Why Taylor Swift Won

Taylor Swift 092 by GabboT from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Taylor Swift 092 by GabboT from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

A few weeks ago, Jesse Braham sued singer Taylor Swift and her record label for $42 million for copyright infringement, alleging that she copied the lyrics from his song “Haters Gone Hate” in her song “Shake It Off.” Braham claimed to be the author of the phrases “Haters gone hate” and “Playas gone play,” which are similar to the lyrics in Swift songs. He claimed that Swift never could have written her song if it wasn’t for his. (Note: There are no other obvious similarities between these two pieces of music.)

Last Friday, United States District Court Judge Gail Standish dismissed the case in a brilliant fashion, saying, “At present, the Court is not saying that Braham can never, ever, ever get his case back in court. But, for now, we have got problems, and the Court is not sure Braham can solve them.”

So why did Taylor Swift win this case, legally speaking? (Anyone who read the article about the lawsuit probably thought Braham had no basis for bringing the claim.) Under the U.S. Copyright Act, to get a copyright, you need an original work of authorship that is fixed in a tangible medium. Writing lyrics for a song on paper or creating an mp3 of a song would each qualify as a copyrightable work. Short phrases are typically not original enough to quality as an “original work of authorship.” That’s why Paris Hilton couldn’t get a copyright for “That’s hot.”

If Braham had a copyright in “haters gone hate,” he could stop anyone from using the phrase unless they bought a license from him. As far as I know, he only went after Swift for infringement.

Braham also wanted credit as an author of “Shake It Off.” I suspect he was hoping for a similar outcome as the Sam Smith/Tom Petty case over Smith’s song “Stay with Me” where Petty was credited as a co-author in the settlement.

My question in this situation was, “What lawyer would take on case?” It’s a violation of the Rules of Professional Responsibility for a lawyer to file a lawsuit if their client doesn’t have a case. It turns out, Braham didn’t have a lawyer. He filed the lawsuit by himself. He also requested that the court waive the filing fees, saying that he had not had a job since 2006.

If you believe that someone is violating you copyright, please contact an intellectual property attorney in your community. These cases have to be evaluated on the facts of each situation. If you want to chat with me about a specific question related to copyright law, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn.

Fair Use Victory!

Bambi vs. Godzilla (211/365) by JD Hancock from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Bambi vs. Godzilla (211/365) by JD Hancock from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

The Ninth Circuit of the Federal Court handed down an important ruling regarding fair use this week. In Lenz v. Universal, aka the “Dancing Baby” case was about copyright, DMCA takedown notices, and fair use. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) sued Universal Music Publishing Group after Universal sent a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notice when a mother uploaded a 29-second video of her baby dancing to a Prince song.

The key element of this court ruling is that the court declared that “copyright holders must consider fair use before sending a [DMCA] takedown notice.” Prior to this case, fair use was regarded as an “affirmative defense.” If you’ve seen my YouTube videos, you have seen this one where I declare, “Fair use is a defense, not a permission slip.” This court said that’s not the case, but rather that fair use is authorized by the Federal Copyright Act. There is no copyright infringement if your use of another’s copyright-protected work is permitted by fair use.

If you’re interested in learning more about fair use, I wrote a post that includes a mnemonic device for the fair use factors for a panel I did at Phoenix Comicon on fair use and fan art/fiction.

There are two downsides to the case (at least for now):

  1. Although the court said that copyright holders must consider fair use before sending a DMCA takedown notice, they only have to have subjective good faith belief that the use of the copyrighted work is illegal, even if this belief is objectively unreasonable.
  2. This ruling only applies to the Ninth Circuit. The Ninth Circuit is comprised of Arizona, California, and most of the western United States. However, this ruling is not binding on the other ten Circuit Courts, but they can take it under advisement in future cases.

This case is a step in the right direction and will hopefully lead to fewer abuses of the DMCA. You can read the EFF’s full report about the case here.

