Category Archives: Copyright Office

COURT PERMITS COPYRIGHT CLAIM TO PROCEED DESPITE REGISTRATION ERROR

Cowan DeBaets Abrahams & Sheppard, LLP by Mikaela Gross and Nancy Wolff

For many copyright owners, especially those attempting to register works of visual arts, determining whether a work is published or unpublished for registration purposes is one of the more challenging issues and an impediment to registration. The District Court of the Southern District of New York, in Archie MD, Inc. v. Elsevier, Inc., (No. 16-CV-6614 (JSR), 2017 WL 3601180 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 20, 2017)) recently clarified the standard by which a copyright registration may be considered valid despite containing inaccurate information.

In 2005, Archie MD, Inc. entered into an Animation License Agreement (“ALA”) with the publisher Elsevier, Inc., under which Elsevier would license Archie’s library of 3-D medical animations for use in its various publications. About two weeks after entering into the ALA, and after Archie had delivered the works to Elsevier, Archie submitted a single copyright registration application for a group of unpublished works. This registration included the work at issue in this case, an animation entitled “Cell Differentiation.” The Copyright Office eventually registered the group of works on August 15, 2005.

In 2014, Archie gave Elsevier notice that it did not intend to renew the ALA, and the ALA expired on July 1, 2015. Archie subsequently file a copyright infringement action against Elsevier, alleging that after the expiration date, Elsevier continued to use hundreds previously licensed animations under the ALA and created unauthorized derivative works.

Both parties filed motions for summary judgment, and the SDNY granted defendant Elsevier’s motion as to all but two of Elsevier’s new animations, on the grounds that Elsevier’s continued use of previously licensed animations did not constitute unauthorized use under the ALA and most of the new animations by Elsevier were not substantially similar to Archie’s animations. As to the remaining claims based on the “Cell Differentiation” animation, Elsevier contended that Archie’s copyright registration in unpublished works was invalid because the work was in fact published, and as a result, the court should dismiss Archie’s claim in its entirety. The court denied Elsevier’s motion for summary judgement as to “Cell Differentiation” on the basis that although the registration for “Cell Differentiation” contained an inaccuracy (namely that the work was unpublished, when it in fact was), this was not fatal to the registration under 17 U.S.C. § 411(b)(1).

Section 411(b)(1) of the U.S. Copyright Act explains that a certificate of registration issued by the Copyright Office satisfies the registration prerequisite for filing a copyright infringement action regardless of the existence of inaccurate information in the certificate “unless— (A) the inaccurate information was included on the application for copyright registration with knowledge that it was inaccurate; and (B) the inaccuracy of the information, if known, would have caused the Register of Copyrights to refuse registration.” To determine whether Archie’s registration failed to satisfy this prerequisite, the court had to answer two questions: first, whether or not “Cell Differentiation” was published or unpublished, and second, if it was published, whether this inaccuracy on the certificate of registration was fatal to the registration’s validity.

As to the first question, the court held that “Cell Differentiation” was in fact published when Archie licensed and delivered the file to Elsevier. Reasoning that Archie’s delivery of the “Cell Differentiation” digital file pursuant to worldwide license to, among other things, distribute “Cell Differentiation” to the public, satisfies the Copyright Act’s definition of publication under 17 U.S.C. § 101 because it constitutes an “offering to distribute copies . . . to a group of persons for purposes of further distribution.” That Elsevier had not yet made any further distributions of “Cell Differentiation” at the time the copyright registration application was filed was irrelevant, because the licensing and delivery of the files was itself an offering.

Because the certificate of registration listed “Cell Differentiation” as unpublished, the court turned to the statute to answer the second question. If an applicant knew its application contained inaccurate information, and if the Register of Copyrights would have refused registration had she known of this inaccurate information, then a subsequent registration certificate is invalid for purposes of filing a copyright infringement action. 17 U.S.C. § 411(b)(2) requires that when an inaccuracy on a certification of registration is discovered, a court must ask the Register of Copyrights “whether the inaccurate information, if known, would have caused the Register of Copyrights to refuse registration.” The Register advised the court that she would have denied the application had she known of the inaccuracy in labeling “Cell Differentiation” unpublished. The key issue was whether Archie knew of the inaccuracy. Because the question of whether licensing a work constitutes publication was “an unsettled legal question at the time” Archie filed its copyright registration application in 2005, the court reasoned that Archie did not know of the inaccuracy. As a result Archi was able to proceed on its copyright claim for the work “Cell Differentiation”.

