Copyright/Intellectual Property

GTA V Cheat Maker Has to Pay $150,000 in Copyright Damages

8 February 2019

From TorrentFreak:

Over the past two years, there’s been a wave of copyright infringement lawsuits against alleged cheaters or cheat makers.

Take-Two Interactive Software, the company behind ‘Grand Theft Auto V’ (GTA V), is one of the major players involved. The company has filed several lawsuits in the US and abroad, targeting alleged cheaters.

Last August the company filed a case against Florida resident Jhonny Perez, accusing him of copyright infringement by creating and distributing a cheating tool. The software, known as “Elusive,” could be used to cheat and grief, interfering with the gameplay of others.

The “Elusive” cheat was previously sold online at prices ranging from $10 to $30, depending on the package. Before filing the lawsuit, Take-Two attempted to find out exactly how much money was made in the process, but Perez failed to hand over detailed financial records.

. . . .

According to the company, it’s clear that the cheat maker is guilty of both direct and contributory copyright infringement. As such, it asked the New York federal court for the maximum statutory damages amount of $150,000, plus $69,686 in attorney’s fees.

Take-Two argued that these damages are warranted because the cheating activity resulted in severe losses. According to an estimate provided by the company, the harm is at least $500,000. In addition, the maximum in damages should also act as a deterrent against other cheat developers.

. . . .

“Mr. Perez’s Elusive program creates new features and elements in Grand Theft Auto which can be used to harm legitimate players, causing Take-Two to lose control over its carefully balanced plan for how its video game is designed to be played,” he writes.

In addition, the Judge notes that the cheat discouraged users from future purchases and gameplay and that the unlimited currency cheat undermined Take-Two’s pricing and sales of legitimate virtual currency.

. . . .

In addition to the monetary damages, the Court also issued a permanent injunction prohibiting the cheat maker from continuing infringing activities moving forward.

Elusive hasn’t been available for sale since last year. It was taken offline after Perez was contacted by Take-Two.

“After discussions with Take-Two Interactive, we are immediately ceasing all maintenance, development, and distribution of our cheat menu services,” a public announcement read at the time.

At the time, the cheat maker informed its users that it would donate the proceeds to a charity which Take-Two could pick. However, the default judgment makes it clear that this money should go directly to the game company instead.

Link to the rest at TorrentFreak

PG says that, unsurprisingly, the author of the OP doesn’t seem to understand the difference between obtaining a court judgment against an individual defendant and actually collecting money from that defendant.

PG will make a few comments about collecting debts under the US federal and state court systems below. Different states have different laws and practices concerning the collection of a civil judgment against an individual or corporation, so, if anyone visiting TPV is trying to collect such a judgment, he/she will have to contact an attorney in the jurisdiction that issued the judgment.

As a general proposition, in the United States, an individual is not going to be sent to jail for failing to pay a civil court judgment such as the one which appears to be involved in the OP. While a great many states used to have debtor’s prisons, imprisonment for an unpaid civil debt is, for all intents and purposes, unconstitutional in the US unless it is clear the individual has the money to pay the debt.

If an individual fails to pay a criminal fine and a court determines that the individual has the means to do so, after being warned to pay the fine or work out a payment plan with the district attorney/state’s attorney/city attorney/etc., such an individual may be subject to imprisonment for contempt of court and would typically be held in jail until he/she paid the fine. After all, it would not be unusual for a violation of a criminal law to carry the threat of being sent to a local jail or imprisoned in a state or federal penitentiary as potential punishment. “Pay the fine or do the time,” is often a short-hand summary for criminal punishment.

Similarly, payment of court-ordered child support is treated as a special case and the failure to pay support when the individual has the means to do so may result in jail confinement for contempt of court. In this type of case, the court will often require that the non-custodial spouse pay a lump sum toward back child support and promise to continue regular child support payments thereafter as a condition of release.

Suffice to say, if an individual is unable to work, he/she is unlikely to continue to receive the fruits of his/her labor for very long, so those who are entitled to receive child support and family law courts will often try other means of pressuring an individual to make payments in lieu of incarceration.

For example, if the individual with the child support obligation is self-employed and works Monday-Friday, a court might order the individual jailed on Saturday and Sunday for contempt, then released on Monday morning to go back to work.