Footnote: This case took eight years to reach this ruling. Sometimes pursuing a lawsuit is the right decision, but you have to be prepared to be in it for the long haul.

How the copyright laws apply to the internet is a legal issue that is constantly developing. If you need a resource about how the law applies to social media, please check out The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. If you want to chat with me about a specific question related to copyright or internet law, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn.

Working with People who Don’t Understand Copyright

Sentinel vs. Jawa (88/365) by JD Hancock from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Sentinel vs. Jawa (88/365) by JD Hancock from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Here’s the scenario: You are a newly hired third party content creator for a company. You learn that your client has a habit of copying pictures from Pinterest or Google Images searches without verifying that they are allowed to use the images on their website and/or social media posts. They want you to do the same. What should you do?

Option #1: Your Client Needs an Education about Copyright
Some people truly believe they can use any image they find on the internet, particularly if they give an attribution and a link back to the original. There are so-called “gurus” who will tell you this is ok. It’s not.

What your client is likely doing is committing copyright infringement. Inform your client that he/she is running the risk of getting a cease and desist letter, a bill with a license, or a lawsuit. In the worst-case scenario, they could face a lawsuit for $150,000 per image they use, plus attorneys’ fees. Tell your client to thank their lucky stars they haven’t faced one of these consequences yet and advise them that the prudent thing to do would be to replace all images on their site with pictures they can legally use.

Use this an a teaching experience to educate your client about the importance of asking permission, using Creative Commons, and possibly exploring whether what they are doing in some situations qualifies as fair use.

Option #2: Your Client Understands but Disregards Others’ Copyright Rights
Fire your client.

This person is obviously an idiot. No money is worth being affiliated with this company. Run away as fast as you can.

Footnote: Every company should have a “No Jerks” rule when it comes to employees and clients. If you find someone violating this rule at a genetic level (not just having a bad day), cut all ties with them immediately.

The same rules about copyright that apply to your website also apply to your social media posts:

Whenever I work on a contract for the relationship between a company and an outside content provider, I always recommend that my client require an indemnity clause that will protect them if they are accused of intellectual property infringement based on material provided by the other party. Your contract is the master document for your working relationship. It should clearly define the parties’ obligations to each other which should include deadlines and deliverables and also how you will resolve problems when they occur.

If you want to know more about the complex issues related to copyright and the internet, please check out The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. If you want to chat with me about this topic, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn.

Richard Prince’s “New Portraits” – Art or Infringement?

Photo courtesy of Gagosian via Gothamist

Photo courtesy of Gagosian via Gothamist

A few people sent me links to articles about Richard Prince’s art show called “New Portraits” at Gagosian gallery. He took screen shots of other people’s Instagram photos, added one comment, and is selling them for $100,000 each. From what I’ve read, he never asked any of the Instagram users for permission to use their images and they aren’t getting any of the profits from the sales.

Apparently Prince has done things like this before – taking others’ work, altering it, and selling it. According to reports, he’s been challenged in court and won in previous situations. (Fair use is a portion of the copyright law that allows others to build on other’s work in original ways, like adding commentary, creating a parody, or making new artistic statements.) Prince’s history of being victorious in the courtroom might make these Instagram users hesitate to bring a lawsuit against him now, but I’m not convinced they would lose.

There is no cut-and-dry, black-and-white mathematical equation that will definitively show whether what a person did constitutes fair use or copyright infringement. That is up to a court to decide based on the merits of the case. The court can consider any evidence it wants in these situations, but there are four main fair use factors. I created an acronym of the fair use factors when I spoke at Phoenix Comicon last year on fan art and copyright. The acronym for the fair use factors is PAIN:

P = Purpose and character of your use

A = Amount of the original used

I = Impact on the market

N = Nature of the work you copied

Here’s my take on how the fair use factors apply to this situation:

