Monday, January 28, 2013

Unlocking Cell Phone Now Illegal

Ever looked on Ebay for a cell phone and see an "unlocked" phone for sale?  Ever have a friend tell you you're not locked in to your carrier because he can "unlock" your phone so that you can use it with another cell phone carrier?

Not anymore.

As of January 26, it is illegal to "unlock" a cell phone so that it can be used by another carrier.  There is an exception if your own carrier gives its permission.  The likelihood of that is summed up in two words:  "Fat Chance."

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act makes it illegal to "unlock"  (or "jailbreak") a cell phone.  An exception was made through January 26, but that exception has now expired.

So take care.  Big Brother may be listening.

photo credit: <a href="">KhE 龙</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>

Friday, January 25, 2013

Fair Use, The Mouse and the Movie

Walt & Mickey welcoming all - except maybe secret film makers*
Disney is well known for vigorously protecting its intellectual property as well as its image.  But an independent movie maker seems ready to challenge The Mouse over the limits of fair use.

Independent film maker Randy Moore has made a new movie.  "Escape From Tomorrow" is a horror fantasy movie that finds horror rather than happiness in mass entertainment. The black and white movie debuted at Sundance Film Festival.

But Moore's movie might as well have been titled "Escape From Tomorrowland."  It was filmed on location at Disneyland and Disney World -- all without the knowledge or permission of Disney.  Much of the movie was filmed on the iconic "It's a Small World" ride with small hand-held cameras, although it did not use the insipid "Small World song, which clearly would be a copyright violation.

The movie includes such non-Disney-esque scenes as grusome vomiting a taser to the privates, followed by the victim being dragged to a surreal chamber underneath the Epcot Spaceship Sphere.

So how far can film makers, or writers for that matter, utilize real-world people, companies and places in their works?  I'll explore that issue in future posts.

Meanwhile, The Mouse remains mum on "Escape From Tomorrow."  So do The Mouse's lawyers.

*photo credit: <a href="">Olivier Bruchez</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Holy Copyright, Batman! DC/Warner Bros. Sues Maker of Knock-Off Batmobiles

The Batmobile*
Mark Towle of Santa Ana, California, thought he had a great idea.  He could use his mechanical talents of his custom paint and body shop to turn otherwise mundane street vehicles into replicas of Batman's famous ride, The Batmobile.

He created Gotham Garage and started to work.  But after producing just three replicas, Towle and his company were slammed with a copyright infringement lawsuit by DC Comics and its parent Warner Brothers.

Towle is fighting back. His position is that under clear copyright law, useful articles such as automobiles do not qualify as "sculptural works" and therefore are not eligible for copyright protection.

DC claims the Batmobile is not merely a functional automobile, but rather is a customized design and an essential element of the Batman intellectual property.

The case is a bit of a throwback to the days of Miami Vice.  In the first two seasons of Miami Vice, vice cop Sonny Crockett (Don Johnson) drove a black Ferrari Daytona.  Only it wasn't a Ferrari at all.  It was a knockoff created from a Corvette at a price of $49,000, far below the six-figure price of the genuine article.

Ferrari sued the conversion company, but offered Miami Vice two 1986 Ferrari Testarosas on condition that the replicas were destroyed.  So in the second episode of Season 3, Sonny's black "Ferrari" was blown up by a stinger missile.  It was replaced by the genuine white Testarosa.

The Batmobile case is pending in Federal District Court in southern California.

*photo credit: <a href="">San Diego Shooter</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>

Monday, January 21, 2013

Martin Luther King Day: I Have a Dream - But It's Copyrighted

Royalty-free photo via Photo Pin *
"I have a dream."

Those simple words stirred the American conscious and changed a nation.

Today we celebrate Martin Luther King Day and honor the man who spoke those words 50 years ago this August.  We celebrate on the same day that we see The Dream again fulfilled with the second inaugural for Barack Obama, the first African-American President.

But be careful.  King's iconic speech, the speech that changed America, does not belong to history.  It does not belong to the nation it changed.  It does not belong to the people who are forever inspired by Rev. King's soaring oratory of the spirit.

No. It is copyrighted. It belongs to EMI, which persists in issuing takedown notices every time the speech appears in the public domain, including attempts to post it on YouTube.

But several groups are celebrating Internet Freedom Day and MLK Day by posting the black and white video on YouTube.

