Category Archives: Law and Policy

The Missing Stakeholder of DMCA 512: Non-Infringing Users

Posted June 30, 2020
Magnifying glass on blue background with words "Focus On: Section 512 Notice & Takedown"
Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Authors Alliance thanks Professor Casey Fiesler and Corian Zacher for sharing this guest blog post.

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On May 21st, the Copyright Office released a report documenting the results of a study five years in the making. Its goal was to evaluate the current effectiveness of Section 512 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which immunizes internet providers and websites that host user generated content from copyright infringement liability—as long as they provide a system that allows copyright holders to request that infringing content is removed. In practice, Section 512 has enabled websites like YouTube to continue operating without facing excessive legal costs and copyright infringement judgments. In other words, every time you see a “this video is no longer available due to a copyright claim” message, you’re seeing the results of a compromise—because without DMCA 512 takedown procedures, those copyright owners might have just sued YouTube out of existence instead.

One obvious conclusion of the study was that “no potential solution(s) will please everybody” (pg 68). However, the problem is that “everybody” as defined by the Copyright Office study seems to include only two categories of stakeholders: online service providers (OSPs, like YouTube) and large-scale copyright owners like movie studios and record companies. Even in concluding that “the notice-and-takedown system as experienced by parties today is unbalanced” (pg 72) (which we agree is true), nowhere do we see the experiences of another relevant category: content creators who make fair uses of copyrighted content. The Copyright Office virtually ignored these “transformative creators,” along with other kinds of Internet content consumers.

However, these relevant stakeholders are also deeply impacted by the lack of balance in DMCA 512. The fact that platforms like YouTube have entrusted copyright analysis with algorithms rather than human content moderators has resulted in the improper removal of many non-infringing works, particularly those that transform copyrighted content in a way that constitutes fair use—for example, remix videos, or videos that reference movie clips in order to critique a film or educate students through distance learning. The Copyright Office acknowledges that the goal of Section 512 is balancing the needs of all relevant parties, but at the same time, it vastly underestimates the extent that improper takedown notices affect users. The nod to “inaccurate notices” (when non-infringing content receives a takedown request) even focuses on the cost incurred to the OSP—with no acknowledgment of the cost to the non-infringing content creator (pg 148).

However, there is a very real cost to transformative content creators as well, and they should be a relevant stakeholder in policy discussions. Inaccurate takedown notices have a tremendous impact on all creators’ ability to share their work online, and those repeatedly accused of infringing may lose content and accounts as a result. These stakes are particularly heartfelt by small creators, who rely on the reach of platforms to share their content.

In 2017, we collaborated with the Organization for Transformative Works to conduct a survey of fan creators that focused on experiences with and attitudes about copyright, including the DMCA. There were over 2,000 survey respondents, and our qualitative analysis of these answers revealed a number of salient points drawn from real-world experiences with DMCA takedowns. Our conclusion is that between chilling effects and improper takedowns, DMCA 512 procedures have resulted in a great deal of non-infringing transformative content being lost from the internet.

The imbalance here is one of power. Most instances where participants reported that their works were accused of infringing another’s copyright involved fanvids (a type of remix video), generally on YouTube. Participants suggested that YouTube’s application of Section 512 adversely impacts works that constitute fair use because YouTube’s automated system flags content that contains any amount of copyrighted work. After all, if even judges and lawyers reasonably disagree about what constitutes fair use, how could an algorithm make that judgement? Moreover, when a video is taken down because a platform’s automated system flags it, the burden shifts to users to have their work reinstated. Faced with that burden, participants also wrote about how “scary” the process is; even YouTube’s “Copyright School” video suggests that remix video creators should consult a lawyer and emphasizes that they could “get into a lot of trouble” if they file a counter-notice incorrectly. Additionally, fan creators frequently use pseudonyms (as do many content creators) and might be wary of providing their real name on a legal document that would be connected to their account pseudonym, as is required by a counter-notice.

We heard from a number of participants who had their transformative content flagged and decided not to try to file counter-notices, because they were concerned about doing it incorrectly, they were confused by the process, or lacked the time to try to figure it out. However, from the few that did, they were often successful—suggesting that platforms remove content without considering whether the work was a fair use or not, or the work would not have been flagged in the first place. Considering the number of users who simply don’t fight it when their work is taken down, we can reasonably conclude that platforms are frequently removing non-infringing fanworks. Moreover, repeated experiences of takedowns often lead to users abandoning a platform altogether.

