Chinese IPRs and Trade Wars

Chinese IPRs and Trade Wars

著作權 or Zhùzuòquán means “copyright” in Mandarin Chinese. Earlier this week, Chinese authorities kicked-off a campaign against online copyright infringement. Is this crackdown a response to increased pressure from foreign investors —and the Trump administration— for China to combat widespread piracy and counterfeiting?

The latest Jianwang Campaign Against Online Copyright Infringement was jointly launched by several government agencies including the National Copyright Administration of China, the Cyberspace Administration, and the Ministry of Public Security. It will target key areas for intellectual property rights (IPRs) including unauthorised republication of news and plagiarism on social media, broadcasting copyrighted content on video sharing apps, and setting up overseas servers to get around territorial restrictions. The campaign, which will last for at least four months, will also push internet service providers to enhance internal supervision systems.

Similar to the crackdown last September, the campaign is seen by many as an attempt to alleviate major concerns among foreign investors, including those in the United States. China’s lack of strong IPRs protection measures “frequently draw complaints from foreign investors and have been a long-standing focus of attention at annual talks with the US and Europe.”

The issue hit headlines again last autumn, when the Office of the United States Trade Representative led an official seven-month investigation into China’s intellectual property theft, under section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974. Bolstered by the USTR’s findings that “Chinese theft of American IP currently costs between $225 billion and $600 billion annually”, the Trump Administration imposed retaliatory tariffs on Chinese products in early July.

Pedestrians strolling past adverts for western companies in Shanghai. Photo: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

Considering 200 years of history: is “Chinese culture” to blame for copyright infringement?

According to the 2017 Situation Report on Counterfeiting and Piracy in the European Union, China has long been recognised as the engine of the global counterfeiting and piracy industry. Whereas software piracy rates for the European Union are 28 per cent, analysts at BSA | The Software Alliance believe nearly 70 per cent of computers in China run unlicensed software.

In 2012, an article on Forbes explained that “IP protection will always be an uphill struggle in China and for companies doing business there,” as individual rights –including IPRs– may be at odds with traditional Chinese society. What support does that argument have?

Firstly, it’s important to note that IP is not an indigenous concept in China. Historically speaking, the lack of a strong IP regime can be traced to the early roots of China’s economic system, which emphasised agriculture and generally neglected large-scale commerce. Before the Opium War (1839-1842), foreign powers were unconcerned with the lack of IP protection in China primarily because there was little foreign investment there to protect in the first instance. Furthermore, the main European exports to China at the time were unbranded bulk commodities, and not technological innovations or creative works such as software, film, and music.

During the Chinese Revolution, Mao Zedong’s Communist Party abolished all legal systems in 1949. Throughout the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, China lacked any semblance of a functioning legal system. As per Communist political ideology, “Law” in China during this time was guided by general principles and shifting policies, rather than detailed and constant rules.

When chairman Deng Xiaoping adopted an open-door economic policy in the late 1970s, China’s trading partners were no longer restricted to the USSR and Soviet satellites, but instead now included Western countries. Several years later, the Communist party officially pronounced that the Cultural Revolution had been a grave error, and began to shift its economic and social reforms. To support its burgeoning and rapid economic development, China accordingly began to embrace a formal IPR strategy. When China joined the World Trade Organisation in 2001, it became bound by the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).

Enhancing the protection of intellectual property rights is a matter of overall strategic significance, and it is vital for the development of the socialist market economy.

—Li Keqiang, Premier of the People’s Republic of China

The Wall Street Journal further explains that, incentivised by the influx of foreign technology and media companies wishing to invest in China, IPR protection in the country has been rising steadily for the last decade. In 2006, there were approximately 6,000 copyright lawsuits: in 2016, that number had multiplied nearly 15 times over to 87,000 cases.

If Chinese IP law is increasingly comparable to European and American standards, why then does China continue to attract disapproval?  

