Copyright Infringement

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Fair Use Defense Explained

What is the fair use defense to copyright infringement?

A recent court case involving LeBron James’ tattoo could set important case precedent on the issue of the fair use defense.  In the case, Solid Oak Sketches, the owner of James’ prominent lion’s head tattoo, filed suit against Take-Two Interactive Software for copyright infringement after Take-Two used the tattoo on its virtual LeBron James in a video game.  Take-Two filed a counter claim seeking to have the court declare the video game’s display of the copyrighted tattoo was either fair use or de minimum use.
Read more . . .

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Creator of the Wall Street Bull Accuses “Fearless Girl” of Copyright Violation

Does the “Fearless Girl” statute infringe on the copyright of the “Charging Bull”?

The 7,000-pound bronze statue of a charging bull has long been a part of New York City’s landscape.  Created in the 1980’s by artist Arturo Di Modica, the bull located outside of the New York Stock Exchange was intended, according to its creator, to be a symbol of strength.  Recently, the statue of a young girl appeared triumphantly standing a few feet from the bull.  This statue is known as the “Fearless Girl” and it was created by Kristen Visbal.  The “Fearless Girl” has attracted a huge fan base for its message of female empowerment, but now the creator of the “Charging Bull” is calling for its removal.
Read more . . .

Monday, February 20, 2017

Virtual Reality & Copyright Protection

Do existing copyright laws protect virtual reality applications and works?

Virtual reality (VR) involves computer generated simulation of three-dimensional images or environments that users can interact with using special electronics, such as headsets or special gloves.  VR can be described as “near-reality,” and with recent innovations in the field of virtual reality, users are increasingly being immersed in fantastically realistic realms.  The year 2016 was considered a turning point moment for virtual reality due to the release of several new systems, including Oculus Rift.  While thus far virtual reality for video games has been the focus of most creators, several tech companies have indicated that VR will soon be applied far beyond.  In coming years, it may change the way we surf the web and use our computers.

Read more . . .

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Photographer Carol Highsmith Seeks $1 Billion from Getty for Copyright Violation

Are images in the public domain allowed to be sold by others?

Carol Highsmith is a celebrated photographer whose works have been featured in books, magazines, and even on two postage stamps.  Highsmith is also known for her willingness to share her images to the public, with thousands of her images currently available for free to citizens.  But when Highsmith was sent a letter accusing her of copyright infringement for using her own image on her web page, she took action.

Read more . . .

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Melania Trump’s Speech Raises Copyright Concerns

Are public speeches copyrighted?

Melania Trump, wife of Presidential Candidate Donald Trump, spoke at the Republican National Convention to a massive crowd of enthusiastic voters.  Just moments after the speech ended, however, controversy erupted.  News outlets started reporting that a portion of her speech was strikingly similar to a speech delivered by Michelle Obama, wife of then Presidential Candidate Senator Barack Obama at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. While the Trump campaign has denied that Melania Trump plagiarized any part of the speech, the hullabaloo does raise some important

Read more . . .

Monday, June 27, 2016

Your Work—How To Protect It With Copyright Registration

Are you a musician, artist, or writer and have an authentic work that you would like to protect?  

Your creation does not need to be published in order to file for protection.  However, it cannot merely be an idea.  An idea must, instead, be established in a “tangible medium of expression,” such as through a book, photo, drawing, or piece of architecture.  Moreover, you must be the true owner or author of the work in order to protect it.    

Copyright registration is optional and protection attaches to your work upon creation; however, registration is especially beneficial if you become involved in a lawsuit.

Read more . . .

Monday, February 15, 2016

Protecting Your Copyrights on Social Media

What are the copyright rules for social media?

As more businesses engage in the digital world, the risk of copyright infringement on the internet has become a significant concern for decision makers. In particular, businesses that rely on social media marketing tools to promote their products and services need to be aware of the fact that copyright laws are applicable on the web. 

In addition, companies that establish websites and conduct digital marketing need to be familiar with the existing protocols in place to protect domain names. The Domain Name System is managed by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a government sponsored entity that coordinates the designation of registered internet domain names under the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP).

 As for the use of social media tools like Facebook and Twitter, existing copyright rules must be followed as well. For example, a business owns the creative works that its employees create while they are working for their company. The creative of work of independent contractors and freelances can only be owned with a work-for-hire agreement in place. If your business posts comments on Facebook or Twitter, it is important to ensure that you own these works.