Overwhelmingly, the fan creators represented in our survey viewed the lack of balance in the takedown process as stifling their creativity and hindering their ability to share their work. The harm of failure to consider fair use was particularly powerful: Participants whose works were removed explained that they believed that their works constituted fair use, offered examples of uses that fit squarely within fair use by being noncommercial and being used for criticism and parody, and discussed how removal of those works harmed their individual creativity and ability to participate meaningfully in their community.

By assuming that all users are “infringers” or “pirates” and therefore an adversary to the 512 process, the Copyright Office does a disservice to the many content creators who reasonably and legally rely on fair use. Instead, they should be considered a stakeholder along with OSPs and copyright holders, such that their benefits and harms are part of the balance as well.

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Casey Fiesler is an Assistant Professor of Information Science at University of Colorado Boulder, where she studies online communities, governance, and ethics. Her dissertation work for a PhD in human-centered computing (following a law degree) examined the chilling effects of platform design and policy on transformative content creators. She is a member of the OTW legal committee.

Corian Zacher is a May 2020 graduate of the University of Colorado Law School. Her research focuses on technology law and policy.

Authors Alliance Submits Reply Comments to USCO on the Meaning of Publication in the Online Context

Posted June 16, 2020
Photo by Lauren Mancke on Unsplash

In March, Authors Alliance submitted comments to the U.S. Copyright Office in response to its request for public input on the meaning of “publication” in the online context. This week, we submitted reply comments to support our position.

In our initial comments, we encouraged the Copyright Office to adopt guidance stating that “publication” occurs when a work is first offered, under the rights-owner’s authority, for viewing online without technological restrictions that prevent downloading or other reuse. This position is supported by the statutory text, the legislative history, the case law, and the policy goals of (1) clear, bright-line guidance and (2) promoting broad use of works by reducing the availability of statutory damages and fee-shifting, which chill use and expression.

Our reply comments explain and expand on the stakes of “forfeiture of rights” under Section 411, a provision of the Copyright Act that provides that a civil action for copyright infringement cannot stand where the plaintiff knowingly included inaccurate information in its copyright application that would have caused the Copyright Office to deny that registration. We explain why this provision and case law underscore the necessity of clear and bright-line guidance, and how the intuitive and unambiguous approach to online publication proposed by Authors Alliance responds to that critical issue. Our comment also explains how a careful examination of the effects of registration errors shows that the stakes are not that high, and most rights can be substantially restored after dismissal due to an invalid registration, with the exception of the already undesirable right to statutory damages.

Authors Alliance thanks the exceptional team at Latham & Watkins for preparing these comments. To read the full comment, click here.

US Copyright Office Issues Report on Section 512

Posted June 3, 2020
Diana Buck - Headshot

Authors Alliance is grateful to Diana Buck, Copyright Intern, for sharing this summary of the US Copyright Office’s recent Report on Section 512, a part of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”) enacted in 1998 to provide a framework for copyright owners and online service providers (“OSPs”) to address copyright infringement online.

The United States Copyright Office recently released a Report on the operation of Section 512. The Report is the culmination of a five-year study of whether Section 512 is working as originally intended to balance the interests of OSPs and copyright owners.

Section 512 gives OSPs a “safe harbor” from secondary liability for their users’ copyright infringement. In return, OSPs are required to implement certain features to protect copyright holders, most notably “notice and takedown” procedures. Under notice and takedown procedures, copyright owners can get infringing material removed from online sites by sending brief “takedown notices” to OSPs, without the expense and hassle of filing a lawsuit. To be eligible for the safe harbor, upon receiving a takedown notice with the statutorily-required information, the OSP must remove the allegedly infringing material.

In preparing the Report, the Copyright Office sought input from stakeholders. OSPs generally praised Section 512 for allowing them to grow their services and serve the public without facing debilitating lawsuits. Copyright owners generally expressed concern that they couldn’t utilize Section 512 in a meaningful way to address copyright infringement because infringing material reappears across the internet even after it is removed in response to takedown notices. User groups critiqued the notice and takedown regime in a different way, contending users’ interests are not being adequately protected when their content is mistakenly targeted and removed.

