It may be a no brainer for any Bostonian that the best beer in the country originates in Boston. Now Dunkin’ Donuts is laying claim to the best coffee. Last month, Dunkin’ Donuts filed a trademark application for the mark BEST COFFEE IN AMERICA. In an article that ran in the Boston Globe on October 4, 2012, several commentators expressed skepticism that this application would be successful, largely because the phrase is laudatory and not something that consumers would think was connected to a single source. Click here for the complete story.
Ethics in Media
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Pandora, a leading digital radio service, is making a new play for lower licensing fees on music.
The company is still lobbying Congress to pass the Internet Radio Fairness Act, which would enable a panel of federal judges to set streaming royalty rates in the same procedure used for cable and satellite radio, but Pandora is also targeting the money paid out to song publishers. Click here for the full story!
The William S. Boyd School of Law hosted its second annual Public Interest Law Film Festival Thursday and Friday, aiming to increase public interest in the legal field by investigating what makes legal processes and penalties fair and legitimate.
Warner Bros. is very serious about cracking down on counterfeits on Amazon.com.
Following a round of lawsuits in July, the studio’s home entertainment division filed another 21 lawsuits last week. Again, the company is going after those who sell discounted DVDs in the Amazon Marketplace, a resellers’ venue that the studio believes has been hijacked to some degree by those selling “unauthorized” copies of works ranging from Boardwalk Empire DVDs to Harry Potter Blu-rays. Learn more about this new development.
Entertainment Title Searching in the Internet Age
Each year, the global entertainment industry generates literally thousands of new works in a growing range of media—from television and films to computer and video games. In recent years, the Internet has emerged as a major source of new entertainment works and titles. This rapid expansion of content adds a new dimension of challenge for the intellectual property (IP) legal professionals tasked with clearing and protecting entertainment titles for use in the marketplace.
To gain a better understanding of the entertainment trends and their impact on title searching and clearing, we spoke to Ted Gerdes of Gerdes Law in Los Angeles. Mr. Gerdes has extensive experience working with entertainment companies in the U.S., traditional heart of the film and television industry, and internationally.
Click here to read more about this article: http://thenewsaegis.com/PDF/entertainment_casestudy.pdf
What exactly is the copyright infringement project? It’s a project that is sponsored by the UCLA intellectual Property Project & Columbia Law School to make universally available information about U.S. music copyright infringement cases from the mid-nineteenth century forward available for research and discussion.
It’s a great website to learn more information about past and current cases. Click here to learn more: http://cip.law.ucla.edu/
A few weeks ago I posted a blog (Will “fair use” transform political campaign ads?) that addressed several recent claims made by composers against political candidates who used the composers’ music with new lyrics to bash their opponents. But what happens if a candidate uses an opponent’s own composition in a political video against him? Will a court rule this to be a legitimate parody or protected political speech?
Jeff Dursetwitz, who lives in upstate New York, is an old friend of mine. We were both in a band together in college. He sent me an article about a similar controversy surrounding the battle for New York’s 19th Congressional District concerning Congressman John Hall.
John Hall is a former member of the band Orleans and the composer of two of the band’s big national hits—“Dance With Me” and “Still the One.” Two years ago, he ran for and won a Congressional seat in an upset victory. This year’s race is again close. In an effort to gain the advantage, his current opponent, Nan Hayworth, started a web site “Young Voters for an Orleans Reunion Tour” (Young Voters) that includes a link to their video “Vote With Me.” Created by Hayworth’s supporters, the video uses the very recognizable music of Hall’s classic song “Dance With Me” and adds new lyrics that urges citizens to vote for Hayworth: “Vote with me. Let’s make John Hall leave Washington, D.C. … We can’t take you, we want you to go.” Near the end of the video, the lyrics drop off and the music remains while messages about unemployment and other campaign issues scroll across the screen.
The site appears to be cleverly disguised as an Orleans fan site and, in what appears to be an effort to protect the creators of the site from direct liability, the music video does not reside on the site but is linked to and posted on Vimeo.
An attorney for the group Orleans sent a cease-and-desist letter, demanding that the Young Voters refrain from use of the band’s registered trademark, Orleans, in its domain name www.orleansreuniontour.com. In addition, EMI Music, the music publisher for the song, sent a letter demanding the Young Voters discontinue use of the composition and requesting an accounting of their use of the song. Young Voters posted on YouTube a letter written by their attorney in response to YouTube’s removal of the” Vote With Me” video from its site. In the letter, the attorney does not address copyright issues, but solely argues that political speech is protected by the First Amendment.
Neither Hall, nor any of his allies, has filed for an injunction to stop the ongoing dissemination of the video. He retaliated in a manner reminiscent of his Sixties roots—he produced his own music video. With new lyrics to his classic hit, Hall’s video is titled Patriots for John Hall—Still the One. Hall and a large cast of supporters sing “He’s still the one we need in Washington… He’s the one to get things done, he’s still the one.”
