Category Archives: Issues

Distinguishing Trademarks from Copyrights: A Q&A for Authors

Posted January 14, 2020

Authors Alliance is grateful to Nicolas Charest, Copyright Research Assistant, for researching and drafting this post.

There is longstanding confusion between trademarks and copyrights, which can sometimes lead to controversy in author communities. Notably, in 2018 an author sparked what came to be known as “CockyGate” after she registered a trademark for the word “cocky” in connection with her series of romance novels and asked Amazon.com to take down all romance novels with “cocky” in the title. The trademark application was later surrendered and cancelled following legal proceedings (more details here). More recently, another author sought trademark registration for the word “dark,” used in the titles of a series of her books, though she also later abandoned the application.

In light of these recurring issues, what should authors know about trademarks and copyrights, and how they might apply to their works? We’ve got you covered with this Q&A providing an overview of trademark rights and copyright and how these rights can arise in the publishing industry.

What are copyrights and trademark rights?

Copyright protects original works of expression and gives the author the exclusive rights to reproduce the work, to distribute the work, to prepare derivative works (like translations or movie adaptations), or to perform or display the work publicly. Each of these rights can be transferred by the author to a third party through an assignment or license.

A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, or design (or a combination thereof) that identifies and distinguishes goods from one source from those manufactured or sold by others. Rights in a trademark are used to prevent others from using similar signs that would cause confusion to consumers in the marketplace, helping to avoid situations where products from another vendor would be mistakenly believed to come from the trademark owner or suggest such an association. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”), the federal agency responsible for the registration of federal trademarks in the U.S., has adopted the view that the title of a book cannot be registered as a trademark, but the title of a collection or series can. This is because the latter is more likely to identify a source of goods than the former.

Examples of trademarks from the publishing industry include the Penguin Group’s illustration of a black and white penguin on an orange background and the words “For Dummies” in a series of books from Wiley.

What is the purpose of copyrights and trademark rights?

While copyrights and trademarks are both intellectual property rights, they serve markedly different functions in the publishing world. In short, copyright controls the ways a work can be copied, distributed, and adapted, while trademark rights control the use of signs which have become distinctive to a particular author, series, or publisher.

For example, copyright protects the thirteen volumes of Lemony Snicket’s Baudelaire Orphan series, allowing the copyright owner to control the printing and selling of new copies of the books. A copyright owner’s rights are said to be “infringed” if someone exercises one or more of the copyright owner’s exclusive rights—by reproducing one of the books in the series, for example—without authorization or a copyright exception covering that use.

The trademarks “A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS” (TM Reg No. 2732326) and “LEMONY SNICKET” (TM Reg No. 5432563), on the other hand, give the trademark owner the right to prevent others from using these word signs in contexts that would cause consumer confusion as to the source or affiliation of the goods sold under the mark. This gives consumers assurance that books marked as being part of the “Series of Unfortunate Events” come from the author, Daniel Handler, publishing under the pseudonym Lemony Snicket, and indicates to potential readers that any books bearing the mark will be of the same literary quality and style as the other books in the series.

Trademarks are not limited to words. For instance, the exterior appearance of a collection of books can be a distinguishing sign that indicates a source and could be considered a trademark, over which the editor or publisher could claim trademark rights. Examples of such abound, including the recognizable layout of the paperback Penguin Classics collection and the Aspen Casebook Series, which the editor says is “famously known amongst law faculty and students as the ‘red and black’ casebooks.”

An author or publisher may wish to secure a trademark as an indicator of source to protect the goodwill created by the works of the author and to prevent other from usurping the reputation of the author.

How are copyrights and trademark rights obtained?

Under today’s copyright laws, copyright protection for original, creative works is automatic from the moment the work is “fixed in a tangible medium” (e.g., as soon as the author puts pen to paper, paintbrush to canvas, or saves a computer file). Although authors do not need to register their works in order to enjoy the protection of copyright law, registration with the United States Copyright Office has several benefits which make it an advantageous practice. Authors interested in the advantages of registering a copyright in their work can read our blog post Why Register Your Copyright.