To some extent, businesses are protected from the potential of infringement lawsuits in certain circumstances. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) provides "safe harbor" to online service providers. It limits their infringement liability by requiring them to take down content that could violate a copyright if the owner sends a take-down request.

How to Protect Your Work from Infringement

In addition to avoiding infringement claims, business owners also need to protect their original content. In order to obtain maximum legal protection, it is essential to register your work with the Copyright Office.  By registering your work, you will have a number of rights, including the exclusive right to reproduce and distribute copies of your work. In short, proper registration establishes prima facie evidence of the validity of the copyright. This grants you legal recourse to bring an infringement lawsuit and obtain statutory damages and attorney's fees.

If your business is engaged in social media marketing, it is essential to understand the applicable copyright laws. A qualified attorney can advise you on how to protect your work from infringement, as well as how to avoid an infringement lawsuit.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Court Rules Monkey Can’t Hold Copyright

Have you seen the “monkey selfie”? The charming photo has been making the rounds on the internet as a court has been considering who holds the copyright to the photo. Does the photographer who set up his equipment near the monkeys own the photo, or does the monkey who snapped the shot? We have been following this case for a couple of reasons: 1. Who doesn’t love monkeys?! 2. It might have important implications for copyright law. 

The facts.

In 2011, British photographer David Slater traveled to the Tangkoko Reserve on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi to do some nature photography. According to Slater:

I put my camera on a tripod with a very wide angle lens, settings configured such as predictive autofocus, motorwind, even a flashgun, to give me a chance of a facial close up [of a group of crested macaque monkeys] if they were to approach again for a play. I duly moved away and bingo, they moved in, fingering the toy, pressing the buttons and fingering the lens. I was then to witness one of the funniest things ever as they grinned, grimaced and bared teeth at themselves in the reflection of the large glassy lens. Was this what they where afraid of earlier? Perhaps also the sight of the shutter planes moving within the lens also amused or scared them? They played with the camera until of course some images were inevitably taken! I had one hand on the tripod when this was going on, but I was being prodded and poked by would be groomers and a few playful juveniles who nibbled at my arms. Eventually the dominant male at times became overexcited and eventually gave me a whack with his hand as he bounced off my back. I knew then that I had to leave before I possibly got him too upset. The whole experience lasted about 30 minutes.

Slater published a book, “Wildlife Personalities,” that included the pictures, and the images were widely shared online, including without permission by Wikipedia. Slater asked that the photos be taken off Wikipedia, but the site editors refused, claiming that the images were in the public domain since they were not taken by a human.

While Slater’s argument with Wikipedia was unfolding, the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) filed a lawsuit in federal court in California arguing that the photos rightly belonged to the monkey, which they identified as Naruto. PETA asked the court to grant Naruto copyright, and to allow PETA to administer funds generated by the copyright on the monkey’s behalf.

Slater asked the judge in the case, U.S. District Judge William Orrick, to dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds that a monkey lacks legal standing.

Judge Orrick recently released a tentative opinion in the case, and he is siding with Slater.

“I’m not the person to weigh into this. This is an issue for Congress and the president,” Orrick said from the bench, according to Ars Technica. “If they think animals should have the right of copyright they're free, I think, under the Constitution, to do that.”

Why this case matters.

This case is important because it highlights the new frontier of copyright law into which the digital age has delivered us. Slater set up his equipment, and worked to compose the shot, but he didn’t actually press the button to take the picture. This is similar to lots of work today where business owners set things up to be created or captured, but they don’t press go, something or someone else does. We are truly in a new frontier, and we must ensure that the law is able to match reality going forward.

Contact Thomas M. Lancia PLLC for your copyright needs.

If you have questions about a copyright issue you or your business has encountered, contact Thomas M. Lancia PLLC to schedule a free, initial consultation

Monday, December 21, 2015

Taylor Swift Has Shaken Off a Copyright Infringement Lawsuit

Are similar lyrics enough to prove copyright infringement?


Copyright infringement is the unauthorized use of another’s artistic work.  This type of infringement often occurs with works of art, photographs, writing and songs.  Recently, a fellow musician filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against pop singer Taylor Swift.

Jesse Braham filed lawsuit against Swift in a United States District Court in California.  He claimed that Swift used lyrics from his song in her 2014 hit “Shake It Off”.  Specifically, he alleged that Swift stole the phrases “haters gonna hate” and “players gonna play” from his 2013 song “Haters Gone Hate”.  Braham claimed that it was impossible that Swift came up with the phrases without hearing his song.  After Sony representatives denied his requests for writing credit and a selfie with Swift, he filed suit without representation for $42 million.

