The Classical Cloud (via CultureCrash) — “If I were a music-obsessed teen-ager today, I would probably be revelling in this endless feast, and dismissing the complaints of curmudgeons. No longer would I need to prop a tape recorder next to a transistor radio in order to capture Bruckner’s Sixth Symphony. The thousand-year history of classical music would be mine for the taking. But there is a downside to the glut of virtual product and the attendant plunge of prices. As the composer-arranger Van Dyke Parks has argued, in a recent essay for The Daily Beast, the streaming model favors superstars and conglomerates over workaday musicians and indie outfits. Its façade of infinite variety notwithstanding, it meshes neatly with the winner-take-all economy. And if it ever comes crashing down—streaming services have struggled to turn a profit—hoarding may return to fashion.”

On Scalia’s Aereo Dissent — Devlin Hartline takes a closer look at the dissent from this summer’s Aereo decision and finds it lacking, primarily because it applies case law concerning the reproduction right to a question involving the public performance right.

Book Excerpt: “Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show” — Very interesting look behind the scenes of television production. The book combines an informative look at the art of creating and running a TV show with interviews with showrunners from popular shows.

Google Accord With Harvard Tie Fails Judge’s Smell Test — Another cy pres settlement rejected because money from Google would be funded to institutions it enjoys close relationships with. For an in-depth look at this topic, be sure to read Google and Facebook’s new tactic in the tech wars.

More on How a Fox News Lawsuit Might Impact the Future of News — This week, summary judgment motions from parties became publicly available. The lawsuit pits Fox News against media monitoring service TVEyes, with the former alleging the latter runs a commercial service reproducing and distributing copyrighted content without permission. TVEyes is asserting a fair use defense.

Getty Images sues Microsoft over new online photo tool — “In effect, defendant has turned the entirety of the world’s online images into little more than a vast, unlicensed ‘clip art’ collection for the benefit of those website publishers who implement the Bing Image Widget, all without seeking permission from the owners of copyrights in those images,” said Getty.

Intellectual property and economic prosperity: Friends or foes? — Mark Schultz and Adam Mossoff: “Looking at the bigger picture, the broad sweep of economic history indicates that when it comes to economic prosperity and innovation, the U.S. and a few other nations have been doing something right for the past two centuries. The U.S. and Great Britain led the world into unprecedented prosperity and development through the Industrial Revolution, and the U.S. remains responsible for a vast amount of the innovation and creativity driving global prosperity – from the world’s most successful creative industries to smartphones to life-saving drugs.”

Behind the Best Pictures From Ferguson, With Getty Photographer Scott Olson — Olson, who was briefly arrested while covering the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, talks to New York Magazine about some of the popular and powerful photographs he has so far captured.

How Social Media Silences Debate — The New York Times points to a study that finds that people are less likely to express dissent on issues online than they are in person, contrary to what some had predicted.

Meet The Publisher Who Ditched Amazon And Is Selling More Books Than Ever — “In a turn of events that might offer some solace to other publishers, White recently announced that EDC has not only survived the leap into the unknown but just had its best year ever in net revenues. July sales were up 28% over the same month last year, and first-quarter revenues came in 20% higher than 2013’s numbers.”

How do writers find their voices? — Interesting preliminary results from a survey of writers. “One particularly startling finding has been that many writers are unable to ‘see’ the faces of their protagonists. The main character often registers as a blank – or, in one case, pixelated like a censored photograph.”

Last week, the US Copyright Office released the third edition of its Copyright Compendium. This edition was long awaited – the second edition was released in 1984. The Copyright Compendium details internal regulations concerning how the Copyright Office determines whether an application can be registered or not. In the US, works are protected by copyright the moment they are fixed in a tangible format, however, registration does provide certain benefits. It is required before a civil lawsuit for infringement is filed, for example.

Almost immediately, a number of news outlets zeroed in on one sentence within the 1,222 pages of the Compendium. “The Office will not register works produced by nature, animals, or plants,” says the Compendium. This includes, “A photograph taken by a monkey.” This led to what the internet does best: a viral story about nothing of particular consequence.

The Internet took this sentence as a reference to a certain monkey photograph. To recap: in 2011, a British photographer, David Slater, traveled to Indonesia to photograph black macaques. As he was there, one female macaque grabbed his camera and happened to trigger the camera, taking a series of photos. Upon retrieving the camera, Slater found that several of the photos were quite remarkable and published them, leading to a fair amount of fame.

