2015 Anti-Piracy, Copyright and Trademark News

January

Beastie Boys Lawyers Wants Monster Energy to Pay Legal Fees That Dwarf Jury Award

Although the Beastie Boys were awarded $1.7 million from the Monster Energy drink company in a copyright violation case, their lawyers point out that the band’s legal fees in the drawn-out suit amounted to almost $2.4 million. They are asking that the company pays these costs, so that the jury award isn’t dwarfed by their court fees. In the original case, the company used the band’s songs in a video that was online for five weeks, without permission. In their court filing, the band said that Monster’s tactics increased their legal costs, as they fought for their intellectual property rights.

AP, January 19, 2015 (by Larry Neumeister, Associated Press)

World’s First Trademarked Lyric? Taylor Swift Protects ‘this sick beat’

As demonstrated by her departure from Spotify, Taylor Swift is highly protective of her artistic property. One of the world’s most successful solo performers, she has now trademarked lyrical phrases, specifically “this sick beat” from the song “Shake It Off,” as well as “party like it’s 1989” and “nice to meet you, where you been.” As her lawyer explains, it’s not so much that she wants to monetize every lyric, but more to preemptively stop anyone from making money from her work without her involvement or permission. It is being argued that these lyrics have become “catchphrases” and therefore she has the right to keep them off, for example, unauthorized merchandise.

The Guardian, January 29, 2015 (Eamonn Forde)

February

Dancing Sharks from Katy Perry’s Super Bowl Halftime Show and a ‘Cease-and-Desist’ for Orlando Artist

The uncoordinated sharks from Katy Perry’s popular Super Bowl performance took a bite out of Fernando Sosa’s idea to create a 3-inch “Left Shark” with a 3D printer design. His artistic creation was unveiled on the Shapeways.com marketplace, and by the next day, the Orlando-based artist had 10-15 orders—and a case-and-desist letter from the singer’s attorneys. The letter demanded that the shark be removed from the platform, citing that the stylized sea creatures depicted in the figurines were the intellectual property of Katy Perry, and that if the artist did not comply, it would be seen by the court as willful copyright infringement.

New York Daily News, February 6, 2015 (The Associated Press)

Madonna ‘Rebel Heart’ Leaker Faces Prison Term, Indicted on Four Counts

An Israeli man, Ari Lederman, faces up to five years in jail for hacking into computers owned by Madonna and associates, and leaking songs that were to be part of the March 6 release of the singer’s ‘Rebel Heart’ album. Lederman has been indicted on four counts—prohibited secret monitoring, computer trespassing, copyright infringement and obstructing an investigation. He was able to steal demo versions of the tracks by accessing the cloud accounts of Madonna’s music director, Kevin Antunes, engineer Angie Teo and associate Sara Zambreno. He also obtained access to an email account that belonged to Guy Oseary, Madonna’s manager. He had previously breached Zambreno’s cloud account in 2012, stealing the MDMA song, “Give Me All Your Luvin’.

Rolling Stone, February 27, 2015 (Daniel Kreps)

March

‘Blurred Lines’ Verdict May Open Door to New Music Copyright Claims

An eight-person jury has ruled that Robin Thicke and Pharrel Williams copied music from Marvin Gaye’s 1977 hit song “Got to Give It Up” for their popular “Blurred Lines” song. This decision could have a profound effect on how artists create music and may create a precedent for future copyright claims. The jury determined that Thicke and Williams copied portions of Gaye’s song, and they ordered nearly $7.4 million in damages, payable to the three children of the late R&B legend. Potentially, future profits from “Blurred Lines” may also be at stake. Gaye’s family is seeking an injunction against the track, to provide leverage so that they can engage in royalty negotiations and perhaps a songwriting credit. However, this verdict may face appeals that could go on for years.

