Works in the Public Domain are FREE to use Reply

Music and other published works that are in the Public Domain are free to use; since, they are not under copyright protection and therefore do not require any permissions from the author (or former copyright owner) to be used. Works that are in the public domain are free for the taking, sampling, using, copying, reproducing, recording and distributing.

Typically, works in the Public Domain are very old works. For example, ancient published texts like the “Bhagavad Gita” (a pre-Christian, Sanskrit text) are in the public domain…. as well as “newer-old-works” like the Shaker song “Simple Gifts” (music and lyrics written in the United States in the mid 1800’s). The original text, music and lyrics of the works are in the public domain. However, newer translations or compositions based on the original works… as well as sound recordings and arrangement elements of these newer versions are likely covered by copyright protection…. and NOT in the public domain.

What works are in the public domain? Any work or musical score that was published in the United States before 1923 is in the public domain, due to expiration of copyright. Newer works can also be dedicated to the public domain and if a work failed to meet the requirements for copyright protection it will also be in the public domain. Generally, a case by case analysis should to be done on works published in 1923 or later to determine if they are in the public domain because, it’s not always obvious. [Would you have guessed that the Happy Birthday Song is still covered by copyright protection… and not in the public domain?]

Keep in mind that copyright duration and the timeline for works entering the public domain vary country by country.

BY: Vanessa Kaster, Esq., LL.M.

vk@kasterlegal.com

See also: http://www.copyright.gov, http://copyright.cornell.edu/resources/publicdomain.cfm, http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/; @iplegalfreebies and www.kasterlegal.com.

 

Copyright Law: Using quotes from someone else (including Cajun keychain sayings) in your song, blog, book or website 2

Did you know that it’s possible to buy a “Cajun in your pocket” keychain? …that plays spoken Cajun phrases? GOOD NEWS – you can buy the keychain and use the sayings without violating copyright! cajun pocketEven though the toy manufacturers have copyrights that include the sayings on the keychain… there is no copyright violation for using the sayings in your own song, book, blog or website because, the phrases are not original.

A federal court in Louisiana held that the phrases at issue (see below) were common Cajun phrases and therefore, when the rap artist Mystikal included the exact word arrangements in his hit “Shake Ya As*” he did not infringe the toy maker’s copyright. (One of the necessary elements of a copyright infringement claim is that the parts of a copyrighted work that are copied without authorization must be original.)

  • “We gon pass a good time, yeah, cher”
  • “You gotta suck da head on dem der crawfish”

Another aspect of evaluating whether copyright protected works were copied without authorization is proof of access to the copyrighted work and similarity of the works. Interestingly in this case, it was proven that Mystikal’s nephew had a “Cajun in your pocket” toy… which was how the artist had access to the copyrighted work prior to the creation of his song. (By the way, it was estimated that the rap song had sold over six million units worldwide by the fall of 2000 and had also appeared in several movies and numerous CD compilations.)

When quotes from copyright protected works can be used in songs, books, blogs or websites without permission of the copyright owner… is a grey area and the facts and circumstances are fundamental to the case by case evaluation of copyright infringement.

Let the good times roll and stay clear of copyright infringement. “Laissez les bons temps rouler”!! (the “Cajun in your pocket” toy says this too.)

BY: Vanessa Kaster, Esq., LL.M.

vk@kasterlegal.com

See also: http://www.emanation.com/products/cajun-in-your-pocket and Emanation Inc. v. Zomba Recording, Inc., 72 Fed. Appx. 187 (5th Cir. La. 2003). Emanation Inc. v. Zomba Recording, Inc., 72 Fed. Appx. 187 (5th Cir. La. 2003).

Making ‘Stormtroopers’ in your basement? (gotta look at that basement) 2

In a galaxy not so far away… (the United Kingdom under the rule of HRH)… the original designer and prop maker of the Star Wars stormtrooper costume continues to make replicas of the iconic stormtrooper in his basement and sell them over the internet.  This basement stormtrooper-production-line led to a legal battle in the UK’s highest court.  Lucasfilms filed a lawsuit for copyright violation, in the hopes of shutting down the basement production.

