Many people are familiar with copyrights for literary and musical works, movies, and the like. This post is about a different type of copyright, the design copyright.
Title 17, Chapter 13 of the United States Code contains the relevant statutes.
Design Copyright Elements
Creativity is important socially and aesthetically. It also is required for a work to be copyrightable.
The Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices is the administrative manual of the Register of Copyrights. The Compendium concerns Title 17 of the United States Code and Chapter 37 of the Code of Federal Regulations. (more…)
The U.S. Copyright Office maintains designated agent records under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The Office recently announced that will be moving from paper to an online system.
17 U.S.C. Section 512(c)(1)(C) states that for a provider to be protected by the DMCA, it must respond to a valid takedown notice by “respond[ing] expeditiously to remove, or disable access to, the material that is claimed to be infringing….” (more…)
This post is based on a recent federal appellate case, Lenz v. Universal Music. That case held that one must consider fair use as a possible defense for an online service provider before sending a takedown notice under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).
You probably have sung “Happy Birthday [to You]” countless times. This post is about a company that has been collecting royalties from that song and the possibility that those royalties soon may stop.
In 1893, sisters Mildred Jane Hill and Patty Smith Hill published a collection of children’s songs. One of the songs – with the tune that we now know for “Happy Birthday to You” – was “Good Morning to All”.
Good morning to you,
Good morning to you,
Good morning, dear children,
Good morning to all.
While no one knows for sure who wrote the “Happy Birthday” lyrics, their first known publication was in 1912. (more…)
Last week I explained what a security interest is and how it can be perfected, i.e., made effective against third parties. (See What is a Security Interest, and Why Should I Care?) This post discusses how to perfect an intellectual property security interest.
To recap, a security interest is an interest in an asset (the “collateral”) intended to secure performance of an obligation. Typically, that obligation is payment of a debt. Perfection typically consists of filing, with one of more secretaries of state, documents that identify the debtor, the creditor and the collateral. (more…)
This post compares plagiarism and copyright infringement. It is prompted by a Quora question that I answered several months ago. (See Have your ideas or works ever been plagiarized? What happened?)
Plagiarism is the wrongful appropriate on another’s work and presenting it as one’s own. One typically thinks of plagiarism occurring in academia or journalism. However, as discussed below, it can occur in other professions, too.
Copyright Infringement Defined
The holder of the copyright in a work has certain exclusive rights with respect to that work. These include (as applicable) the rights to reproduce, distribute, publicly perform, publicly display, and make derivative works of the work. Copyright infringement is use of a work, without permission of the copyright holder, that infringes on one of those exclusive rights.
We all have seen a typical copyright notice (e.g., “Copyright 2013 Anyhow, Inc.”) countless times. However, every once in a while, someone will see a copyright notice with multiple years (e.g., “2010-2013”) and will wonder whether it is legitimate.
- The symbol © (the letter C in a circle), the word “Copyright”, or the abbreviation “Copr.”
- The year of first publication.
- The name of the copyright owner.
Copyright and trademark owners typically like to exercise their legal rights as broadly as possible. There is however, a well-known limit to those rights called the “first sale doctrine“.
Actually, they are two separate but similar doctrines. One pertains to copyrights, the other to trademarks:
- Copyrights – 17 USC Section 109(a) states, with certain exceptions, that the owner of a lawfully-made copy of a work may sell or dispose of the work. Consent of the copyright owner is not required. So, for example, if you legitimately possess a book or a CD, you may sell it or give it to someone else or throw it into a trash bin.
- Trademarks – The trademark first sale doctrine is a product of case law rather than statute. In Sebastian International, Inc. v. Longs Drug Stores Corporation, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit wrote: “[W]ith certain well-defined exceptions, the right of a producer to control distribution of its trademarked product does not extend beyond the first sale of the product. Resale by the first purchaser of the original article under the producer’s trademark is neither trademark infringement nor unfair competition.” The exceptions include, for example, stolen or counterfeit goods or goods that have avoided the producer’s quality control systems.
A recently-acquired client is one of three inventors of a device that received a U.S. patent. She asked me whether she can freely license to an LLC owned by two of the inventors the right to manufacture products covered by the license. I replied “yes” – here’s why.
35 U.S.C. Section 262 says:
In the absence of any agreement to the contrary, each of the joint owners of a patent may make, use, offer to sell, or sell the patented invention within the United States, or import the patented invention into the United States, without the consent of and without accounting to the other owners.
In Blue Nile v. Ideal Diamond Solutions, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington held that co-defendant Larry Chasin, founder and an officer of defendant IDS, was personally liable for infringement of plaintiff Blue Nile’s copyrighted images, even though Chasin claimed he had no role in putting infringing images on websites and he did not know the images were infringing.
