Archive for the ‘fair use’ tag

Obama Administration to Weigh in on Google v. Oracle Java Dispute

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Last month, the Supreme Court invited input from the Department of Justice regarding the ongoing Java dispute between Google and Oracle, asking for advice on whether the Court should hear the case. According to the Court’s memo, U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, Jr. “is invited to file a brief in this case expressing the views of the United States.” Technology Analyst Al Hilwa calls this a “true 2015 nail-biter for the industry” because “[t]his is a judgment on what might constitute fair use in the context of software.”

The dispute between Google and Oracle began in 2010, when Oracle sued Google seeking $1 billion in damages on the claim that Google had used Oracle Java software to design the operating system for the Android smartphone. Google wrote its own version of Java when it implemented the Android OS, but in order to allow software developers to write their own programs for Android, Google relied on Java Application Programming Interfaces (“APIs”). These APIs are “specifications that allow programs to communicate with each other,” even though they may be written by different people. Oracle alleged that Google copied 37 packages of prewritten Java programs when it should have licensed them or written entirely new code. Google responded with the argument that such code is not copyrightable under §102(b) of the Copyright Act, which withholds copyright protection from “any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in [an original work of authorship].” Google also argued that the copied elements were “a key part of allowing interoperability between Java and Android.”

In May 2012, the Northern District of California ruled that APIs are not subject to copyright laws, finding that where there exists “only one way to declare a given method functionality, [so that] everyone using that function must write that specific line of code in the same way,” such coding language cannot be subject to copyright. The court also held that “whether an element is necessary for interoperability should have no impact on its protectability.” In May 2014, The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled the other way, finding that Java’s API packages were copyrightable, and remanded the matter to the district court to determine whether Google’s copying constitutes a lawful fair use. In response to the Federal Circuit’s ruling, Google filed a petition this past October for a writ of certiorari. Also, numerous large technology companies including HP and Yahoo have filed amicus briefs in support of Google’s position. Google issued the following statement in response to the Supreme Court’s request for input from the Obama Administration: “We appreciate the Supreme Court’s careful review of this issue and look forward to the Solicitor General’s feedback.”

The Supreme Court will take no further action until the Solicitor General files its brief offering the views of the Obama administration on this copyright dispute. According to Peter Toren, an attorney with Weisbrod Matteis & Copley, “the Court may consider this important for definitive clarification as to what extent software is copyrightable.”

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February 19th, 2015 at 11:41 pm

Judge has ruled in landmark copyright case: Google Books is here to stay

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If you are anything like the average college student, you have probably scrambled for a book desperately needed for a research project in the last few days before said project is due. The most common fix to this problem is a technique perfected over the last decade – just google it. Google Books contains millions of scanned pages of books that are a click away from being your research project savior.

Eight years ago, all that was thrown into jeopardy when an organization called The Authors Guild filed a class action lawsuit against Google’s mass digitization project for copyright infringement. The Authors Guild, along with several authors whose works appear on Google Books without permission, argue that Google benefits financially from their work, thereby violating copyright law.

On November 14, 2013, however, federal district judge Denny Chin granted Google’s motion for summary judgment, dismissing the suit. In his 30-page opinion, Judge Chin declared that Google Books met the requirements for the “fair use” defense to copyright infringement. This defense permits the fair use of copyrighted works “to fulfill copyright’s very purpose, to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.” Judge Chin found that Google Books met the four factors of the fair use defense: 1) nonprofit educational purposes, 2) nature of the copyrighted work, 3) sustainability of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole, and 4) effect of the use on the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work. Wired provides a great summary of Google’s fulfillment of the four factors.

In his opinion, Judge Chin largely focused on the many benefits of Google Books, such as its efficiency in obtaining books as a reference tool, increasing general access, and allowing scholars to analyze massive amounts of data. Judge Chin acknowledged the legitimacy of plaintiff’s main argument that Google Books is a for-profit commercial enterprise, but emphasized that the scanned pages themselves are not for sale, and no advertisements are present on the pages containing the snippets of the book. Therefore, Google “does not engage in the direct commercialization of copyrighted books.”