The Detroit News, March 11, 2015 (Associated Press, Anthony McCartney)

May

Grooveshark Music Streaming Service Shuttered

The closure of the popular music-sharing service Grooveshark is part of an agreement with record companies that sued the service for hosting pirated music. A statement from Grooveshark, announcing that it would close, said that the service failed to obtain licenses from rights holders for the copyright music that it had on their website. The company also agreed to delete all the music and deliver the website and applications to the recording industry. They admitted to making “very serious mistakes.” This shuttering officially ends all legal action that was started in 2011 by Sony, Universal Music and Warner. They were accused of illegally sharing nearly 5,000 songs. If found guilty, damages could have been as high as $736 million.

BBC News, May 1, 2015  

June

Usher and Justin Bieber Must Answer to Copyright Lawsuit

A U.S. appeals court determined that Usher and Justin Bieber must face a $10 million copyright infringement lawsuit that claims they illegally copied portions of a song written by two songwriters in Virginia. By unanimous vote, Richmond’s 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals resurrected a 2013 Lawsuit by R&B singer De Rico (Devin Copeland) and Mareio Overton, his songwriting partner. The court said that the lower court judge should not have dismissed it. Copeland and Overton claim that three versions of “Somebody to Love,” which were recorded either by Bieber, Usher or both singers, shared the beats and time signature of their song by the same name, as well as similar chords and lyrics.

The case: Copeland et al v. Bieber et al, 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 14-1427.

Reuters, June 18, 2015 (Jonathan Stempel, reporting in New York; Edited by Bernard Orr)

July

Chinese Counterfeiter Lives the Good Life in California

Xu Ting, a 45-year-old Chinese immigrant, has been selling counterfeit luxury products for years. Eight different luxury brands have sued her, and she owes Chanel Inc. a $6.9 million from a settlement for online sales of products under its name. But that hasn’t stopped Xu Ting from living comfortably in a San Diego suburb with her husband and their young son. In fact, the woman became a legal resident last year. While China isn’t the only country that has a problem with counterfeiting, most fake items are made there, and they’re sold in the U.S., where sellers are rarely prosecuted. Putting an end to counterfeiting involves following the money, but that isn’t easy. Since China doesn’t cooperate with investigations, they make it easy for counterfeiters to hide their profits. Brand owners must also be more aggressive in enforcing their rights.

AP New, July 11, 2015 (Erika Kinetz)

Twitter Deletes Plagiarized Jokes After DMCA Takedown but Not Snapper’s Images

Photographer Kristen Pierson has filed a copyright infringement complaint in Los Angeles District Court against Twitter. She alleges that the social network website ignored a removal request for her images of musician Herman Li. Pierson explained that she makes her living by licensing her photographs to publishers, and that her photos were being passed around freely on Twitter without her permission. She sent a takedown request as per the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) but was ignored. Pierson hopes to take her case of a jury trial, where she will be looking for an injunction to remove the photos and receive payment. Meanwhile, Twitter has been removing plagiarized jokes from their platform, such as those from talk show host Conan O’Brien, who was accused of swiping material from Robert “Alex” Kaseberg’s Twitter account without giving him credit.

The Register, July 29, 2015 (Shaun Nichols)

August

Ice Cream Man Sued by Mister Softee for Illegally Using Their Trademarked Jingle

Gothamist reports that after they ran a profile on Victor, the ice cream vendor, Mister Softee attorneys filed a lawsuit against the ice cream truck’s owner for illegally using their jingle. Although Victor’s “New York Ice Cream” truck does not use their graphics, they took offense to his use of their jingle, which the company has also trademarked. Last year, the owner painted the truck to avoid having to pay Mister Softee $30,000 (the price was previously $15,000). That fee allows ice cream truck owners to use the Mister Softee music box. And so, the company has now sued. The company argues that the tune well-known and associated with their brand, and that unauthorized use will dilute their brand.

Gothamist, August 17, 2015 (Christopher Robbins)

Man Learns that Chicken Sandwiches Cannot Be Copyrighted

The Copyright Act protects various intellectual property—including music, literature and architecture—but not food. In 1987, Norberto Colón, who worked at Church’s Chicken fast-food restaurant in Puerto Rico, suggested that they should create a fried chicken sandwich. The “Pechu Sandwich,” introduced in 1991, was fried chicken, lettuce, tomato and garlic mayonnaise on bread. It was extremely popular. Colón thought that he should be sharing in the profits, so in 2014, he filed a lawsuit. He claimed that the company profited from his intellectual property and asked for $10 million dollars. Unfortunately for Colón, the ruling from a U.S. appeals court stated that sandwiches cannot be copyrighted—especially if they are ordinary chicken sandwiches.