The Copyright Office’s Report concludes that the balance has tilted askew, failing to meet the concerns of copyright owners. However, the Copyright Office generally recommends that Congress clarify and revise some of the language of Section 512, rather than make any large changes that would go beyond the original construct of the DMCA. The Copyright Office outlines areas for potential revision, including:

  • Clarifying what exactly constitutes a “repeat infringer,” and whether allowing OSPs to have unwritten policies for termination of repeat infringers’ access to OSP platforms has Section 512’s desired deterrent effect.
  • Clarifying the proper knowledge requirements for an OSP to receive safe harbor protection, including delineating a lack of “actual knowledge” of infringing activities from a lack of “red flag knowledge,” which is when an OSP is aware of facts and circumstances that make infringing activity apparent.
  • Clarifying whether a copyright owner, when submitting a takedown notice, must include a unique URL for every instance of infringement on an OSP’s service.
  • Considering an alternative dispute resolution model for whether material should be removed and reinstated, instead of requiring that a copyright owner must file a federal lawsuit.
  • Monitoring the impact of the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Lenz v. Universal Music Corp., and whether it is appropriate for Congress to clarify whether copyright owners who send takedown notices should have to meet an implied good faith requirement that they assessed whether the potentially-infringing use was actually fair use.

Advocacy groups for large content creators, such as the Association of American Publishers (“AAP”) and the Motion Picture Association of America, issued statements that commend the Copyright Office’s report, agreeing with the Report’s conclusion that the DMCA fails to adequately protect creators’ rights.

Academics and organizations critical of the Report argue that it favors the copyright industry in almost every respect, potentially placing new burdens on OSPs and allowing notice senders to abuse Section 512 by using notice and takedown to censor content they do not own or control. Several commentators point out that the Report fails to account for internet users’ interests. Copyright scholar and Authors Alliance board president Pamela Samuelson also criticizes the Report’s stance on the Lenz decision and for chiding OSPs for failing to remove content that the OSPs believe is fair use. Critics express concern that the Report supports terminating internet access for users on the basis of allegations of infringing activity. These critics express relief, at least, that the Report did not go as far as suggesting site-blocking or notice-and-staydown (areas where the Copyright Office instead suggested that additional study was needed).

Whether to make any of the changes suggested in the Report is a legislative decision for Congress. The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property is examining the DMCA and has announced plans to draft changes to the law as early as this year. The Copyright Office, in its Report, stated its intention to prepare education materials for copyright owners and OSPs on their rights and obligations under Section 512, including rolling out a new website, copyright.gov/DMCA, for that purpose.

Authors Alliance Statement on Publisher Lawsuit Against Internet Archive

Posted June 2, 2020
Photo of book and Open LIbrary card
Photography courtesy of the Internet Archive

Yesterday, a group of commercial publishers filed suit against the Internet Archive, arguing that making electronic copies of books available through Open Library and the National Emergency Library constitutes copyright infringement. The lawsuit takes aim at the Controlled Digital Lending (“CDL”) model and the Internet Archive’s National Emergency Library.

This suit conflates two distinct approaches to lending works, each with different copyright implications. Regardless of how one feels about—and the legality of—the National Emergency Library (a temporary response to the urgent pandemic crisis), Authors Alliance fully supports Controlled Digital Lending and believes the attempt to challenge it in the courts is without merit.

Under the CDL digitize-and-lend model, libraries make digital copies of scanned books from their collections available to patrons (the hard copy is not available for lending while the digital copy is checked out, and vice versa). A library can only circulate the same number of copies that it owned before digitization. Like physical books, the scanned copies are loaned to one person at a time and are subject to limited check-out periods. The Internet Archive relies on CDL to make many of its scanned books available through the Open Library.

The National Emergency Library expands on the CDL model by eliminating waitlists for books through at least June 30, 2020. The Internet Archive launched the National Emergency Library in March after libraries across the country closed in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, leaving their physical collections inaccessible to patrons. Unlike books made available through CDL, books available through the National Emergency Library are not subject to the “owned-to-loaned” ratio.