“Common law” trademark rights can arise based solely on the use of a mark in commerce where it is used as source identifier over a period of time and consumers recognize the mark as indicative of the specific source. However, like copyright, there are significant benefits to registering the work with the USPTO, including: a legal presumption of your ownership of the mark and your exclusive right to use the mark nationwide on or in connection with the goods listed in the registration; public notice of your claim of ownership of the mark; listing in the USPTO’s online databases; and the ability to bring an action concerning the mark in federal court. Federal trademark applications can be filed on the basis of the mark being used in commerce in connection with the goods specified or on and “intent-to-use” basis. A registration of a trademark at the state level is also available, though the protection that it offers is limited to that state only.

How long do copyright and trademark protection last?

Under current copyright law in the United States, copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years. Rights in a federally registered trademark can last indefinitely if you continue to use the mark and file all necessary maintenance documents with the USPTO. Common law trademark rights can continue as long as the sign remains distinctive.

Ringing in the New Year with Public Domain Works from 1924

Posted January 2, 2020
Montage of Public Domain works courtesy of the Center for the Study of the Public Domain

As we ring in the New Year, authors have one more reason to celebrate: another batch of works has entered the public domain in the United States. Last year, the new year brought works published in 1923 that had previously been protected by copyright into the public domain—the first time in 20 years that published works have entered the public domain due to copyright expiration. This January 1, the trend continued as we welcomed works published in 1924 that were previously protected by copyright into the public domain. Many of these works have been out of reach long beyond their creators’ lifetimes and for decades after their commercial potential was exhausted.

According to the Center for the Study of the Public Domain at Duke, new public domain works include Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India, Edith Wharton’s Old New York, Agatha Christie’s The Man in the Brown Suit, and A. A. Milne’s When We Were Very Young.

While 2020 brings certainty that works first published in the United States in 1924 are in the public domain, changes in copyright duration and renewal requirements during the 20th century mean that works first published in the United States between 1925 and March 1, 1989 could also be in the public domain because their copyrights were not renewed or the copyright owner failed to comply with other “formalities” that used to be required for copyright protection. Analysis undertaken by the New York Public Library reveals that approximately 75% of copyrights for books were not renewed between 1923-1964, meaning roughly 480,000 books from this period are most likely in the public domain.

Once in the public domain, works can be made freely available and can be adapted into new works of authorship. Last year, we covered some of the benefits of the public domain:

  • The public domain provides opportunities to freely translate works to help fill the gap in stories available to children in their native language; and

Authors Alliance looks forward to the new public domain works from 1924 being made more available and to the new works that are created by building upon this rich collection.

Authors Alliance Supports Immediate Access to Federally Funded Research

Posted December 20, 2019
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Media sources report that the Trump Administration is considering a policy to make the results of federally funded research immediately available for the public to freely access and use. Current policy requires results of federally funded research be made available in pre-print form within 12 months of publication. The rumored policy would eliminate the 12-month embargo. As an organization with a mission to advance the interests of authors who want to serve the public good by sharing their creations broadly, Authors Alliance strongly supports such a policy.

Many of our members are authors who rely on taxpayer dollars to fund their research and want the results of that research to be immediately available for potential readers to readily locate and access without being turned away by paywalls. Immediate and free online availability increases their works’ visibility, helping it to reach readers and benefit the public. Absent a federal policy, many authors simply do not have the bargaining power necessary to demand from publishers the level of access they want for their research. 

Removing barriers to access creates a more hospitable environment for future scientific advancements. Medical patients and their family members have especially compelling needs for this information. Many students, teachers, researchers, and other professionals from low- and middle-income countries struggle to get access to prohibitively expensive subscription-based journals. Even individuals at U.S.-based institutions may find that their libraries do not have the resources to subscribe to relevant journals in their fields. By removing price barriers, it is easier for students, teachers, researchers, and practitioners to access the information they need to learn, teach, research, and practice in their fields.