If an individual is employed by a third party, at least a portion of the money the third party owes that individual as salary may be garnished by the court so the employer pays part of the salary to the individual and part of the salary to the court to be turned over to the person who has a judgment against the employee.

Bank accounts, real estate, automobiles, etc., are also subject to seizure and, in the case of real estate and automobiles, for sale at an auction or some other public method of turning things into cash for payment of an individual’s civil debts.

Court records in most cases are public documents, so a judgment issued against an individual will almost certainly be discovered by various credit bureaus and be added to an individual’s credit report to that individual’s detriment. Ditto for judgment issued against a company.

The process of collecting most judgments in the United States will vary from state to state and between different courts operating within the same state. The disappointing bottom line for some people who win a court case in which the loser is ordered to pay the winner some money is that the winner will have to retain counsel for additional assistance in collecting the money. The court will usually not provide much in the way of affirmative assistance to help an individual collect the money the court has just awarded the individual.

PG’s general suggestion, one he has provided to countless clients over the years, is, “Don’t do business with crooks.” The chances of enjoying a profitable and hassle-free business relationship with a crook are not very good.

A corollary in the world of romance is “Don’t marry a crook” and, married or not, “Don’t have children with a crook.”

PG’s practical advice about avoiding crooks applies to the publishing world just like it does everywhere else. While a great many people are honest, at least some crooks infest every line of business. If a publisher fails to faithfully honor its obligations to other authors, including its obligations to calculate royalties fairly and pay them promptly, the chances that publisher will make an exception to its normal dishonest business practices for any particular new author are remote.

PG will repeat his standard disclaimer once again:

Nothing PG posts on TPV should be understood or relied upon as legal advice. You obtain legal advice by retaining a lawyer, not by reading a blog. PG only provides an overview of various legal topics on TPV for the general information of authors and others, not to assist anyone in understanding or resolving a particular legal issue.

PG is a lawyer, but he is not your lawyer unless and until you and he have a conversation about your legal issues and both of you signs a written retainer agreement under which PG is to provide legal services to you.

 

Stolen Artwork Is All over Amazon

8 February 2019

From BuzzFeed News:

When artist Susie Ghahremani first came across a seller impersonating her on Amazon, she stayed up until 6 a.m., clicking through hundreds of the seller’s listings and reporting over two dozen URLs featuring counterfeit products. The rip-offs of her designs on Amazon were blatant: One listing used Ghahremani’s photo of a necklace she’d made, which featured her owl illustration in its pendant. The seller also claimed “Artwork by me, Susie Ghahremani” in the description. Still, Amazon denied Ghahremani’s takedown requests four times and only relented after her tweet chastising the company went viral.

The issue of stolen artwork on Amazon is widespread and well-known, but the company hasn’t addressed the infringement in a meaningful way. Fighting unauthorized use of artists’ original work on the site remains a constant battle. Though Amazon has a Brand Registry that allows Apple and other businesses to upload their trademarks and combat counterfeiting, independent creators who spoke to BuzzFeed News say the program doesn’t work for them — but they believe it should. Works of art are considered copyrighted goods and are not trademarks, like a brand name or logo, so artists don’t qualify for the “proactive brand protection” Amazon’s Brand Registry provides.

. . . .

Artists, photographers, and designers must instead resort to removal requests. They claim Amazon is slow to heed takedown notices and sometimes rejects them, even when listings clearly feature stolen photographs and artwork. They say that it often forces them to file complaints over and over again and that the site does not ban flagrant repeat offenders from its marketplace. And even when the company does remove infringing listings, the same stolen artwork often crops up again elsewhere on the site. On top of that, while the law requires Amazon to remove infringement, it does not hold the company responsible when artists sue the e-commerce giant for hosting stolen artwork and providing logistics for sellers who offer it.

“It would be ridiculous for us to try to combat this. We’re a small business,” Bryan Ambacher, the owner of Etsy shop CosmicFirefly, whose handmade jewelry is often copied and sold on Amazon, told BuzzFeed News. “We don’t retain an attorney. We make $150,000 a year in sales. And Amazon’s gotten so big that it’s like whack-a-mole. It makes me think you can’t beat Goliath,” he said.

