Volume 12, Number 1 (2014)
Date posted: 12-30-2013
On the first day of each year, Public Domain Day celebrates the moment when copyrights expire, and books, films, songs, and other creative works enter the public domain, where they become, in Justice Brandeis’s words, “free as the air to common use.” Educators, students, artists, and fans can use them with neither permission nor payment. Online archives can digitize and make them fully available without the threat of lawsuits or licensing demands. Sadly, in the United States, as a result of copyright term extensions, not a single published work will enter the public domain in 2014. In fact, almost no works created during most readers’ lifetimes will become completely free for them to redistribute and reuse, unless the rights holders affirmatively decide otherwise. In this Article, I will briefly trace the history and consequences of this legally imposed impoverishment of the public domain. But, I argue, this is only part of the story. Increasingly, private initiatives are trying to build zones of legal freedom that simulate some attributes of the public domain. At the same time, there are global copyright reform efforts to limit the negative effects of term extension, at least with regard to “orphan works”—those that have no identifiable or locatable copyright holder. Although these efforts are no substitute for a more complete reform of copyright, collectively, they do transform the legal situation substantially. Thus, while Public Domain Day in the United States may seem like an empty celebration, it is also a reminder of this newfound complexity in our copyright landscape.
Date posted: 1-14-2014
“Virtual” molecular compounds, created in molecular modeling software, are increasingly useful in the process of rational drug design. When a physical compound is patented, however, virtual use of the compound allows researchers to circumvent the protection granted to the patentee. To acquire protection from unauthorized use of compounds in their virtual form, patentees must directly claim the virtual compound. But Supreme Court decisions such as Bilski v. Kappos and Mayo Collaborative Services v. Prometheus Laboratories, Inc. call into question whether virtual compound claims are patentable subject matter under § 101. Using the guidance offered by the Supreme Court and Federal Circuit, this Issue Brief argues that virtual compound claims are not abstract ideas and therefore, consistent with patent policy, qualify as patentable subject matter.
Date posted: 1-17-2014
Balancing a duty to a tribunal and a duty to a client can paralyze a lawyer. The task raises difficult questions about how to reconcile competing obligations as an advocate and as an officer of the court. Individuals licensed to prosecute patent applications must decide how to honor both their obligations to the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) and their obligation to successfully prosecute patent applications. This burden can result in willful blindness, where the patent attorney or patent agent (“patent practitioner”) limits inquiry into information that may bar a patent application. The recent Federal Circuit opinion in Therasense may have eliminated the judicial “duty to inquire” doctrine that kept these obligations in balance. This Issue Brief argues that there is a need to protect against willful blindness and proposes a resurrection of the eliminated doctrines.
More From the #Jury Box: The Latest on Juries and Social Media
Amy St. Eve, Charles Burnes, and Michael Zuckerman
Date posted: 2-24-2014
This Article presents the results of a survey of jurors in federal and state court on their use of social media during their jury service. We began surveying federal jurors in 2011 and reported preliminary results in 2012; since then, we have surveyed several hundred more jurors, including state jurors, for a more complete picture of juror attitudes toward social media. Our results support the growing consensus that jury instructions are the most effective tool to mitigate the risk of juror misconduct through social media. We conclude with a set of recommended best practices for using a social-media instruction.
The Jurisprudence of Transformation: Intellectual Incoherence and Doctrinal Murkiness Twenty Years After Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music
Matthew D. Bunker and Clay Calvert
Date posted: 6-8-2014
Examining recent judicial opinions, this Article analyzes and critiques the transformative-use doctrine two decades after the U.S. Supreme Court introduced it into copyright law in Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music. When the Court established the transformative-use concept, which plays a critical role in fair-use determinations today, its contours were relatively undefined. Drawing on an influential law-review article, the Court described a transformative use as one that adds “new expression, meaning or message.” Unfortunately, the doctrine and its application are increasingly ambiguous, with lower courts developing competing conceptions of transformation. This doctrinal murkiness is particularly disturbing because fair use is a key proxy for First Amendment interests in copyright law. This Article traces the evolution of transformative use, analyzes three key paradigms of transformative use that have gained prominence in the post-Campbell environment, and offers suggestions for a jurisprudence in which transformative use is a less significant component of the fair-use analysis.