Although the rate of unlicensed or “pirated” software in China is nearly 70 per cent, the piracy rates in Indonesia, Pakistan, Vietnam, Albania, Belarus, Ukraine, Bolivia, Algeria, Botswana, Zimbabwe and many others is much higher. However, because Chinese economy is behemoth, and uses an incredible amount of software, the value of such pirated software is over $6.5 billion.

Secondly, although true that Chinese IPR enforcement is catching up to U.S. and European standards, considerable weakness remains in the high levels of bureaucracy. For example, court decisions might apply on a provincial level rather than nationally, and judges often have different interpretations of the laws.

a farm in Altay Prefecture, China. 42 per cent of people in China live in rural communities. Photo: @linsyorozuya

Of China’s 1.5 billion residents, nearly 600 million live in rural communities. While central authorities may establish the laws and regulations, it is the local authorities tasked to implement those laws and regulations. It is therefore important to note that local protectionism probably constitutes the largest obstacle to cracking down on piracy in China.

Finally, from a sociological perspective, it could be argued that English-language media promotes an inaccurate portrayal of IP piracy as somehow rooted in Chinese culture and Otherness. To be fair, European and American copyright law is also plagued with intense debate and woeful inadequacies surrounding the evolution of online technologies.

IP is a complex area of law, and for a variety of reasons copyright is perhaps one of the most difficult areas to legislate. China still has a long way to come in respect of is IPR regime, a sentiment acknowledged by Beijing. However, the danger of perpetuating snippets and sound bites without adequate context is non-trivial. IPR policy affects United States foreign policy, and incorrect understanding the problem can lead to disruptions in international relations, or even trade wars.

 

featured image photo of Shanghai: @Usukhbayar Gankhuyag

Fair Play to use FIFA trade marks on social media?

Fair Play to use FIFA trade marks on social media?

This weekend, together with millions of others around the world, I watched Iceland make its World Cup debut against Argentina. Iceland, the smallest nation to ever qualify for the World Cup, is a special country for me, not least because my husband and were married there! Especially as my home country failed to qualify for this year’s tournament (sigh) it comes as no surprise that I’m supporting the Iceland’s national football team, or Íslenska karlalandsliðið í knattspyrnu.

I recently came across an article which said fans should beware of using World Cup logos in social media profile pictures. The article explained that although “many fans will be using social media to show their support by uploading images of their country’s flags and the World Cup logo as their profile pictures, by uploading the World Cup logo in your pictures you could be infringing intellectual property rights owned by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA).”

Screenshot 2018-06-16 at 7.21.59 PM

So, what’s the deal? Does my newly updated Facebook photo, which features FIFA’s official emblem, unlawfully infringe upon FIFA’s trade mark? The answer is below…

Intellectual Property is football’s star player.
The World Cup is the largest single sporting event on Earth, with nearly half the world’s population tuning in. The tournament, which runs from June 14 to July 15 is being hosted in Russia for the first time, at an official cost of 683 billion rubles or £8.4 billion (Reuters).

As reported on its finances page, around 95% of FIFA’s revenues come from the sale of television broadcasting, marketing, and licensing rights related to the FIFA World Cup. In exchange for funding, FIFA grants exclusive rights to use its official marks to certain companies, which this year include addidas, Coca Cola, Gazprom, Budweiser, and Visa (rights holders).

In its 30-plus pages of official guidance on brand protection, FIFA claims that if anyone could use the official marks for free, the power of the marks would dilute and there would be no reason for companies to pay for sponsorship. Without lucrative corporate partnerships FIFA would lack the revenue required to organise the World Cup.

From the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, FIFA hauled in $4.8 billion in revenue, which turned a $2.6 billion profit for the association (which is then re-invested into development projects). Broadcast revenue topped $2.43 billion, while sponsorship fees brought in $1.6 billion and ticket sales earned $527 million. In other words, it’s not ticket sales that pay the bills: it’s intellectual property.

To date, FIFA’s intellectual property portfolio contains 14,000 trade mark registrations, about 300 registered designs, and 150 copyright registrations covering 157 jurisdictions overall (Official marks). Official marks include the flag, logo, hymn, and motto of FIFA, mascots, emblems, posters, and identification symbols.