. . . .

Amazon is required by US laws, including the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, to heed takedown requests from art copyright holders. “Amazon absolutely has to comply if they receive notice, under the DMCA,” said Joel Rothman, an intellectual property lawyer specializing in infringement cases.

But according to independent artists, Amazon typically doesn’t fulfill their first requests, and it sometimes offers inconsistent explanations as to why it doesn’t have to.

Ghahremani was dumbfounded in December 2018 when Amazon repeatedly refused to remove the listing of an owl necklace she reported. The artwork and product photo was hers, but the listing wasn’t.

“It shouldn’t have been a big deal. You’re not suing, you’re not making unreasonable demands — just that it gets removed — and Amazon won’t even respect that,” said Ghahremani.

Link to the rest at BuzzFeed News

Musicians Attempt Class Actions Against UMG, Sony to Reclaim Rights to Recordings

7 February 2019

From The Hollywood Reporter:

For the past decade, a number of prominent musicians including Tom Petty and Bob Dylan have quietly attempted to reclaim rights to songs by serving notices of termination to publishers and record labels. Often, like in the case of Prince, these notices become invitations to renegotiate deals for more favorable royalty arrangements. But according to lawsuits filed Tuesday in New York federal court, in the face of hundreds of termination notices, UMG Recordings and Sony Music have “routinely and systematically refused to honor them.”

The named plaintiffs in the UMG case are John Waite, a solo artist and former lead singer of the 1970s group The Babys, and Joe Ely, who has recorded 18 solo albums and also was a performer on works by The Clash and Rosie Flores. In the Sony case, David Johansen of The New York Dolls, John Lyon (known as Southside Johnny) and Paul Collins of The Beat are hoping to lead the charge.

They are looking towards the Copyright Act of 1976, which extended the term but also gave artists who bargained away rights during the early part of their careers a second bite at the apple by allowing them to terminate copyright grants during the latter portion of the copyright term.

. . . .

The newest lawsuits state that UMG and Sony are regularly taking the position in response to termination notices that recordings are “works made for hire” because of contractual language in recording agreements.

“As a result of UMG’s policy, UMG has refused to acknowledge that any recording artist has the right to take over control of the sound recordings, or enter into an agreement with a different label for the exploitation of recordings, after the effective date of termination,” states the complaint. “In many instances, UMG has continued to exploit the recordings after the effective date, thereby engaging in willful copyright infringement of the United States copyright in those recordings.”

. . . .

Not only are UMG and Sony being sued for infringing the copyrights of many of the songs in their respective catalogs, but the plaintiffs seek declaratory relief that sound recordings can’t ever be considered “works made for hire” under the law, that release of sound recordings in album format doesn’t constitute a “contribution of a collective work” or “compilation” (other exceptions to termination), that foreign choice of law provisions in contracts don’t have any effect on U.S. copyright law with respect to the termination powers, that sound recordings aren’t “commissioned works,” and that recording artists aren’t barred from terminating based on the use of loan-out companies.

Link to the rest at The Hollywood Reporter

Attentive readers will note the term, “loan-out companies” in the OP and wonder what those are.

From Forbes:

Entertainers such as actors and musicians often set up loan out corporations as a way to protect their assets and obtain certain tax benefits. The basic way a loan out corporation works is that the entertainer – an actor, for instance – is an “employee” of the loan out corporation. The corporation then enters into contracts with other businesses such as a production company. Then the loan out corporation “loans out” the services of the actor to the production company.

How does it work? The loan out corporation receives monies from contracts with other businesses and pays a salary to the entertainer for services performed. Meanwhile, the loan out corporation provides essential services to the entertainer, from accounting and legal, to coaching and agency fees. All business expenses incurred are deductible because the entertainer is officially an employee of the loan out company. 

“Wealthy celebrity clients are increasingly approaching advisors about the benefits of loan out corporations. The structures are easy to establish and maintain while offering a wide array of tax mitigating possibilities,” explains Evan Jehle, a partner at LVW/Flynn. “Loan out corporations are also being utilized as vital components of asset protections strategies for high-profile ultra-wealthy families. Wealth and fame make athletes and entertainers particularly attractive targets for financial predators and frivolous lawsuits. Because loan out corporations are separate legal entities, the personal wealth of the entertainers is protected from liability connected to the corporation.”

