Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Using Blog Post As Evidence Is Fair Use; Not Prohibited Copyright Violation

A blog post can be used in its entirety as evidence without violating the author's copyright. That's the ruling of the United States District Court in Northern Illinois in the case of Denison v. Larkin.

The case came up in an unusual fashion. Denison, an Illinois attorney, was charged with a disciplinary offense for scathing posts accusing the Cook County Illinois Probate Court and its guardian ad litem of corruption, elder abuse, and taking action that physically and emotionally harmed her 90-year-old Mary Sykes.

Denison was charged with violating the Code of Professional Conduct by her accusations. Setting aside the First Amendment issue (which is substantial), Denison challenged the action by suing her accusers in federal court for violating her copyright by utilizing the entirety of her blog post in the disciplinary complaint.

Judge Amy J. St. Eve of the Northern District of Illinois had no problem finding for the defendants and dismissing Denison's complaint.  The Court discussed the touchstones for determining whether something falls within fair use:  The purpose and character of the use; the nature of the work; the amount of the work used; and the market effect.  The court found that under the facts of the case, each of these factors favored the defendants.

Perhaps more importantly, the court noted that in enacting the Copyright law, the House Judiciary Committee stated that "reproduction of a work in legislative or judicial proceedings or reports" is fair use. Further, the U.S. Seventh Circuit (the circuit in which Illinois is located) has held that "reproducing copyrighted works for litigation is an example of the fair use doctrine."

So when you write that blog, remember that it could someday be labeled Exhibit A.

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Dark Knight Gets A "Clean Slate": Lawyers, Batgirl & Fictional Technology

Wonder why lawyers seem so "anal" over intellectual property rights?  Here's an example.
Dirksen Building - home of 7th Circuit Court of Appeals

During the mega-hit movie "The Dark Knight Rises," Catwoman extracts a promise from Batman for her help -- a "clean slate" removing her entire criminal history from every law enforcement computer in the world.  After her contribution to saving Gotham, Bruce Wayne makes sure Catwoman's criminal history is erased from every computer.

But suprise! There actually is a product called Clean Slate.  And Fortres Grand, maker of the software, has lawyers.

And those lawyers sued Warner Brothers asserting that the fictional "clean slate" alluded to in the movie would cause confusion with its own software, a utility that "cleans" the history from your web browser.

The U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago held for the film makers, ruling that there was not a substantial risk of confusion cause by the fictional reference to a clean slate in the Batman movie. Judge Manion, writing for the Court, found that the software company's allegation of reverse confusion was "implausible."

So Warner Brothers won. But at what cost?  First there are lawyers fees that can ratchet up at $500 to $1,000 an hour for big firm partners.  There there are expenses.  In addition to lawyer time, court reporters will charge perhaps $1,200 or more for the transcript of a day-long deposition. Then there are the hidden costs of lost time, productivity and energy of executives, in-house lawyers, risk management people, and others involved in the project who are dragged into the lawsuit.

The real lesson is that even the most innocent of references, even to a fictional "product", can bring down the wrath of intellectual property litigators and patent trolls.  It is why lawyers are often so cautious, even to the point of being perceived as "anal," in finding problems and issues where most people, including writers, see none.

While many lament that a lawyer "can find a gray cloud in every silver lining." that is often the most important part of what lawyers do.

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