Intellectual Property

As a fight over the trade promotion authority (TPA) bill “engulfs the capitol,” debate has arisen over whether Congress should identify obtaining balanced copyright language as a U.S. trade priority. Both the Internet Association and the Computer & Communications Industry Association (where I work) criticized the bill’s failure to acknowledge the importance of promoting balanced copyright among U.S. trading partners, since the absence of these protections limits growth opportunities abroad. The Consumer Electronics Association, while applauding the legislation, expressed a similar view, observing that “[f]uture trade agreements should include not only include strong intellectual property protection and enforcement, but also robust and flexible limitation provisions.”

In response to the concerns voiced by the Internet sector, Geoffrey Manne appears to disagree, writing for Truth on the Market that “mandated ‘fair use’ language has no place in trade promotion authority.” (It is important to recognize that these statements do not call on Congress to “mandate fair use” in TPA. The question is whether Congress should direct the U.S. Trade Representative to promote balanced copyright in foreign markets that U.S. Internet companies are entering.)

This issue is important because of the high stakes. Manne is right in saying that trade promotion authority is important, but this glosses over how controversial it can be. As former Deputy USTR Miriam Sapiro wrote at Brookings this week, “the stakes as well as the hurdles for getting trade promotion authority from Congress are high. Critics of trade agreements have been well organized and mobilized.” Trade needs every friend it can get right now, which is why it would be a grave mistake to throw Internet concerns under the bus. This is particularly the case given that the Obama Administration’s last trade effort, ACTA, foundered several years ago due to the perception that the agreement was anti-Internet.

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As Techdirt reported this morning, emails leaked from the Sony hack show MPAA CEO Chris Dodd campaigning to USTR Michael Froman against fair use.

As DisCo has previously covered, Sony Pictures Classics, a subsidiary of MPAA member Sony, successfully argued that its use of a nine-word Faulkner quote in the film Midnight in Paris was fair use, saying: “Fair use is an integral part of the Copyright Act. Without fair use, critics and scholars could not quote the very works they write about.”  Similarly, DisCo covered how the NFL and Baltimore Ravens also successfully argued fair use, with the MPAA filing an amicus brief in support of this doctrine.  After that brief drew media attention, MPAA’s Ben Sheffner wrote in a blog post that the MPAA’s “members rely on the fair use doctrine every day when producing their movies and television shows – especially those that involve parody and news and documentary programs. And it’s routine for our members to raise fair use – successfully – in court.”  And several years ago, Fritz Attaway, then a senior MPAA executive, explained to a National Academies review that the “beauty of fair use is that it is a living thing . . . like our Constitution . . . that can adapt to new technology.”

One would think that when USTR announced in 2012 its intention to promote U.S. limitations and exceptions like fair use in the TPP, the film industry would have supported codifying the exception that it both relies upon and celebrates.

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David Balto and Matthew Lane, antitrust attorneys, have authored a guest paper for DisCo on innovation in the music delivery sector.  David previously served as Policy Director at the Federal Trade Commission’s Office of Policy and Evaluation, and attorney advisor to the FTC chairman.

There is no doubt that we live in exciting times.  New technologies are constantly emerging that promise to change our lives for the better.  These disruptive technologies give us an increase in choice, make technologies more accessible, make things more affordable, or give us a voice.  However, disruptive innovations do not hit all areas of our lives equally.  There are some industries that are controlled by companies that don’t want to be shaken up and have the power to prevent it.  These consolidated industries are an anathema to disruptive innovation.  So how do we enable disruptive competition in these industries?

One answer is found in our competition enforcement agencies and the oversight they can achieve through antitrust enforcement and consent decrees secured when cases are brought.  The important role of consent decrees is often overlooked.  A properly constructed consent decree between the government and a company accused of anticompetitive behavior can restore competition and foster new competitive entry.  Permitting entry is vital to disruptive innovation because much of this innovation comes from start-ups and new entrants. MORE »

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Tomorrow the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in two intellectual property cases that could affect the technology sector: Commil USA, LLC v. Cisco Systems, Inc. and Kimble v. Marvel Enterprises, Inc. This blog attempts to summarize and preview the arguments for both cases. For disclosure purposes, CCIA filed an amicus brief in Commil in support of Cisco.

1. Commil USA, LLC v. Cisco Systems, Inc.

The issue the Supreme Court chose to focus on in Commil is “whether the Federal Circuit erred in holding that a defendant’s belief that a patent is invalid is a defense to induced infringement under 35 U.S.C. § 271(b).” Even though this is a patent law case, it may have implications for copyright as well because many patent standards for secondary liability are imported into copyright law (see Grokster). CCIA discussed this issue at length in its amicus brief supporting Cisco and argues that the culpable intent requirement in copyright law from Grokster should not be changed regardless of the holding in this case.

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Yesterday Austin-based Usenet provider Giganews was awarded more than $5.6 million in attorney’s fees and costs by a federal court in California, relating to its lengthy battle to exonerate itself of spurious infringement allegations from serial copyright litigant Perfect 10.  The court awarded fees in order to “discourage serial litigants from bringing unmeritorious suits and then unnecessarily driving up litigation costs in order to drive a settlement.”  (A statement by Giganews and link to the order are here.)

Represented by “high stakes” IP litigator Andrew Bridges of Fenwick & West, Giganews has been slugging it out with adult content purveyor Perfect 10 since 2011.