Link to the rest at Forbes

Art Copyright, Explained

6 February 2019
Comments Off on Art Copyright, Explained

From Artsy:

Copyright law is complex, totemic, and the source of nearly unending litigation. With relative regularity, appropriation artists like Jeff Koons or Richard Prince end up in the headlines due to allegations of improper use of their source material. For artists and those working with the images of artwork, it is crucial to understand what powers are—and are not—granted by the copyright. So below, we’ve compiled a brief overview of the topic.

. . . .

The rights around artwork are much less straightforward than one would assume. When it comes to the specific subset of visual works governed by the Visual Artist Rights Act of 1990 (VARA), artists retain certain powers of attribution and disavowal long after the ownership of the actual tangible work of art is in the possession of a collector or institution. As I’ve previously written, VARA affords rights in addition to those afforded by copyright law. While disavowing an artwork through VARA can impact the monetary value of the piece, copyright is much more directly tied to ensuring the economic interest of the artist. Generally speaking, the more “original” a piece is, the stronger the copyright protections.

So what rights are granted to an artist when it comes to copyright? And how can they affect those in possession of a physical work of art? Look no further than Section 106, Copyright Act of 1976, as amended, codified in Title 17 of the U.S. Code. For those in too much of a hurry, I’ll summarize: Copyright gives artists who have created fixed, tangible works a bundle of rights in those works. The rights provide both artistic protection and ensure that artists can profit from what they’ve made. After an artist creates a piece, they have the right to make copies of their work, distribute those copies, perform or display the work publicly, or make works that derive from the original.

Not all of those rights transfer to the collector who goes on to purchase the piece. While many collectors assume that a work’s copyright is transferred when they purchase a painting or a sculpture, that is not the case. Copyright only transfers to the piece’s new owner if its artist evidences that it is his or her intent to transfer it. What does this mean in practice? If you buy a Jeff Koons Balloon Dog, you then have the right to display your specific copy of Balloon Dog. But, unless you’ve received explicit permission from the artist, you do not have the legal right to take pictures of the piece, make postcards, and sell them.

. . . .

One cannot copyright ideas, procedures, methods, or concepts, unless they’re written down and recorded. Moreover, the written accoutrement (titles, names, phrases, and slogans) are not subject to copyright.

This is a good thing, otherwise calling your work Untitled would be a violation of copyright. Also not protected are works that change, like freestyle spoken word, or pieces of information that are universally available facts, like calendar dates. Copyright of a type of an art form that is inherently intangible—like a performance—applies to notations of the choreography or documentation of the event, but not to the event or performance itself.

Link to the rest at Artsy

Booking.com can be Trademarked

5 February 2019
Comments Off on Booking.com can be Trademarked

From Reuters:

A divided federal appeals court on Monday said the Booking.com travel website could trademark the Booking.com name, rejecting the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s (PTO) contention that the name was too generic.

In a 2-1 decision, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia said adding “.com” to a generic word such as “booking” could in “rare circumstances” create a protectable, non-generic composite when the composite’s primary significance to the public is the source, not the product being offered.

Link to the rest at Reuters

From The National Law Review:

A generic trademark or brand name is one that—due to its popularity or common usage—has become synonymous with a general class of products or services. Famous trademark-turned- generic product names include Thermos and Velcro.

Under U.S. trademark law, generic trademarks can never be federally registered and protected under the Lanham Act (the Trademark Act of 1946) because the mark name refers directly to the class of a product or service it belongs to and is incapable of distinguishing that good or service from other goods or services on the market. Generic names must remain in the public domain, free for the public to use. Moving up the trademark scale of distinguishable marks, descriptive trademarks can be protected from public use if an applicant can show that they have acquired distinctiveness.

. . . .

