Category Archives: U.S. Copyright Office

Two Unanimous Supreme Court Opinions Regarding the Copyright Act

It was an eventful day for copyright law on Monday, March 4, as the Supreme Court of the United States issued two unanimous opinions, both involving provisions of the Copyright Act.  The decisions were fittingly both issued on the 110th anniversary of the 1909 Copyright Act. The office of our counsel, Nancy Wolff, Cowan, DeBaets, Abrahams & Sheppard LLC,  wrote a review of these decisions and how they will impact copyright infringement cases going forward.

You can read the review of Public Benefit Corp v Wall Street.com and LLC and Rimini Street , Inc v Oracle USA, Inc. here

Supreme Court Hands Down Critical Decisions in Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corp. v. Wall-Street.com, LLCand Rimini Street, Inc. v. Oracle USA, Inc.,Resolving Circuit Splits Over Interpretation of Copyright Act Provisions

It was an eventful day for copyright law on Monday, March 4, as the Supreme Court of the United States issued two unanimous opinions, both involving provisions of the Copyright Act.  The decisions were fittingly both issued on the 110th anniversary of the 1909 Copyright Act.

In the first case, Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corp. v. Wall-Street.com, LLC,No. 17–571, the Court, in an opinion authored by Justice Ginsburg, resolved a long-standing circuit split over whether a copyright owner can sue in federal court with only a copyright application in hand, or whether a completed registration is necessary.  The Court held that “registration . . . has been made” under Section 411(a) of the Copyright Act—and thus an infringement suit may be instituted—when the Copyright Office grants or denies registration after evaluating the copyright application (coined the “registration approach”) rather than when a copyright owner merely submits the application, materials, and fee required for the registration to begin processing (the “application approach”).

In the second case, Rimini Street, Inc. v. Oracle USA, Inc., No. 17-1625, Justice Kavanaugh delivered the option for the Court, holding that Section 505 of the Copyright Act, which allows a party to recover “full costs,” does not authorize appellate courts to award litigation costs beyond the categories enumerated by Congress in the general costs statute codified at 28 U.S.C. § 1821 and § 1920.  Such “costs” are limited to fees for the clerk and marshal; transcript, copyright, and docketing fees; disbursements for printing and witnesses; and the compensation of court-appointed experts and certain special interpretation services. The Court rejected Oracle’s position that “full costs” under Section 505 included expert witness fees, electronic discovery expenses, and jury consultant fees.

Both of the Court’s determinations are instructive, as they clarify the legal landscape for copyright litigants who have been grappling with inconsistent applications of the Copyright Act for years.

The “registration approach” adopted in Fourth Estateincentivizes copyright owners—more than ever—to register works with the Copyright Office and will likely incite an uptick in registrations. While there were many benefits to registration prior to this decision, now, if a copyright owner fails to register works prior to discovering an infringement, she will have to wait an average of seven months to sue (the Copyright Office’s average processing time), and the work may continue to be infringed without recourse in the interim.  There is, of course, the option of invoking the Copyright Office’s Special Handling process, but it comes with a $800 special handling fee, which may not be an attractive or feasible alternative for some.

Furthermore, creators who have yet to register works and are running up against the three-year statute of limitations for infringement may be out of luck if they file an application and the Copyright Office does not process it in time.  The best practice for content owners is to apply for registration as soon as possible, even before infringement is anticipated or suspected.  Those who have filed lawsuits based on applications that have not yet been processed should take advantage of the Special Handling process, if possible, otherwise the claim may ultimately be dismissed as untimely.

The limitation on recoverable fees fashioned by the Rimini Street decision may also have far-reaching implications, especially for individual creators and litigants who cannot bear high litigation costs without the chance for recovery.  The ruling sounded a death knell for a copyright litigant’s ability to recover fees for expert witnesses, electronic discovery platforms, and jury consultants, which have become increasingly prevalent in copyright cases in the digital age.