I presume this strategy is not intended to waive his copyright claim against his opponent but is a pure political calculation: there is too little time left before the election and he needs to focus on keeping his Congressional seat. The publicity could bring attention to the suit rather than to his campaign. And the release of his video may grab media and voter attention away from his opponent’s work.
My instincts as a copyright attorney would be to have Hall sue for infringement, even after the election is over. In the past, the use of music for political purposes has typically favored the composer. To qualify as a parody, according to the Supreme Court in Campbell v Acuff Rose Music, Inc., the new song must parody the original and not be a vehicle for new lyrics that ridicule something (or someone) else. Hall’s suit would be an interesting twist. While “Vote With Me” does not parody the lyrics of the original “Dance With Me,” it could be argued that it parodies, in part, the song’s author, John Hall.
The Supreme Court did not face this issue in the Campbell case. In that case, the song was a parody of the lyrics of “Pretty Woman” and not of its composer, Roy Orbison. Given the circumstances, a court could potentially find this new use to be protected political speech, and not the copyright infringement that, according to current case law, it appears to be.
One of the questions that is likely be addressed is whether the Young Voters could have made their point just as effectively with licensed or original music. How necessary was it for them to use one of Hall’s own compositions? Unless a court decides to make an narrow exception to established precedent for composer candidates, Hall should succeed if he decides to pursue a claim.
Catfish is a successful and much discussed documentary. It’s rare to find a documentary becoming a financial success, but to date this film has grossed 1.6 million and the buzz around it is still generating momentum. A theatrction film is in itself a rare prize. However, with success often comes controversy.
Catfish follows Nev Schullman, a photographer from New York, as he develops an online romantic relationship with a girl, Megan, in Michigan. For eight months they share electronic intimacies, including photographs. All of this is being filmed. Nev and his brother and a friend share a commercial production business, so they have access to quality camera equipment.
Then Schullman decides to meet Megan in person. What he finds in a small town in Michigan’s remote upper peninsula isn’t exactly the fairy tale romance he expected. Nineteen-year-old Megan turns out to be Angela Weselman-Pierce, a middle-aged mother of two retarded teenage boys. She had disguised her voice, playing both parent and daughter, and she had also “borrowed” the photo of a Seattle-based model to stand in for “Megan” on her Facebook page.
This film has raised several issues, such as whether or not the film is a fake, a big “fish” story. One of the most suspenseful moments in the film happens when the two brothers and their friend pile out of the car in front of the Michigan house and go boldly up to the front door, not knowing what they would find. They seem extremely naïve, or else this scene is evidence that the film is indeed fraudulent.
Another issue is whether or not the filmmakers exploited Ms. Weselman-Pierce—a question raised by writer Amy Kaufman in a Los Angeles Times article, “The Woman Behind the Catfish Story” (October 6, 2010). As Schullman uncovers Weselman-Pierce’s deception on camera, you wonder why this woman ever signed a release giving her consent to be filmed.
So who is being exploited here, Ms. Weselman-Pierce or Nev Schullman? To me, the serious ethical issue is the one raised by the action of the mom: falsifying her identity. We now have the technology to become another person. If you have enough spare time on your hands, you can perpetrate a serious fraud on someone else.
A similar documentary, which has not achieved the success of Catfish, is tallhotblond—the story of two men who had an online affair with an 18-year-old girl they knew as Jessi. Their jealousy of each other resulted in one of them killing the other. As is later revealed, Jessi was in fact her mother. This one is definitely a true story, as the film was made after the fact, based on interviews, trial transcripts, the archive of emails between the men and “Jessi,” and other evidence.
Whether Catfish is fiction or a true documentary isn’t as important to me as what it says about the Internet and the people who populate it. I have two teenage daughters. The thought of who is out there and what could happen to them is frightening. Fortunately, they are both savvy about the Internet, perhaps because they grew up with it; they know never to post personal numbers or other identifying information on Facebook or other sites. They were uninterested in chat rooms since they had real friends and a real life.
Unfortunately, Ms. Wesselman-Pierce was completely tethered to her home, looking out for her two disabled children. One can see (although not condone) why she might have felt justified in creating a much more exciting existence.
Author’s Note: In case anyone thinks that documentary filmmakers do not address ethical questions, you can read “A Question of Ethics: The Relationship between Filmmaker and Subject” by Wanda Bershen. It can be found in the September 2010 issue of Documentary magazine, the publication of the International Documentary Association. In her article Ms. Bershen discusses a study, “Honest Truths: Documentary Filmmakers on Ethical challenges in Their Work,” that is available from the Center For Social Media, which can be accessed here.