Judge Chin further explained that by providing links to where the book may be purchased, Google Books actually enhances the sale of the books to the benefit of copyright holders. In fact, many authors have noticed online databases such as Google allows readers to find their work, thereby increasing their audiences.

The only factor that Judge Chin did mark as weighing slightly in the plaintiff’s favor is the third: sustainability of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole. Google scans the full text of these books, and provides certain sections for different searches. Google does, however, limit the amount of text displayed for each search, and therefore Judge Chin found this factor only “slightly against” a finding of fair use.

In response to the dismissal of its suit, the Authors Guild has declared an intention to appeal after expressing their disappointment and disagreement with the decision. This case, however, has lasted almost a decade, and is not likely to be reversed due to the overwhelming public benefits for Google Books. Not only is Google Books “highly transformative” in the way we research, but it also allows authors to get noticed.

The key sticking point is that this service benefits authors far more than it hinders them. Google Books will most likely be here to stay, much to the relief of student procrastinators (and realistically, everyone else who likes books) everywhere.

For another look at this landmark decision, see http://www.mttlrblog.org/2013/11/24/google-one-step-closer-to-world-domination-seriously/.

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November 24th, 2013 at 12:09 pm

Google One Step Closer To World Domination, Seriously

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In yet another unfortunate turn of events in the Authors Guild’s fight to enforce their interpretation of copyright law, the United States District Court in Manhattan ruled in favor of Google in Authors Guild v. Google, Inc. The court held that by digitizing books and provided only snippets, Google’s use of the material was transformative and not harmful to the market for the original work, this making it a fair use under the Copyright Act. Judge Denny Chin’s view is that such a service will draw in new readers who were previously unaware of the books and thereby boost sales. That is certainly a possibility, but it seems equally likely that Google’s rather generous snippets will allow users to immediately find what they are searching for and never bother with procuring the entire work, thus preventing a purchase.

The fair use factors are highly fact specific and predicting the outcome of fair use cases is often difficult. But some say that this is not a problem here because of another recently decided case in the Second Circuit, Authors Guild, Inc v. HathiTrust. In this case the Authors Guild sued a consortium of academic institutions for partnering with Google to make digitized works available to their educational communities. Judge Chin referenced HathiTrust in the Google decision and said that “if there is no liability for copyright infringement on the libraries’ part, there can be no liability on Google’s part.”

While the decision in HathiTrust is certainly persuasive, it is not necessarily controlling. That case held that the HathiTrust’s use of books scanned by Google for educational purposes was a fair use under the Copyright Act, a statute with multiple provisions that allow educational institutions such as libraries and universities to do certain things that would otherwise be infringement. Google, on the other hand, is amassing a gigantic collection of text and making certain portions almost indiscriminately available. It is naïve to think that Google’s motivations are perfectly aligned with the academic institutions that make up the HathiTrust.

Google is emphatically not a library, university, or other institution devoted to education or serving the public—it is a business. And it’s a business that has been aggressively expanding of late. Like libraries, Google is a place to find information. But unlike libraries, Google does not provide information solely as a way to benefit the community or further education. Instead, Google has very successfully monetized information gathering and storage. Not only do searchers on Google.com view advertisements above and alongside their search results, many Gmail users now see advertisements formatted to look like emails when they open their inbox.

Then, perhaps the most persuasive part of the HathiTrust case was the decision not to enjoin the Orphan Works Project, an attempt to make works of unclear authorship available to the public. Judge Baer, in holding that the issue lacked ripeness, said “[w]ere I to enjoin the OWP, I would do so in the absence of crucial information about what that program will look like should it come to pass and whom it will impact.” Judge Chin may not have considered Google’s penchant for monetizing the previously “un-monetizable,” but it certainly could yet happen.