The court ruled in favor of the basement stormtrooper-production since UK copyright law offers a short term of copyright protection for ‘props’ and that period of protection had expired.  (Interestingly, the same stormtrooper costumes are covered by a much longer term of copyright protection in the UK if the court had found them to be works of sculpture instead of classified as props.  Here in United States, if the stormtroopers were being produced in a basement on US soil… it is likely that Lucasfilms would have prevailed because, the US copyright law offers a much longer term of copyright protection regardless of the classification of the copyrightable work as a sculpture or prop.)  Since the stormtrooper costumes are still under copyright protection in the US, damages may have to be paid to Lucasfilms for any costumes that were sold here in the US.

Copyright laws and the term of copyright protection vary from country to country.

(I gotta tell ya, that I visited the UK courtroom while this case was being tried and there were stormtroopers set up all over the place.  The combination of wigs, robes, courtroom formalities and stormtroopers felt like another dimension… straight out of Star Wars.)

The case is: Lucasfilm v. Ainsworth, No. [2011] UKSC 39, U.K. Supreme Court.  See also, http://www.supremecourt.gov.uk/news/latest-judgments.html; @iplegalfreebies and www.kasterlegal.com.

BY: Vanessa Kaster, Esq., LL.M.

vk@kasterlegal.com

 

Copying another artist’s work into a New Medium can violate copyright 2

The idea behind a piece of artwork is not protected by copyright.  However, a near replica of an artist’s work in different medium can be a copyright violation if the new work closely copies a copyright protected work.  What this means is that being inspired by an idea of another contemporary artist to recreate your own artwork from scratch is…100% legit.  For example, if a famous photograph of the pyramids inspires you to fly to Egypt and try to recreate the exact same photo to display and sell in a gallery… there is no copyright violation.  However, it is different if you use a copy of a famous photograph of a pyramid to paint a replica of the photograph.  Painting a copy of a photograph changes the medium of the artwork, but it can often still be a copyright violation of the copied work.

Here are a few examples of instances when copying someone else’s artwork into a new medium could be a copyright violation of the original work:

  • Photographing a sculpture… for use on a postage stamp
  • Making a painting of another artist’s photograph… to display in a gallery show
  • Making a campaign poster out of another artist’s photograph… to sell and raise money
  • Making a sculpture of another artist’s photograph of a sad kid in a costume… to display and sell
  • Recreating another artist’s painting in peanut butter and jelly and photographing the PB&J  rendition… to display and sell

Obviously, there are many unique facts and factors to consider in each case… and many of these types of challenges settle before a court issues a final ruling.  However by the time the parties begin negotiating a settlement, the stakes are higher and the alleged infringer generally ends up paying much more than it would have cost to secure a license at the outset.

The solution is to get a license from the original artist to make a derivative work.  (Trying to deny or cover-up your source material is often unsuccessful and can cost a lot more $$ in the end.)

BY: Vanessa Kaster, Esq., LL.M.

vk@kasterlegal.com.

Rogers v. Koons, 960 F.2d 301 (2d Cir. 1992)( The infringers fair use defense was denied); Gaylord v. United States, 595 F.3d 1364 (Fed. Cir. 2010); Fairey v Associated Press; alleged infringement between A.Brown and littlewhitehead; alleged infringement between Burdeny and Leong; NY Times article 9/28/11, questioning originality of Dylan paintings at the Gagosian; @iplegalfreebies and www.kasterlegal.com.

Cooking up Copyright – (cookbooks and recipes) 3

FACT: A recipe is not copyrightable

FACT: A cookbook is copyrightable

What does this mean?  It means that while a recipe itself (ie the mere listing of ingredients) is not protectable by copyright, other original elements embodied in a cookbook can be protected by copyright registration.  For example: the selection of recipes, layout, descriptions, illustrations, cover artwork, explanations and accompanying text are all elements of a cookbook that can be protected by copyright registration.

Most cookbooks contain a substantial amount of content that can be protected by copyright, even though the actual listing of ingredients is not copyrightable.

IN SUMMARY: register cookbooks for copyright protection… and keep secret ingredients…secret.

BY: Vanessa Kaster, Esq., LL.M.

vk@kasterlegal.com

for more from the US Copyright Office on recipes and cookbooks –>http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl122.html  and for more on how to register your cookbook for copyright registration for $35 –>  https://iplegalfreebies.wordpress.com/category/copyright-for-35/@iplegalfreebies and www.kasterlegal.com.