  • P (Purpose): Prince used others’ work for a commercial purpose (to make money) and didn’t transform the originals except to add a single comment to each one and create a collection. (Does not favor Fair Use)
  • A (Amount): Prince took screen shots of each user’s Instagram profile and used an entire photo. (Does not favor Fair Use)
  • I (Impact on the market): As far as I know, Prince is the only person currently selling these images, but the fact that he’s selling them could impact the original artists’ ability to sell their work. The fact that Prince is selling these prints doesn’t change whether these images are available to view the original images online. (Weak argument for finding Fair Use at best)
  • N (Nature of copied work): Prince took images from a social media platform and created “art.” There might be an argument that the audience that would seek these images out online is different than an audience who would be interested in Prince’s work. (Weak argument for finding Fair Use.)

Do I think this is fair use? No, but I’m not the judge in this situation. We won’t know for certain until and unless the Instagram users’ whose photos were used in Prince’s work bring lawsuits against him for copyright infringement. I suspect many or all of these photos are “selfies” so these individuals may have a claim against him for commercializing their images without consent as well as a copyright infringement case.

Remember, fair use is a defense, not a permission slip. If these users sue for copyright infringement, Richard Prince would have the burden of showing that what he did was sufficient to qualify for fair use.

Fair use cases are usually complicated. If you want to chat more about fair use and copyright, please contact me directly or connect with me on social media via TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn.

More articles about this situation:
Artist Steals Instagram Photos & Sells Them For $100K At NYC Gallery
Richard Prince Sucks

Photos, the Internet, and the Law – FAQs

paparazzi! by federico borghi from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

paparazzi! by federico borghi from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I get a lot of hits on my site from people asking questions about what they can and can’t do with photos that they get from someone else that’s sent to them, texted to them, or that they find online. In many cases, the person who took the photo (not necessarily the person in the photo unless it’s a selfie) is the copyright holder and so they have the right to decide when and how their photo will be copied, distributed, and displayed. If you want to use their photo, you need their permission. If you want to own the copyright, they have to give it to you in a written and signed contract.

Let’s look at some of the more common and interesting questions I get. (Of course, any situation involving the legalities of using a particular photo is fact dependent and you need to consider the specific circumstances. These cases are often governed in part by state laws so you have to look at what rules apply to you.)

May I Post Someone’s Photo on the Internet without Consent?
If we’re talking about a situation where you want to know if you can take a photograph of another person and post it online, the answer is often “Yes.” If you’re the photographer, you’re usually the copyright holder so you get to decide where your work is displayed. However, if you want to make money off the photo or use it for a commercial purpose, you often need the person’s consent.

If were talking about a situation where you’re not the photographer and you want to use another person’s photograph, you need that person’s permission to use their work.

What if I Illegally used Someone’s Photo but I had Good Intentions?
The law often cares about what you did more than your intentions. In many cases it doesn’t matter that you didn’t intend to hurt anybody or that you didn’t know what you’re doing was illegal.

If Someone takes a Photo of Me and They Don’t Delete it, Can I Sue?
It depends. Remember you have no expectation of privacy in public so if you’re just upset that a photo was taken and they don’t use it to harass you, make money, or otherwise violate your rights, there is often little you can do about it.

What are the Laws about taking Photographs of People on Private Property?
You would have to look at what laws apply in your state, but typically the property owner or manager sets and enforces the rules, including rules about photographs. Be mindful when you go into businesses or attend events that there may be a notice posted that informs you that by being on the property, you are consenting to being photographed and the property owner can use those images however they want without needing any additional consent or payment of compensation to you.

Can You be Sued if You Post Someone’s Picture Online if They Sent it to You in a Text Message?
The law treats photos taken by cell phones the same as other photographs. If someone sends you a picture in a text, you have permission to look at it. It doesn’t give you permission to send it to other people or posted online without the person’s consent. Be very careful if this is a situation involving a nude or intimate photo because the depending on the person in the photo’s age, it could be child pornography. Additionally, several states have passed criminal laws against revenge porn.