The rumored policy change does not require publishers to make the final version of articles based on federally funded research free—just for authors to make the pre-publication versions available. Publishers can still charge subscriptions for access to the final published version of these articles, not to mention all of the articles not funded by taxpayer dollars. Or publishers can charge for their value-added publishing services to those institutions who want professional peer review. By paying for publishing services rather than paying for the right to read, institutions can use their budgets to pay for publishing rather than for subscriptions, publishers can earn a living, and the public can then read taxpayer funded research without paying for the privilege.

A policy requiring the outputs of federally funded research be made immediately available would maximize the value of investment in research by ensuring that more readers can access research results than if the works were available through restricted means alone. For these reasons, Authors Alliance supports a policy that would ensure that the public is not made to pay both to create and to read research and would open up opportunities for others to build upon research, accelerating the pace of innovation and discovery.

New Report on Termination Rights for Authors

Posted December 10, 2019

Last week, Public Knowledge released Making Sense of the Termination Right: How the System Fails Artists and How to Fix It, a report that explores the right of authors to terminate a copyright license or grant and regain rights in their works—even if their contracts contain language to the contrary.

The termination system was designed to protect authors and their heirs against unprofitable or inequitable agreements. But the report argues it is failing to protect the very people termination was designed to serve: artists and creators. According to Dylan Gilbert, Policy Counsel at Public Knowledge and co-author of the report, “Unfortunately, numerous problems—from legal cost and complexity and imbalances of power to scarce public information—are combining to create dysfunction in the system, which appears to be preventing artists from effectively using their termination right.”

The report critiques the complex eligibility, timing, and filing formalities for termination, which are exacerbated by ambiguities in the law and its application. On top of the onerous procedural requirements, the report highlights power asymmetries governing the negotiation, assignment, and reversion of ownership rights that also harm authors—particularly creators of color—who seek to exercise their termination rights.

The report recommends six policy actions to help restore fairness and functionality to termination of transfer rights:

  • Revise the Copyright Act so that the termination right vests automatically;
  • Revise the Copyright Act so that the termination right vests sooner than 35 years after a grant of rights under § 203 or 56 years after the copyright is first obtained under § 304;
  • Eliminate or revise the “work made for hire” exception or statutory definition;
  • Mitigate the need for artists to litigate ownership disputes prior to exercising their termination right by revising the statute of limitations or clarifying that the mere act of registering an adverse claim with the Copyright Office is not an effective repudiation of an ownership claim;
  • Address derivative works issues through statutory clarification; and
  • Conduct a formal study on the exercise and administration of the termination right, including the effects of the termination right on contract negotiation and renegotiation.

Click here to read the full report for more details on Public Knowledge’s recommendations to improve termination rights for authors.

Authors Alliance and our partners have created tools to help authors unpack the complex termination provisions. To learn more about termination of transfer and how to evaluate whether a work is eligible for termination under U.S. law, authors can explore the Termination of Transfer Tool, developed by Authors Alliance and Creative Commons. Authors can also refer to Authors Alliance’s guidance and templates for how to provide notice of termination to rightsholders and record the termination with the U.S. Copyright Office.

Georgia v. Public.Resource.Org: Copyright Case Before the Supreme Court

Posted December 2, 2019
photo of the Supreme Court building
photo by MarkThomas | Pixabay

The following post by Authors Alliance Copyright Research Assistant Nicolas Charest provides an overview of Georgia v. Public.Resource.Org Inc. Today, the Supreme Court of the United States will hear oral arguments in this case, which examines whether the “government edicts” doctrine extends to the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, rendering it uncopyrightable.

Background

The Code Revision Commission (the “Commission”), an arm of the State of Georgia’s General Assembly, is mandated to ensure publication of the statutes adopted by the General Assembly. It does so by contracting with the LexisNexis Group (“Lexis”) to maintain, publish, and distribute the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (“OCGA”), an annotated compilation of Georgia’s statutes. Following guidelines provided by the Commission, Lexis prepares and sells OCGA, which includes the statutory text of Georgia’s laws and annotations (such as summaries of judicial decisions interpreting or applying particular statutes). Lexis also makes unannotated versions of the statutes available online.