Screenshot 2018-06-17 at 11.40.15 AM
the official emblem and the official mascot, which is a Eurasian wolf named Zabivaka. According to the FIFA website, Zabivaka – which means “goal scorer” in Russian – “radiates fun, charm and confidence.”

The words “FIFA”, “2018 FIFA World Cup”, “World Cup Russia”, “FIFA World Cup”, “Football World Cup”, and “Soccer World Cup” are also protected, as are “Russia 2018” and “Moscow 2018.” Simply writing “Russia 2018” on a t-shirt could land you in trouble, as doing so may lead consumers to establish an unlawful association with FIFA’s tournament.

Trade marks as broad as these are generally not enforceable. One wonders if these trade marks would have been approved in the first place, were it not for the massive size and power of FIFA. However, it’s also important to note that, without the co-operation of local officials, FIFA lacks both adequate legitimacy and capability to effectively police and protect their official marks.

Russian law.
Domestic law provides FIFA with the additional teeth needed to enforce its intellectual property rights. In March of 2013, Russia passed the Federal Law No 108-FZ On preparation for and the staging of the 2018 FIFA World Cup (“World Cup Law”). There are provisions aimed at protecting FIFA’s commercial rights, including a specific procedure for the registration of FIFA’s trademarks. Under Article 19, pre-existing Russian trademarks that are identical or similar to FIFA’s are prohibited for use until 2019.

Compliance is supervised by the Russian Federal Service for Surveillance of Consumer Rights Protection and Human Wellbeing (Rospotrebnadzor) and the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media (Roskomnadzor).

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FIFA poster in front of the Kremlin, Moscow

On November 2017, Rospotrebnadzor adopted an agenda to prepare for the World Cup, including the key priority of supervising the use of FIFA’s official marks. In March, the Roskomnadzor announced that it had placed 858 websites selling counterfeit products on the so-called “Russian Internet Blacklist“, the Unified Register of Prohibited Information.

Additionally, the Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS) can also hold parties accountable for illegal use of official marks. By way of example, Bavaria Brewing House Group Ltd and Agrofirma FAT Ltd raffled tickets for the World Cup final on their website and on social media. They also used FIFA trade marks in their promotional campaign and to mark their “Bavaria” beer. As neither Bavaria Brewing House nor Agrofirma FAT were licensed rights holders, the FAS issued an injunction against the companies to stop the violations.

What this means for fans.
FIFA engages in active surveillance and brand protection, which includes court proceedings to halt an infringing situation and seek financial compensation for any damages suffered.

It’s important to note that sports bars, restaurants, clothing brands and other companies are welcome to use generic football or country related images, provided they do not include any of FIFA’s official marks. The key here is avoiding reference to the World Cup that could suggest your company has an official relationship with FIFA.

But should individuals be worried about changing their profile pics on Facebook, if those photos include official marks? Not really. This is because sharing official content belonging to FIFA by fans without any commercial benefit is expressly permitted. This includes sharing on Facebook, Twitter, or even here on KelseyFarish.com, as blogs without commercial content are likewise exempted. Provided that you don’t attempt to make money by unlawfully using FIFA’s official marks, go on and enjoy the beautiful game!

No more Safe Harbours for EU-ser Uploaded Content?

No more Safe Harbours for EU-ser Uploaded Content?

The European Union is considering a sweeping new Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market, currently in draft stages. Industry groups are keen to ensure their opinions are taken into consideration, especially in instances where consumers share content which belongs to artists, authors, record labels, and television channels.

Digital platforms and internet service providers which host User Uploaded Content (UUC) argue that they are not responsible for any copyright infringing material uploaded by their users. However, trade bodies representing various industries believe the incoming Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive doesn’t go far enough to reform this safe harbour principle.

The E-commerce Directive states that EU Member States shall ensure that internet service providers are not liable for copyright infringements carried out by its customers, on condition that: (a) the ISP does not have actual knowledge of illegal activity or information;  and (b) the provider “acts expeditiously to remove or to disable access” to the illegal content, once they become aware of it (see Article 14).

