All posts by Mark A. Fischer

All’s Fair in Copying the World’s Books

Wouldn’t it be fantastic to have all the world’s literature scanned and available for search in text online? Well, something along those lines is already here.

Google’s Book Project (or “Google Books”, as it has come to be called) is one of the enterprising tech giant’s ambitious ventures. Google Books itself consists of two smaller components. First, the Partner Program, in which Google hosts books on its website licensed from publishers with whom it has entered into agreements. Second, the Library Project, via which Google hosts scanned books from various libraries and collections without obtaining permission of the respective authors or publishers. Since beginning in 2004, Google has scanned over twenty million books as part of the Library Project. The goal is to make the text fully searchable through Google’s search engine.

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Sherlock Holmes and the Public Domain

Over his illustrious 125-plus-year career, Sherlock Holmes has captured the public’s imagination by catching thieves, stopping assassins, and breaking up spy rings. His adventures have led to his appearance in many books, motion pictures, video games, and television series, including two of the most popular programs currently airing. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famed detective’s latest case lands him in an Illinois district court. An earlier blog posting on the case is here.

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Is the Doctor on TV Playing the Part of Your Doctor?

Real and fictional doctors have been staples of television for decades. Viewers can tune in and listen to remedies offered by The Doctors, Dr. Drew on Call, and The Dr. Oz Show, among many other real and fictional healthcare providers.

On April 28, 2012, famed cardiothoracic surgeon and television health guru Dr. Mehmet Oz broadcast an episode of his show in which he offered a simple, homespun remedy for viewers whose sleep suffers due to cold feet. Dr. Oz suggested that those afflicted with this condition use “Knapsack Heated Rice Footsies.” What are Knapsack Heated Rice Footsies you might ask. The audience was told by Dr. Oz to place some uncooked rice in their socks, microwave them, and wear the socks for 20 minutes. This is exactly what Dr. Oz viewer Frank Dietl did.

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Is Copyright Working Well for the Copyright “Middle Class”?

Is copyright a good thing or is copyright just in the way? Ok, I’m a copyright lawyer so you might be able to guess what I’ll say.

Thanks to changing and less-protective copyright laws and the Internet, there is so much more content available than ever. But it’s tough for copyright creators to be in the middle of the economic changes – and to make money.

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Hangman Lives to Pursue a Copyright Claim

You wouldn’t think that there was much protectable intellectual property in the classic “Hangman” word game. In Hangman, as you probably know, one player thinks of a word or phrase and the second player tries to figure out what it is. The word or phrase is initially represented by a fixed number of dashes, which comprise the number of letters that it contains.

The wildly successful TV show Wheel of Fortune is based on the Hangman game. If you’re interested in more details about how to play the game, as much (or even more) than you are in reading about the intellectual property issues please see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hangman_(game).

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The T- Shirt Found No Love – Rihanna Wins in Court

International singing star Rihanna (Robyn Rihanna Fenty to the court) won a lawsuit in July in England against the Top Shop stores over the manufacture and sale of an unauthorized T-Shirt bearing her image. Merchandise (such as T-shirts, jackets, buttons) is a very big business; so the respective rights of celebrities and merchants are important. I frequently work on licenses and litigation in this area and know firsthand how valuable these rights are – and how seriously infringements are taken.

In the United States, celebrities routinely win such cases because the US recognizes a celebrity’s “right of publicity” — that’s the right to control most commercial exploitations of a celebrity’s name, likeness, and biographical details.

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Good Deeds and Minimal Unauthorized Copying of Copyrighted Works

Literary legend William Faulkner was known for spectacular writing. His sentences were often very long indeed. So, perhaps it’s ironic that a brief Faulkner quotation – a single line — from his work Requiem for a Nun was at the center of a federal copyright lawsuit, namely, “The past is not dead. Actually it’s not even past.”

In Woody Allen’s motion picture, Midnight in Paris, several literary lights of the 1920s appeared as characters including Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Faulkner.

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Artists and Lawyers

Louise Bourgeois was a brilliant sculptor. I first became acquainted and fascinated with her work when I saw one of her titanic spider sculptures at the Tate Modern in London many years ago. She intermingled aspects of her personal story (and that of her family) quite closely in her art.

Over this past weekend in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, I read Louise Bourgeois’ quite wonderful, insightful, and funny collection of writings and interviews, “Destruction of the Father/Reconstruction of the Father” (MIT Press 1998). In that book I came across the following passage from her 1990 MacDowell Medal Acceptance Speech, which did get my attention:

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Prince of Fair Use

Can a painter/collage artist use copyrighted photographs in his works without permission of the photographer? In a closely-watched case, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit said in April that the answer is mostly a “yes.”

The case is important because of the desire and need in culture for artists to refer to other works and artists in order to express themselves — and to connect with the cultural references all around us in popular culture. It just so happens that much of that popular culture is protected by copyright (think of Mickey Mouse, Ansel Adams’ works, the movie Children of Paradise, The Great Gatsby, and so so much more). Seeking permission is time-consuming, sometimes expensive, and runs the risk of being turned down by the rights holder. Invoking the fair use defense is an appealing option – if it’s legal.

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The Next Great Copyright Act

Does the US Copyright Act need revision? Of course it does. It’s a truism but still true that copyright law always lags behind technology. It’s never been more relevant as it is right now. The pace of technology races onward and so much of it about how we access content such as music, images, text, and interactive entertainment. Maria A. Pallante, the Register of Copyrights, has rightfully called for Congress to turn its attention to this task, saying, “It is time for Congress to think about the next great copyright act.”

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