Blue Nile is an online jewelry and diamond retailer. Chasin founded and operated IDS to create websites for brick-and-mortar jewelers to help them compete online. The websites included some of Blue Nile’s copyrighted images.
I have written, on several occasions, about the importance of assigning copyrights (and other intellectual property rights) when work is done by an independent contractor. (See, e.g., Independent Contractors: How to Assign Copyrights.) Sometimes, however – as suggested in a comment to What is a Derivative Work, and Why should I Care? – it is appropriate not to assign all rights.
I recently realized that I have referred to copyright infringement in quite a few posts. However, I neglected to define that term. It is time to correct that oversight.
Copyright Infringement Defined
Generally, infringement occurs when a copyrighted work is reproduced, distributed, performed, publicly displayed, or made into a derivative work without the permission of the copyright owner. I.e., copyright infringement is a violation of the copyright owner’s exclusive rights. (See Copyright Protection in One Easy Lesson.) (more…)
On occasion I am asked about the extent to which a new work can incorporate elements of a pre-existing work without infringing the pre-existing work’s copyright. To answer such a question, one must understand derivative works.
17 U.S.C. Section 101 says (emphasis added):
A “derivative work” is a work based upon one or more preexisting works, such as a translation, musical arrangement, dramatization, fictionalization, motion picture version, sound recording, art reproduction, abridgment, condensation, or any other form in which a work may be recast, transformed, or adapted. A work consisting of editorial revisions, annotations, elaborations, or other modifications which, as a whole, represent an original work of authorship, is a “derivative work”.
This post is adapted (with editing) from a Quora question that I answered. Q. I developed a software application on my own, then adapted it for my new employer, where it is used enterprise-wide. What are my ownership rights in this situation?
A. It would help to know whether you signed any type of proprietary information and inventions agreement with your employer. If you did, its terms (obviously) will be of great importance. You did not mention any such agreement, so I will assume, for the purposes of the discussion below, that there is no such agreement.
In “Copyright: Why You Need Presence of Mind about Present Assignments“, I wrote about why copyright assignments should be expressed as present assignments (e.g., “I hereby assign”) rather than obligations to assign in the future (e.g., “I hereby agree to assign”). This suggestion applies to assignment of patents, too.
A researcher at Stanford University, in collaboration with Roche predecessor Cetus, developed methods for quantifying Human Immunodeficiency Virus in human blood samples, and correlating those measurements to the therapeutic effectiveness of antiretroviral drugs.
Sometimes people want to know whether a work is so old that it it can be copied without any possibility of infringing anyone’s copyright. This post provides the answer (in the United States).
Before January 1, 1979 – when then-existing copyrights were automatically extended to 95 years from the end of the year in which the copyright was secured – copyrights were in effect for 28 years, with extension, if requested, for a second 28-year period (total of 56 years).
So, the earliest a work could have been copyrighted (which, at that time, required publication with a copyright notice) and still received the automatic extension was 56 years before January 1, 1979, i.e., January 1, 1923. The copyright for such a work would expire on December 31, 2018 (after 95 years).
In Independent Contractors: How to Assign Copyrights, I provided sample language for an independent contractor’s assignment of copyrights to a client. This post explains why the present assignment aspect of that language is critical.
Here (with emphasis added) is the relevant portion of the pivotal sentence:
Contractor hereby irrevocably assigns, transfers and conveys to Client all of its right, title and interest in and to the Deliverables, including complete, unconditional and worldwide ownership of all intellectual property rights in any draft or final version of the Deliverables.
17 USC Section 512(c)(1)(C) provides a “safe harbor” incentive for service providers to remove, or disable access to, infringing works expeditiously. Unfortunately, “expeditiously” is not defined (see “Defining Expeditious: Uncharted Territory of the DMCA Safe Harbor Provision“).
Many software companies rely on a combination of copyright and trade secret protection for their products. There is a potential problem, however: The requirement to submit source code with a copyright registration is somewhat at odds with the confidentiality requirements of a trade secret.
Fortunately, the U.S Copyright Office offers some flexibility in its deposit requirements for software containing trade secrets. The applicant may deposit any of the following: (more…)
Several months ago, I wrote about the circumstances under which courts will find an implied copyright license if there has not been an assignment of copyright. (If You Don’t Set the Terms of a Copyright License, a Court Will) In a recent case (Estate of Hevia v. Portrio Corp.), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit held that there was an implied copyright license in a partnership context.
The decedent, Roberto Hevia-Acosta, was an architect. Following his death, his estate and heirs waged an intensive legal battle against his business partner over copyrights in the decedent’s architectural designs.
Over the weekend, I answered a LinkedIn question [no longer available there because LinkedIn ended its Q&A feature] about whether posting a copyrighted photo of another company’s product with disparaging comments about that product might be protected by the “fair use” defense to copyright infringement. I am reproducing the question and answer, in edited form, below.