What if Someone took a Picture off my Facebook Profile and put it on Theirs?
When you post a photograph on Facebook, the “Share” function implicitly gives permission to anyone who has access to the image to share it according to the settings of the site. If it’s a situation where somebody downloads your photo or takes a screen shot that include your photo, and then posts it to their profile or somewhere else online, that is likely of violation of your copyright rights.

Is it Illegal for a Family Member to Post Pictures of You on the Internet?
It depends. The law applies equally to family members as to other people. If it’s their photograph, meaning they are the copyright holder, there may be little you can do unless posting that image somehow violates one of your rights. If you don’t like that someone is posting images of you online, hopefully they will respect you enough to remove them upon request.

As I said before, cases involving photographs are governed by federal and state laws, so if you have a legal question in this arena please consult a copyright attorney in the your community for assistance. If you believe that you might be the victim of a crime that involves a photograph, please call your local law enforcement agency.

If you want to talk about this issue further, please connect with me on TwitterFacebook, or LinkedIn. If there is a specific situation you want to discuss, please send me an email.

Who to Ask for Permission to Use a Photo

What is a Real Image?  by puuikibeach from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

What is a Real Image? by puuikibeach from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I had the pleasure of speaking at TechPhx over the weekend and fielding a lot of questions about how the law applies to blogging and podcasting, especially copyright, trademark, and privacy issues. The big take-home lesson surrounding copyright is usually “get permission” to use a photo on your site by using images from Creative Commons or asking the copyright holder for permission to use their work. (I’ve never had anyone tell me “no.”)

But what do you do if there’s an image you want to use and you can’t tell who the copyright holder is to ask permission?

I would start by evaluating the situation where I found the photo and contact the website administrator if it’s on a website or the profile owner if it’s on a social media site and say something like, “This picture is really beautiful. Who took the photo?” or “Where did you find this photo?” I probably wouldn’t ask, “Who is the copyright holder?” because a lot of people don’t understand copyright law and they think that owning a photo or having a copy of the file means they own the copyright, when they don’t.

I saw a situation where a publication asked a person if they could use some of the photos she posted on her social media site in an upcoming edition and she said “yes.” Unfortunately, that person wasn’t the copyright holder and she didn’t understand that she didn’t have the authority to give such permission. The publication thought they did everything right but because they didn’t verify they had permission from the copyright holder, they had a bit of a mess to fix once the photographer learned what had happened and informed the publication that they used his work without his permission.

Another tactic I might use if I wanted to find a copyright holder is run the photo through the Google Image search engine to see where else the image is available online. That might reveal the original source.

Here’s a video with more information about how to determine who is the copyright holder or whether is in the public domain.

Legal Side of Blogging Book CoverIf you can’t determine who the copyright holder is to ask permission to use their work, you may want to ask yourself how important it is to use that particular image and whether a similar image that is available under Creative Commons.

If you want more information about how copyright law applies to blogging and social media, please check out my book, The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. It covers a lot of the major issues that apply to copyright and the internet. If you want to chat more about this topic, feel free to connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me.

Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Avoid Copyright Infringement in your Social Media Posts

+ I collect old cameras + Land camera 1000 w/ polatronic 1 {b} by PhotKing from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

+ I collect old cameras + Land camera 1000 w/ polatronic 1 {b} by PhotKing from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

The other day I smiled when I saw a friend put a post on Facebook that included a Creative Commons attribution. He was the person who taught me how important it is, just from the perspective of respect, to get permission before posting another person’s work on your social media page. This was before I studied and fell in love with copyright.

Now, it warms my little lawyer heart to see someone respecting copyright.

And I finally have time to read Gary Vaynerchuk’s book Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook, which is filled with helpful information on how to market your business and excellent demonstrative case studies. One of his lessons is to use each platform to suit the needs to the users. So if a site is visually-focused, like Facebook or Pinterest, you want to create posts that have images that will provide users value and hopefully they’ll share them. His book has great examples of how companies are doing this effectively and what habits you shouldn’t emulate.