Public.Resource.Org (“PRO”) is a non-profit organization that promotes access to government records and primary legal materials. PRO makes government documents available online, including the official codes and other rules, regulations, and standards legally adopted by federal, state, and local authorities, giving the public free access to these documents. PRO purchased printed copies of the OCGA, digitized its content, and posted copies online through its own website.

Georgia filed suit against PRO claiming copyright infringement. Before the lower courts, PRO invoked the judicially-created “government edicts” doctrine. As a matter of public policy, courts have held that government edicts having the force of law, such as statutes and judicial decisions, are not eligible for copyright protection. While the court of first instance agreed with the State of Georgia and the OCGA was found to be copyrightable, on appeal the Eleventh Circuit held that under the government edicts doctrine, OCGA is not copyrightable and rejected Georgia’s infringement claim against PRO. Now, the issue before the Supreme Court is whether Georgia can claim copyrights over the OCGA annotations or if it is prevented from doing so because the annotations are an edict of government.

Position of the Parties

The State of Georgia and the Georgia Code Revision Commission submit that the annotations are not excluded from copyright protection; the annotations lack the force of law and therefore do not trigger the government edicts doctrine. Georgia also argues that the annotations are “derivative works” from the statutes and though published alongside materials in the public domain, they nonetheless are produced by a private entity. Finally, Georgia states that copyright in the annotations is the underlying incentive for its partnership with Lexis and, absent copyright protection for OCGA, Lexis would lose incentive to produce the annotations unless Georgia used taxpayer funds to directly pay for the services.

Public.Resource.Org argues that, in addition to texts with binding legal effect, any works that represent an “authentic” exercise of state legal authority, including legal works adopted or published under the authority of the state, are uncopyrightable edicts of government and therefore cannot be copyrighted. They posit that as long as the documents embody the authority of the state, such works would not be subject to copyright, even if they do not have legal force. PRO concludes that since the OCGA is an official legal document that holds itself out as “published under the authority of the State,” it is therefore a government edict that is ineligible for copyright protection.

Next Steps

Audio of the oral arguments in Georgia v. Public.Resource.Org should be available on the website of the Supreme Court on Friday. We encourage members of Authors Alliance to contact us at info@authorsalliance.org to share your views on the implications and outcome of this case. We will provide an update once the Court issues its decision in this case.

New Resource on Law and Literacy in Non-Consumptive Text Mining

Posted November 19, 2019
Photograph of laptop computer
Photo by Andras Vas on Unsplash

Scholars are increasingly using text data mining to uncover previously unknown patterns, trends, or relationships from a collection of textual documents. In doing so, many of these researchers may be accessing, building, working with, and sharing materials without understanding the legal implications of their actions. In their newly released chapter, Law and Literacy in Non-Consumptive Text Mining: Guiding Researchers Through the Landscape of Computational Text Analysis (in Copyright Conversations: Rights Literacy in a Digital World), Rachael G. Samberg and Cody Hennesy analyze the legal issues that can arise when researchers are engaged in text data mining and provide guidance on how to approach these issues.

As Samberg and Hennesy write, “currently, many [ ] researchers programmatically access and download copyright-protected works—even when it potentially violates copyright, licenses, privacy, or computer fraud law—because it is technically feasible. Few of these researchers are malicious in intent; rather, they may lack the necessary training or support to safely navigate the obscure regulatory environment of the field.”

Samberg and Hennesy’s survey of copyright and other legal issues affecting text data mining addresses:

  • Copyright and Fair Use: Samberg and Hennesy review several cases where courts have considered the intersection of full text searching a corpus and fair use and found non-consumptive text mining to be fair. They caution that researchers should understand that while it may be fair use in some cases to create and utilize a database for text data mining, further publishing that database may exceed the bounds of fair use.
  • Contract Law: Samberg and Hennesy discuss how contract law may define how researchers can access materials and what use they can make of them, and may even supplant fair use rights. They review the effect of database license agreements, website terms of service, and agreements with archives and special collections on text data mining.
  • Ethics: Samberg and Hennesy consider the best practices in responding to requests from web hosts relating to scraping content from the site.