For example, while music and software cases have almost always involved experts, matters involving “viral” infringements often call for specialized experts to address novel copyright issues.  In such highly technical cases, retention of a knowledgeable expert may make or break the case, making the choice of whether to hire without the option for recovery of those fees all the more difficult, especially for those unable to afford the costs.  Additionally, as the use of e-discovery platforms has become nearly ubiquitous, payment for such services has become a necessity for a litigant to maintain an equal footing with their opponent.

The Rimini Street ruling will certainly force copyright litigants to face difficult decisions in how they want to proceed with their case, especially if they are facing an opponent with deep pockets who can afford to hire numerous experts, pay for e-discovery platforms, and retain jury consultants.  Clients should discuss their financial limitations with counsel before deciding to commence a copyright action or how to defend against a copyright action, as they may have to bear the burden of certain unrecoverable costs to prevail.

 

Copyright Office Releases “Copyright and Visual Works: The Legal Landscape of Opportunities and Challenges”

The U.S. Copyright Office has submitted a letter to Congress detailing the results of the Office’s public inquiry on how certain visual works, particularly photographs, graphic artworks, and illustrations, are registered, monetized, and enforced under the Copyright Act of 1976. The Office sought commentary on the marketplace for these visual works, as well as observations regarding the real or potential obstacles that creators and users of visual works face when navigating the digital landscape. A number of stakeholders raised specific issues they face on a regular basis regarding current copyright law and practices that fall within three general categories: (1) difficulties with the registration process; (2) challenges with licensing generally and monetizing visual works online; and (3) general enforcement obstacles.

The Copyright Office takes these concerns seriously and has already taken steps to address them where it can, most notably with the ongoing Office modernization efforts in preparation for a wholesale technological upgrade to the Office’s systems. In other areas, the Office finds that legislative action is the best solution. The Office continues to strongly support the idea of a small copyright claims tribunal, as well as a legislative solution to the orphan works conundrum. Congress’ action in these two areas would go far to alleviate several important concerns raised by visual artists.

The letter, public comments, and background material are available on the Copyright Office website here

Copyright Office Fee Increase Survey

Dear DMLA Members and Friends of DMLA:

The U.S. Copyright Office has released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking announcing fee increases for copyright registration and other services. The proposed fee increases are based on a Study Report released by the U.S. Copyright office. Fee increases for services will be implemented as the U.S. Copyright Office moves forward with their plans for IT modernization.

Visual creators’ professional organizations and advocates are concerned about how these fee increases will affect visual creators, licensing agents, and related professionals. We will be submitting a Comment Letter to the U.S. Copyright Office about the proposed fee increases. We have created a survey to gather information and feedback from creators who will be impacted by registration fee increases. We will be submitting the survey results to the Copyright Office. The survey is completely anonymous.

We need your help by taking 15 minutes for a short survey. The survey is anonymous and all responses are confidential. We will use this data to support our response to proposed changes in U.S. copyright registration.

The survey will close at midnight on September 7, 2018.

 2018 Copyright Office Proposed Registration Fee Increase survey LINK https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/GGV59XY

Survey link for social media https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/WY67XHK

Please pass this along to other artists, photographers, and related professionals you know and urge them to take the survey, too!

Sincerely,

The Coalition of Visual Artists:

American Photographic Artists

American Society of Media Photographers

Digital Media Licensing Association

Graphic Artists Guild

National Press Photographers Association

North American Nature Photography Association

Professional Photographers of America

PLUS Coalition

American Society for Collective Rights Licensing

Eugene Mopsik

Shaftel & Schmelzer

BlockChain Registration: Proof of Existence Is Not Proof of Ownership

By Joe Naylor, President and CEO of ImageRights

There is a dangerous movement afoot; the idea that registration of your images on the blockchain is a cheap and simple alternative to registration with the United States Copyright Office. It is not.