For another look at this landmark decision, see http://www.mttlrblog.org/2013/11/24/judge-has-ruled-in-landmark-copyright-case-google-books-is-here-to-stay/.

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November 24th, 2013 at 12:09 pm

Fair Use in an Educational Setting

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The University of Michigan just recently won a lawsuit in which the University was alleged of copyright infringement in its effort to digitize its library contents. On September 12, 2011, the Authors Guild, the Australian Society of Authors, the Union Des Écrivaines et des Écrivains Québécois (UNEQ), and eight individual authors filed a lawsuit against HathiTrust, the University of Michigan, the University of California, the University of Wisconsin, Indiana University, and Cornell University for copyright infringement. On October 10, 2012, a Federal District Court in the Southern District of New York dismissed the suit finding that the University of Michigan’s use of books fit within “fair use” of the Copyright Act.

HathiTrust was created through a collaboration of universities in order to establish a repository for those universities to archive and share their digitized collections. The Authors Guild argued that the access HathiTrust provided to the scanned materials was in violation of their members’ copyrights, claiming that the universities had pooled the unauthorized scans of an estimated 7 million copyright-protected books. The Authors Guild also claimed that while many U.S. universities had allowed the scanning of books that were in the public domain, only the defendant universities had allowed copyright-protected books to be scanned.

One of the major issues with the HathiTrust digitalization plan was a project called Orphan Works. Orphan Works are books that are subject to copyright but whose copyright holders cannot be identified or located. As a consequence, users cannot seek permission to use these works in ways that might involve copying or distributing the work. The Authors Guild claimed that the procedures for determining whether a work should be deemed an “orphan” were deficient, as “within days of the suit’s filing on September 12th, the Authors Guild, its members, and others commenting on its blog had developed strong leads to dozens of authors and estates,” while in other cases “simple Google searches turned up most of the leads in minutes.”

HathiTrust has repeatedly claimed that the primary motive driving the digitalization effort was preservation for a scholarly purpose, as the sharing was limited to online reading by faculty and students of participating universities. The scholarly purpose of the digitalization would make the sharing legal under Section 107 of U.S. copyright law, which allows for fair use of a copyrighted work without infringing the copyright. HathiTrust argued that educational, non-profit uses of copyrighted works, falls within previous interpretations of what qualifies as “fair use.”

Federal District Judge Harold Baer Jr. of the Southern District of New York ruled in favor of HathiTrust, stating, “Although I recognize that the facts here may on some levels be without precedent, I am convinced that they fall safely within the protection of fair use … I cannot imagine a definition of fair use that would not encompass the transformative uses made by Defendants’ [Mass Digitalization Project] and would require that I terminate this invaluable contribution to the progress of science and cultivation of the arts.” With this ruling, Judge Baer has “reaffirmed the role of libraries as promoting knowledge creation and equality of access.”

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February 4th, 2013 at 12:00 am

Video Games and Intellectual Property: Chrono Trigger Fan Remakes and Copyright Protection

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Before I start, I’d like to state that I realize that this topic has been beaten to death, but I’d like this to be a continuing series of posts on intellectual property issues in the video game community, and this situation is fairly straightforward and serves as a good introduction to the major issues at hand.

I’ll admit, Chrono Trigger is a very good game. I prefer Chrono Cross personally, but I understand why so many people consider it among the greatest games of all time. The story is lighthearted with some mature undertones, the battle system is simple to learn but has a surprising amount of depth, and the concept of traveling to different periods of time and having your actions affect future timelines was unique and well executed.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the strong fanbase would want more. Chrono Cross took a rather different approach to the series and was released over 10 years ago, and all fans have had since then are a PS1 port plagued with loading time issues and a DS remake that was well received but didn’t satiate long time fans. Long story short, they wanted a new Chrono game, one with updated graphics and a better connection to (or retcon of) Chrono Cross.