Samberg and Hennesy use this framework to define literacies for researchers based on three stages of outreach and education further articulated in the chapter: use of precompiled corpora, corpus creation, and corpus publishing. The authors conclude that the key literacy is for researchers “to understand the need for a workflow [ ] and to explore a tailored approach in consultation with their librarians.”

This chapter is a valuable contribution towards helping scholars using text data mining to acquire the skills they need to understand and approach the legal implications of their work. Law and Literacy in Non-Consumptive Text Mining: Guiding Researchers Through the Landscape of Computational Text Analysis is available to read in full under a CC-BY license.

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Thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), Rachael Samberg will lead a national team to help humanities researchers and staff navigate complex legal questions in cutting-edge digital research. The institute, Building Legal Literacies in Text Data Mining, will teach humanities researchers, librarians, and research staff how to confidently navigate the major legal issues that arise in text data mining research. Authors Alliance Executive Director Brianna Schofield will take part in the institute in her capacity as a copyright expert. A call for participants is currently open; applications are due December 20, 2019.

Rights Reversion: Opening Classic Works to New Global Audiences

Posted November 12, 2019

We are grateful to Anita Walz, Assistant Director of Open Education and Scholarly Communication Librarian at Virginia Tech, for sharing the following rights reversion and open access success story. Anita worked with the authors of an out-of-print textbook to make a digitized version available online under a Creative Commons license for a new generation of students—not only at Virginia Tech but around the world. This guest post is published under a CC BY-NC-4.0 license.

“I want to assign this book as required reading for my graduate class. However, there are 125 students and I can’t find enough copies for students to access, borrow, or purchase. You’re a librarian. Can you help?”  Librarians often field such inquiries. Depending on the situation, such inquiries may lead to nuances of copyright, ebook acquisition, a search for substitute titles, assertion of fair use and exploration of more ideal scenarios: open access works and open educational resources. Sometimes such inquiries lead us outside of libraries to fact-find with authors and publishers on behalf of library users. The example of Veterinary Epidemiology: Principles and Methods is one such case.

In 2015 and 2016 I worked on my first rights reversion digitization project, inspired in part by the Authors Alliance’s publication Understanding Rights Reversion: When, Why & How to Regain Copyright and Make Your Book More Available. Of course, I didn’t know that it was a rights reversion scenario when I first started. A new faculty member had approached me with a copyright quandary: She wanted to use an out-of-print seminal work from 1987 for her class of 125 students. The six copies owned by the library and the several used copies available for sale would not be nearly enough. A thorough check indicated that a digital version was not available for purchase. We also explored working with the Copyright Clearance Center, but the cost was exorbitant. Wanting to honor the professor’s selection of this particular text, my colleagues and I aided her in conducting an informed fair-use analysis and the library displayed selected chapters one-chapter-at-a-time via the library’s secure eReserve system. With the book obviously out of print, and wondering who owned the rights, I contacted the book’s authors in September 2015.

Continue reading

Dr. Seuss, Picasso, and Grease: Fair Use in the Courts

Posted November 5, 2019
Photograph of Nicolas Charest

As a follow up to our recent coverage of the fair use issues in the Chronicle Books v. Audible Inc. case, Authors Alliance Copyright Research Assistant Nicolas Charest provides an update on three current cases involving the doctrine of fair use. Click on each case name below to learn more.

Dr. Seuss Enterprises v. ComicMix LLC.

Oh, the Places You’ll Boldly Go! (“Boldly”) is a book that combines the use of imagery, characters, and other visual elements from the Star Trek franchise and the works of Dr. Seuss (most notably Oh, the Places You’ll Go!). In 2016, Dr. Seuss Enterprises sued the creators of Boldly, alleging that the work infringes on Dr. Seuss’ works. (The plaintiffs also brought trademark and unfair competition claims, which are not reviewed in this post.) As for the copyright claim, the defendants argued that the use was permitted under the fair use doctrine.