This article provides ISPs with a “safe harbour” from copyright liability (also known as the “mere conduit” provision). Generally speaking, a safe harbour* is simply a protection available within a regulation that specifies that certain actions do not to violate a given rule, in particular circumstances.

1709 - EU Safe Harbour
In the United States, this principle operates under the “notice-and-take-down system”

About 18 months ago, the European Commission announced its plans to introduce a new Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market. As the explanatory memorandum sets out, “the evolution of digital technologies has changed the way works and other protected subjectmatter are created, produced, distributed and exploited. In the digital environment, cross-border uses have also intensified and new opportunities for consumers to access copyright-protected content have materialised. Even though the objectives and principles laid down by the EU copyright framework remain sound, there is a need to adapt it to these new realities.”

Amongst other things, the propsed Directive seeks to rebalance the position of the copyright owner against that of the internet service provider. Last week, various trade groups representing Europe’s creators and creative content producers published an open Letter to the European Council.

The authors suggest that, far from ensuring legal certainty, the Directive as currently drafted “could be detrimental to our sectors,” which include journalism, film and TV, music, and sport. While the authors support the objectives of the proposed legislation, the Letter critiques the latest draft of the directive, and expresses significant concerns about the safe harbour reforms.

In particular, the problems seem to arise with sections addressing the “use of protected content” by ISPs and other platforms which “store and give access to large amounts of works and other subject-matter uploaded by their users”. Put simply, the copyright industries want the safe harbour reformed, so that it no longer applies to user-upload sites (Complete Music Update).

This draws into question how online platforms hosting UUC should monitor user behaviour and filter their contributions. Currently, the platforms review material after it has been published and reported or “flagged” as copyright infringement. This may, as has been discussed with Facebook’s proposed use of artificial intelligence in copyright and hate speech monitoring, “inevitably require an automated system of monitoring that could not distinguish copyright infringement from legal uses such as parody” (The Guardian).

The authors of the Letter voice complaints in respect of the draft forms of Article 2, Article 13(1) and Article 13(4):

  • Article 2 defines which services fall under liability, mentioned further at Article 13. The latest draft could leave most UUC platforms outside the scope, despite the fact they continue to provide access to copyright protected works and other subject-matter. For example, music playing in the background of a makeup tutorial on YouTube.
  • The problem with Article 13(1) as currently written is that it risks narrowing the scope of the right and contravening CJEU jurisprudence. The Letter’s authors argue that “any new EU law should secure that this right is broad,” and “contain no additional criteria which could change via future CJEU rulings.”
  • As for Article 13(4) and its relevant recitals, the authors suggest the language is tantamount to a new safe harbour, which would both “seriously undermine fundamental principles of European copyright,” and pose “unwarranted liability privilege risks breaching the EU’s obligations under international copyright treaties.”

The Letter closes with the authors’ promise to “remain at the Council’s disposal to find solutions to these points.” For more on the proposed Directive, be sure to check out the IPKat’s numerous posts on the subject.

*This “Safe Harbour” in copyright law is not to be confused with the Safe Harbor Data Privacy exemptions between the US and the EU, which have since been declared invalid. On that subject, I might write on the new Privacy Sheild… at some point…

Project Gutenberg: the German edition?

Project Gutenberg: the German edition?

Project Gutenberg is an American website which digitises and archives cultural works to encourage the creation and distribution of eBooks. It currently offers 56,000 free books for download, including classics such as Pride and Prejudice, Heart of Darkness, Frankenstein, A Tale of Two Cities, Moby Dick, and Jane Eyre. Many of these titles are available because their copyright protections have expired in the United  States, and are therefore in the public domain. The website is a volunteer effort which relies mostly on donations from the public.

What does it mean if a book is in “the public domain”? This term means that something (a novel, artwork, photograph or other creation) is not protected by intellectual property law, including copyright, trade mark, or patent. Accordingly, the general public owns the work, and not the individual creator. Permission is therefore not required to use the creation.