Seeking Copyright Termination for Y.M.C.A. and other hit songs of 1978 Reply

It’s no secret that young musicians often have zero bargaining power when it comes to negotiating recording contracts. (Congress even knows this which is why they inserted the Copyright Termination provisions into the US Copyright Law).  Usually, recording contracts signed by musicians favor the recording companies heavily.  (ie recording company forks over $$  and makes an investment in an unknown and not-yet-famous musician… and this is done on the recording company’s terms.)

If and when the musician becomes famous (for example: Bob Dylan, Bryan Adams, Tom Petty, Loretta Lynn, Tom Waits, Charlie Daniels and Victor Willis) … then the record company makes money… and the musician is already bound to the terms of an unfavorable agreement that exploits them.  FOR THIS REASON, the US Copyright Law contains termination provisions.

News of the copyright termination provision abounds recently; since, the first batch of songs from 1978 will be eligible for copyright termination in 2013… AND notice of the intended termination must be given this year. With some exceptions, The Copyright Law states that a grant or transfer or license of a copyright that was made by an author in or after 1978 may be terminated by that author (or his widow and/or children)  35 years after the grant.  Authors must give notice of their intent to terminate not less than two or more than ten years from the intended termination date.

The time is NOW and evidently many famous musicians including Bob Dylan, Bryan Adams, Tom Petty, Loretta Lynn, Tom Waits, Charlie Daniels and Victor Willis (of the Village People/YMCA) have given notice of copyright termination.  Not surprisingly the recording companies are putting up resistance to the possible disappearance of large revenue streams.  News reports indicate that the recording companies are challenging Victor Willis’s claim on the basis of ‘work for hire.’  This means that the companies claim that Willis was an employee… and legally… status as an employee trumps a copyright termination claim.  It will be interesting to see what evidence is presented to the court to prove this claim.    (fyi… living in a van or at a YMCA without health insurance or employee benefits is not a strong indicator of work for hire/employee status.)

BY: Vanessa Kaster, Esq., LL.M.

vk@kasterlegal.com

For more info: Termination of Transfers and Licenses Under 17 U.S.C. §203 at  http://www.copyright.gov/docs/203.html ; see also the ‘Statement of Marybeth Peters, The Register of Copyrights, before the Subcommittee on Courts and Intellectual Property Committee on the Judiciary, United States House of Representatives, 106th Congress, 2nd Session, May 25, 2000 at http://www.copyright.gov/docs/regstat52500.html; @iplegalfreebies and www.kasterlegal.com.

Copyright is valuable – ‘The Birthday Song’ earns $2 Million a year in royalties 1

Would you have guessed that the song, ‘Happy Birthday to You’ generates an estimated $2 million dollars a year in royalties?  (and has earned this much annually since 1996)  It’s only eight measures long, spans an octave and was written for children …but it’s a big FullSizeRender (3)money maker.

The song has appeared in over 140 movies, in countless advertisements for products ranging from cars to cereals to insurance to paper products and pet stores… and was featured in the world’s first singing telegram in 1933.   Royalties are earned for public performances of the song as well as its use in movies, television shows, advertisements, music boxes, theatrical productions and the like.  (Just an fyi… singing it around the dinner table or serenading your friend is a royalty-free private performance.)

‘Happy Birthday to You’ was written by two sisters… one was an educator and the other a composer.  They were knowledgeable about copyright law and took steps to register their work for copyright protection.  They may not have guessed that their song would become one of the most popular songs in the 20th Century…. earning over an estimated $45 million dollars to date.  (Spending $35 to register your music for copyright protection pays off –> http://t.co/ynaHCbX )

(Since this blog just celebrated its first birthday… this is a timely topic.)

BY: Vanessa Kaster, Esq. LL.M.

vk@kasterlegal.com

An interesting reference for more on the copyright issues surrounding the Happy Birthday song, see Professor Brauneis’ legal paper http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1111624

Privacy Policies are often required on commercial websites

If a commercial website collects personal information from consumers and users, it is often required that a Privacy Policy be posted to the website.  Here are FOUR things to know about Privacy Policies:

  • ITS THE LAW, to post a Privacy Policy if a website is directed to children under 13 or a website operator knows that personal information is being collected from kids under 13
  • ITS THE LAW, to post a Privacy Policy if any personally identifying information is collected from consumers based in California
  • The EU, Canada and Australia require that website operators who collect personally identifiable information from consumers in within their borders post Privacy Policies.  Even if you are operating a website from another country, posting a Privacy Policy is recommended if you are collecting information from people in these countries.
  • POST AN ACCURATE PRIVACY POLICY.  This sounds obvious, but it’s important that the Privacy Policy that you post is accurate, relevant to your business, clear and is not deceptive.