Dr. Seuss’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go! (left) and ComicMix’s Oh, the Places You’ll Boldly Go! (right)

In March 2019, the district court held that the use of elements of Seuss’s work in Boldly is a fair use. Under the first fair use factor (the purpose and character of the use), the court found that although defendants borrowed from Dr. Seuss’ work, these elements were always adapted and the work is highly transformative, thus favoring fair use. Because Dr. Seuss’ work is highly creative, the court found that the second factor (the nature of the work), slightly favored the plaintiffs. Under the third factor (the amount and substantiality of the portion taken), the court found that because the elements are similar, but not replicated, the third factor does not weigh against the defendants. The court explained that  while some shapes were borrowed, they were adapted to the Star Trek universe; for example, the narrator is transformed into Captain Kirk and instead of a Seussian landscape, the cover image is set in space. Under the fourth factor (the effect of the use on the market), the court found that the plaintiff failed to introduce evidence demonstrating that Boldly will substantially harm the market for Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, concluding that the fourth factor therefore favors neither party. Balancing all factors together, the court concluded that Boldly is a fair use of Dr. Seuss’ literary universe.

Dr. Seuss Enterprises appealed the decision, and the case is now before the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. In its opening brief filed in August, Dr. Seuss Enterprises argues that the four factors do not lead to a finding of fair use. They argue that Boldly is not transformative since it does not parody, comment, criticize or comment on Oh, the Places You’ll Go!. They argue that the defendants “merely aped the purpose of Go!: entertaining the readers (mostly graduates starting out in the world) with an uplifting story.” They further highlight that Dr. Seuss’ works are substantially borrowed because elements central to the Seussian universes are taken, and that merely putting Star-Trek elements in what is otherwise a Seuss world does not result in any transformation. Finally, Dr. Seuss Enterprises argues that Boldly is likely to harm the market for authorized mash-ups.

Recently, the defendants filed a reply brief maintaining that Boldly makes fair use of Dr. Seuss’ books. We will follow developments in the Ninth Circuit.  

De Fontbrune v. Wofsy

In the late 1990s, Alan Wofsy, a San Francisco-based art gallery and art book publisher, published and distributed in France The Picasso Project, a catalogue containing reproduction of photographs of Pablo Picasso’s works. These photographs were taken from another catalogue initially published by Christian Zervos (the Zervos Catalogue). Yves Sicre De Frontbrune then acquired the rights into the Zervos Catalogue, and later filed a copyright infringement claim against Wofsy on the basis that The Picasso Project infringed on the copyrights over the photographs. In 2001, a judgment of copyright infringement was obtained in France against Wofsy which also ordered an “astreinte” that required the defendant to pay €10,000 for each future act of copyright infringement in the works. In 2011, copies of The Picasso Project were again found in France and De Fontbrune sought enforcement of the astreinte and consequently a French court awarded €2 million to De Fontbrune in 2012.

Recognition of the 2012 judgment in California was then sought to enforce the award of money. As part of its analysis to determine whether a foreign judgment can validly be recognized and enforced in the United States, a court must determine whether the judgment is repugnant to the public policy of the forum state or the United States. Wofsy argued that, based on the same facts in the United States,  the use of the copyrighted photographs was protected by US fair use and there would be therefore no finding of copyright infringement, which would mean that the astreinte judgment issued by the French court was “repugnant” to US public policy.

