As we reported in a recent post, PETA lost its efforts, on behalf of Naruto the monkey, to secure his claim to copyright ownership of his “selfie” photograph. The district court judge held that the copyright law did not recognize an animal’s right to own a copyright. PETA is not, however, deterred, and it has filed an appeal of this decision to the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Its arguments on appeal are not yet available, but we will update this post when we have further details. Stay tuned.

In August 2014, we posted about a copyright ownership dispute involving selfie photographs. The disputed selfie photographs were taken by a monkey named Naruto in Indonesia in 2011. The photography equipment used to take these internationally famous “monkey selfies” belonged to famed wildlife photographer David Slater. At the time, Slater claimed copyright ownership because he owned the camera with which the “monkey selfies” were taken. In contrast, Wikimedia, having posted the photographs on Wikipedia, claimed the photographs were part of the public domain because U.S. copyright law recognized ownership of copyright in works produced only by human authorship.

In December 2014, the U.S. Copyright Office published a revised edition of the Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices, a resource on institutional practices and related principles of U.S. copyright law. In it, it states “the Office will not register works produced by nature, animals, or plants… [or] a work purportedly created by divine or supernatural beings.” The Compendium includes specific examples of work not eligible for copyright protection. The first example: a photograph taken by a monkey.

In September 2015, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Inc. (“PETA”) filed a copyright infringement complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California against Slater, on behalf of Naruto, asking the court to declare Naruto to be the author and copyright owner of the “monkey selfies” and to hold that all proceeds from the sale, licensing, and commercial use be used solely for the benefit of Naruto. PETA contended that since the photo(s) “resulted from a series of purposeful and voluntary actions by Naruto, unaided by Slater,” Naruto was the author. PETA noted the author is typically “the person who sets up and snaps the shutter,” to which Slater’s attorneys responded that “setting up what became a world-famous, award-winning photograph is what professional nature photographer Defendant David Slater did.”

On January 28, 2016, following U.S District Judge William Orrick’s bench ruling earlier in the month, Judge Orrick issued a written Order granted defendants’ motion to dismiss. Citing to earlier precedent, the court noted that if Congress and the President intended to authorize animals to have standing to sue, they had the power to do so and, thus far, they had not done so. Accordingly, Judge Orrick held that under the current Copyright Act and consistent with the Compendium, animals cannot own a copyright and therefore Naruto is not an “author” within the meaning of the Copyright Act.

Whether U.S. law will ever be changed to allow copyright ownership by non-human “authors” of any type remains to be seen.

Written by: Derek Constantine

George Bailey stands on a bridge begging for another chance at life. Upon being granted a second chance, he joyously runs home to embrace his family. As the community of Bedford Falls rallies around him and raises funds to save the endangered Building and Loan and George Bailey personally from an unjustified failure, someone proclaims a toast to George Bailey, “the richest man in town.” It’s a powerful ending to a beloved holiday classic, and it would have been forgotten over time but for accidentally allowing a copyright to expire.

The 1909 Act is the copyright act that governs copyrightable works created before 1964. The Act created two, distinct copyright terms for each individual work: a 28-year initial term and a 28-year renewal term. The initial term applied automatically, but the copyright owner had to file a renewal application with the U.S. Copyright Office to get the second term. If the owner failed to file a renewal application before the first 28-year term expired, the work automatically entered the public domain.

Into this copyright framework, a movie called It’s a Wonderful Life was released on Christmas day in 1946. It was directed by Frank Capra and starred James Stewart. Upon its release, it was not the booming success that one might imagine based on its reputation now. While it was not a complete box-office failure, it struggled financially and never came close to reaching its break-even point. Capra and Stewart would never work together again. In fact, it was a major blow to Capra’s reputation, and in the aftermath of the film, Capra’s production company went bankrupt.

More holiday movies were created over the years, and the film was largely forgotten. At the end of the initial 28-year copyright term in 1974, a clerical mistake prevented the copyright owner of It’s a Wonderful Life from filing a renewal application, and the movie went into the public domain. TV studios, eager for inexpensive content to show during the holidays, began showing the movie every year because they were not required to pay any royalties while the film was in the public domain. Over the next approximately 20 years, the film was shown repeatedly every holiday and claimed its current status as a holiday classic.

Everything changed in 1993. In response to a Supreme Court ruling in Stewart v. Abend (Stewart v. Abend, 495 U.S. 207 (1990)), the current copyright owners of It’s a Wonderful Life were able to enforce a copyright claim to the movie. The Court in Steward v. Abend held that a current copyright owner has the exclusive right to exploit derivative works, even in light of potentially conflicting agreements by prior copyright holders. Coincidentally, the Steward v. Abend case involved another James Stewart movie, Rear Window.

Because the current copyright owners of It’s a Wonderful Life still owned the movie rights of the original story on which the movie is based, the current copyright owners argued that their rights to the story told in It’s a Wonderful Life still existed and were enforceable to prevent unauthorized showing of the movie in its current form. The newly-returned owners were thus able to stop any unauthorized showings of the movie, but by then the movie was firmly entrenched as a holiday classic. It has been popular ever since. So the next time you sit down to watch George Bailey offer to lasso the moon for Mary or watch them dancing over an expanding swimming pool, just remember that we all might have missed this movie entirely if not for a clerical mistake causing a renewal application not to be filed.