Those providing copyright registration services based solely on the blockchain will argue that inscribing a hash of your image along with its accompanying metadata creates an immutable record of your copyright ownership. False.

Read the entire article here.

Proof of Existence Is Not Proof of Ownership

By Joe Naylor, President and CEO of ImageRights

 

 

There is a dangerous movement afoot; the idea that registration of your images on the blockchain is a cheap and simple alternative to registration with the United States Copyright Office. It is not.

Those providing copyright registration services based solely on the blockchain will argue that inscribing a hash of your image along with its accompanying metadata creates an immutable record of your copyright ownership. False.

What these services offer is the second largest application of the blockchain after Bitcoin: Proof of Existence.

What these services prove is that your image file with the meta data you input existed at the time that the hash was created and inscribed into the blockchain. However, what they fail to acknowledge is that the information can be easily manipulated. Almost anyone can download an image and edit the metadata, populating the data fields with whatever information they choose.

To emphasize the point, here is an example of a photo that was registered through a blockchain copyright registry service along with its blockchain certificate of registration. The only problem is that this photo was not shot by me nor do I own the copyrights to it, John Smith does.

And now let’s imagine the worst-case:

  1. John Smith takes a photo, posts it to his website and inscribes the JPEG file with a blockchain copyright registry service.
  2. I download the image from his site and change the EXIF metadata of the file to my name, thereby creating a twin-JPEG with 100% identical image content, but different bytes.
  3. I register my file with another blockchain copyright registry, which works even if both registries are on the same blockchain because the bytes are different due to the different name I entered in the EXIF meta data.
  4. John Smith’s registry shuts down (e.g. goes bankrupt, management decides it’s not a profitable business unit, etc.). The blockchain still contains the inscribed hash for John Smith’s file; but nobody can find John Smith’s inscription unless they have a bit-identical copy of the image file John Smith registered.
  5. I start licensing the copy John Smith’s image that contains my name in the EXIF data to unsuspecting buyers.

The messaging from the blockchain copyright registration services is extremely harmful to both the creators and users of the photographs. Many users searching the blockchain may take their claims as reliable and fail to perform their due diligence to verify the information provided on the blockchain.

If my image is viewed as authentic, solely because the work is inscribed on the blockchain under my name and falsified copyright information, then I can steal potential sales from the original photographer. Some may even try to go as far as pursuing copyright infringement claims for images they do not actually own the copyright to.

Essentially, these blockchain copyright registration services are proving that you had a specific file at a specific time; but, they cannot make any guarantees about the creation of the file, the content in those files, or the true copyright ownership of those files.

Whatever your position ideologically, the law states that you can’t file a copyright infringement complaint in US federal court if you haven’t registered the image with the US Copyright Office (USCO). Without a timely registration, meaning the image was registered within three months of publication or before the start date of the infringement, you are unable to seek statutory damages of up to $150,000 per infringed work or attorney’s fees. If this crucial step is missed and the copyright information is only inscribed to the blockchain, without a USCO registration, there are potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars that could be lost in a copyright infringement case.

It is also important to know that a major differentiator between a blockchain registration and USCO registration is that the U.S Copyright Office Certificate of Registration serves as prima facie evidence that you are the copyright owner of the image. Prima facie is Latin for “at first look,” or “on its face,” referring to a lawsuit or criminal prosecution in which the evidence before trial is sufficient to prove the case unless there is substantial contradictory evidence presented at trial. Blockchain registration certificates do not carry this legal weight.

Furthermore, when you register works with the USCO, you must acknowledge and agree to the following:

17 USC 506(e): Any person who knowingly makes a false representation of a material fact in the application for copyright registration provided by section 409, or in any written statement filed with the application, shall be fined not more than $2500.

*I certify that I am the author, copyright claimant, or owner of exclusive rights, or the authorized agent of the author, copyright claimant, or owner of exclusive rights of this work and that the information given in this application is correct to the best of my knowledge.