On appeal to the Eastern District of Virginia, the court’s first step was to determine if “booking” was generic. The court used the applicable test for genericness and (1) identified the class of product or service to which use of the mark is relevant; (2) identified the relevant purchasing public of the class or service; and (3) determined whether the primary significance of the mark to the relevant public was to identify the class of product or service to which booking.com related. As listed in plaintiff’s trademark registration application, the class of product or service for use of the booking.com mark was travel and tour ticket reservation services and making hotel reservations for others. Because the application sought registration for in-person and online travel, tour, and hotel registration services, customers who used travel, tour, and hotel reservation services in-person or online were the relevant purchasing public. The third prong examined whether the primary significance of the term in the consuming public’s mind was not the product but the producer. The court considered “booking” and “.com” separately before considering them in combination.

Analyzing “booking” alone, defendants established through sufficient evidence—dictionary definitions of booking, plaintiff and its competitors’ use of the term in the manner of making a reservation, and public use of the term—that “booking” by itself was the common descriptive name for both the act of making a reservation and the reservation itself.

When the court considered “booking” and “.com” as a whole, plaintiff argued that the combination of “booking” and “.com” signaled a domain name, part of an electronic address on the Internet that was uniquely capable of indicating the source of a product or service. Defendants countered that “.com” merely denoted services offered via the Internet, pointing to other Federal Circuit cases where a top-level domain (“TLD”) term like “.com” had no source-identifying significance.

. . . .

The court found that when combined with a second-level domain (“SLD”), TLDs generally have source-identifying significance, and the SLD + TLD combination is generally a descriptive mark that is protectable upon a showing of acquired distinctiveness. They based this reasoning on that fact that a top-level domain plus a second-level domain equals a domain name, which, like a telephone number, is unique. Contrary to defendant’s argument, adding a TLD such as “.com” to a generic SLD does more than indicate that a company offers services via the internet; it indicates a unique domain name that can only be owned by one entity.

Link to the rest at The National Law Review

The Growing Importance of Intellectual Property

31 January 2019

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I need to be clear as I start this post. We writers create intellectual property. We license our copyrights. We do not sell stories. In fact, the stories we tell, along with their titles, are often not copyrightable. The form in which we tell that story—the order of the events, the order of the words we use,—those things are copyrightable, but the basic boy meets girl, boy loses girl, girl discovers she’s fine on her own storyline can and does fuel a thousand books and movies. (That’s why so many memes over the holiday season made fun of the romance movies on Hallmark. Because the movies—all copyrighted in their own right, all different in the copyright sense—share a lot in common.)

If you don’t understand copyright and you consider yourself a professional writer, then you do not understand the business you are in. If you have published a novel, traditionally or indie, and you do not understand copyright, you are volunteering to get screwed over and over and over again. I say this often, and I’m saying it loudly again, because the trend for 2019 and beyond is that every organization you do business with will try to take a piece (if not all) of your copyright on each and every one of your projects.

Your job is to protect that copyright.

. . . .

Forbes actually published an article in fall of 2018 titled “What Authors Should Do When Their Publisher Closes.” You can click over there if you want. The advice isn’t good, because as someone in the article says, what an author should do varies based on the author’s contract. And if the author has an agent, then they’re probably screwed. If the author doesn’t understand copyright, then they’re definitely screwed.

. . . .

I recommend publishing indie, because that’s the best way to protect yourself and your writing income. You’ll have a career if you do that. Your career might vanish on you if you try to remain traditional. Or, rather, you will write as a “hobby” while you make your living doing something else.

Yes, I’m being harsh, but that’s because the intellectual property apocalypse that I’ve been warning you about is upon us. The trends are there, and the signs that traditional publishing (and all of the other big entertainment organizations) know about the value of intellectual property are becoming clearer and clearer.

. . . .

For years now, the Big 5 traditional publishers have had contracts that essentially transfer the entire copyright of a novel from the author to them. The contracts don’t say that explicitly, but when you read the contract as a complete document (which is how you should read it), you realize that the sum total of what the clauses mean is that the writer retains no part of the copyright, and is only entitled to a tiny percentage of the money that copyright earns.

The reason these contracts changed about a decade ago had nothing to do with publishing and everything to do with mergers. As these publishing companies became part of big international conglomerates, many of them entertainmentconglomerates, the legal teams redrafted the contracts to do the copyright grabs.