Several fan remakes started popping up starting from the early 2000s, but the most notable ones were Chrono Resurrection, Chrono Trigger: Crimson Echoes, and Chrono Trigger HD. Resurrection was a remake of the original game while Crimson Echoes was an interquel that tied together Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross. These first two were notable in that Square Enix, owner of the copyrights and trademarks related to Chrono Trigger, sent cease-and-desist letters to the developers of these games claiming trademark and copyright infringement.

Square Enix’s arguments were very strong. As derivative works, 17 U.S.C. § 106 gives the original copyright holders the exclusive rights to prepare such works, so the fans had to seek permission before creating work with Square Enix’s copyrights. While the developers might have claimed fair use under 17 U.S.C. § 107, particularly because they would release the games for free, the preemption of sales that Square Enix would supposedly get by making its own remake is enough of an effect on the potential market to bar the fair use defense. Square Enix had them dead to rights.

Chrono Trigger HD, another attempt at a straight remake using the Unreal engine, is taking a different approach. They have no website and they will not include their names in the credits, hoping that Square Enix will not be able to find out who is infringing their IP. This logic, however, is deeply flawed. As has been noted by Mark Methenitisa fellow Greek IP lawyer?!—and Zack Bastian, just because they can’t find the original developers doesn’t mean that the game is any less illegal. They’ll use their resources to take down whatever public disclosures they can find, and if the developers want anyone to play the game outside their torrent circle, they’ll probably have to disclose at some point.

Go figure, the law student likes IP protection. Seriously, though, there are a lot of game IP that fans want revisited. Xenogears deserves a proper disc 2. A third Chrono game would sell like crazy. The movement for a Final Fantasy VII remake is stronger than ever. If The Last Story and Mass Effect 3’s Extended Cut have taught us anything, it’s that game companies are listening to fans. If Microsoft is willing to address their Xbox Live harassment issues because of fan promotion of this web video, Square Enix may be willing to hear out Chrono Trigger fans. Infringing their IP is only going to discourage them from creating new content, which is why we have IP protection in the first place.

Of course, this brings up the question of user-generated content in general, such as the mod kits in the Elder Scrolls games, map editors in Starcraft, and level creators in LittleBigPlanet. DayZ is an interesting case as well, being a mod of Arma 2 that eventually became a retail game. But that’s another post.

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September 27th, 2012 at 11:12 am

False Hope?

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One of the most prominent copyright/fair use cases over the last year has been artist Shepard Fairey‘s dispute with the Associated Press (AP) over his famous poster of now-President Obama during the 2008 Presidential Campaign. The poster, which featured a stylized portrait of Obama with the word “Hope” underneath, was supposedly based off of an AP photograph taken of Obama at a 2006 event organized by George Clooney on Darfur, which Fairey then modified to create the now-iconic HOPE poster. The AP claimed that because Fairey’s work for based off an AP photograph to which the AP owned the copyright, Fairey was required under copyright law to apply for permission for use of the photograph. Fairey consistently claimed that he did not profit from the poster, but instead used the proceeds to produce additional prints, and disputed the AP’s identification of the original photo as a closeup of Obama rather than a photo of both Obama and Clooney.

Fairey, who was then represented by Anthony Falzone, Executive Director of Stanford Law School’s Fair Use Project, claimed that his use of the photograph came under the “fair use” exception and thus permission was not required. Fair use hasn’t often been applied to photographs, so the issue seemed likely to become a fascinating test case, especially after Fairey filed for declaratory judgment against the AP in February 2009 seeking a determination that his use came under the doctrine of fair use.

The case was further complicated by the claims of the original photographer, Mannie Garcia, who was working under contract for the AP when he took the photograph; Garcia claimed that the copyright for the photo belonged to him, not to the AP. Garcia’s latest position in the legal skirmish is as a defendant, counterclaim plaintiff, and cross-claim plaintiff/defendant.

At the time, it seemed that Fairey had a chance of winning. Fair use disputes are resolved by a four-factor test; the four factors are:

  1. the purpose and character of the use
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion taken, and
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market.