As for me, I have a dream that every classroom in the nation should be able to access YouTube or other public resources and watch this speech without worrying about copyright infringement.

photo credit: <a href="">Cowtools</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Copyright & First Purchase: SCOTUS to Determine Resale Rights of Book Purchasers

Do you have a right to resell these books? Image via Photo Pin.*
When someone purchases a book, do they purchase the right to re-sell it?

Nonsense, you say?  Who would ever think that when you buy something, you can't resell it at the best price you can get?  When you buy a car, you can resell it, right?  Same is true with books and CDs.  Otherwise flea markets, pawn shops and used book stores would be out of business.  If people couldn't resell what they buy, Pawn Stars would be the most boring show on television.

But not so fast.  A trial court has already held that a book purchaser violated the publisher's copyright by buying textbooks cheaply in Europe and selling them at a profit on E-bay.

Just what rights the purchaser of a book has is the multi-billion dollar question currently awaiting decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons.  The decision will have far-reaching impact on the global intellectual property rights for books, CDs, and DVDs.

Kirtsaeng was a student in Europe, he found that text books, which were manufactured in Europe, were much cheaper than in the United States. Working with his parents, he bought $900,000 in texts books at the reduced European price, then resold them on Ebay to U.S. students, pocketing a nifty $100,000 profit.

Image via Photo Pin. **
Kirtsaeng took advantage of the common practice of manufacturers selling their products at lower prices in the global market than in the United States.  The practice of buying those cheaper-priced items abroad and reselling in the United States is called the "gray market"

Text book publisher John Wiley & Sons was offended at someone making six-figure profits by reselling its books, and sued Kirtsaeng for copyright infringement.  At trial, the jury found that Kirsaeng infringed on Wiley's copyright by unlawfully reselling the books he lawfully purchased in Europe and awarded Wiley $600,000 in damages.

The Supreme Court previously split 4-4 on this issue in 2010 when Justice Keegan did not take part in the decision because she had participated in preparation of the Department of Justice brief.  This time Justice Keegan is fully participating.

Ebay, Google and art museums are lined up in support of Kirtsaeng, saying that if the lower court decision is allowed to stand, it will disrupt the entire resale segment of the economy.  The book, movie and music industry is lined up in support of the lower court decision, arguing that it is necessary to avoid the producers of those goods from being undercut by a secondary market selling their products without permission.

Oral argument, which took place October 29, showed that the Court has not reached a consensus on the issue.  At one point Justice Breyer referred to the disruptive impact the decision could have on the resale market as the "bear in the mouse hole." Lawyers for the publisher could not satisfy Justice Breyer that affirming the decision for the publisher would not release that bear.

A decision is expected this spring.

*photo credit: <a href="">Blue Train Books</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>

**photo credit: <a href="">mindgutter</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Eugene Patterson - True American Hero

Eugene Patterson
Eugene Patterson died last Saturday in his St. Petersburg, FL home at age 89.

His passing went largely unnoticed in most circles.  But Eugene Patterson was a true American hero.  For the New York Times tribute to Eugene Patterson, CLICK HERE. 

A product of growing up in Georgia during the depression, Patterson served in WWII from Normandy to the Battle of the Bulge.  He received the Silver Star and Bronze Star for his actions serving with General George S. Patton's Third Army.

But that's not what made him a hero - at least not all of what made him a hero.

Following WWII, Patterson began working as a journalist, working his way up from cub reporter, to city hall, to the London bureau of UPI, where he penned his most famous line.  Reporting on Ernest Hemingway's survival of an airplane crash in Africa, Patterson wrote:

"Ernest Hemingway came out of the jungle today carrying a bunch of bananas and a bottle of gin."

But in 1956 Patterson landed as editor of the Atlanta Journal and Constitution.  And it was in that role that he displayed courage and leadership during the most difficult time in America since the Civil War.

For those who did not live through it, the times are difficult to even imagine.  Atlanta was not the major metropolis it is today.  It was a city fighting with Birmingham and New Orleans for a regional leadership position in the South.  It was a time of separate drinking fountains and restrooms.  A time when George Wallace in neighboring Alabama lost an election because he was perceived as too accommodating to civil rights and vowed to "never be out-niggered again" in his political campaigns.
A time when it took courage to speak for what was right*

It was a time when a black boy accused of whistling at a white woman could be beaten, hung, tortured and drowned, and the white population of the South thought nothing of it.  It was a time of fire-bombing churches and killing little girls on their way to Sunday School. It was a time when the buses of Freedom Riders were set on fire and the exit doors were blocked.  As the riders desperately crawled out windows to escape the flames, they found themselves in the hands of angry crowds wielding baseball bats and shotguns.  It was a time when civil rights workers disappeared and were later found murdered, when Medgar Evers was shot in front of his family while coming home from work, and when the likes of Ross Barnett, Bull Connor, and George Wallace could openly campaign for "Segregation now.  Segregation tomorrow.  Segregation forever!"