Most writers had no idea what they were signing, and most of their agents didn’t either. Agents are not trained lawyers. A handful of the big agencies have lawyers on staff, but most of those agencies are concerned with making the agency money, not with making the writer money. So a lot of the contracts are structured to pay and protect the agent, while bilking the writer.

. . . .

Up until a year or so ago, most of the Big Five continued to operate like traditional publishing companies have since the 1990s—a focus on publishing a lot of titles, hoping that some will stick and become bestsellers. But that strategy isn’t working, and sales are down precipitously.

. . . .

[Simon & Schuster] has been in a media conglomerate since the 1980s. I’m not going to go through its tortured history, which runs from Paramount to Viacom and beyond, but realize this: It became part of the CBS Corporation officially in 2005. Around then, it became impossible to get book rights reverted, which is one of the tricks that is recommended for writers in the Forbes article I cited above. (How 1995. Sigh.)

S&S has experimented with electronic books since the 1990s. Dean and I personally made a lot of money in the early 2000s when S&S realized they hadn’t licensed e-rights for Star Trek books. (Dean and I wrote a bunch of them in the 1990s). S&S has tried to have a self-publishing arm since 2012, and they’re doing a lot of things that require writers to pay for services that publishers used to provide.

. . . .

The more IP a company acquires, the more its value goes up. Even if they don’t create anything from that IP. Acquiring a novel’s copyright—with all its potential spinoffs, TV shows, toys, comics—increases a company’s value tremendously.

Read that paragraph again, because the information therein is the key to this whole piece.

The more IP a company acquires, the more its value goes up. Your novel is IP. If they acquire it, their bottom line goes up, even if they never do anything with that IP. Got that?

That’s why S&S stopped, in 2000 or so, reverting the rights to the novels they acquired. Those novels equal more earnings potential—and they allow the company to maintain a value that it wouldn’t have otherwise.

I’ve been warning writers about this copyright grab by corporations for some time, but it was easy to ignore me because the Big 5 have not been (for the most part) exploiting (the legal term for developing or making use of) that copyright.

S&S finally is. That’s what Simon & Schuster’s CEO Carolyn Reidy’s heady year-end report was really all about. She called 2018 “the most successful year in Simon & Schuster’s history,” and yet she didn’t cite a single print bestseller as something that caused the success.

Instead, she touted the rise in audio . . . as well as a mention that sent a little shiver through me.

She wrote:

…[backlist sales now] comprise a higher portion of our revenue than at any time in memory…while readers wanting the tried and true is an industry-wide phenomenon, our concerted effort during the last few years to acquire books with the potential for long-term backlist sales has yielded dividends.

This article does not specify what exactly she means by “backlist sales.” Does she mean actual ebook and print sales, or other licensing, such as foreign rights and so on? Clearly S&S is exploiting the audio rights clauses in their contracts.

What is clear, however, is that a big traditional publisher has finally figured out that not only does their backlist have value in raising the company’s worth, but it also has earnings potential that can be exploited in 2019.

Why does this send a chill through me? Because if one traditional publisher learns it, the others will learn it as well. And the ability of writers who have sold their work into traditional publishers to get the rights reverted will go down to almost nil.

Big traditional publishers will finally join their counterparts in the entertainment industry—the movie/TV companies, the music studios, the game companies—in demanding control of every aspect of the copyright from the original author.

Which means that if an author signs one of those agreements, the author will get pennies on the dollar (if that) for any rights—audio, movie, TV—rather than the kind of earnings writers could have gotten as recently as 10 years ago.

. . . .

And those of you who licensed mass market rights a few years ago, thinking you’d get your ebooks into stores, you probably already signed away most of the copyright, particularly if you went with Harlequin or Simon & Schuster.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

As usual, Kris incorporates a lot of intelligent business thought and advice into the OP (and her other posts in this series).

As PG has mentioned before, he has negotiated, drafted and/or reviewed a great many contracts during his legal career, including some large technology copyright and patent licensing agreements. As he has also mentioned before, the typical contracts between authors and traditional publishers are some of the most unfair and one-sided agreements he has seen.

In a prior era during which it was impossible for an author’s works to reach any sort of meaningful audience without a publisher to cover the costs of printing books and provide meaningful access to buyers for large numbers of physical bookstores, perhaps the value of a publisher’s services was an extremely large portion of the income generated by sales of a book.