Despite the noble cause of making literature available at no or low cost to the masses, a recent ruling against Project Gutenberg has resulted in the website being geo-blocked for all visitors attempting to access the site from Germany. The claimants in the case are the copyright owners of 18 German language books, written by three authors, each of whom died in the 1950s.

In Germany, the term of copyright protection for literary works is “life plus 70 years,” as it is in the United States. However, the United States applies different rules for works published before 1978. For works published before 1978, the maximum copyright duration is 95 years from the date of publication. In the United States, the 18 books in question are all in the public domain. For the avoidance of doubt, Project Gutenberg runs on servers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and is classified as a non-profit charity organisation under American law.

Sharing and accessing the written word has changed since the 16th century! Engraving showing a publisher’s printing process, from the Met Museum.

The copyright holders of these works notified Project Gutenberg of their alleged infringement back in 2015. In early February 2018, the District Court of Frankfurt am Main approved the claimant’s “cease and desist” request to remove and block access to the 18 works in question. The claimants also requested administrative fines, damages, and information in respect of how many times each work was accessed from the website.

 

Our eBooks may be freely used in the United States because most are not protected by U.S. copyright law, usually because their copyrights have expired. They may not be free of copyright in other countries. Readers outside of the United States must check the copyright terms of their countries before downloading or redistributing our eBooks.

The Court reasoned that it was worth taking into account the fact that the works in dispute are in the public domain in the United States. This however “does not justify the public access provided in Germany, without regard for the fact that the works are still protected by copyright in Germany.” The simple message on the front page (cited above) may not be sufficient to draw users’ attention to the fact that what they are downloading may be in contravention of national copyright laws.

The judgement also cited Project Gutenberg’s own T&Cs in its decision, noting that the website considers its mission to be “making copies of literary works available to everyone, everywhere.” While this broad statement may seem innocuous and idealistic, the court used this to support its findings that Project Gutenberg could not reasonably limit itself as an America-only website.

A key point in this matter is the question of jurisdiction. While Project Gutenberg is based in the USA, the claimants successfully argued that as the works were in German and parts of the website itself had been translated into German, the website was indeed “targeted at Germans.” Furthermore, even if the website had not been intended for German audiences, that the infringement occured in Germany is sufficient grounds to bring the claim in German court.

While Project Gutenberg was only required to remove the 18 works listed in the lawsuit, the organisation has blocked its entire website in Germany to protect itself from any further potential lawsuits on similar grounds (see the Q&A here). Project Gutenberg is planning to appeal the decision.

This first published on the 1709 Copyright Blog. You can also read more at the IPKat here.

 

Lawyerpalooza: when music festivals get intellectual property licensing wrong

Lawyerpalooza: when music festivals get intellectual property licensing wrong

Commercialisation is the process of bringing Intellectual Property (IP) to the market in order to be exploited: put simply, it’s how artists make money from their creations. To maintain control and balance risk against rewards, creators often use license agreements to ensure their work is used only in accordance with their wishes. So what happens when things go wrong?

Juan Marco is an artist from Los Angeles, California who has created illustrations and branding projects for the last decade. Marco’s work includes characters “inspired by musical energy — how it flows through your body when you create and listen to music.”

For the last several years, Marco has been the official designer for the popular Lollapalooza music festival. As part of this business relationship, he entered into an intlelectual licence agreement with C3 Presents, the concert promotion and artist management company responsible for Lollapalooza.

Licensing is a common way of commercialising intellectual property. A licensing agreement is simply a partnership between an intellectual property rights (IPR) owner and another user who is granted permission to use the IPRs in exchange for an agreed fee or royalty payment. This allows Marco (the licensor) to retain ownership of his work, while at the same time receiving income from C3 (the licensee).

One of the most important provisions of the agreement concern the scope of the licensee’s rights, covering (1) which IPRs are being licensed, (2) exclusivity, and (3) the extent of the licence. “Extent” in this context simply details if the IP can only be used for certain activities, events, or within certain territiories.