The first factor relates to the use of the original material; by cropping, colorizing, and reorienting Obama’s posture from the original photograph, as Fairey claimed he’d done, it’s probable that a court would have deemed Fairey’s use sufficiently transformative to satisfy that factor.

The second factor concerns the distinction between fiction and fact; since Fairey copied from something factual (a photograph from a news event) rather than something fictional (for example, a novel), it’s possible that he would have succeeded on this factor as well, since only fictional works can be copyrighted. However, the Supreme Court ruled in Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service, Co., 499 U.S. 340 (1991), that only a “spark” of originality was required in order for something to come under copyright protection, it seems probable that the original photograph would have been protected by copyright. Fairey would thus have faced a tougher battle on the second factor compared to the first.

The third factor presents one of the most interesting elements of the case. The less someone uses of the original work, the better case they have for fair use. For example, if a musician copies only a few seconds from six minute song into a remix, she’ll have a stronger basis for fair use than if she uses five minutes. Since Fairey supposedly cropped out George Clooney from the original photograph, he had a fairly good position on this factor. As the LA Times noted, how often does George Clooney get cropped out of a photograph? The fourth and final factor also seemed to weigh in Fairey’s favor. Fairey’s poster did not impede the AP from selling the rights to the original photograph to newspapers and other media outlets, especially given that the photograph was over two years old by the time Fairey began selling prints of it.

Last month, the entire case took on a dramatic twist when it came to light that Fairey had lied about which photograph he’d used for the HOPE poster. Instead of using a photo of Clooney and Obama, Fairey admitted that he had used the photograph that the AP had always claimed he’d used (a closeup of Obama) and that he had deleted images and submitted false ones in connection with the lawsuit. As a result, Falzone and the Fair Use Project declared their intention to withdraw from the case, as they couldn’t ethically represent Fairey after his lies came to light. Falzone noted that he still believed in the merits of Fairey’s case; the AP, however, countered that Fairey’s admission undermined his fair use argument and that they would block the withdrawal of Falzone and the Fair Use Project. The Fair Use Project’s proposed replacements are Geoffrey Stewart, a partner at Jones Day, and William Fisher and John Palfrey of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Law and Society.

Crucially, Fairey’s admission impedes his claims under the third factor of fair use, as he did not modify the original photograph as much as he claimed and took a larger proportion of the original work. Still, Falzone’s support of Fairey’s claims even after exiting the case doesn’t seem naive; it’s conceivable that a court could still find fair use. But as many have noted, it’s hard to seek a defense that uses the word “fair” when you’ve lied about the case. The case is still going forward, but Fairey’s position is far weaker than it was a few weeks ago, though the LA Times ran an editorial this week that supports Fairey’s claims on the merits. But what could have been a fascinating test case for the status of fair use in copyright law has been muddled as a result of Fairey’s deception, and it remains unclear what this could mean for other artists working in similar ways.

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November 7th, 2009 at 12:47 am

Jackson Browne v. John McCain: Copyright Lawsuit Settled, Case Dismissed

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The lawsuit between rock artist Jackson Browne and Senator John McCain and the Republican Party was recently settled, and ordered dismissed on August 4, 2009, almost a year after the suit was filed by Browne.

Browne filed a lawsuit against McCain, the Republican National Committee, and the Ohio Republican Party over the unauthorized usage of Browne’s signature song “Running on Empty” in a commercial criticizing the energy policy of then-Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama.  The commercial, which aired on television and YouTube.com, featured parts of the sound recording of “Running on Empty” throughout.

The causes of action listed in Browne’s complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in California, included copyright infringement, trademark infringement, and violation of the California common law right of publicity.  The defendants’ motion to dismiss, relied, amongst other things, on a fair use defense against Browne’s copyright claims and a political speech exemption against the trademark claim.  The motion to dismiss was ultimately denied.