The California district court analyzed the four fair use factors to assess whether a conduct constitutes fair use. The Court decided that the first (purpose and character of the use) and fourth (the effect of the use on the potential market) factors weighed strongly in favor of fair use. The Picasso Project is a reference work intended for libraries, academic institutions, art collectors, and auction houses, which demonstrates that it has an educational purpose, despite the concurrent commercial nature of the work. The Court also found that The Picasso Project and the Zervos Catalogue were destined to disparate markets and were offered at wildly different price points, Zervos being sold as high as $100,000 at auction while The Picasso Project’s volume can be purchased at $150 a piece or as a set ranging from $2,780 to $3,780. It appeared unlikely to the Court that one would ever compete against the other. The court found the second factor (the nature of the copyrighted work), to slightly disfavor fair use, because while the photographs are creative works, the goal was to faithfully reproduce Picasso’s work, not to showcase the original artistic expression of the photographer. Finally, the court found that the third factor (the amount and substantiality of the portion taken), weighs in favor of fair use because Wofsy copied less than ten percent of The Zervos Catalogue’s photographs. The court ultimately concluded that it would not recognize the 2012 judgment because The Picasso Project’s use of copyrighted photographs qualifies as fair use.

On September 12th 2019, the district court granted summary judgment in favour of Wofsy on the basis of the fair use doctrine, and partly in favour of the representatives of De Fontbrune on other procedural grounds. Both parties have appealed.

Sketchworks Industrial Strength Comedy, Inc. v. Jacobs

Sketchworks, an Atlanta-based sketch comedy company, wrote and produced a play titled Vape: The Musical. Vape follows the narrative arc of the hit musical Grease, but brings the cast of characters into the modern day by integrating elements such as online dating, millennial slang, and vaping. A link to the full performance can be found here.

Sketchworks performed Vape in Atlanta in 2018 with enough success to warrant a production of the play in New York, which was scheduled to open in August 2019. Prior to the show’s opening, Sketchworks received a cease-and-desist letter from the copyright holders in Grease, claiming that Vape infringes on Grease and demanding that the production immediately be stopped. Shortly after, the New York theatre cancelled the performances. On August 9th 2019, Sketchworks filed a motion for a declaratory judgment, asking a district court in New York to find that to the extent that Vape uses copyrightable elements from the play Grease, it is fair use under the exception of parody in copyright law.

Sketchworks argues that Vape is a deliberate parody of Grease that is intended to criticize its misogynistic and sexist elements, which the creators argue have not aged well. At the same time, the play is set in modern times and attempts to show that the struggles of contemporary teenagers are similar to what their Grease-counterparts experienced in their time. As stated in the complaint, “Vape not only comments on the controversial themes in Grease, it also explores whether modern society has progressed at all by pointing to current systemic issues that still exist based on the misogyny of the era in which Grease was written and is set.” Sketchworks concludes that any elements that may be copyrightable are used in a sufficiently transformative manner and are used for parody purposes which justify a finding of fair use on its play’s use, if any, of copyrightable elements borrowed from Grease.

The response to the complaint is due November 8.

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To learn more about fair use, we recommend taking a look at our Fair Use FAQs. Nonfiction authors can explore Authors Alliance’s Fair Use for Nonfiction Authors, a guide that helps nonfiction authors make confident fair use decisions when incorporating source materials into their writings. Other communities of creators can learn how their communities apply fair use in situations typical to their given community through best practices documents developed by those communities.

Authors Alliance Supports Limitations and Exceptions and Rights Reversion at SCCR/39

Posted October 29, 2019

Last week, Authors Alliance participated in the thirty-ninth session of the World Intellectual Property (WIPO) Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR/39) in Geneva. Among other topics, the Committee addressed copyright limitations and exceptions for libraries and archives and for educational and research institutions. Authors Alliance presented a statement to the Committee on how limitations and exceptions can benefit authors.

Authors Alliance was pleased to partner with Rebecca Giblin of the Author’s Interest Project to host a side panel at the SCCR/39, “Supporting Authors in a Digital Age.”

Giblin shared preliminary results from a study of more than 50 years of publishing contracts from the archive of the Australian Society of Authors. The research revealed that publication contracts are often insufficient to protect authors’ interests. For example, 14% of the contracts examined by Giblin and her colleague Joshua Yuvaraj did not include out-of-print rights, and only 6% of contracts used objective criteria (such as sales or revenue numbers) to define out-of-print status.