Washington Post, August 26, 2015 (Roberto A. Ferdman)

September

ISPs in Iceland Agree to Block The Pirate Bay

In Iceland, internet subscribers will no longer be able to access The Pirate Bay, according to an agreement reached between the entertainment industry and Icelandic internet providers. The agreement has been heavily criticized by the Pirate Party, which is currently the most popular political party in the country. The Pirate Bay torrent site is an arch-rival of copyright groups and they have been one of the most frequently censored websites. Local internet providers also agreed to block Deildu.net, the country’s biggest private torrent tracker. This follows the court decision handed down from Reykjavik District Court last autumn, which forced Hringdu and Vodafone ISPs to block the websites.

TorrentFreak, September 17, 2015 (Ernesto)

Batmobile Awarded Copyright Protection

Holy copyright, Batman! The Batmobile, that legendary vehicle that features advanced computers, weapons, and assorted gadgets to fight crime, now boasts copyright protection. For a character in a television show, movie or comic book to be awarded this protection, they must pass three criteria. It must have both physical and conceptual qualities, people must recognize it as the identical character over time, and the character must be distinctive. The Batmobile, introduced by DC Comics in 1941, passes those three tests with flying colors. And so, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued the ruling to copyright the car. Mark Towle, who owns Gotham Garage, makes Batmobile replicas, and DC Comics sued him in 2011, alleging copyright and trademark infringement. He tried to argue that DC Comics waited too long to file claims. The court disagreed.

The Wall Street Journal, September 23, 2015 (Joe Palazzolo)

October

‘Point Break’ Parody Creator Wins in Court

An author who created a stage parody of the Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze 1991 action movie “Point Break” was awarded copyright protection, even though she never asked the filmmakers for permission to create her parody. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Jaime Keeling’s unauthorized play “Point Break Live!” was sufficiently original enough to qualify for protection against copyright infringement. The court maintained that her screenplay satisfied the rules for original fair-use parody. According to the ruling, Keeling built upon the original material with additional jokes, props, stating and theatrical devices to transform the film into a unique theatrical experience. This is a win for all artists that create original parodies from theatrical works.

Santa Cruz Sentinel, October 30, 2015 (Associated Press and Larry Neumeister)


November

Eagles Reach Settlement with Long Island Bootlegger

Eagles bandmembers Glen Frey and Don Henley were prepared to “take it to the limit” regarding their lawsuit against music archivist Bill Shelley, who had been planning to show concert footage of the band from his film vault. The suit began with a cease-and-desist letter sent by Frey and Henley to Avon Theater in Connecticut, when they advertised a showing of “Legends of Rock Live: The Eagles 1976 Tour” that featured Shelley’s concert footage. The lawsuit was settled with an injunction that bars Shelley from showing audio or video recordings of the band. According to Long Island Federal Court papers, this includes not just Eagles material, but any of the members, either as a solo artist or in a different band, such as “The James Gang.” Eagles lawyer Thomas Jirgal said that this was done to protect the band’s legacy.

New York Daily News, November 27, 2015 (John Marzulli)

December

Fake Investigators Investigated Fake Chinese Goods

A woman who was known as Flaming Lee worked as a private investigator for Swiss technology company ABB Asea Brown Bovery Ltd. Simultaneously, she was selling the company’s counterfeit circuit breakers for export—exactly what she was being paid to track down. An Associated Press investigation found that this type of double-dealing is not unusual in China’s anti-counterfeiting industry, which has often been rife with fraud. Some of these documented cases involved what could be dangerous for unaware consumers, such as counterfeit pharmaceuticals, electrical components, auto parts and personal care products. The report found incidents of Western companies paying investigators who themselves were dealing in counterfeits, fabricated raids and the staging of phony seizures.

AP: The Big Story, December 10, 2015 (Erika Kinetz)