The original licence was for the non-exclusive use of various illustrations for Lallopalooza events in Chicago, USA and Santiago, Chile for three years. However, in a recent lawsuit filed in California District Court, Marco argues that his illustrations have been used outside of the original scope as agreed in the licence.

The alleged infringement includes using and modifying the artwork in unauthorised ways, as well as using it in locations beyond Chicago and Santiago. For example, Marco’s artwork is used in connection with the Lollapalooza event in Paris, as seen on the Lollaparis website. Additionally, Marco accuses C3 of sub-licensing his artwork to other users without his permission, in order to manufacture and create products which are similar or substantially similar to Marco’s original artwork.
Screenshot 2018-02-25 at 10.42.08 AM
Marco is therefore claiming for copyright infringement, together with vicarious and contributory copyright infringement. In the first claim, he alleges that he has suffered substantial damages – both general and special – to his business. He notes that the Defendants have profited as a direct result of their “wilful, intentional and malicious” copyright infringement, and is asking for statutory damages of up to $150,000 per infringement.

In his second claim, Marco alleges that the C3 and the other Defendants are vicariously liable for the infringement carried out by other parties. The lawsuit states that the Defendants “knowingly induced, participated in, aided and abetted in and profited from the illegal reproduction and subsequent sales” of his artwork.

By alleging contributory copyright infringement, Marco is asking the Court to consider the Defendant’s secondary liability. To be found guilty of this offence, the Defendants must have reasonably known, or had reason to know, of the infringement. Marco asserts that under the original licence agreement, the Defendants had both the right and ability to supervise the copying of Marco’s artwork, but nevertheless failed to prevent infringement. The Defendants also benefited financially as a direct result of the infringement by other parties, and therefore must have known of the illegal copying in the first instance.

It is interesting to note that Marco is not seeking any damages in respect of harm done to his reputation. By his own admission, Marco has previously collaborated with big names in the music industry, as well as freelance work for record labels and bands. Rather, Marco is suing C3 because of the ways in which his artworks were used in contravention to the original licence agreement. No matter the payments or promotion involved, it is important to remember that permission to use artwork usually comes with very specific strings attached.

All the Stars and Constellations

All the Stars and Constellations

A music video for the new Black Panther film features scenes of striking similarity to artist Lina Iris Viktor’s Constellations series. Is this inspiration or infringement?

Marvel Studios’ new movie Black Panther features the first black superhero to appear in mainstream comics. It has received widespread acclaim and press, not least because of its positive portrayal of Africans and African Americans as powerful, heroic characters. In its review, The New York Times exclaims that the film “is a vivid re-imagination of something black Americans have cherished for centuries — Africa as a dream of our wholeness, greatness and self-realisation.”

To promote the film and its soundtrack, American rapper and songwriter Kendrick Lamar, together with American R&B singer SZA, recently released a music video entitled “All the Stars.” However, the producers of the music video are now accused of stealing from African artists.

British-Liberian artist Lina Iris Viktor, who currently resides in New York, has garnered praise for her series Constellations. The work is characterised by unique patterning, using what Viktor considers a “purist colour palate” of only black and 24-karat gold. Viktor found out about the music video from friends, who had called her to say they had seen Constellations featured in the video. The alleged infringement begins three minutes into the video, and lasts for about 20 seconds.

a screen shot of the “All the Stars” music video

Viktor’s lawyer Christopher Robinson sent a letter to Lamar’s mentor and label head, Anthony Tiffith of Top Dawg Entertainment. In the letter, as seen and reported by The New York Times, the use of Viktor’s artworks in the “All the Stars” video constitutes “willful and egregious” copyright infringement. In particular, the video “incorporates not just the immediately-identifiable and unique look” of Viktor’s work, but also “many of the specific copyrightable elements in the Constellations paintings.”

Viktor was previously contacted on two separate occasions in respect of using her work in association with Black Panther. In the first instance, a set decorator asked Viktor directly if he could feature Constellations in the film itself. On the second occasion, a public relations firm contacted the Mariane Ibrahim Gallery in Seattle, which represents Viktor. The PR firm wanted Viktor to provide Marvel Studios and Disney with artworks to promote Black Panther. In both instances, Viktor declined the opportunity to be associated with the film, for reasons apparently related to financial terms and exclusivity.