Authors Alliance has long been a supporter of the CDL model, which helps authors share their creations with readers, promotes the ongoing progress of knowledge, and advances the public good—objectives that are consistent with the mission of Authors Alliance. Several of our members have spoken out in favor of the model. CDL is particularly beneficial for authors whose works are out of print or otherwise commercially unavailable: In the absence of digitizing and lending these books, many would simply be inaccessible to readers. The CDL model is a boon to the authors of these and other books, allowing them to find new audiences online.

Authors Alliance has not taken a position on the National Emergency Library, but we urge publishers and others to recognize that this is an extraordinary time of emergency and to be flexible about efforts to enable students, scholars, medical professionals, and the shelter-in-place public to read. We applaud the publishers who have made scholarly content freely available to assist with access for the many students, faculty, and researchers now working remotely due to the global pandemic.

Implied Licenses in Copyright Law

Posted May 27, 2020

Authors Alliance is grateful to Jacqui Lipton for this guest post on implied licenses. Her new book, Law and Authors: A Legal Handbook for Writers, is an approachable, reader-friendly resource to help authors navigate the legal landscape of the contemporary publishing industry. Through case studies and hypothetical examples, Law and Authors addresses issues of copyright law, including explanations of fair use and the public domain; trademark and branding concerns for those embarking on a publishing career; laws that impact the ways that authors might use social media and marketing promotions; and privacy and defamation questions that writers may face. Get your copy today from the University of California Press (use discount code 17M6662 for 30% off).

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Authors deal with copyright issues all the time, both in relation to their own, and other people’s, work: for example, if an author wants to use someone else’s photography or graphic to illustrate a point made in a book, or use a line of a poem or song as a chapter epigraph. Usually, a publisher will ask the author to obtain permission for these uses. In the absence of permission, or in the absence of a traditional publisher seeking permission (e.g., in the self-publishing context), the go-to defense for unauthorized use, if a problem arises, is typically fair use.

This blog post is about another defense to copyright infringement that can arise where an author thinks she has permission to use copyrighted material in the absence of a clear contract, based on surrounding facts. Enter the implied license doctrine. While it can be difficult to succeed with this defense, it’s worth knowing about.

Implied licenses in the copyright context are an outgrowth of basic contract law principles where agreements are sometimes implied between two or more people in circumstances where a judge or jury believes that those people would have made a contract if they’d turned their minds to it. The typical example given in law school classrooms involves lawn mowing: Assume you mow your neighbor’s lawn every Sunday for three weeks, and she gives you $20 each time. Then you mow her lawn the next week and she refuses to pay. Do you have a contract? A contract would probably be implied here based on the way you both acted. Your neighbor would likely have to pay you the $20 for the fourth week.

Copyright law has adopted a similar approach in terms of licenses to use a copyright work if it seems like the parties would have created a license under the circumstances. An implied license, if it exists, must, by definition, be non-exclusive because U.S. copyright law requires exclusive licenses to be in writing.

Courts have differed in the tests they use for implying a copyright license. Some courts use a three-step test that largely developed out of situations where the parties had an express agreement in place, but deviated from its terms in practice: for example, where a contract requires invoices to be generated and payments to be made prior to engaging in a licensed use, but the parties have engaged in a course of dealing that allows invoices and payments to post-date uses (e.g., publication) of licensed works.

In these kinds of cases, many courts have asked whether the copyright holder: (1) creates a work at another person’s request; (2) delivers the work to the other person; and, (3) intends the other person to copy and distribute the work. If the answer to all of these questions is “yes”, a license will likely be implied.

For example, in Latimer v Roaring Toyz, 601 F.3d 1224 (2010) a freelance photographer (Latimer) was hired by Kawasaki to photograph some tricked-out Kawasaki motorbikes for promotional materials connected to a bike show. The pictures were later used for promotions in Cycle World magazine articles and on Roaring Toyz’s website. Kawasaki and Roaring Toyz argued that there was an implied license to use the photos in all of these contexts. The court held that there was an implied license for Roaring Toyz to use the photographs for the bike show, but not for any other purposes. (The license had to be implied here because the original contract was with Kawasaki, not Roaring Toyz.)