Publication remains a thorn in copyright owner’s side. While the plaintiff in this case was not considered to have knowledge that its works were published at the time of registration, those filing registrations after the later cases clarifying what is published will no longer have the benefit of this uncertainty. Because the Copyright Office would deny registration of an application with inaccurate information as to the works’ publication status, it is highly recommended that creators register works of visual art before any licensing agreements are signed or files are delivered for further distribution. Otherwise, published works, if photographs, can be registered by the photographer under a group registration of photographs application, but published and unpublished works are still required to be filed separately. Until this requirement is revised, visual artists will continue to face impediments to successful and effortless copyright registration.

 

 

 

The Register of Copyrights Selection & Accountability Act, H.R. 1695 Passed by the House of Representatives

The Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act, H.R. 1695, was passed by the House of Representatives by a vote of 378-48 on April 26th, which would now make the Head of the Copyright Office a Presidential appointee.   This bill will also give the Copyright Office more autonomy over its budget and its technology as well as its operational procedures (staffing, fees, structure, etc.).  DMLA, as a member of the Coalition of Visual Artists, has been supporting this measure as part of our legislative priorities.  Read here.   The bill now moves onto the Senate for a vote.

“The passage of H.R. bill shows that the House of Representatives sees the importance of moving the Copyright Office into the 21st century” says Cathy Aron, Executive Director of DMLA. “It’s time to give the Copyright Office what it needs to serve the creative industries of our nation effectively.  This is a great first step.  We look to the Senate to support the bill in an equally bipartisan way”

The importance of Copyright Office reform has been a major focus of our DMLA’s legal outreach over the last few years through our written comments to the Copyright Office and our lobbying efforts through the Coalition.

DMLA Empirical Research Study for Section 512 Study

 On March 21, 2017 DMLA filed additional comments to our original comments filed with the  Copyright Office for the Section 512 Study.  These comments included the results of an empirical research study that we conducted of our members and their contributors.

The Survey asked whether respondents monitor the Internet for copyright infringements of their or their contributors’ work, and examines their reasons for deciding whether or not to monitor and their experiences if they do monitor, specifically with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s (“DMCA”) notice-and-takedown procedure.  We received over 1200 responses.

You can see the comments sent to the Copyright Office and the results to the survey here.

 

Copyright Alliance Applauds House Judiciary Committee for Prompt and Decisive Passage of the ‘Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act’ (H.R. 1695)

Bill would make selection process more effective and transparent and is critical to modernization of the U.S. Copyright Office

Washington, D.C. – March 29, 2017  – The Copyright Alliance applauded today’s approval of the Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act (H.R. 1695), which was passed by the House Judiciary Committee, as amended, by an overwhelming majority of 27-1.

According to Copyright Alliance CEO Keith Kupferschmid, “we commend Chairman Goodlatte, Ranking Member Conyers, and all who demonstrated vigorous and expeditious backing for this important piece of legislation, enabling it to be passed through committee with tremendous bipartisan support.”

“The Register of Copyrights is an extremely important position to the U.S. economy, creativity and culture, which should be acknowledged by making the role a presidential appointee subject to Senate confirmation – just as the head of the Patent and Trademark Office and so many other senior government officials are,” Kupferschmid continued.

“Making the Register a presidential appointee as provided in H.R.1695 will not only make the selection process more effective and transparent but it’s also critical to the continued modernization of the U.S. Copyright Office. The bill enjoys widespread bipartisan support and little opposition because of the narrow and modest approach taken and the tremendous support for a more transparent process for selecting the next Register of Copyrights. We look forward to continued support for this legislation and to its passage by the House in the near future.” said Kupferschmid.

**DMLA, along with the Coalition of Visual Artists, was very active in backing this legislation.  Read here

Maria Pallante Removed as Head of Copyright Office

Horrible news emanated from the Library of Congress on Friday morning when the notice of the firing of Maria Pallante was made public. This move is unheard of for the position of the US Register of Copyrights where historically the Register has stepped down or retired. Pallante was informed of her change in roles by being locked out of her computer.

Maria is a huge advocate for the rights of Creators and has been instrumental in the industry’s efforts for modernizing the Copyright Office and the creation of a Small Claim’s Court for Creators.  She is seen as being fair and unbiased by all who know her.

This move by the the newly appointed Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden, is seen by many as a line in the sand as to how the Library of Congress want creators to be treated.  Here are a few articles on the firing.  Look for more information here as this issue evolves.

billboard.com

loc.gov/today

DMCA Takedown Notice Survey

Has your copyrighted work been used on the Internet without your permission?

Are you a photographer, illustrator, graphic artist or designer, or other visual creator?

Are you an artist’s/photographer’s agent or representative, or an image licensing agent?

Have you discovered infringing use of your images, or the images you license, on the Internet and used the DMCA Takedown Notice procedure to have the images removed from a website? If so, we’d like to know about your experience.