Lina Iris Viktor, pictured here with her artwork for House & Leisure Magazine

Constellations and “All the Stars” call into question the fine line between infringement and inspiration. Style and general colour schemes are not protected by copyright law, regardless of the form in which it is illustrated or embodied (17 USC Section 102(b)).

Segments of Kendrick’s music video clearly appear to have been inspired by Viktor’s artwork. There are several striking commonalities with the patterns and colour schemes used, and certain actors’ poses mimic Viktor’s portraits. One could even argue that the name “All the Stars” echoes Viktor’s Constellations title.

Inspiration is a common and important part of most creative processes. The issue of concern is whether the source of inspiration was transformed to the extent that Lamar’s video was itself “original,” or instead “derived” from Viktor’s work. To answer this question, the two artworks must be compared to determine “substantially similarity.” The legal test for substantial similarity is a subjective, factual analysis called the ordinary observer test, as developed in Peter Pan Fabrics, Inc. v. Martin Weiner Corp., (2d Cir. 1960):

The Court will analyse if the ordinary observer, unless he set out to detect the disparities between the works, would be inclined to overlook them and regard the aesthetic appeal of the two works as the same. This means looking at the overall visual effect — the total concept and feel — regardless of the individual elements that may have been changed, added or even removed.

Left, an image from the video for “All the Stars” (Universal Music Group); right, the painting “Constellation I” by Viktor (Mariane Ibrahim Gallery).

At present, no official lawsuit has been filed at court. The letter simply asks the “All the Stars” crew to discuss a resolution of Viktor’s claims, “consisting at a minimum of a public apology for the unauthorised use and a license fee.” In her interview with The New York Times, Viktor explained that these allegations are “an ethical issue” and not about monetary compensation. She noted that the film’s creators focus on black empowerment and African excellence, but at the same time appear to support what she considers cultural appropriation. Lamar, Top Dawg, Marvel Studios and Disney have not yet responded to the allegations.

In an attempt to settle this allegation as quickly as possible, and indeed – to protect the narrative of promoting African and African American artists in general – Black Panther producers may simply choose to give Viktor an apology and a considerable licence fee. Given that the film is expected to smash box office records, and the Black Panther soundtrack has likewise become a hit with audiences, coming up with compensation is unlikely to be too much of a problem.

Cisco v Arista: what next for computer programs and copyright?

Cisco v Arista: what next for computer programs and copyright?

Computer programs are functional, but they are also “literary works” that may be protected under copyright law. In December 2016, Arista Networks defended itself against a $335 million copyright infringement lawsuit from Cisco Systems. Cisco is now appealing the decision.

Cisco Systems, the largest networking company in the world, is trying to prevent Arista Networks from building ethernet switches which partially rely on technology copied from Cisco. Now on appeal before Federal Court in California (9th Circuit), the legal question is whether aspects of the particular technology deserves copyright protection in the first place.

ethernet switches connect devices together on a network

Copyright protects creative expressions of an idea, but not the idea itself. This “idea–expression dichotomy” therefore limits the scope of copyright protection. In an earlier blog post, The Copyright Between Oceans, I explained how the scène à faire doctrine was used as a successful defence in a copyright lawsuit regarding the novel The Light Between Oceans, and its subsequent film adaptation. When scène à faire (French for “essential scene”) is applied, common or typical plot developments are denied copyright protection. This means that broad themes, storylines and ideas which are common in a particular genre remain free for use by authors, screen writers, and other artists.

In the United States, computer programs are considered “literary works” under the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 101. Accordingly, scène à faire may be applied to preclude copyright protection from aspects of a computer program which are common or otherwise “dictated by practical realities.” Practical realities include hardware compatibility, manufacturer design, and industry practice. Arista’s defence turns on this concept.

Continue reading “Cisco v Arista: what next for computer programs and copyright?”