One of the photos was uploaded to Wikipedia without Slater’s permission. Slater requested removal of the photo, but Wikipedia editors refused, coming to the factual conclusion that the macaque, not Slater, was the sole author of the photograph, thus placing it in the public domain.

The internet exploded with a wealth of discussion about monkey selfies and copyright. Some of it was even worth reading.

Just as things began to calm down, the US Copyright Office announced the third edition of the Copyright Compendium, containing its reference to a photograph taken by a monkey. This led to the most recent burst of news, some of it suggesting that “the government” has “settled” the issue.

Comprehending the Compendium

This is not so for a number of reasons.

First, even if the Copyright Compendium is making a definitive statement about the copyrightability (or not) of the monkey selfie, such a statement is not binding as law. The Compendium itself points this out, saying, “The policies and practices set forth in the Compendium do not in themselves have the force and effect of law and are not binding upon the Register of Copyrights or U.S. Copyright Office staff.”  It should also be noted that a decision by the Register of Copyrights to deny a copyright registration is not dispositive of the ultimate question of copyrightability.1

Second, the statement that “The Office will not register works produced by … animals” is not novel nor surprising. But to say that this settles the question of this particular photograph, as many stories in the past week seem to suggest, begs the question that the monkey is the sole author of the photo.

Third, there is no reason why this question would be answered by US law. Copyrightability is most likely “determined by the law of the state with ‘the most significant relationship’ to the property and the parties”,2 which would clearly not be the US under the facts here: Slater is British, and the photo was taken in Indonesia.

Authorship and photographs

But let’s pretend US law would apply.

The Copyright Act has little to say about authorship. 17 USC § 102(a) says that “Copyright protection subsists, in accordance with this title, in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression”, and § 201 says, “Copyright in a work protected under this title vests initially in the author or authors of the work”, but these terms – “works of authorship” and “author” are not defined anywhere within the Act.

The Supreme Court, however, has defined “author,” and it has done so, coincidentally, in a decision establishing that photographs can be protected by copyright in the first instance. In Burrow-Giles Lithographic Co. v. Sarony, the Court said that an “author” is defined as “he to whom anything owes its origin; originator; maker.”3 Over a century later, the Court would expand on this idea of the author as originator. “The sine qua non of copyright is originality. To qualify for copyright protection, a work must be original to the author. Original, as the term is used in copyright, means only that the work was independently created by the author (as opposed to copied from other works), and that it possesses at least some minimal degree of creativity.”4

So authorship requires two things: absence of copying and a modicum of creativity.

With this in mind, there are at least three possibilities concerning the authorship of this photo: 1) The monkey is the sole author, 2) Slater is the sole author, or 3) the monkey and Slater are joint authors.

We can quickly dismiss the last possibility. Joint authorship requires, in part, that “each of the authors prepared his or her contribution with the knowledge and intention that it would be merged with the contributions of other authors as ‘inseparable or interdependent parts of a unitary whole.’”5 The claim that a monkey could do such a thing is even more extraordinary than a claim that animals have knowledge or intent in the first place.

In the case of the monkey as author, the sole act involved is the pushing of the button that triggered the camera and resulted in the shot. This act is certainly necessary to the creation of the photo, but I am not convinced that it is sufficient to establish the monkey as an author. The monkey possesses no knowledge of the nature of the camera, nor knows that pushing the button would result in the creation of a photograph. While copyright law is silent on what, if any, knowledge or intent is required for authorship, surely there must be some level needed to distinguish what the monkey did here from any other force of nature or deus ex machina that could cause the creation of a photograph. The intuition is that there is something specifically human required under copyright law for authorship.

Slater, on the other hand, did everything but push the button. He chose the location, camera, film, and time of day. He set it all up with the intention to create photographs. He processed and developed the resulting photos. The photos would not exist but for these conscious acts.

Courts have found similar acts sufficient for copyrightability. The Southern District Court of New York said the following in 1968 when it was confronted with alleged copying of the Zapruder Film by Life Magazine:

Any photograph reflects “the personal influence of the author, and no two will be absolutely alike”, to use the words of Judge Learned Hand.