The US Copyright Office is conducting a study about the efficacy of the DMCA Takedown Notice procedure. The following group of associations are working together to conduct a survey of image rights holders and licensing professionals to gather information for the Copyright Office study.

Please help us in our advocacy efforts on behalf of all American visual artists and participate in our anonymous short survey.

The survey will close at midnight, Sunday, March 21, 2016.

SURVEY LINK https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/DMCAvisualsurvey

Thank you!

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 (The Picture Licensing Universal System)

Copyright Small Claims White Paper Released by Visual Arts Associations

Seven visual arts associations release proposal to Congress for copyright small claims legislation.

 March 2, 2016 – While there has been a great deal of discussion recently about the possibility of Congress creating a small claims process for visual arts, several visual artist groups, representing hundreds of thousands of creators, have joined forces to propose key components of potentially forthcoming small claims legislation. Collectively, the groups represent photographers, photojournalists, videographers, illustrators, graphic designers, artists, and other visual artists as well as their licensing representatives.

The white paper, which can be viewed here, advocates for the creation of a small claims tribunal within the U.S. Copyright Office. The document is a collaboration between American Photographic Artists (APA), American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP), Digital Media Licensing Association (DMLA), Graphic Artists Guild (GAG), National Press Photographers Association (NPPA), North American Nature Photography Association (NANPA) and Professional Photographers of America (PPA).

These organizations have identified the creation of a small claims option to be their most urgent legislative priority before Congress. They assert that the cost and burden of maintaining a lawsuit in the only existing venue for hearing copyright infringement claims—federal district courts—is prohibitive and all too often leaves visual artists no way to vindicate their rights. They see a small claims process within the Copyright Office as providing a fair, cost-effective and streamlined venue in which they can seek relief for relatively modest copyright infringement claims.

This negotiated document, which lays out the basic framework for small claims legislation, is in large part consistent with the legislative recommendations set out in the “Copyright Small Claims” report released in late 2013 by the U.S. Copyright Office. In some instances, the white paper offers alternative suggestions to those put forth by the Copyright Office.

Nancy Wolff, DMLA Counsel, has been an active participant in this process “DMLA stands with the visual artist community in support of the Copyright Office’s initiative to create an alternative to Federal Court to address copyright claims of lesser value. The licensing industry depends upon affordable and effective enforcement of copyright to reduce the use of unlicensed imagery, and this creates a path to increased licensing compliance and respect for copyright.”

The visual artists’ organizations listed above have now distributed this legislative proposal for a copyright small claims tribunal to members of Congress, the United States Copyright Office, the members of the undersigned organizations, and other important copyright stakeholders.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NEW COPYRIGHT NOTICE OF INQUIRY

The US Copyright Office has issued a Notice of Inquiry seeking input on issues related to the DMCA safe harbors and the notice-and-takedown provisions. They are specifically looking for input from the perspectives of large- and small-scale copyright owners and online service providers. A copy of the notice can be found here. I plan to respond on behalf of DMLA. Individual members are free to file their own responses as well.

As background, the DMCA notice-and-takedown procedure was created by Congress in 1998 as a means by which copyright owners and representatives can address online infringement, and online service providers can limit their liability for third party conduct on the web; it was intended to help foster the growth of the internet. The process begins when a copyright owner gives an online service provider notice of specific infringing conduct, as well as certain additional information as required by Section 512(c)(3) of the Copyright Act. Following receipt of notice, the OSP must either comply with the takedown request and remove the infringing content from their website or submit a counter notification attesting to their rightful use of the allegedly infringing content. This process can, to a certain extent, be automated using software that searches for infringing uses. However, the fact that an OSP complies with a takedown request for one particular infringing use does not prevent additional infringing uses from appearing on the OSP’s website in the future. Each instance of infringement must be addressed by the notice-and-takedown process. This process has proven overwhelming for most content owners and has been likened to a game of whack a mole where as soon as you have infringing content taken down, it appears on another site so you are continuously in a cycle of sending takedown notices. Many content owners do not have the resources or staff to continually search the Internet for unauthorized uses of content.

In preparing my response, I’m seeking input from members. The notice has 30 specific issues that we can address. Of particular interest to the DMLA and its Members are the Copyright Office’s following issues:

  1. How has the safe harbor for internet service providers impacted the protection and value of copyrighted works, including licensing markets for such works? And have the safe harbors struck the correct balance between copyright owners and online service providers?
  2. How effective, efficient, and/or burdensome is the notice-and-takedown process for addressing online infringement?
  3. Does the notice-and-takedown process sufficiently address the reappearance of infringing material previously removed in response to a notice?
  4. Are there any existing or emerging “standard technical measures” that could or should apply to obtain the benefits of the section 512 safe harbors.(For example, should the OSPs work with image libraries in using image recognition technology to eliminate infringing works from their sites?
  5. What, if anything, should be done to address these concerns?