Perfect 10 is likely no stranger to copyright nerds; its litigation campaigns against a who’s-who of Internet properties in the previous decade yielded few victories for the company, but did lead to important precedents on intermediary liability and fair use, including search engines’ use of thumbnails.  (Some of these cases comprise the so-called Perfect 10 “trilogy”; including Perfect 10 v. Google, Inc., Perfect 10 v. Amazon.com, Perfect 10 v. VISA, Perfect 10 v. CCBill LLC.) MORE »

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An expert panel convened on Capitol Hill this morning, discussing new research on the detrimental effect that regulatory uncertainty has on Internet investment (as well as additional copyright law and policy challenges, which we live tweeted on @DisCo_Project).

The new research quantifies the impact of Internet regulations, including intermediary liability limitations, by showing their effect on early-stage investment.  A new report by Fifth Era and Engine finds that legal uncertainties for digital content intermediaries discourage early-stage investment around the world, reinforcing findings from a 2011 report that found early-stage investors in the United States were considerably less likely to invest in new online services exposed to legal risks.

In a similar vein, another 2011 paper found that changes in copyright policy changes could spur demonstrable investment in new online services.  Comparing investment in online services in the U.S. and Europe in the wake of the 2008 Cablevision case — a federal appellate court ruling widely heralded as giving additional legal certainty to online platforms — researchers found that U.S. investment increased considerably.  In contrast, a follow-up study by the same authors explored the impact of judicial decisions in Europe that increased legal exposure for online platforms, and found decreased investment when applying the same methods.

The Fifth Era report reinforces this conclusion, providing further evidence that additional risk and uncertainty in the online environment decreases investment.  This conclusion is not entirely surprising — but the authors’ specific findings provide impressive data on how severely risk can stifle early-stage investment.

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On two sides of the country yesterday two branches of the federal government engaged in legal processes likely to affect competition in the music industry.

As DisCo previewed, yesterday the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy, and Consumer Rights considered the competitive challenges in the music publishing industry, and the effects on competition, innovation, and consumers.  Witnesses from across the music ecosystem discussed the continued need for the consent decrees.  Several urged that the consent decrees be strengthened with additional transparency safeguards, while others claimed they may no longer be necessary (at least in theory if you ignore all transaction costs and have a perfect marketplace).  Over the last year alone, four federal courts have found evidence that the same publisher behaviors that gave rise to the consent decrees in the first place still continue today, suggesting that the consent decrees remain necessary to curtail anticompetitive behaviors.

Just as the Senate hearing ended in D.C., jury deliberations in the Blurred Lines case (which we covered when Robin Thicke initiated the litigation by filing for a declaratory judgment) resumed in California, ultimately ending in a judgment against Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams, for millions in actual damages plus profits.  Several observers have said that is “horrific” and “really dangerous”, as well as “a bad result” that is “bad for pop music” and “could make songwriting and recording a minefield for every artist”.

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At a hearing on Capitol Hill tomorrow, a Senate subcommittee will hear different perspectives on the degree to which competing music publishers should be permitted to coordinate licensing activities through performing rights organizations (“PROs”), such as ASCAP.  Music publishers have expressed a desire for fewer antitrust constraints on their coordinated behavior, while users and distributors of music will call for greater transparency in the music marketplace.

The hearing occurs during an ongoing Justice Department review of the consent decrees that govern PROs.[FN1] Music publishers and PROs are presently subject to oversight to the extent that PROs coordinate behavior among publishers who ostensibly should compete with one another.  Competitor coordination usually violates antitrust law, but because collective licensing also helps reduce the high transaction costs in music licensing, exceptions have been made for PROs.  A PRO can offer a single performance rights license to a user or distributor for all the works controlled by multiple publishers – one-stop shopping for a huge number of works.  But because one entity is nevertheless coordinating business transactions for a large group of companies that should be competing, antitrust oversight remains necessary.

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VulcanSaluteCopyrightWhat does Leonard Nimoy’s “Vulcan salute” have to do with European newspaper headlines? They both might one day be regulated by new international intellectual property rules, if some have their way. One might think that what constitutes “intellectual property” is set in stone, but it isn’t.  Around the world, different interests are lobbying for governments to create new types of intellectual property all the time.

As DisCo has covered before, news publishers in Europe and elsewhere are currently pushing for the creation of new IP rights in newspaper headlines, so that online sites can be forced to pay for the privilege of quoting or linking to news coverage. Spain and Germany have already created these rights, and there is pressure in Brussels for a pan-European rule.

At the same time, for more than a decade there have been efforts within the World Intellectual Property Organization to create rights in “traditional cultural expression” (which, as explained below, may include the hand gesture on which Leonard Nimoy based the Vulcan salute). Some indigenous communities are distressed about the commercial exploitation of their folklore and other forms of cultural expression by “outside” entities. In a desire to (a) prevent uses that they believe are disparaging and (b) regain control over an important part of their identity, these communities have lobbied for a treaty that would require the creation of intellectual property rights in “traditional cultural expression.”

Concerns have been raised about the scope of the draft treaty. If adopted in its current form, critics say, the treaty could interfere with cultural life around the world, pulling out of the public domain material that is incorporated in countless novels, paintings, films, sculptures, operas, and other musical compositions. This is because these works are based on stories, legends, dances, rituals and other forms of expression that the treaty could protect without a limitation on term.

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Last week, the House of Representatives adopted two inconsistent amendments to the Student Success Act, H.R. 5, the legislation reauthorizing the No Child Left Behind Act. The amendments are relevant to the topics we explore here because they illustrate different responses to the manner in which the Internet has changed education. One amendment, sponsored by Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO), would allow state agencies to use federal grants to develop open access textbooks and open educational resources. The other amendment, sponsored by Congressman Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), would allow state agencies to use federal grants to develop educational materials for teachers, parents, and students “about the harms of copyright piracy.” The Polis amendment is forward looking and would introduce more competition and innovation in the K-12 textbook market. The Jeffries amendment is essentially a redundant subsidy for media companies’ advocacy efforts.

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