The Zapruder pictures in fact have many elements of creativity. Among other things, Zapruder selected the kind of camera (movies, not snapshots), the kind of film (color), the kind of lens (telephoto), the area in which the pictures were to be taken, the time they were to be taken, and (after testing several sites) the spot on which the camera would be operated.6

So it would seem to me under this definition that Slater would be considered the author of the photographs.

I do think it’s interesting to note that the division between those who think the monkey is the author of the photo and those who think Slater is the author generally tracks the division between copyright skeptics and copyright proponents. On the one hand are those who have devalued creativity to the point where they think all it involves is the push of a button – even a monkey can do it. So, in that case, why do we even need copyright protection?

On the other hand are those who still recognize some value in human authorship, who think that creativity does not just spring forth independent of human effort, who understand that human effort does not emerge spontaneously but responds to motivation, and that one of the most just and dignified forms of motivation comes in the form of property acquired through creative productive labor.

Updated August 28, 2014 to correct photographer’s name



  1. In fact, the Copyright Act expressly allows for a civil infringement suit to be brought in cases where registration is refused. 17 USC § 411(a). []
  2. Itar-Tass Russian News Agency v. Russian Kurier, Inc., 153 F. 3d 82, 90 (2nd Cir. 1998). The court here was looking at the question of ownership, which is distinct from copyrightability, but I believe the analysis is the same. []
  3. 111 US 53, 58 (1884). []
  4. Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service Co., 499 US 340, 345 (1991). []
  5. H.R.Rep. No. 1476, 94th Cong., 2d Sess. 120 (1976). []
  6. 293 F. Supp. 130, 143 (SDNY 1968). []

Will Indie Film Survive? — Scott Timberg: “One of the casualties of our current cultural situation is the erosion of the middle — the middle class, the midlist author, the middlebrow, and the mid-budget film. Independent film, with its interest in boundary pushing and risk-taking, may not seem to belong in that company, but it’s vulnerable to all the same forces.”

The Copyright Office Releases Public Draft of Compendium III — The US Copyright Office this week released its long anticipated new version of the Copyright Compendium, a detailed and comprehensive guide for examiners, as well as the general public, concerning copyright registration. At over 1200 pages, it may not be the best bedtime read, but it should prove invaluable as a reference.

Copyright Review Process Will Continue Into 2015; Education and Circumvention Will Be Next Issues Examined — With just a few weeks remaining before Congress returns from recess, BNA’s Tamlin Bason sat down with Representative Goodlatte to discuss the ongoing copyright review process and what we can expect in the upcoming months.

Why Don’t Today’s Hits Reflect the Times — Interesting article from Billboard. “Why don’t today’s top 40 acts have anything to say? Donovan laments that ‘[The] artists of 1960s and ’70s were much more socially conscious of the feelings and mood of the nation than many of today’s artists.’ Zapoleon adds, ‘Outside of [the] standard themes of love, sex, party and everyday minor social happenings in life, there just aren’t a lot of songs that are relevant to challenges people are facing today, or that talk about contemporary major events in America or the world.'”

Delaware becomes first state to give executors broad digital assets access — The law would allow an estate access to a decedent’s online accounts. Interestingly, the article notes that tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Yahoo oppose the law.

Why Exactly Is There a ‘Jarhead 2’? Hollywood’s Secret-Sequel Economy — Why make a sequel to a movie like Jarhead? It’s still playing big where it matters. The numbers make sense. The EVP’s team looks at DVD rentals, iTunes downloads, streaming numbers, TV distribution, and international markets. When asked of his intel-gathering methods, Ross is transparent: “I got Google.” Online chatter is a vital metric, too. Ross could produce a wartime movie that doesn’t infringe on the legacy of Jarhead, but slapping it with a stagnant IP gives it automatic legs. “It does some marketing for you. You come to it with a built-in consumer. You go on Facebook and people are constantly having dialogue about it,” Ross says.

The Free and the Antifree — A thought-provoking article from n+1 that asserts there is an emerging “antifree” movement that serves as a counter and critique to the “free culture” position.

Special announcement: If you’re a recent law school grad in or interested in DC and copyright, the Copyright Alliance and the Copyright Office are both hiring. Info on the Copyright Alliance legal fellow position here; info on the Copyright Office Barbara A. Ringer Copyright Honors Program here.

The Internet’s Original Sin — Spoiler alert: it’s advertising. A fascinating read that details why the reliance on ad-based business models may be destroying the internet. Ethan Zuckerman points to four downsides to this model: it encourages surveillance, reduces the production of thoughtful content, results in centralization of control, and causes negatives like filter bubbles and echo chambers.