However, in an age in which:

  • Amazon is the largest English language bookseller in the world; and
  • Opens its electronic doors to self published authors on terms substantially equivalent to those it provides commercial publishers; and
  • Ebooks have the highest profit margin of any edition of a book a publisher sells; and
  • Ebook editing, formatting and cover design of a quality comparable to that provided by a commercial publisher can be had for a few hundred to a few thousand dollars;

the real value of a publisher for a typical author compared to the effective cost of a publisher to that author has declined precipitously.

PG was about to discuss the value of branding for either an ebook or a printed book, but he will be uncharacteristically brief.

Does anyone go to an online or offline bookstore seeking out a Random House book? Of course not. They’re looking for an author, a genre, etc.

With respect to promoting and selling books, which brand name is most valuable, James Patterson’s or Little, Brown and Company’s?

Without singling out any particular literary agent or agency, PG will say, as a general observation, that agents famous and obscure don’t do anything significant to improve the contract terms for publishing contracts other than increasing the amount of the advance on some occasions. In particular, agents rarely if ever do anything to address the issues Kris discusses in the OP.

In some types of contracts — consumer loans, for example — federal and/or state legislatures have passed laws that prevent commercial lenders from including some contract provisions that are unfair or harmful to borrowers. Compared to the number of individuals who take out loans to purchase a house, automobile or dishwasher, however, authors are a tiny constituency and elected officials have much bigger fish to fry than commercial publishers.

However, perhaps as a result of such consumer protections, some authors may believe they are somehow protected from  unfair provisions in publishing contracts between themselves and large publishers. That belief is incorrect.

Some of the most unfair provisions in a typical publishing contract are presented in the most innocuous manner imaginable.

 

 

Finally, there is nurturing. Publishers don’t just produce books. They nurture. Literary agents also provide nurturing in case publishers fall short in any way.

Like a baby duckling, a baby author needs to be nurtured and petted and encouraged and gently guided if she/he is to grow into a beautiful swan.

Who better to nurture such a delicate creature than a Kommanditgesellschaft auf Aktien headquartered in Gütersloh?

Off the top of his head, other than publishing, PG can’t ever remember ever having a business discussion that included the word nurture or any of its variants.

PG is reminded of a quote attributed to former president Harry S. Truman, “If you want a friend in Washington, buy a dog.”

PG suggests that if you want someone to watch over you, steer clear of the publishing business.

.



How to Crush an Outlaw Biker Club: Seize Its … Logo?

27 January 2019

From The New York Times:

For many years, federal law enforcement authorities have been trying to take down the Mongols, a biker group they consider one of the most dangerous criminal enterprises in the country.

They have infiltrated it with undercover agents. They have hammered members with charges ranging from drug dealing to money laundering to murder. They have conducted mass arrests that resulted in dozens of guilty pleas, including one by a past president.

But after a decade of trying, they have failed to deliver what they view as the coup de grâce: seizing control of the Mongols’ trademarked logo, a drawing of a brawny Genghis Khan-like figure sporting a queue and sunglasses, riding a chopper while brandishing a sword.

Now, in a racketeering trial underway in Orange County, Calif., federal prosecutors believe they have their best chance yet to take the Mongols’ intellectual property, using a novel approach to asset forfeiture law, which allows the seizure of goods used in the commission of crimes.

. . . .

Prosecutors argue that taking the logo will deprive the group of its “unifying symbol” — the banner under which prosecutors say the group marauds.

If federal prosecutors have their way, one of them boasted at an earlier point in the court battle, the police could stop any Mongol and “literally take the jacket right off his back.”

. . . .

But legal experts question the prosecutors’ grasp of intellectual property law. “Trademark rights are not tangible personal property like a jacket. They are intangible rights,” said Evan Gourvitz, an intellectual property lawyer with the law firm Ropes & Gray in New York. “But prosecutors are treating a trademark like a jacket.”

The Mongols are equally mystified. The logo — also called a patch — is emblazoned on the vests, T-shirts and motorcycles of hundreds of members.

“Lots of brothers have tattoos of the marks on their necks and heads and everywhere,” David Santillan, the national president of the club, said. “How do you regulate that?”