The lawsuit brought to light the clash between intellectual property rights and fair use as well as the First Amendment in the context of political speech, as political campaigns turn more and more to popular culture references in the media to reach out to voters.  McCain was also opposed by artists for his campaign’s use of popular music from the Foo Fighters, Heart, and John Mellencamp.  Even Obama ran into trouble during his campaign, when soul legend Sam Moore (of “Soul Man” fame) asked Obama to stop using one of his songs.

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August 7th, 2009 at 11:02 am

Tiffany v. eBay – Transnational Trademark Problems?

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by Jeff Liu , MTTLR Associate Editor

Last summer, a federal district court ruled, in Tiffany v. Ebay, that online marketplace eBay was not liable under trademark and unfair competition law for facilitating the sale of counterfeit items on its website. The court noted that it is a “Trademark owner’s burden to police its mark, and companies like eBay cannot be held liable for trademark infringement based solely on their generalized knowledge that trademark infringement might be occurring.” Some U.S.-based commentators praised the decision; others were somewhat more critical. Few, however, commented on the way this decision has the potential to the put the U.S. directly at odds with several key European Union countries on contributory liability for trademark violations.

While this decision represents a victory for eBay and other online marketplaces in the United States, courts in other countries have shown less sympathy for eBay. Especially in European jurisdictions decisions have tilted in support of trademark holders rather than the operator(s) of online marketplaces. Several judicial decisions handed down by countries in the European are opposite to the decision handed down in Tiffany Inc. Two important decisions highlight the conflict at hand. On June 30, 2008, a French court ordered eBay to pay 61 million dollars in compensation to LVHM for allowing the sale of fake merchandise on its website. Just a month earlier, another French court had ordered eBay to pay Hermes a compensation of 20,000 Euros for the sale of counterfeit merchandise on its website. And both of these decisions come in light of decision by a German appeals court in April, 2008 against eBay on the same issue. The German appeals court ruled eBay had to take preventive measures against the sale of fake Rolexes on its website. Both the French and German courts seem to have taken the position that eBay has a responsibility to prevent the sale of counterfeit goods on its website, but the U.S. court has taken the opposite position, that the burden falls onto the holder of the trademark. In an increasingly global marketplace, this conflict will have to be resolved.

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February 12th, 2009 at 9:13 pm

Posted in Old Blog Posts

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Google Book Search Settlement – What Will Google Deliver?

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by Lauren Strandbergh, MTTLR Associate Editor


Image The Search by Robert S.. Used under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.

On October 28, 2008, Google reached a settlement with The Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers (AAP) after two years of negotiations.1 The agreement would resolve the class-action lawsuit brought by the Authors Guild and book authors against Google, in addition to another lawsuit brought by five publishing companies as representatives of the AAP’s membership.2 Although Judge John Sprizzo has given preliminary approval, the settlement is still subject to final court approval following a June hearing, which “will determine whether the agreement is fair, reasonable, and adequate.” 3

According to Google, the agreement would provide increased access to out-of-print books, additional ways to purchase copyrighted books online, institutional subscriptions, free access from public and university libraries in the United States, and compensation and improved control to authors and publishers.4 This last would be made possible by the Book Rights Registry, a new development that is one of the more important aspects of the settlement.5

Under the settlement agreement, Google would pay $125 million to be used to create the Book Rights Registry, cover legal fees, and resolve existing claims.6 The independent, non-profit Book Rights Registry would distribute “payments earned from online access provided by Google and, prospectively, from similar programs that may be established by other providers” and “locate rightsholders, collect and maintain accurate rightsholder information, and provide a way for rightsholders to request inclusion in or exclusion from the project.”7

The new Registry would be similar to the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), which monitors and compensates individuals in the music industry.8 As one blogger put it in a somewhat sarcastic post, Google and the Registry are bringing “the Dewey Decimal System into the digital age.”9 The Registry will keep track of books and inserts, as well as the respective authors, publishers, and other rightsholders.10

The Registry will do much more than serve as an information depository, though; it will also be responsible for contracts and payments. The settlement provides for a board of directors with equal representation of the author sub-class and publisher sub-class.11 A majority of the directors, including at least one from each sub-class, is required for the Board to act.12 This will presumably help to protect both the authors’ and publishers’ rights in their dealings with Google, and possibly other providers somewhere down the line.