Harper’s Publisher Standing Firm in His Defense of Print and Paywall — “His thesis is built on three pillars. The web is bad for writers, he said, who are too exhausted by the pace of an endless news cycle to write poised, reflective stories and who are paid peanuts if they do. It’s bad for publishers, who have lost advertising revenue to Google and Facebook and will never make enough from a free model to sustain great writing. And it’s bad for readers, who cannot absorb information well on devices that buzz, flash and generally distract.”

Reading Literature on Screen: A Price for Convenience? — “In most respects, there was no significant difference between the Kindle readers and the paper readers: the emotional measures were roughly the same, and both groups of readers responded almost equally to questions dealing with the setting of the story, the characters and other plot details. But, the Kindle readers scored significantly lower on questions about when events in the story occurred. They also performed almost twice as poorly when asked to arrange 14 plot points in the correct sequence.”

Warner Bros. Wins Appeal Over Fictional Technology in ‘Dark Knight Rises’ — Though not copyright, an interesting IP case involving the developer of a product suing the Batman studio for including in the film a product that used the same name. Spoiler alert: things did not end well for the developer. Said the Seventh Circuit, “Trademark law protects the source-denoting function of words used in conjunction with goods and services in the marketplace, not the words themselves.”

The Cult of Sharing — “None of the users of the new profit-driven services are under any delusion that they are transacting with others—the term sharing economy even highlights this fact. What’s crucial to realize is that proponents of ‘sharing’ are reinventing our understanding of economic relations between individuals so that they no longer imply individualism, greed or self-interest. Instead, we’re led to believe that commerce conducted on their platforms is ultimately about generosity, helpfulness, community-building, and love.

Is Spotify Killing Music? — “British singer-songwriter Billy Bragg has compared YouTube to Big Brother. ‘Rather than a huge boot stamping on a human face forever,” he said at a London press conference in June, “it’s a corporation that changes its logo every week.'”

No one cares about manufacturing costs — “Amazon wants to sell ebooks profitably at $9.99. In order to do that, they need publishers to sell them the books at some number less than that. It’s the same negotiation Home Depot has with Black & Decker. Except that you don’t see Home Depot setting up websites that selectively quote George Orwell to make their point.”

Orwell estate hits back at Amazon’s corporate ‘doublespeak’ — “Jean Seaton, director of the Orwell prize, an award for political writing set up in honour of the author, was equally outraged. ‘That Amazon should manipulate Orwell against the interests of writers and their publishers is dystopian and shameless,’ she said today. ‘Orwell, before he had any money, gave a lot of it away to poor and young and struggling writers. Amazon has no interest in writers and wants to throttle publishers. It is marching towards becoming a monopoly book and consequently a monopoly ideas provider – in order to maximise its commercial interest. A world in which all thought has to be bought from one place is Orwellian.'”

Stop Writing Dystopian Sci-Fi—It’s Making Us All Fear Technology — The future is fun, the future is fair.

Plot thickens as 900 writers battle Amazon — “Some writers wholeheartedly supported the letter but were afraid to sign, Mr. Preston said. A few signed it and then backed out, citing the same reason… Mr. Preston’s longtime writing partner, Lincoln Child, is among those with qualms.’I am very apprehensive,’ Mr. Child said. ‘Not all David and Goliath stories end happily for the little guy. But I think Doug did the right thing.'”

Kurt Sutter Attacks Google: Stop Profiting from Piracy (Guest Column) — The Sons of Anarchy producer pens a passionate call to action for his fellow creative professionals, highlighting the dangers of Google, which, as he puts it, “is in the process of systematically destroying our artistic future, and more importantly, the future of our children and grandchildren.”

Mossoff on Intellectual Property Rights as Property — Legal scholar Adam Mossoff writes an introduction to the recently published Intellectual Property and Property Rights, which “presents the three basic analytical frameworks in which intellectual property rights are defined or justified as property rights – historical, conceptual, and normative.” A good introduction for those interested in the academic discussion of IP and property.

‘Academic Urban Legends’ — Not copyright related, but should be of interest to those who engage in copyright scholarship. The article points out that the belief that spinach is high in iron is a myth. Scholars have long pointed out that the myth was caused by German scientists in the 1930s after they accidentally put a decimal point in the wrong place. But that story is also a myth, perpetuated by academic sloppiness in citation practices.