For more information see: State Laws: http://www.ncsl.org/default.aspx?tabid=13463; Children’s Online Privacy: http://business.ftc.gov/privacy-and-security/children%E2%80%99s-online-privacy; EU ‘safe harbor’ arrangement: http://www.ita.doc.gov/td/ecom/menu.html; @iplegalfreebies and www.kasterlegal.com.

BY: Vanessa Kaster, Esq., LL.M.

vk@kasterlegal.com

 

Were you wondering what happened to Jamie Thomas (she was sued in 2006 by Capitol Records for illegally downloading songs)? 5

Do you remember the hoopla that surfaced in 2006 when Jamie Thomas was sued by Capitol Records for illegally downloading 24 songs for her personal use?  Were you wondering what happened to her?  ANSWER: she’s been in and out of court this whole time… and last week a District Court Judge drastically reduced the damages awarded to the record company on a constitutional basis.

The Story:  Ms. Jamie Thomas illegally downloaded 24 songs on Kazaa (for her personal use) and was sued by Capitol Records.  After Capitol Records sued Ms. Jamie Thomas for illegally downloading 24 songs that they own…. a copyright controversy swelled when the jury awarded damages of $222,000 ($9,250 per song) for Jamie’s infringement.  The media continued to follow the case as it moved in and out of court and the damages awarded to Capitol Records for Jamie’s copyright violation shifted upward from $222,000 ($9,250 per song) to 1,920,000 ($80,000 per song) and back down to $1,500,000 ($62,500 per song).

Last week, a District Court Judge reduced the damages awarded by the jury to Capitol Records from $1,500,000 ($62,500 per song) to $54,000 ($2,250 per song).  The judge’s opinion stats that the reduced award is ‘substantial’, ‘acts as a potent deterrent’ and is the ‘maximum amount permitted under the Constitution.’   The court reasoned that awarded damages are unconstitutional when they violate due process for being severe, oppressive and obviously unreasonable.   (It’s rare for a court to reduce statutory damages.)

What happens now?  This decision could be appealed again by either side.

The decision can be read at: http://www.scribd.com/doc/60635512/Order-on-Motions-to-Amend-Alter-Verdict-in-Capitol-v-Thomas-Rasset  also see, http://www.copyhype.com

BY: Vanessa Kaster, Esq., LL.M.

vk@kasterlegal.com.

 

Sending a Cease and Desist Letter (stop monkeying around) 1

Sending a cease and desist letter is a common way to notify someone that they are using your copyright protected material without your permission and to request that they remove the infringing use and/or pay up.

The owner of the copyright protected material (ie the author, photographer or commissioner of the original work) has the authority to issue a cease and desist letter.  If the infringing use is on a social media website or popular internet website, look to the TERMS or TERMS OF USE agreement posted to the website (usually a clickable at the bottom of the page) for step by step instructions on how to draft your cease and desist letter.  Generally, the ‘Terms of Use’ on a reputable website provide a clear outline of the information that needs to be included in your letter.   Click on the ‘Terms of Use’; scroll down to the ‘Protecting Copyright and Intellectual Property’ section; use the language provided; and give the requested information to the provided contact.

A cease and desist letter is only effective if it is sent by the owner of the work.  A funny scenario surfaced recently, when a news agency sent a cease and desist letter requesting that a photograph taken by a monkey be removed from a website.   But hold on… who owns the copyright in a monkey’s self portrait anyway?!?  Evidently, a monkey in a national park in Indonesia picked up a photographer’s camera and snapped a few pictures.  (One of them is a hilarious self portrait of the monkey. Take a look  at –>  http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20110706/00200314983/monkey-business-can-monkey-license-its-copyrights-to-news-agency.shtml.)

Since, the news agency didn’t employ the monkey or own the monkey, nor did it license the monkey’s work… the cease and desist letter that it sent… doesn’t have much oomph.

For more info on what to do if you receive a cease and desist letter, see –> http://wp.me/p10nNq-1B 

BY: Vanessa Kaster, Esq.

vk@kasterlegal.com and www.kasterlegal.com