Google and the Registry will determine the subscription prices.13 This basically amounts to Google proposing prices, and the Registry board approving or denying, thus acting as a check on Google.14 The settlement claims that Google and the Registry will attempt to base subscription prices on two factors: “the realization of revenue at market rates for each Book and license on behalf of Rightsholders” and “the realization of broad access to the Books by the public, including institutions of higher education.”15 These are worthy guidelines if followed. Ideally, the first goal (and the cost of corporate profit) will not make the second impossible. The legal databases provided by LexisNexis and Westlaw are examples of digital libraries that are unavailable to the masses due to high cost.

Rather than litigating the fair use question at issue in these lawsuits, Google settled for a large sum of money. This means that the legal standard is no better understood, and the price for using this material is high—$125 million in this case. Microsoft already bowed out of the competition for creating a searchable library database last spring.16 This could make it far more difficult for others interested in creating digital libraries or databases to acquire rights to the media, perhaps harming some of the smaller scale enterprises that have recently been appearing on library websites.17

What does all of this mean for the average Google user? Whether or not this settlement and the new Book Rights Registry will make a real positive difference for individuals and libraries across the country is somewhat uncertain. Search capabilities will definitely increase, which is Google’s main goal behind this expensive effort. But will people have access to content as they would at a library, or will the Google Books site simply become a mammoth bookstore, crowding out Amazon and other on-line retailers? The settlement only provides for public libraries to have one terminal where users may, one at a time, view out-of-print books and print them, for a per-page fee of course.18 This does not appear to be an exceptionally user friendly model.

Whether or not institutions will subscribe to this database and individuals purchase books will depend on multiple factors. Two of the most important may be price and ease of use. Even if an institution purchases a subscription or an individual buys a particular book, they are still restricted to printing or viewing the book on the website.19 This is rather limiting and may make sense only when discussing out-of-print materials. Hopefully Google will use some of the creativity they frequently display, and work with the Author’s Guild, and AAP to engineer a system that will be accessible to everyone.


1 Press Release, Google, Authors, Publishers, and Google Reach Landmark Settlement (Oct. 28, 2008).
2 Id.
3 Erica Sadun, Google copyright deal moves forward, Ars Technica, Nov. 19, 2008.
4 Press Release, supra note 1.
5 Id.
6 Id.
7 Id.
8 Reyhan Harmanci, Google, book trade groups settle lawsuits, S.F. Chron., Oct. 29, 2008.
9 Elie Mystal, Thank God For Good Lawyers: Google Destroys Libraries, Not The Law, Above The Law, Oct. 29, 2008.
10 Authors Guild, Inc. v. Google Inc, No. 05-CV-8136, at 65 (S.D.N.Y. Oct.28, 2008), (hereafter “Settlement Agreement”), available at http://books.google.com/booksrightsholders/.
11 Id.
12 Id.
13 Id. at 42.
14 Id. at 44. The registry is allowed to propose adjustments to Google. Id. at 45.
15 Id. at 42.
16 Miguel Helft, Microsoft Will Shut Down Book Search Program, N.Y. Times, May 24, 2008.
17 Many Michigan libraries are a part of the Michigan Library Consortium, provided through OverDrive digital media services, which allows card-holders to download eBooks and Audio books to personal computers for a limited amount of time. It is similar to a standard library in that there are limited “copies” of each book available at one time and a patron must wait on a list for the next available copy if all are “checked out.” Michigan Library Consortium Home Page.
18 Settlement Agreement, supra note 10, at 60.
19 Id. at 47-48.