Of Macaques and Men: [obligatory monkey pun subtitle here] — Matthew David Brozik weighs in on #monkeyselfie. “Is it possible that Wikimedia and some lawyers have not heard of joint authorship?” he asks. “This legal fiction is surely preferable to the alternative, which denies Slater the full benefits of his efforts. The monkey did the smallest part of the work. The man deserves the reward.”

Aereo files emergancy motion on remand arguing it’s a cable provider entitled to Section 111 compulsory license — via Shades of Gray‘s Naomi Gray comes the just-filed memorandum of law from Aereo in support of its argument that, despite two years strenuously claiming otherwise, it is, actually, a cable provider. But only under the Copyright Act, where it can get the benefit of a below market rate compulsory license for transmitting copyrighted works, not under FCC regulations, which would subject it to retransmission consent and a host of other obligations.

Space Creators: Building the Guardians of the Galaxy — The Credits takes a closer look at some of the craftspeople involved in producing the big-screen version of Guardians of the Galaxy, opening in theaters today. — Did you see the redesigned web site for the US Copyright Office yet? Looks pretty sharp!

Ultra Records Responds to Michelle Phan & Kaskade Copyright Controversy — “When a music artist or songwriter signs to Ultra, it is our responsibility to protect what they have created. Enforcing copyrights is fundamental to the survival of artists, writers and producers, and to Ultra’s ability to continue to invest in and support them, so that they can continue to bring great music to music fans around the world. Whatever Ultra collects enforcing these important rights is shared with its artists according to their agreements.”

Should there be a system for resolving small copyright claims? — A look at last week’s House Judiciary IP Subcommittee’s hearings on copyright remedies and the question of whether Congress should create an expedited process for resolving copyright disputes involving low dollar amounts. Last year, the US Copyright Office released a report recommending just that.

We’re All Waiting, BitTorrent — “Funny how some technology companies like BitTorrent are always extolling the unlimited power of technology – except when it can be used to help creators by preventing the unauthorized distribution of their creative content.”

This past week, a DVD quality copy of Expendables 3 leaked onto online pirate sites, weeks before its August 15 box office debut. Along with the news came the usual claims that filmmakers shouldn’t worry about pre-release piracy—it’s good promotion, says David Pierce at the Verge, and internet commenters offer scores of other rationalizations.

But over at the Technology Policy Institute Blog, researcher Michael W. Smith says the unauthorized pre-release copy will likely hurt box office revenues for the film. He and his colleagues studied the effect of pre-release movie piracy on box office revenue and found that, on average, it “results in a 19% reduction in box office revenue relative to what would have occurred if piracy were only available after the movie’s release.”

Smith’s study is the first peer-reviewed journal article to look at this particular form of piracy. It was recently accepted for publication in the Information Systems Research journal, but a pre-publication draft is available at SSRN.

The study casts doubts on claims that pre-release piracy has no impact on theatrical revenue or even has a beneficial effect by generating buzz. On the contrary, Smith finds that “pre-release piracy significantly reduces a movie’s expected box office revenue and that this impact is stronger earlier in a movie’s lifecycle than in later periods.”

Smith concludes the report by noting some of its limitations. It doesn’t look at the intensity of pre-release pirating, nor at the quality of the unauthorized copies, data which may provide additional insights. It also does not consider the effect of pre-release piracy on different types of films, nor does it examine the effects on revenue streams besides the box office, such as DVD sales.

These last two limitations are particularly worth further research. Most films—particularly indie and niche films—don’t ever screen in theaters, and even among those films that do, box office revenue is only a part of overall revenues.

While Smith’s study is the first peer-reviewed article to look specifically at pre-release piracy and its effects, it is not the first to look at the effects of other forms of piracy on films. In fact, in his article, Smith notes that eight peer-reviewed studies so far have looked at the effect of piracy on film sales, and, more significantly, seven of the eight studies have found “that piracy results in significant harm to motion picture sales.” A broader literature review – focusing not solely on films but on other types of works such as recorded music – found that “The vast majority of papers which have been published in peer-reviewed academic journals — papers spanning a variety of methods, time periods, and contexts — find that piracy causes a statistically significant decrease in sales.”

And yet some measure of file-sharing denialism persists. It, first, runs counter to common sense—yes, if people can get something for free they’ll buy less, and if people buy less of something, less of it will be produced. But it also, as seen above, is not supported by the overwhelming majority of empirical evidence.