Written by: Susan Neuberger Weller

On January 6, 2015, Sen. Patrick Leahy introduced Senate bill 23 entitled the “Copyright and Marriage Equality Act.” The bill would amend Section 101 of title 17 of the United States Code by striking the current definitions of “widow” and “widower” and replacing them with the following:

“An individual is the ‘widow’ or ‘widower’ of an author if the courts of the State in which the individual and the author were married (or, if the individual and the author were not married in any State but were validly married in another jurisdiction, the courts of any State) would find that the individual and the author were validly married at the time of the author’s death, whether or not the spouse had later remarried.”

The purpose of the amendment is to address the transfer of a copyright to an author’s spouse or other next of kin following the author’s death. There were five original cosponsors of the bill.

On January 9, 2015, Rep. Derek Kilmer introduced in the House a corresponding bill, H.R. 238. That bill had 19 original cosponsors.

Both bills have been referred to their respective Committees on the Judiciary. We will keep you posted on the status of any action on each bill.

Written by: Susan Neuberger Weller

Fabric design is a creative art form that has existed for thousands of years. Although the methods for creating such designs have evolved, the purpose and function of such designs has not changed as significantly.  Fabric designs are used for purely ornamental and decorative purposes, for purposes of identity, and also to convey information.  From an intellectual property standpoint, how a fabric design is used may dictate what type of protection it can claim. In addition, the time it takes to obtain each type of IP protection, its duration, and the procedures for enforcement may also dictate the type of protection to seek. Continue Reading It’s a Material IP World: Trademarks, Copyrights, Design Patents and Fabric Designs

Written by:  Joseph M. Dicioccio

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court released its widely-anticipated decision in American Broadcasting Cos., Inc. et al. v. Aereo, Inc., wherein it reversed and remanded for further consideration a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit that held that Aereo’s “watch” feature was not a “public performance” under copyright law, and thus did not directly infringe upon the public performance rights of the owners of that content, namely certain broadcast networks.  In reversing the 2013 Second Circuit decision, the Supreme Court noted that because the revisions to the Copyright Act in 1976 were, in the majority’s opinion, largely directed toward rejecting certain U.S. Supreme Court decisions that had held that services that “enhanced” a viewers’ ability to receive broadcast television signals (through cables connecting giant antennae with viewers television sets) were not “public performances,” those services did not run afoul of the copyright law prior to its 1976 revisions.  The majority, led by Justice Breyer held that the Copyright Act was then revised to reject the import of these decisions, thus setting the stage for the Court’s present decision.

Continue Reading U.S. Supreme Court Decides Aereo Internet Broadcast Television Case

Written by: Susan Neuberger Weller

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), signed into law October 28, 1998, added Section 512 to the US Copyright Act limiting the liability of online service providers for copyright infringement. Basically, the law exempts from liability online service providers on whose sites third-party users store, post, or otherwise place various types of infringing material if the provider had no knowledge of the infringing activity, if it expeditiously removed the infringing material once the infringement became known to it, and if the provider did not receive a direct financial benefit from the infringing activity.  In order to benefit from these “safe harbor provisions” of the DMCA, a service provider must meet all the requirements of the law. One of these requirements is that the service provider must designate an agent to receive notifications of claimed infringements. The contact information for the designated agent must be sent to the Copyright Office and must be posted on the service provider’s website in a location accessible to the public. The one page forms created for this purpose can be found on the Copyright Office website, but service providers may use their own form as long as it includes all of the required information.  Complying with this designation of agent requirement is not rocket science. However, failing to comply may set off unnecessary and expensive fireworks. Continue Reading OSPs: Are You Sure You Are Safely Within the DMCA Safe Harbor?

Written by: Susan Neuberger Weller

When you think of The Hershey Company, you think of delicious chocolate candy bars, chocolate kisses, and a fabulous amusement park in Hershey, Pennsylvania. The company’s brown candy bar wrappers with the HERSHEY’S trademark prominently displayed on the front have been in use since, at least, 1905, and the company owns numerous US trademark registrations for this version of this mark for candy and other products. However, Hershey is not so sweet on a Maryland State Senator Steve Hershey’s chocolate-colored campaign signs which, it claims, bear a striking resemblance to its famous trademark and trade dress, and has filed suit against the Senator for trademark infringement and related claims. A side-by-side comparison of the Hershey trademark and Senator Hershey’s chocolate-colored campaign signs are displayed in the Complaint and in connection with an article in The Baltimore Sun newspaper. Continue Reading Hershey Is Not So Sweet on Maryland Senator’s HERSHEY Campaign Logo

Written by: Susan Neuberger Weller

The iconic “Raising the Flag at Ground Zero” photo of firemen raising an American flag on September 11, 2001, which appeared on the cover of The Record newspaper and other newspapers on September 12, is at the heart of a lawsuit filed in Federal District Court in New York. The Complaint, filed by the owner of the copyright in the photograph, claims copyright infringement and false designation of origin for the unauthorized reproduction of portions of the photograph on the website for Sarah Palin’s federally registered political action committee, www.sarahpac.com,  and on her Facebook page, www.facebook.com/sarahpalin. Continue Reading Sarah Palin and North Jersey Media Group Battle Over “Fair Use” of Famous 9/11 Photo

Written by: Susan Neuberger Weller

A federal jury in New York has found Agence France-Presse and Getty Images Inc. willful in their infringement of Daniel Morel’s copyrights in eight photographs of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, and ordered them to pay damages of $1.2 million. The court had already found AFP  liable for direct copyright infringement on summary judgment, but sent to the jury for disposition the issue of whether Getty’s affirmative defenses vitiated any liability for infringement. The jury was also asked to decide whether any infringement by either Defendant was willful. In addition, the jury awarded Morel $20,000 after finding that the two Defendants also violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Continue Reading Willful Infringement of Copyright in Haitian Earthquake Photographs Cost AFP and Getty $1.2 Million