Please will free to send comments to me on these or any of the other issues addressed in the notice of inquiry. I plan to coordinate responses with the various other associations involved in the visual content community. The notice of inquiry must be submitted by March 21, 2016. If I could have responses by March 1, it would be greatly appreciated.

Nancy Wolff                                                                                                                                                     DMLA counsel (nwolff@cdas.com)

Reps. Chu, Marino Introduce Bill with Historic Reforms to the Copyright Office

Washington, D.C.—Congresswoman Judy Chu (CA-27), Congressman Tom Marino (PA-10) and Congresswoman Barbara Comstock (VA-10) have introduced H.R. 4241 – the Copyright Office for the Digital Economy Act or the CODE Act. This comes after months of discussion with various stakeholders, including several joint Member roundtables.

As a result, improvements were made to the bill which reflect a consensus across various industries and public interest groups since the discussion draft bill was released for comment in June. Among the new changes are:

  • Housing the Copyright Office in the Legislative Branch
  • Requiring ongoing technology studies to ensure the office remains current with technology to be more user friendly which includes improving upon the searchable database
  • The establishment of an advisory board representing a variety of interests and views tasked with providing the Office with candid feedback on the office current field of copyright to ensure neutrality and objectivity
  • Technical provisions to ensure a more seamless transition away from the Library of Congress

Congresswoman Chu said the following of the bill:

“I am proud to join Rep. Marino to introduce legislation that would modernize the Copyright Office. The copyright industries are responsible for millions of jobs and billions of dollars in our economy, yet the office responsible is running on analog in a digital world. Over the course of this year, we met with interested stakeholders to discuss the needs of the Copyright Office and the changes we must make to bring it into the modern age. I appreciate their participation and the feedback we received that helped shape this legislation. As a result, this bill would make operational improvements, provide budgetary control to the Copyright Office, and ensure that it has sound legal ground to perform its core mission. I look forward to continuing my work with colleagues and interested parties on the improvements needed to ensure that our country has a Copyright Office that reflects the 21st century.”

Congressman Marino said:

“Creativity is the essence that has made America the most prosperous nation in the world. However, we have allowed our Copyright Office to fall behind the fast-moving pace of America’s creators and the industries they work within, which hurts copyright holders as well as the public. This bill will ensure the Office has great autonomy to more quickly adapt to changes in technology and accessibility to ensure the public can enjoy the benefits of creative works while ensuring the artists get paid. We approached this effort thoroughly and sought the advice and feedback of everyone interested in copyright. This bill is well thought-out, reasonable and provides a long-term solution to the Copyright Office’s ailments. I am more than confident this proposal will garner more and more support as we move forward.”

 

 

Copyright Review By Congress

By Nancy Wolff, DMLA Counsel, Cowan DeBaets Abrahams & Sheppard, LLP

The House Judiciary Committee began a comprehensive review of the current Copyright Act beginning in 2013.   It held 20 hearings and heard from 100 witnesses.

I testified in July 2014 at the hearing regarding copyright remedy in favor of a copyright small claim court as an alternative to federal court for claims of relatively lesser economic value. [A copy of the statement I submitted is [here]

The hearings ended earlier this year and the House Judiciary Committee invited the witnesses to return for individual meeting with the bipartisan committee staff.

On September 1, I met with Joe Keeley and David Greengrass, to discuss any updates to my testimony and other issues that affect members of DMLA and the visual arts community in general. One of the purposes is to potential changes that may needed to the Copyright Act current and relevant with the digital economy.

Issues we discussed include copyright small claims, removing the Copyright Office from the Library of Congress to provide it with more autonomy and control over its budget; orphan works; copyright registration; a pilot program for a an extended Collective licensing of images; the expansion of fair use and the use of framing images to circumvent licensing. We discussed issues and proposed solutions for nearly two hours.   I focused on strengthening licensing by easier registration; a copyright small claims court for more effective copyright enforcement and stopping the expansion of fair use and framing to uses that should be licensed.

It is not clear when any proposed legislation will be taken up. It would seem that making the Copyright office a stronger agency with autonomy would be a first step, as the Copyright Office could oversee any newly formed small claims dispute resolution, or other pilot programs.

The House Judiciary Committee is currently setting up a “Listening Tour” around the country to hear the views of photographers, illustrators, graphics artists, etc.  They are sending 12 representatives and 12 staffers for face-to-face conversations to discuss a variety of issues notedly small claims, fair use, and copyright modernization.

I will keep you posted on further developments.