Q. My website is copyrighted and the newest product is trademark and patent pending. The image was “clipped/copied” by an individual and placed on a website without my permission to do so. Am I right that this is not “fair use” of my work?
A. The “Fair Use” Defense: One Term, Two Different Meanings discusses the four elements of copyright fair use. The analysis always is highly fact-specific, so it is difficult to say whether use on cpaptalk.com qualifies for that defense, but I think there is a reasonable argument that it does.
In a recently-decided case (JustMed v. Byce), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit decided that a software developer was an employee, rather than an independent contractor, even though the parties had completed almost no employment-related paperwork.
Byce took over development of JustMed’s software from an employee who had moved out of state. Byce’s compensation – the same as his predecessor’s – was 15,000 shares of JustMed stock (valued at $0.50 per share) per month.
After reading If You Don’t Set the Terms of a Copyright License, a Court Will, a (non-lawyer) friend wrote: “I work with subcontractors on a regular basis in the creative area (photographers, graphic artists, website designers, etc.).? Do you know where I can find a sample [copyright assignment provision]?”
Several months ago, I wrote that the “fair use” defense to copyright infringement often is poorly understood. The U.S. Postal Service illustrates this point. A recent court decision held that a postage stamp infringed the copyrights in certain sculptures and was not fair use thereof.
John Alli took a photo of the Memorial. The Postal Service paid Alli $1,500 for the right to use that photo for a 37-cent stamp commemorating the 50th anniversary of the armistice of the Korean War. Alli told the Postal Service that it would need permission from the owner of the copyright in the sculptures; the Postal Service did not seek such permission. (more…)
A federal court of appeals held in 2008 that an open source developer case sue for copyright infringement despite the breadth of the open source license. The closely-watched case recently settled, meaning that the opinion may well be cited for many years to come.
Plaintiff Robert Jacobsen holds a copyright to certain computer programming code that he makes available for public download for free pursuant to the Artistic License, an open source license.
Defendants Matthew Katzer and Kamind Associates, Inc. develop commercial software products for the model train industry and hobbyists. Defendants copied certain materials from Jacobsen’s website and incorporated them into one of their software packages without following the terms of the Artistic License. Jacobsen sued for copyright infringement and moved for a preliminary injunction.
Almost a year ago, I wrote about why independent contractors (as contrasted to employees) own the copyrights in works that they create. As a result, a prudent customer will ensure that the contractor assigns its copyrights to the customer (Work Made for Hire – a Term Made for Confusion). This post discusses the implied copyright license that is granted in the absence of an assignment.
If there is no assignment provision, a court will determine that there is an implied license under the copyright. The rationale is that it would be unfair to deprive the customer of all rights in a work for which the customer has paid. The issue, then, will be the terms of the implied license. (more…)
Copyright protects works of authorship and, in the U.S., subsists from the time the work is created in fixed form (see Copyright Protection in One Easy Lesson).
In certain circles, however, there is fervent opposition to copyright (see the Wikipedia entry for Anti-copyright).
Suppose that an anti-copyright author wants to abandon the copyrights in his works. (Sometimes this also is called dedicating work to the public domain.) Can he do so under U.S. law?
Although there is no statutory basis for abandonment, there is widely-accepted case law stating that a copyright owner may abandon his copyright by an overt act that manifests a purpose to surrender his rights to the work and let the public copy it.
Several months ago (Copyright Registration: Whether, When and Why), I wrote about the benefits of registering a copyright. A recent case in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California (Dongxiao Yue, et al., v. Chordiant Software, Inc., et al.) shows that if you are going to register a copyright, you should register it right away.
Plaintiffs accused defendants of copyright infringement with respect to two pieces of software that were covered by registered copyrights. The defendants moved for a summary judgment that plaintiffs were not entitled to statutory damages and attorney fees because the alleged infringement began before the plaintiffs registered their copyrights.
It appears that at least some gay marriage foes need to learn a thing or two about trademark law.
On January 12, ProtectMarriage.com sent Courage Campaign a cease and desist letter, alleging that Courage Campaign’s Prop 8 Trial Tracker logo infringes ProjectMarriage.com’s trademark and copyright in its logo.
This post is about a frustration in U.S. copyright law: orphan works.
Suppose that you are willing to pay for a license to reproduce a copyrighted work, but you have no way to contact the owner of the copyright. You may not even be able to identify who the owner is. (See Copyright Office Circular 22, How to Investigate the Copyright Status of a Work.) (more…)
Let’s assume that several authors co-write an article or a book. Who owns the copyright in the jointly-created work?
The answer is that the authors are equal co-owners of the copyright (17 U.S.C. Section 201[a]). Each copyright co-owner can exploit the copyright as he or she wishes (for example, by granting one or more nonexclusive sublicenses). However, each is obligated to share any profits from such activities with the other co-owners (see, e.g., Thomson v. Larson).