Applying the three-step test, the court noted that: (1) Latimer took the photos at Kawasaki’s request; and, (2) he delivered the photographs to Kawasaki and Roaring Toyz; (3) for use at the show. This was enough evidence to support an implied license to use the photos at the show. However, the license didn’t cover the additional uses on Roaring Toyz’s websites or in the Cycle World magazine.

Not all courts rely on the three-step test for implied licenses. Some take a much more wholistic view of whether an implied license has been established. In Pelaez v McGraw Hill, 399 F. Supp. 3d 120 (2019), another case involving arguments about unauthorized uses of photography, the court noted that the correct legal test for an implied license is whether the parties conduct, taken as a whole, supports the intent to grant a license. This approach, taken in many cases, is more like the standard common law approach to implying any kind of contractual obligation to unclear facts.

In Pelaez, Judge Wood emphasized the fact that a license cannot be imposed on the basis of the unilateral expectations of one party. It is not enough for a person to subjectively believe there was a license; there must be actual facts from which the court could infer that both parties intended a license, or would have intended a license if they had turned their minds to it. If an author or other creative artist makes it clear, say, on their website that they do not consent to unauthorized use of their material (e.g., many authors say they “do not allow fanfiction”), it’s unlikely a court would imply a license in relation to the relevant works.

Because of the challenges in constructing implied licenses out of often ambiguous facts, if you want to re-purpose someone else’s work in your own manuscript, it’s a better idea to either obtain permission or to see if you raise a good fair use argument. More information on fair use is available here.

Of course, a court can always “get it wrong” when working by implication, which is why it’s always better to specifically say clearly what uses are, and are not, allowed, under a written contract. Even if you post your work online, express license terms are easier to create than ever before. Creative Commons licenses enable authors and others to release work online with clear license terms attached. Stock photography websites, for example, do a very good job of clearly setting out the licensing terms for images released via their services. Terms can include both money and attribution, as well as restrictions on future commercial uses. Further information on Creative Commons licenses is available here.

Headshot of Jacqui Lipton

Jacqui Lipton is the founder of Raven Quill Literary Agency as well as a consultant on business and legal issues for creative artists. She also teaches law and legal writing at the University of Pittsburgh, as well as several online venues. She writes regular columns on legal and business issues for authors for SCBWI, Luna Station Quarterly, Catapult, and Savvy Authors. Her book Law and Authors: A Legal Handbook for Writers is available from University of California Press.

Authors Alliance Voices Support for Public Access to Federally Funded Research

Posted May 11, 2020

Authors Alliance submitted a comment to the Office of Science and Technology Policy urging the adoption of a federal policy that would make the results of all federally funded research immediately available for the public to freely access and use. Removing price and permission barriers is consistent with most scientific authors’ wishes; supports learning, teaching, research, and practice; and creates a more hospitable environment for scientific advancement.

Our comment recommends:

  • That the results of all federally funded research be made immediately available, with a zero-embargo policy. The current 12-month embargo period allows for an unnecessary delay that hinders the progress of knowledge.
  • That scholarly publications resulting from federally funded research be made publicly available under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) license. Licensing scholarly publications under a CC-BY license removes permission barriers that could otherwise prevent other researchers and the general public from fully accessing, sharing, and reusing scholarly publications.
  • That data resulting from federally funded research be made available and dedicated to the public domain using a CC0 license. When data are readily available in the public domain, other researchers and the general public are able to validate, replicate, and build on previous research.

Read the full text of the comment here.

Authors Alliance is grateful to student attorney Kennedy Smith and Professor Blake Reid of the Samuelson-Glushko Technology Law & Policy Clinic (TLPC) at Colorado Law for their assistance drafting this comment.

Federal Court of Appeal Deals Access Copyright Huge Blow as it Overturns York University Copyright Decision

Posted May 4, 2020

We thank Professor Michael Geist for sharing this analysis of the York University v. Access Copyright decision, cross-posted from his website where it was made available under a CC BY 2.5 CA license.

York University Station by wyliepoon https://flic.kr/p/HGWRpp (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The Federal Court of Appeal delivered its long-awaited decision the York University v. Access Copyright case yesterday, setting aside the lower court ruling that I had described as “a complete victory” for Access Copyright. The latest ruling will not leave York University and the education community completely happy given the court’s fair dealing analysis, but winning on the mandatory tariff issue removes both the threat of mandated payments to Access Copyright as well as the possibility of a copyright infringement lawsuit by the copyright collective. That represents an enormous win both for York and for a fair approach to copyright licensing that ensures users have licensing choice.