Currently, there are not any blockchain registration services that require such an agreement or that can impose such fines by statute for fraudulently misrepresenting copyright ownership information.

While registration with the US Copyright Office can be expensive, don’t be deluded into thinking that the blockchain is some cheap cure-all for legally protecting your copyrighted work. The blockchain is not a government registry, but rather by definition is a distributed ledger without any central authority. Anyone can inscribe whatever they want in the blockchain without any legal recourse. That’s not quite the case with the United States Copyright Office. Proof of Existence is not Proof of Ownership.

 

 

 

DMLA JOINS IN AMICUS BRIEF VHT v ZILLOW

DMLA joins in amicus brief in VHT v Zillow, supporting VHT’s award of statutory damages based on number of infringed images under a database group registration of photographs

On Monday December 18, 2017, DMLA joined NPPA, ASMP and GAG in submitting an amicus brief before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in support of VHT, a real estate photography company against Zillow, an online real estate platform on the narrow issue of the proper calculation of statutory damages based on multiple infringed images registered using a database registration consisting predominantly of photographs. The appeal by Zillow argues, among other issues, that the district court erred in awarding statutory damages to VHT based on each image infringed having independent economic value, despite being registered under a single database registration of photographs, which Zillow argues should only entitle VHT to one award of statutory damages regardless of the massive number of images infringed. The relevant question in the Zillow case hinges on what a court considers a “work” under Section 504(c)(1) of the Copyright Act, each separate image filed within the application, or the database as a whole, which would be one work.

The amicus brief supports the view that the independent value test applied by the lower court, and previously adopted by the Ninth Circuit is the correct one. The amicus brief describes the historical background of the various group registration procedures designed by the U.S. Copyright Office, to ease the administrative burden of registration of photographs which has unique challenges given the amount of images a photographer can create in a day.  In particular, the database registration of photographs was developed with input from DMLA and its members (formerly PACA) to protect images distributed through online platforms, which formerly were distributed via published print catalogs. The amici argue that the form of registration should have no impact on whether the independent works covered by the registration should be considered a single work, entitled to a single statutory damage or multiple works entitled to damages for each work infringed. The outcome of the Ninth Circuit’s ruling could have a major impact on the ability of image libraries and their contributing photographers to recover appropriate damages from infringers who use more than one of their photographs without permission, based on group registration, particularly those in the Ninth’s Circuit’s jurisdiction which includes California, Oregon, Washington state, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Arizona, Alaska and Hawaii.

The brief, which you can find here, was filed by NPPA’s Deputy General Counsel, Alicia Calzada, with support from DMLA’s attorneys Nancy Wolff and Marissa Lewis of Cowan, DeBaets , Abrahams and Sheppard LLP. An amicus brief on another important issue in the case—secondary liability—was filed in support of VHT by the Copyright Alliance (link: http://copyrightalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Copyright-Alliance-VHT-v-Zillow-Amicus-Brief.pdf ), where DMLA is a member.

Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement Act of 2017

DMLA is happy to announce our support for the bill by Representative Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) to create a small claims court within the Copyright Office.  The bill, H.R. 3945,  entitled, the “Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement Act of 2017” (the “CASE Act”) is also cosponsored by Representatives Tom Marino (R-PA), Lamar Smith (R-TX), Doug Collins (R-GA), Judy Chu (D-CA) and Ted Lieu (DCA).

Here are links to the press release issued by Rep. Jeffries and his colleagues yesterday announcing the introduction of the bill, a press release issued by DMLA and several other visual artist organizations praising the introduction of the legislation, and the bill, H.R. 3945.

 

 

ImageRights Announces Dedicated Copyright Registration Service

ImageRights International, the global leader in copyright enforcement services for photo agencies and professional photographers, today announced the launch of a dedicated copyright registration service. For the first time, any photographer or agency can register their images with the United States Copyright Office through ImageRights highly efficient and precise copyright service. Previously, only ImageRights members had access to the service.

Read more here