Update: On September 10, 2010, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (in Vernor v. Autodesk) reversed the District Count decision discussed below. Supporting software licensors’ reasonable business expectations, the Court held “that a software user is a licensee rather than an owner of a copy where the copyright owner (1) specifies that the user is granted a license; (2) significantly restricts the user’s ability to transfer the software; and (3) imposes notable use restrictions.” [Emphasis added.] Accordingly, Vernor, as a licensee, was not protected by the first sale doctrine when he sold copies of Autodesk’s software.
* * *
In Vernor v. Autodesk, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington told Autodesk that despite the restrictions in its license agreement, Autodesk could not preclude its customer from selling AutoCAD software to a third party.
This Ralph Lauren ad has been making the rounds of the Internet and television, recently. The reason: Photo retouching to the point of absurdity, producing a supermodel (Filippa Hamilton) who looks more like a Bratz doll than a human being.
I am not raising this issue to jump into the debate about skinny models and self-esteem of girls and women, which is being addressed at length elsewhere. (Disclosure: I have a wife and two daughters.) I am more interested in a huge legal and business mistake that Ralph Lauren made.
“Fair use” is a legal term that does not necessarily mean what people often assumes it means (a free pass to use other people’s intellectual property). Indeed, the term has two different meanings, depending on whether copyrights or trademarks are at issue.
Copyright protects works of authorship. See Copyright Protection in One Easy Lesson. The copyright owner has the exclusive right (as applicable) to reproduce, distribute, publicly perform, publicly display, and make derivative works of the copyrighted work.
Copyright infringement is the unauthorized exercise of one of the exclusive rights by someone other than the copyright owner. Thus, for example unauthorized copying of someone else’s music or movie constitutes copyright infringement.
A fundamental tenet of patent law is that the owner of a patent can preclude others from using or manufacturing inventions that the patent covers. Because of eminent domain, however, that there is a major loophole regarding the U.S. government.
Section 1498(a) of Title 28 of the U.S. Code says, in part:
“Whenever an invention described in and covered by a patent of the United States is used or manufactured by or for the United States without license of the owner thereof or lawful right to use or manufacture the same, the owner’s remedy shall be action against the United States in the United States Court of Federal Claims for recovery of his reasonable and entire compensation for such use and manufacture.”
(Section 1498(b) provides similarly with respect to copyright infringement by the United States.) (more…)
In the U.S., copyright protection subsists in a work of original authorship as soon as it is fixed in a tangible medium of expression. 17 U.S.C. Section 102 There is no requirement that the work be registered with the Copyright Office or that a copyright notice be affixed. As discussed below, however, there are circumstances when copyright registration and affixing a notice are advisable.
Copyright Registration Required to Bring Suit
17 U.S.C. Section 411(a) says that, generally, a copyright registration is required before the owner can bring suit for copyright infringement. Furthermore, Section 412 says that, generally, awards of statutory damages (Section 504(c)) and attorney’s fees (Section 505) are available only if the copyright has been registered within three months of publication or within one month of learning of infringement, whichever is earlier.
As Alexander Pope wrote in An Essay on Criticism (1711), “A little Learning is a dang’rous Thing“. That certainly pertains to the legal concept of a “work made for hire” (WMFH).
People who have some knowledge of WMFH typically believe that it means the transfer of all rights in a work from the creator to a purchaser. So, for example, if an independent contractor writes software for a company, then according to this belief, the company will own all rights to the software if the parties’ contract says the software is a work made for hire. This belief is wrong! The following is an explanation of what work made for hire really means under copyright law and how parties actually can arrange for transfer of all rights in a work.
Here are some intellectual property blogs that I like and some of the reasons why they impress me:
- Patent – Patently-O – Professor who says a lot without being too wordy or abstract.
- Copyright – Exclusive Rights – In-house attorney with a sense of humor.
- Trademark – The Trademark Blog – Private-practice attorney who provides case documents. Been blogging since 2002!
- Trade secret – Trade Secrets Blog – Law firm that includes an eye-catching graphic with almost every post.
This blog does not provide legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you need legal advice, please contact an attorney directly.
From time to time, clients ask me questions about copyright protection. For example: Should I put a notice on my work? What must the notice say? What about “all rights reserved”? Should I register my copyright? If so, when? Here is a brief overview of copyright formalities. This post discusses why they are not required in the U.S., but when, where and how they might help you.
Copyright Protection Basics in the U.S.
Copyright protects works of authorship and subsists from the time the work is created in fixed form. The owner has the exclusive right (as applicable) to reproduce, distribute, publicly perform, publicly display, and make derivative works of the copyrighted work.