. . . .

“The patch is like the American flag to these guys and speaks to the identity of the club, the individual and the culture,” said William Dulaney, a retired associate professor who is an expert on motorcycle groups. “Some clubs have the rule that if the colors even touch the ground, they have to be destroyed.”

The Mongols’ marks, like those of other biker groups, are registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Clubs have aggressively protected their patches from unauthorized use.

The Hells Angels have gone after large corporations including Toys “R” Us, the Alexander McQueen fashion line, Amazon, Saks, and Walt Disney, accusing them of infringement on its death’s head logo — a skull in a winged helmet — and other club symbols.

. . . .

But prosecutors argue that the patch is the flag under which Mongols carry out unlawful acts and intimidate the public.

“The government will show that the marks served as unifying symbols of an enterprise dedicated to intimidating and terrorizing everyone who is not a member,” they wrote in a court filing, “and assaulting and killing those who have sworn their loyalty to other outlaw motorcycle gangs.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Copyright Strategies for Start-Up Companies

25 January 2019
Comments Off on Copyright Strategies for Start-Up Companies

From Trademark and Copyright Law:

As a leader of a start-up company, you are probably aware of the importance of protecting your company’s innovative products, services and technologies through patent filings.

. . . .

Most start-up companies overlook copyright issues, however, and this can create problems down the road.  In this article, we identify the most common traps that we see start-up companies fall into, and provide recommendations for how to avoid them.

Trap for the Unwary #1: Paying Someone to Create Content Does Not Mean That You Own It

One of the most common mistakes companies make in the early stages is to fail to shore up — in writing — ownership rights to content created for the company.  Many companies think that, by hiring someone to write content such as website text, software programs, or training manuals, the company automatically owns that content.  Not true!

The term “work for hire” is one of the most misunderstood terms in copyright law, and it seldom covers anyone but a true employee (i.e., someone who gets a W2 tax form from the employer, as opposed to an independent contractor).

As a general matter, an individual who creates content, by putting an original work of authorship into a tangible medium of expression, owns the copyright in that content at the moment of its creation unless (1) the individual is an employee who creates the work in the scope of his or her employment; or (2) the individual previously signed a written contract acknowledging that the work is a “work for hire” and the work is one of a few categories narrowly defined in the Copyright Act under the definition of “work for hire” (i.e., “a work specially ordered or commissioned for use as a contribution to a collective work, as a part of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, as a translation, as a supplementary work, as a compilation, as an instructional text, as a test, as answer material for a test, or as an atlas”).

Thus, very few non-employees will fall into the “work for hire” category.  It is therefore crucially important that such individuals execute written assignments so that the copyrights are transferred to the company.  To the extent that a non-employee content creator is working for the company pursuant to a written contract, that contract can impose upon the independent contractor the obligation to execute copyright assignments, and even give the company the power of attorney to execute such assignments on his or her behalf.

As copyrights can only be transferred in writing, it is important for start-up companies to obtain the necessary written assignments before its independent contractors move on or disappear.

. . . .

Copyright Registration and Notice Strategy

If your start-up company is in the business of content creation, in addition to following the guidelines above, it is important to implement a copyright registration strategy at the outset.  Copyright registrations are relatively inexpensive to obtain, and allow the company to seek statutory damages and attorneys’ fees for any infringement commencing after the registration date.

Copyright registrations are also useful because they put your competitors on notice of your intellectual property rights.  This can be valuable if you are seeking copyright protection for documents or materials that your competitors might not otherwise consider proprietary, such as customized forms or user interfaces.

You do not need to obtain a copyright registration to include a copyright notice on your materials, and it is a good idea to use such a notice wherever possible.  The proper form of the notice is the symbol © or the word “Copyright,” the year of first publication of the work, and the name of the copyright owner or an abbreviation by which the name can be recognized.

For example: © 2015 Foley Hoag LLP

You should also consider adding whatever other proprietary language may be appropriate, particularly if the distribution of the materials is restricted.

For example:  For use by customers of [company name] only.  Further copying or distribution is strictly prohibited.  For permissions, contact [legal@companyname.com].

Link to the rest at Trademark and Copyright Law

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