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November 23rd, 2008 at 8:25 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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The PRO-IP Act

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by Holly Lance, MTTLR Associate Editor

It may be time to quit that nasty BitTorrent habit. On October 13th, President Bush signed into law the PRO-IP Act (Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property Act of 2008), which greatly increases the power of the federal government to protect copyright and trademark owners.
Some of the big changes coming down the pipe:

  1. A court can take away your computer if you download illegally – §102 of the Act specifies that during a civil action, a Court may order the impoundment of all copyrighted material and the means by which the material can be reproduced, as well as all documentation regarding the creation, sale, or receipt of these materials.
  2. Counterfeiters could pay up to $2 million in damages – §103 raises the range of statutory damages available considerably, with the new maximum fine being $2 million, doubling the current $1 million max.
  3. Harsher criminal penalties for infringement – §205 punishes infringers with jail time (up to life) if someone is seriously injured or dies as a result of the trafficking of counterfeit goods or services.
  4. There will be an “IP Czar” – §301 creates the position of an Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator (appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate), who will be in charge of an interagency intellectual property enforcement committee and will help facilitate coordination between agencies.

The law originated in the House last December (introduced by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI)), and passed in the House by a very large margin in May. A similar bill was introduced in the Senate by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and passed in the Senate unanimously and the House by a large margin (90.3% by both Democrats and Republicans). While many criticize the PRO-IP Act as harsh, the version that Bush signed has actually been toned down considerably, as previous proposals included much higher statutory damages, creation of a new federal agency, and giving authority to the DOJ to sue on behalf of copyright holders.

Young 1920's-era woman dressed as a pirate
Image Pirate Mona by Kim P. Used under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.

As expected, the RIAA and MPAA are quite pleased with the new law. The National Association of Manufacturers is happy too, and President John Engler calls the PRO-IP Act “a shining example of a bicameral, bipartisan effort to advance legislation to protect our consumers, jobs and businesses from intellectual-property piracy and counterfeiting.” Copyright infringement and counterfeiting are serious problems, and this Act represents a major step by the government in protecting IP owners. The RIAA and MPAA have been particularly concerned about P2P networks for several years, and if this Act is strongly enforced, it will give owners more tools for suing infringers and provide more federal oversight. In a tough economy like this, the Act can serve to bolster U.S. businesses, which lose $200-$250 billion and 750,000 jobs annually due to infringement and counterfeiting (or maybe not).

Not everyone is happy about the PRO-IP Act. Public interest groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Public Knowledge criticize that the Act “amplifies copyright without protecting innovators or technology users” and “adds more imbalance to a copyright law that favors large media companies.” These groups are worried that the Act is unnecessary, will curtail legitimate fair use, and impose fines and seizures that are much too severe. Even the DOJ expressed its concern about the creation of an “IP Czar” and felt that such an enforcer would undermine the DOJ’s independence.

It is hard to say at this point what will become of the PRO-IP Act. Obviously a lot will depend on who is to become the first “IP Czar”, which will likely be decided by the next president. Obama’s campaign plan already included the creation of a “Chief Technology Officer”. This Business Week article speculates that possible candidates for the position include Vint Cerf, Steve Ballmer, Jeffrey Bezos, Ed Felten, while the Wall Street Journal shows that some believe Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt wants the job. One factor that may influence the decision is Obama’s recent battle against major copyright holder NBC, which took down a popular YouTube video mocking a McCain victory. His official stance is that there is a “need to update and reform our copyright and patent systems to promote civic discourse, innovation and investment, while ensuring that intellectual property owners are fairly treated.” John McCain also seems to have a personal sympathy for fair use of copyright materials, as evidenced by this letter from his campaign to YouTube, which bemoans the “overreaching copyright claims” that have “silenc[ed] political speech” and wants to give campaigns special treatment. Ironically, the letter is dated October 13, 2008, the same day that Bush signed the Act. McCain also openly “supports efforts to crack down on piracy, both on the Internet and off.” While it seems like Obama may be more friendly to reform, keep in mind that it was Democrats who initiated the bills in both the House and the Senate. Obama will likely present a more “fair use”-friendly “IP Czar”, but the real question may be if he or she can get past the Senate.

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November 10th, 2008 at 6:45 am

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