Topic: Copyrights & Trademarks
Date posted: 7-21-2014
Publishers have spent the last decade and a half struggling against falling prices for digital goods. The recent antitrust case against Apple and the major publishers highlights collusive price fixing as a potential method for resisting depreciation.
This Article examines the myriad ways in which digital distribution puts downward pressure on prices, and seeks to determine whether or not collusive price fixing would serve as an appropriate response to such pressure given the goals of the copyright grant. Considering retailer bargaining power, increased access to substitutes, the loss of traditional price discrimination methods, the effects of vertical integration in digital publishing, and the increasing competitiveness of the public domain, I conclude that the resultant downward price pressure might in fact significantly hamper the commodity distribution of digital goods.
I remain unconvinced, however, that price fixing is an appropriate solution. The copyright grant affords rights holders commercial opportunities beyond simple commodity distribution. These other methods for commercializing e-goods suggest to me that current pricing trends are not indicative of market failure, but rather of a changing marketplace.
Topic: Copyrights & Trademarks
Date posted: 10-4-2014
Kim Dotcom, founder of Megaupload Limited, has been in many news headlines over the past year. Megaupload—one of Dotcom’s many peer-to-peer sharing sites—was the center of controversy, as it allowed users to upload and share all sorts of files, including copyrighted material. After an organized effort by the Department of Justice and several foreign governments, Dotcom was arrested for (secondary) copyright infringement and his site was ultimately shut down. Dotcom has recently launched a new service, MEGA, which he claims will evade copyright laws entirely. Like other well-known cloud-sharing services such as Dropbox and Google Drive, MEGA allows users to upload files and to share them with select users. In an attempt to avoid liability, MEGA locally encrypts all files on the user’s computer before they are uploaded to the site. The private key and public key used to encrypt and decrypt the file are retained solely by the user; MEGA gets no part of that information. This, Dotcom argues, will shift the entirety of the copyright onus to the user. This Issue Brief analyzes the protections afforded cyberlocker services like MEGA by the DMCA, including tensions raised in actual litigation. This Issue Brief argues that, while an ex ante secondary-liability analysis is difficult due to its contextual nature, MEGA’s use of user-controlled encryption (UCE), deduplication, and distributed host servers may lend to an affirmative finding of liability.
Topic: Copyrights & Trademarks
Date posted: 11-8-2014
By the time the U.S. Supreme Court decided Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. v. Grokster Ltd. in 2005, Internet users around the globe who engaged in copyright infringement had already turned to newer, alternative forms of peer-to-peer filesharing. One recent development is the “seedbox,” a virtual private server rentable for use to download and upload (“seed”) files through the BitTorrent protocol. Because BitTorrent is widely used for both non-infringing and infringing purposes, the operators of seedboxes and other rentable BitTorrent-capable virtual private servers face the possibility of direct and secondary liability as did the defendants in Grokster and more recent cases like UMG Recordings, Inc. v. Shelter Capital Partners LLC and Viacom Intern., Inc. v. YouTube, Inc. This Issue Brief examines whether the “safe harbor” provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) may shield virtual private server providers with customers running BitTorrent clients from potential liability for copyright infringement. It argues that general virtual private server providers are likely to find refuge in the safe harbor provisions as long as they conscientiously comply with the DMCA. In contrast, virtual private server providers specifically targeting BitTorrent users (“seedbox providers”) are much less likely to receive DMCA safe harbor protection.