This is when the red flag went up for me.

If a company’s marketing department created a photo, there’s no problem with copyright. But if a company is using someone else’s photo (because companies don’t just have to talk about themselves online), they have to deal with the question of whether they have permission to use the image in question.

A lot of companies appear to be thoughtful about making sure they are using their own photos or finding images via Creative Commons for their website or blog. However, they don’t apply the same standards to their social media posts. If you’re doing this, and pulling images from other site without getting permission from the copyright owner, you could be setting your company up to be accused of copyright infringement and face a cease and desist letter, a DMCA takedown notice, a bill, or possibly a lawsuit.

Legal Side of Blogging Book CoverI’ve been inspired by people who use social media effectively and find amazing images to incorporate into their posts. I hope to create more content on social media that’s worth sharing. If you’re in my boat, please make sure to use images you own or use Creative Commons. When I use Creative Commons, I only pull images that come with a license that let me modify (aka crop them) and commercialize them. And even on social media, give your photographer the attribution. You may be legally obligated to do it, and it’s also a sign of respect for their work.

If you need an effective legal resource written in layman’s terms on this topic, I recommend my book, The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. It covers a lot of the major issues that apply to copyright and the internet. If you want to chat more about this topic, feel free to connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me.

Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

What Should You Do If Someone Steals Your Work

Attention - Man Stealing White Stripe by Julian Mason from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Attention – Man Stealing White Stripe by Julian Mason from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Copyright infringement appears to be rampant on the internet. Some people don’t understand that they can’t use anything they find online. They don’t understand that the law lets the copyright holder dictate where their work is displayed and distributed. Some people get defensive when they get caught and say you should be happy that you’re giving them exposure.  Others know it’s illegal and take the gamble that you won’t notice or that you won’t object if you see what they’ve done.

Make Sure It’s Your Work They Copied
People don’t always own what they think they own. Check your contracts to verify that you are the copyright owner and not just the creator of a work. Remember – employees don’t own the copyright in anything they create within the scope of their job but independent contractors retain the copyright in anything they create unless there’s a written copyright assignment or work made for hire contract. Additionally, two artists can independently come up with similar ideas for original works and it may not be problematic so long as they’re only claiming rights in what they created.

How Do You Want This To End?
This is the question I ask all my clients who are in a suspected intellectual property infringement situation. Their goal determines my course of action. Ideally you should determine how you want to react to infringement before it occurs so you can lay the foundation in advance for your desired outcome.

If you just want the infringer to take down your work, you can respond with one of the following:

If you want the alleged infringer to pay you for using your work you can send a bill or sue them for infringement. If you want to pursue one of these options, you definitely want to use a lawyer to contact the alleged infringer on your behalf or through the court.

If you’re OK with the person using your work, you should send them a notice that gives them permission and requests they ask permission before using your work in the future. You always want to respond when you suspect someone is using your work without consent. Otherwise you could create the impression that you’ve attached a blanket license for anyone to use your work which could hurt your chances of going after other suspected infringers in the future.

Please note – you can send a notice without being a jerk about it. Jack Daniel’s sent what’s been referred to as the nicest cease and desist letter when an author copied Jack Daniel’s label on his book cover.  You could write or ask your attorney to do something similar

If you need a legal resource about how to avoid problems related to copyright and trademark infringement online, I recommend my book, The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. It covers a lot of the major issues that apply to intellectual property and the internet. If you want to chat more about this topic, feel free to connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me.

Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

What to do if You’re Accused of Copyright Infringement

Watch it or lose it - thieves at work by Tristan Schmurr from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Watch it or lose it – thieves at work by Tristan Schmurr from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

The owner of a copyright has the exclusive right to control where their work is copied, displayed, and distributed. If they think that someone is using their work without permission, there’s a good chance they’re going to react. They may be passive aggressive and write a blog post about you. They might b direct and send you an email or call you. If they sell their work for a living, they may just send you a bill. They may also hire a lawyer to send a cease and desist letter, a DMCA takedown notice to your webhost, or they may just sue you.