The court ultimately found that Braham had not made a prima facie case for copyright infringement and dismissed the claims.  Apparently, similar lyrics alone are not enough to prove a copyright infringement claim.  In her opinion Judge Gail Standish paraphrased the lyrics of a number of Swift’s songs... “the court is not saying Braham can never, ever, ever get his case back in court” and “we have got problems and the court is not sure Braham can solve them.”  She even went as far as to say that the “defendants have shaken off this lawsuit.”

Copyright infringement is a complex area of law.  If you have an issue in this area you need a qualified attorney to assist you. 


Monday, August 17, 2015

Surprising Aspects of Copyright Laws

How is it possible that the song "Happy Birthday to You" is Still Under Copyright?

The complexities of copyright law can be confusing and even, at times, absurd. At it turns out, the song "Happy Birthday to You," a universal tune used to commemorate birthdays from early childhood through old age, is still considered private property. A recent federal lawsuit has been filed on behalf of  group of independent artists stating that they have proof that the copyright to the song is no longer applicable. The suit alleges that a songbook that is almost a century old proves that the song's copyright, first issued in 1935, is no longer valid.

Some of the difficulties about "Happy Birthday" derive from its odd publishing history; it was first published in 1893 under the title "Good Morning to All" written my Mildred and Patty Hill, two sisters in Kentucky. By the early 1900s, variations of the song appeared with birthday themes, until eventually the song became as well known as any folk tune.

It is expected that the judge involved may rule on the case in less than a month. If the judge rules that the copyright on the song is no longer valid, Warner Music Group, holder of the rights to the song, will lose millions of dollars in licensing fees.

The case illustrates the difficulties inherent in copyright laws which may extend ownership well beyond the lifetime of the composer and, as in this case, well into a time period in which it appears to be in the public domain. As a general rule, copyright protection for works created after January 1, 1978 extends for the lifetime of the author plus 70 years. For works published before 1978, there are a number bewildering exceptions. Variables for copyrights depend on several factors, including:

  • Whether and when publication has actually taken place
  • Date of first publication
  • Whether copyright has been renewed (if the work was published prior to 1978)

Strange as it seems, until the judge rules on the copyright questions surrounding "Happy Birthday," just about all of us have infringed on copyright laws and could, theoretically, be held accountable.

Because of the complicated nature of copyright laws, if you intend to copyright original material of any kind, you would be wise to consult with a well-informed attorney experienced in copyright law. Please don't hesitate to contact Thomas M. Lancia, providing clients in New York and New Jersey with excellent service. We can be reached at 212.964.3157.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Copyright Suit Against Nike Dismissed

How similar do two works have to be in order for a court to find copyright infringement?

Popular shoe and apparel manufacturer Nike was recently the target of a copyright suit involving it’s famous Jordan brand.  Jumpman, as the logo is referred to, is a silhouette image of basketball star Michael Jordan, jumping to dunk the ball with his left hand.  A photographer recently claimed that this image was taken from a photograph he shot in 1984 and that Nike had been using it for years without permission.

Jacobus Rentmeester filed suit for copyright infringement in federal court in Oregon claiming that the Jumpman logo was derived from the photo he took for LIFE Magazine in the 1980’s.  In 1985, Nike contracted with Rentmeester to use the image for marketing purposes for a 2 year time period.  The Jumpman logo was subsequently created in 1987 and Rentmeester alleged that Nike had been benefitting from the logo derived from his work for almost 30 years.  He claimed that he “guided” Jordan into this pose and that he was therefore entitled to copyright protection.

Nike argued that they took a photo of Jordan in the same pose and used that photo to create the logo.  They also argued that Rentmeester does not have a claim to all images of Jordan in that position and should only be afforded copyright protection in relation to the specific photo he took.  

While the court did find that the images were similar to one another, they eventually sided with Nike.  The court explained that copyright protections vary on a case-to-case basis, and that depending upon the specific facts they can range from broad to narrow.  When there is a wide range of expression, works are entitled to broad protections.  When there is a narrow range of expression, the copyright protections are thin and images must be extremely similar in order to find copyright infringement.  In this case, there was a narrow range of expression and therefore thin protections existed.  The images were not similar enough for them to find copyright infringement.

Thomas M. Lancia handles all types of cases relating to copyright infringement. If you are involved in a copyright infringement issue in the New York City area, contact his office by calling (212) 964-3157 for a consultation today.

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