This was a time when to stand up in the South for what was right, for what was moral, for what was essential justice, was dangerous.  And not just dangerous to your career.  It was dangerous to your life.

And yet that is what Eugene Patterson did. 

The man who fought the Nazis displayed even more courage, standing up for what was right despite the grave threat to him, his family, and even the family dog, which was shot by a stranger (the dog survived and lived for 16 years).

For 12 years from 1956 to 1968, Patterson wrote the editorial voice of the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, calling for reason, fairness, freedom and equality.  He tried to convince southerners, as one critic said, "to be better than ourselves."

And he did.

He saw the segregated water fountains and restrooms disappear.  He saw voting rights enacted, and equal accommodations mandated by law.  He saw an African-American elected mayor of Atlanta, then even more amazingly another African-American elected President.

Eugene Patterson played an important part in the transformation of America - in the fulfillment of the American promise that "all men are created equal."  He left his footprint in America.

So when you are looking for heroes, for people to tell your children they should emulate, think about Eugene Patterson.  A rich life.  A courageous life.  A life well lived.

*photo credit: <a href="">Village Square</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Small Print Words Have BIG Impact for Instagram and Its Users

The big impact of those  fine print words in user agreements on internet sites was demonstrated recently by Instagram, the photo sharing site.

As noted in several previous posts, the terms of user agreements have a big impact on a users intellectual property rights, whether for written words or images.  That little "click" users make agreeing to terms of service creates a binding contract. And just because you don't read those agreements does not make them any less binding.

Instagram terms of use*
Facebook recently acquired Instagram.  And one of its first steps was to change the terms of service in a BIG way.  The revised terms of service gave Instagram (ne Facebook) the right to sell your photos, to do without notice, and to pocket all the proceeds from the sale.  And the added kicker - even if users stopped using the service, unless it was done before January 16, 2013, Facebook had the right to sell all the photos uploaded to the site, even if the person quit Instagram.  And users could not opt out of any of these terms.

As everyone who has used any such site knows, these are "take it or leave it" terms.  They are not negotiated with users.  And in the case of the new Instagram terms, users could not select to opt out.

Royalty free image via Photo Pin **
Except a funny thing happened on Facebook's way to the bank with your photos.  As news of the new terms was publicized, an internet revolt erupted.  The reaction was so intense that Facebook faced the real possibility that the company they had just purchased was going to collapse in the wake of mass defections of users.

So Facebook took the only course available. Within 48 hours, Instagram reversed its position and withdrew the newly announced change in terms.

The lessons:

First, those fine-print terms of use mean something, including signing over some or all of your intellectual property rights.   When you join a site, pay attention to the terms of use.

Second, every once in a while the little guy wins one.

* photo credit: <a href="">mdurwin2</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>

** photo credit: <a href="">Madison Guy</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Google Reports 2.5 Million Claims of Copyright Violations Per Week

Who really cares about copyright infringement?

Royalty free image via Photo Pin - photo credit below
Well if Google's statistics are any indication, more than 2.5 million per week.

That's the number of links that Google is removing from search results every week,   according to  Google Legal Director Fred Von Lohmann.  That number has increased exponentially since Google implemented its Transparency Report in mid-2012 showing such data.

When first implemented, Google was removing "only" 250,000 search results in response to such copyright infringement complaints.  But within six month the number has grown ten-fold.

Google penalizes websites that frequently violate copyright by lowering their position in Google's search engine results. 

So what is the lesson for writers?  Hard to say.

Technology has made it far easier to track copyright violations and plagiarism.  Before current technology it would have been impossible to track 2.5 million copyright infringement claims per week.

At first glance this would seem to benefit writers in protecting their intellectual property.  But copyfraud - that is claiming copyright that exceeds legitimate intellectual property interests - may also be empowered by this same technology.  The removal of web search results may also impair the ability to research, to share knowledge, and fair use of copyrighted material.

As the Zen Master said, "We'll see."

photo credit: <a href="">Los Amigos Del Fuego</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>