In ‘The Expendables 3’ Torrent and the Techno-Utopian Delusion, Indiewire writer Sam Adams sees through this denialism, or, as he calls it, “sheer self-justifying delusion.” In doing so, he touches on a larger point.

Adams notes that some of the rationalization for downloading The Expendables 3 is based on the idea that it is not a movie but a show, one in which the experience of watching in the theater takes precedence (and thus justifies watching an illegitimate, lower-quality version). Because of this, he cautions:

And when you’re paying for the experience — not out of curiosity or as a way of supporting an ecosystem that allows the creation of new work — it only makes sense to sample the product beforehand. But in so doing, you’re pushing cinema in a direction where every movie has to be a show: Either it’s big and loud enough to make you feel like you’re missing out by watching it (legally or illegally) at home or it might as well not show up to play.

CNET’s Nick Statt raises similar concerns:

We often complain about “sequelitis” and the onslaught of low-quality, brainless action movies and series reboots, yet don’t ever seem to take responsibility for the fact that our collective unwillingness to pay for things that don’t have formulaic payout is what drives creative decision making.

In the current model, everything from “Boyhood” and “12 Years A Slave” to “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Gravity” are more harmed by systemic piracy because it devalues films as an art form. Risks are not rewarded when the only movie with a concrete return on its investment is a $200 million narrative train wreck about robot cars or a tongue-and-cheek ensemble action flick featuring Rocky, the former governor of California, and Han Solo.

I enjoy such films, as do millions of others. But it would be a shame if that was all we got to see. The ultimate point is that piracy has societal effects beyond any given film’s bottom line.

In Copyright Extremophiles: Do Creative Industries Thrive or Just Survive in China’s High-Piracy Environment?1 published earlier this year, Eric Priest digs into some of these less obvious effects of piracy in more detail. The claim is sometimes made that maybe copyright—the legal foundation that provides exchange value for creative works—is irrelevant since creativity still exists in areas, such as China, where piracy runs rampant. Priest refutes this by comparing creators in high-piracy areas to biological organisms known as extremophiles.

Just as microorganisms have evolved to thrive in superheated deep-sea vents or highly acidic environments, so too can a subset of creative professionals find ways to monetize their works even in a high-piracy environment. The fact that some monetization models can work for some types of producers or artists in China does not mean that optimal or even near-optimal conditions exist for the development of flourishing, healthy, and stable creative industries. In short, poor copyright enforcement inflicts significant and persistent harms on China’s music and film industries. To invoke the extremophiles analogy, China’s inhospitable creative industry environment may support narrow strains of creative “life,” but with an effective regime of copyright norms and enforcement, China’s creative ecosystem could more closely resemble a lush, diverse rain-forest.

Priest’s research unpacks some of the more pernicious results that piracy has on China’s film and music industries. Along with undermining the ability of a professional class of creators to sustain their livelihoods, high piracy has made these industries “neither robust nor stable” and lead them to become “hyper-dependent on a single revenue stream” (box office for films and ringback tones for music). Priest concludes:

This lack of revenue stream diversity distorts and undermines the creative ecosystem in at least three ways. First, the scarcity of monetization options creates a winner-take-all market dominated by big producers. The paucity of other revenue sources seriously undermines financial support for smaller, independent producers.

Second, rampant piracy and concentration of revenue streams distorts market signals to producers. For example, film producers are incentivized to invest in a relatively narrow range of works that attract the audience whose tastes are most easily monetized – young, urban cinemagoers. Music producers likely are incentivized to produce music that will make the most marketable ringtones.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, reduced revenue stream diversity disproportionately exposes producers to the whims of peculiar markets and exploitation by gatekeeper or monopsonist intermediaries. China’s music industry proves an especially vivid example, as ringback tones gross more than $4 billion annually, but the mobile operators who control ringback tone distribution keep more than ninety-eight percent of that revenue for themselves. The meager two percent that goes to copyright owners amounts to ninety percent of those copyright owners’ total income from recorded music. So if ringtones lose their appeal with consumers, the recording industry will collapse. Without other viable revenue streams to leverage, musicians, producers, and record labels have little choice but to grin and bear it while a state telecommunications monopoly enjoys the great bulk of the rewards of their artistic efforts.