If you are accused of violating someone’s copyright, the first thing you want to do is examine the situation. What are they claiming is on your site or your materials that belongs to them? Some people will tell you that you can use anything you find on the internet as long as you provide and attribution and a link to the original – and that’s just not true. What you may have done is commit infringement and admit it. So look at the image or text in question and try to determine where it came from. If you created it from scratch, there’s a good chance it’s not infringement. If you got it from someone else, you may have a problem.

In most cases, it’s a good idea to schedule an appointment with your copyright lawyer if you’re accused of committing infringement, especially if the other side contacted you through their lawyer. He/she can examine the situation, explain your options, and help you choose the right course of action for your situation. In most cases, the person who claims you stole their work doesn’t want to sue you. They likely want you to stop using their material, and possibly pay a licensing fee for the time you used it. In many cases you want to respond either as yourself or through your lawyer with what you did or could do to resolve the situation.

There are times where you might want to risk not responding. Some people do this is they think nothing will happen if they ignore the notice from the person claiming you stole their work. Sometimes this is effective. Sometimes it leads the person to escalate and sue you or report your company to a regulatory body that oversees your company. It’s not a decision to make lightly.

So what are the best and worse-case scenarios in these situations? In the best-case scenario, the person making the claim against you is wrong because you haven’t violated their copyright sending a response to that end or ignoring them will resolve the situation. In the worst-case scenario, you’ll be sued (and lose!) for willfully stealing someone’s copyright and sued for $150,000 per image or article you stole, plus the copyright holder’s attorney’s fees.

Legal Side of Blogging Book CoverBecause the penalties can be so high, you want to be careful when you use other people’s content on your website or marketing materials. You need to be sure that you own or have permission to use content created by third parties.

If you need a legal resource on this topic or anything related to the laws that apply to social media, I recommend my book, The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. It covers a lot of the major issues that apply to copyright and the internet. If you want to chat more about this topic, feel free to connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me.

Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.

Who Really Owns Your Content?

ZombieGrafitti by RhodanV5500 from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

ZombieGrafitti by RhodanV5500 from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

If you outsource any of your content creation (blog, photos, videos, etc.) you need to read this.

A lot of business professionals have the misconception that if they pay for something, they automatically own it. If your marketing department or employees create your content, that’s true. The company will own the copyright in (and actually be the author of) everything your employees create within the scope of their employment.

That is not always the case when you use third party contractors to create content for your company. If you don’t have a contract with your independent contractor, the law says the contractor owns the copyright in whatever you’ve hired them to create. You only get an implied license to use the content. The contractor can stop you from using the content in a different way than the original project.

If you find yourself in that situation where you thought you owned the contract but you only had a license and you wanted to become the copyright owner, you would need to have the contractor sign a copyright assignment to give it to you. This is a contract that must be in writing. And since the contractor owns the copyright, it’s his/her prerogative to charge whatever they want to assign it to you. So that means they can basically make you pay for the same work twice.

So how do you avoid being in this situation? When you work with independent contractor, you need a solid contract for each project that explains what you’re hiring them to create and who will own the final product. Many contractors I’ve worked for have requested contracts that state that the hiring company only owns their work product when the company has paid its bill in full. If the company doesn’t pay its bill, the company doesn’t own the content and the contractor has legal recourse to prevent the company from using their work.

Legal Side of Blogging Book CoverIf you work with independent contractors on a regular basis, consider having a lawyer create a contract template for you to ensure that the document is complete and that all your interests are protected.

If you need a legal resource for laymen on this topic, I recommend my book, The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to get Sued, Fired, Arrested, or Killed. It covers a lot of the major issues that apply to copyright and the internet. If you want to chat more about this topic, feel free to connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTubeLinkedIn, or you can email me.

Please visit my homepage for more information about Carter Law Firm.