Giblin described how reversion rights give authors fresh opportunities to financially benefit from their works, open up new investment opportunities for publishers, and promote ongoing availability to the public. Giblin explained that their research suggests that there is a need to investigate minimum reversion rights addressing books that have reached the end of their commercial life, uses that are not being exploited, situations where publishers go into liquidation, and term limits akin to US termination of transfer laws.

Brianna Schofield discussed how reverting rights can help authors to reach more readers, continue to contribute to scholarly and cultural discourse, and ensure that their works’ continuing impact and relevance are not limited by their commercial lives. She shared examples of authors who have regained rights and subsequently released their books on open terms, self-published their works, and placed their books with a new publisher. Schofield explained that, because of the tremendous benefits of reversion for authors and the public, Authors Alliance supports statutory termination rights for authors, as well as strengthening provisions governing reversion rights in publication contracts.

Q&A with Calvin Warren: Open Access and Democratizing the Accessibility of Knowledge

Posted October 21, 2019
Calvin L. Warren (used with permission)

Open Access Week 2019 takes place from October 21-27. To mark the occasion, we’re featuring a series of Open Access Success Stories that shine the spotlight on noteworthy OA books, authors, and publishing models. Today’s post features Calvin L. Warren, Assistant Professor in the Department of Women’s Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Emory University. His book Ontological Terror: Blackness, Nihilism, and Emancipation (Duke University Press, 2018) examines how all humanism is based on investing blackness with nonbeing—a logic which reproduces antiblack violence and precludes any realization of equality, justice, and recognition for blacks. Ontological Terror is available under a CC BY-NC-ND license, supported by Emory University as part of the TOME initiative. We recently sat down with Professor Warren to discuss his decision to make Ontological Terror openly available.

Authors Alliance: Given that many (if not most) humanities monographs are still published via traditional channels, why did you choose open access publishing for Ontological Terror?

Calvin Warren: Unfortunately, academic knowledge is becoming increasingly inaccessible, and this “epistemological exclusivity” is resulting in disturbing patterns of asymmetry. Journals require membership to read current scholarship, and this financial barrier prevents students and scholars from resource poor institutions from acquiring information. The cost of academic books is equally exorbitant, reinforcing the dynamic that knowledge acquisition requires money. I’ve grown uncomfortable with this dynamic and had been searching for a mechanism to make my work more accessible to high school students, lay readers, community colleges, and institutions with limited resources. Open access provided such a mechanism and addressed the inequity of knowledge acquisition. Accessing my book for free has increased my readership and made it possible for black nihilism, as an idea, to expand its horizon.

AuAll: Did the subject matter of your research and/or your audience influence your decision to publish openly? If so, how?

CW: I’ve developed a philosophical perspective “black nihilism” that presents contemporary problems of black existence, anti black violence, and black suffering as deep philosophical issues. Because my work is in constant dialogue with the unceasing, ubiquitous, and regenerating problem of anti blackness, I wanted my work to reach as many people as possible—especially young people who live under the press of anti black terror. My subject matter required a platform widely accessible because people within and outside the academy were searching for answers to difficult questions.

AuAll: Before this book project, what was your impression of open access publishing?

CW: Open access was unfamiliar to me when I began my academic career, and I wish I’d known about it in graduate school. I do hope the [TOME] program recruits early career scholars, who are often producing the most provocative and groundbreaking work. I’m very grateful that Emory University invested time and resources for me to publish with open access.

AuAll: What results have you seen from publishing your book openly?

CW: Open access has widened my readership, exposing my work to artists, scientists, ministers, politicians, people I hadn’t expected to read my work. When access is open, more democratic, ideas can travel without restriction. And this has been my experience.

AuAll: What advice do you have for scholarly authors who want to make their ideas widely available?

CW: My advice to any authors with important ideas, especially those that speak to contemporary concerns, is to consider open access. Make an appointment with open access staff and discuss the possibility of this platform. It will create unexpected opportunities. Also, publishers often consider the open access funds “book sales” so it reduces some pressure from young scholars who need book sales for career stability. In short, open access is a gift to the academy and will lead the way in democratizing knowledge accessibility.