It seems difficult to make a more compelling case for copyright. How creators and the film industry responds to pre-release and other forms of piracy is a wholly separate topic, but the fact remains that any type of piracy has a significant negative effect on revenues as well as the stability and vitality of creative and cultural industries. If we want to maintain robust and independent creativity, we should not be so quick to treat copyright as expendable.


  1. 27 Harvard Journal of Law & Technology 469 (2014). []

Garrett Brown: An Interview with a Visionary-Part 1 — Nick Friedman speaks with Garrett Brown, a cinematographer and inventor of the Steadicam, an innovation which, in the words of Stanley Kubrick (who famously used it in The Shining) “would revolutionize the way films are shot.”

Great Photos, Little Cash: The Problem of “Small Claims” in Copyright — Coinciding with the House Judiciary IP Subcommittee’s hearing on copyright remedies, attorney Tara Aaron highlights a recent default judgment against a website that had allegedly infringed a photographer’s copyrights. Though the court awarded the photographer statutory damages and attorney fees, because the award of attorney fees was limited by local rules, the photographer still ended up short. It’s a good case study for the need for a “small claims” procedure.

“Notice & Notice” does Not Contribute to a Balanced Copyright System — A comparison between the US notice-and-takedown system and Canada’s new notice-and-notice system and why the first is better for creators.

Disney’s corporate synergy, 1957 and today — Screenwriter John August shares an interesting chart from 1957 showing how “the various elements of the Walt Disney company fit together.” This holds true still today. “The company makes money in many ways, but feature films are still the key drivers. You don’t get Cars merchandise without the movie. The success of Frozen is an example of how Disney can capitalize on a hit film by using it in other divisions: Disneyland attractions, TV tie-ins (Once Upon a Time), music, books, merchandise, and possibly a Broadway musical.”

Report on the responses to the Public Consultation on the Review of the EU Copyright Rules — Like the US, the European Union is currently in the process of reviewing its copyright laws. Here is the result of a public consultation process that concluded earlier this year, generating nearly 10,000 responses. “The consultation covered a broad range of issues, identified in the Commission communication on content in the digital single market , i.e.: ‘territoriality in the Internal Market, harmonisation, limitations and exceptions to copyright in the digital age; fragmentation of the EU copyright market; and how to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of enforcement while underpinning its legitimacy in the wider context of copyright reform’.”

“Fifteen years of utter bollocks”: how a generation’s freeloading has starved creativity — A great essay from author Chris Ruen, whose excellent book Freeloading: How our insatiable appetite for free content is starving creativity has recently been released in the UK. “Any desperate excuse was good enough, so long as it justified the original campaign. Otherwise, the people who fought against copyright in this battle would have to confront the fact that they were never carrying the flag for freedom or ‘openness’, but for aggression, entitlement and selfishness masked by superficial delusions of grandeur.”

5 Major Publications that Cover Copyright Well — From Jonathan Bailey at PlagiarismToday, a nice list of mainstream news sources with above average copyright coverage.

Aereo Hits Roadblock in Effort to Become Cable System — Back in the District Court following the Supreme Court’s remand, Aereo pursued a new line of argument: that it is a cable system, and thus entitled to carry broadcast programming under the Copyright Act’s Section 111 compulsory license. This week, the Copyright Office rejected that argument (though it provisionally accepted the application until the court rules on the issue). Aereo still has the option of bringing the question to the FCC, but that would subject it to a host of regulations, including the need to negotiate retransmission consent with the broadcasters.

DMCA’s protection of copyright management information applied to non-electronic works — Evan Brown provides a heads-up on a recent decision involving § 1202, a lesser known section of the DMCA that prohibits the removal or alteration of “copyright management information.” The question here was whether that provision applies “only to electronic works intended for distribution over the internet, or whether it applies to more traditional works such as hard copy technical drawings.” The court here chose the latter.

Fishman on Creating Around Copyright — “It is generally understood that the copyright system constrains downstream creators by limiting their ability to use protected works in follow-on expression. Those who view the promotion of creativity as copyright’s mission usually consider this constraint to be a necessary evil at best and an unnecessary one at worst. This conventional wisdom rests on the seemingly intuitive premise that more creative choice will deliver more creativity. Yet that premise is belied by both the history of the arts and contemporary psychological research on the creative process. In fact, creativity flourishes best not under complete freedom, but rather under a moderate amount of restriction.”

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