Topic: Copyrights & Trademarks
Date posted: 11-8-2014
Section 7 of the United States’ National Labor Relations Act allows groups of American workers to engage in concerted activity for the purposes of collective bargaining or for “other mutual aid or protection.” This latter protection has been extended in cases such as Lafayette Park Hotel to workers outside the union context. Starting in 2005, the National Labor Relations Board increasingly signaled to employers that concerted activity may take place on social media such as Facebook. However, the Board proper delivered its first written opinion articulating these rules in the 2012 case of Hispanics United of Buffalo, Inc. There, the Board found the employer in question to have committed multiple unfair labor practices when it fired five employees over a series of Facebook posts due to violating the employer’s zero-tolerance no bullying policy. This article argues that the majority opinion of the Board misapplied Lafayette Park Hotel’s test for whether employer conduct “would reasonably tend to chill employees” from legitimate, protected uses of their §7 rights. This article explains the two largest errors in the Board’s decision: (1) a failure to identify a missing, important element for concerted activity protection under §7, the nexus between employee discussion and contemplated group action, and (2) asserting an “inferred group intent” existed that was “implicitly manifest” which linked the employees’ Facebook posts to contemplated group action protected under §7. Members of the entire Board, as well as other legal scholars writing on this topic, have been guilty at different times of simplifying social media to being like a “virtual water cooler” for the 21st century. The facts in Hispanics United show why this analogy does not work: rather than a short face-to-face conversation with a finite, known audience in the space of minutes, it was a series of written messages plopped down in sequential order throughout an entire day, written for an audience of unknown size and make-up that may not even include the co-workers it ostensibly addressed. As Hispanics United helps illustrate, the proper handling of employer retaliation on social media remains the sensible application of the established nexus requirement for finding concerted activity.
Topic: Media & Communications
Date posted: 11-12-2014
Only a small fraction of law enforcement agencies in the United States obtain a warrant before tracking the cell phones of suspects and persons of interest. This is due, in part, to the fact that courts have struggled to keep pace with a changing technological landscape. Indeed, courts around the country have issued a disparate array of holdings on the issue of warrantless cell phone tracking. This lack of judicial uniformity has led to confusion for both law enforcement agencies and the public alike. In order to protect reasonable expectations of privacy in the twenty-first century, Congress should pass legislation requiring law-enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant based upon probable cause before they can track a cell phone except in a limited set of time-sensitive situations and emergencies. This Issue Brief describes the technology police use to track cell phones, discusses the need for federal legislation, concludes that current Fourth Amendment jurisprudence is inadequate to address cell phone tracking, analyzes two bills dealing with “geolocation information” privacy that legislators have introduced in Congress, and ultimately concludes that one of those bills is superior to the other.
Date posted: 12-1-2014
Advancements in technology have now made it possible for scientists to provide assessments of an individual’s mental state. Through neuroimaging, scientists can create visual images of the brain that depict whether an individual has a mental disorder or other brain defect. The importance of these advancements is particularly evident in the context of criminal law, where defendants are able to dispute their culpability for crimes committed where they lack the capacity to form criminal intent. Thus, in theory, a neuroimage depicting defective brain functioning could demonstrate a defendant’s inability to form the requisite criminal intent. Due to early successes in high-profile cases where advanced neuroimaging was used in this way, many researchers believe that the use of neuroimages to substantiate claims of diminished capacity and insanity is a viable option for criminal defendants. This Issue Brief argues, however, that though the use of neuroimages may have a positive effect on outcomes in theory, in actuality, the use of neuroimages will only have a negligible impact on sentencing outcomes.
Topic: Health & Biotechnology
Date posted: 12-10-2014
Sony has included a “share” button on the next version of their popular PlayStation video game system. This feature is meant to allow players to record and share videos of their gameplay. This service shares similarities with the controversial “record” button that Sony included with its Betamax players over thirty years ago. The Betamax player was the subject of the landmark case Sony v. Universal, a foundational case for the modern application of copyright law to new technology. This Issue Brief examines how this “share” feature would fare under the framework laid out by Sony v. Universal and other evolutions in copyright law.
Topic: Copyrights & Trademarks