reproduce  your design primarily for marketing and promotional purposes.  Once an order is made, you give Vida exclusive rights to sell your design in the designated categories (classes of goods that you selected when you submitted your design). (Here's an overview of the merchandise licensing process.)
How does Vida's license stack up? 
  • Royalty -  Artists receive 10% of net revenue (gross revenue minus discounts, shipping and similar expenses). Fabric design royalties typically range between 2 and 10%. 
  • Length of licenses -  You can terminate the nonexclusive license thirty days after providing notice. You can terminate the exclusive license within one year after providing notice. Most fabric licenses are for 1-3 years with one year renewable terms.
  • Limitations - The exclusive license is limited to the designated categories that you selected when you submitted your design. If you don't want Vida to have exclusive rights for certain goods, don't select them as designated categories.
  • Reliability of the licensee - The company appears to be well-funded and has been around for almost three years (a good sign for a start up). 
Though the agreement is relatively friendly to artists, there are some details we are not wild about -- for example, the ability of Vida to freely assign your exclusive rights. You can compare Vida's agreement with a model license agreement and explanation.