Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Associated Press Overreaches

The Associated Press, in a blatant disregard of fair use, is purporting to require payment for the quotation on a website of as few as five words from AP articles. The starting price, for five words, is $62.50 (@ $12.50/word). Pursuant to this policy, the AP has issued 6 DMCA takedown notices against the Drudge Retort, "claiming that the users linking to its stories are violating its copyright and committing 'hot news' misappropriation under New York state law." Apparently, the firestorm of protest the AP's new policy provoked has led to some rethinking on AP's part, but, as Michael Arrington of, explains:
The A.P. doesn't get to make its own rules around how its content is used, if those rules are stricter than the law allows. So even thought they say they are making these new guidelines in the spirit of cooperation, it's clear that, like the RIAA and MPAA, they are trying to claw their way to a set of property rights that don't exist today and that they are not legally entitled to. And like the RIAA and MPAA, this is done to protect a dying business model - paid content.
According to Columbia law professor Timothy Wu, "'the principal question is whether the excerpt is a substitute for the story, or some established adaptation of the story.' . . . Mr. Wu said that the case is not clear-cut, but he believes that The A.P. is likely to lose a court case to assert a claim on that issue. 'It’s hard to see how the Drudge Retort "first few lines" is a substitute for the story,' Mr. Wu said. "

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A digital simulacrum is not creative enough to be copyrighted

In a decision entered today in Meshwerks, Inc. v. Toyotal Motor Sales, Inc., No. 06-422 (10th Cir. June 17, 2008)(pdf), the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed an order granting summary judgment and dismissing the copyright infringement case brought against Toyota by Meshwerks, which had created digital models of Toyota cars for use in Toyota's advertising. As the court explained, "[t]hese digital models have substantial advantages over the product photographs for which they substitute. With a few clicks of a computer mouse,the advertiser can change the color of the car, its surroundings, and even edit its physical dimensions to portray changes in vehicle styling; before this innovation, advertisers had to conduct new photo shoots of whole fleets of vehicles each time the manufacturer made even a small design change to a car or truck." Professor Patry strongly criticized the lower court's decision and will no doubt be unpersuaded by the 10th Circuit's affirmance. The court concluded, however, that the digital models did not have a sufficient degree of creativity to entitle them to copyright protection because
Meshwerks’ digital wireframe computer models depict Toyota’s vehicles without any individualizing features: they are untouched by a digital paintbrush; they are not depicted in front of a palm tree, whizzing down the open road, or climbing up a mountainside. Put another way, Meshwerks’ models depict nothing more than unadorned Toyota vehicles – the car as car. See Appendix A. And the unequivocal lesson from Feist is that works are not copyrightable to the extent they do not involve any expression apart from the raw facts in the world. As Professor Nimmer has commented in connection with the predecessor technology of photography, “[a]s applied to a photograph of a pre-existing product, thatbedrock principle [of originality] means that the photographer manifestly cannot claim to have originated the matter depicted therein . . . . The upshot is that the photographer is entitled to copyright solely based on lighting, angle, perspective, and the other ingredients that traditionally apply to that art-form.” Nimmer on Copyright § 3.03[C][3]. It seems to us that exactly the same holds true with the digital medium now before us: the facts in this case unambiguously show that Meshwerks did not make any decisions regarding lighting, shading, the background in front of which a vehicle would be posed, the angle at which to pose it, or the like – in short, its models reflect none of the decisions that can make depictions of things or facts in the world, whether Oscar Wilde or a Toyota Camry, new expressions subject to copyright protection.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Is it parody if the point is not to make fun of the original?

Little, Brown is publishing “Goodnight Bush,” an unauthorized parody of the 1947 children’s bedtime classic “Goodnight Moon,” written by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Clement Hurd: The cover of “Goodnight Bush” looks almost exactly like “Goodnight Moon — green and orange, with an image of a window and fireplace — and uses a similar rhyme scheme. But there the thematic similarities end.

The authors, Erich Origen and Gan Golan, set their story in “a situation room.” There is no bunny snuggling into bed, but rather George W. Bush, grinning and wearing a “Mission Accomplished” flight suit. Instead of three little bears sitting on chairs, there are “war profiteers giving three cheers.”
Subsequent pages tell of “A grand old party to war in a rush/And a quiet Dick Cheney whispering hush.” The vice president is illustrated seated in a rocking chair — with a shotgun in his lap and bunny slippers on his feet. . . .

The publisher of “Goodnight Bush” is counting on the fair use doctrine, which allows limited amounts of copyrighted material to be used without permission. “Parody as fair use is a developing area of the law,” said Pamela Golinski, an entertainment lawyer in New York, “and as a result, whether a given parody merits the shield of the fair use doctrine is a complex question.”
Little, Brown may have some difficulty in sustaining its fair use defense in light Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P. v. Penguin Books USA, Inc., 109 F.3d 1394 (9th Cir. 1997), in which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that the re-telling of the facts of the O.J. Simpson murder trial in the style and rhythms of Dr. Seuss's The Cat in the Hat was not fair use. The court concluded the book was
a satire, not a parody, because the book did not poke fun at or ridicule Dr. Seuss. Instead, it merely used the Dr. Seuss characters and style to tell the story of the murder.

Readers of this blog will not be surprised to know the parody/satire distinction seems a tenuous one. Every parody makes a point independent of its ridicule of the original, and every satire requires recognition of the original to accomplish it's artistic intent. Do the copyright holders to The Cat in the Hat own its metrical scheme?