Access Copyright quickly claimed the decision was a “mixed outcome”, but losing on the mandatory tariff issue eliminates its ability to force the education community to enter into its licence. The copyright collective has spent much of the past decade lobbying the Canadian government to reverse the 2012 copyright reforms that added the education purpose to fair dealing. That approach was rejected by the Government’s copyright review, which opened the door to a further expansion with a “flexible fair dealing” model. But the real story of education and copyright in Canada for the past twenty years has been the string of appellate decisions that have largely unravelled the legal underpinnings of the Access Copyright model. The Supreme Court’s CCH decision brought user rights and an emphasis on fair dealing. The Access Copyright v. Alberta decision ended the claim that there was a meaningful distinction between student copying and teachers’ copying for students. This latest decision addresses the mandatory tariff issue, confirming that educational institutions can opt-out of the Access Copyright licence as appropriate and that any claims of infringement will be left to copyright owners to address, not Access Copyright.

To be clear, the decision does not mean that there is no compensation for authors and publishers nor that their copyrights are unenforceable. Copyright law still grants them exclusive rights over their works subject to users’ rights such as fair dealing. This right includes the ability to pursue infringement claims backed by statutory damages. Rather, users have choice in how they obtain the necessary rights for the works they use. Access Copyright has long claimed there was effectively no choice as its approach was mandatory once copying was captured by the licence. This decision canvasses decades of legislative history to conclusively demonstrate that this was never the case. Instead, the Access Copyright licence – even once certified by the Copyright Board – is an option available to users. However, educational users today have a wide range of alternative options including site licensing, open access materials, transactional licences, and fair dealing. Many institutions now use a combination of these paid and unpaid approach as a better approach.

Where does that leave Access Copyright? The copyright collective must compete in the market by offering a compelling value proposition to potential licensees, who will compare the Access Copyright licence to the other available licensing options. If authors or publishers believe that that licensing still leads to infringement, they – not Access Copyright – are entitled to pursue statutory damages in court.

Read the rest of Professor Geist’s analysis of the case and the court’s discussion of the mandatory tariff and fair dealing issues here.

Update: Georgia v. Public.Resource.Org

Posted April 27, 2020

Today, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a decision in Georgia v. Public.Resource.Org Inc, holding that the annotations in Georgia’s Official Code are ineligible for copyright protection.

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. For a brief history of the litigation, see our earlier post on the case.

Supreme Court’s Decision

The issue before the Supreme Court was 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.” Under the government edicts doctrine, officials empowered to speak with the force of law cannot be the authors of—and therefore cannot copyright—the works they create in the course of their official duties.

Reviewing earlier cases involving the government edicts doctrine, the Court was guided by an animating principle that “no one can own the law.” The majority opinion found that under the government edicts doctrine, legislators may not be considered the authors of the works they produce in the course of their official duties as legislators. The Court held that the rule applies regardless of whether a given material carries the force of law, and that it applies to the annotations in OCGA because they are authored by an arm of the legislature in the course of its official duties.

As a result, the Court affirmed the 11th Circuit’s decision that the annotations in Georgia’s Official Code are ineligible for copyright protection and finding in favor of PRO.

New Report: Evaluating the Benefits and Costs of a 25-Year Termination Right in Canada

Posted April 14, 2020
Red and white Canadian maple leaf flag against a blue sky
photo by RonnyK | CC0

A new report by Paul Heald recommends that Canada adopt a right for an author (or their heirs) to terminate a transfer of copyright 25 years after the transfer was made. Relying on empirical data, Heald concludes that a carefully crafted termination right would provide measurable benefits to authors and to the Canadian public.

Under section 14(1) of Canada’s current Copyright Act, any grant of interest in a copyrighted work made by an author (except for a grant made in a will) after June 4, 1921 automatically reverts to an author’s estate twenty-five years after an author’s death. As a part of a review of Canada’s Copyright Act, Canada’s Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology Committee and the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage recommended that authors should have a non-waivable right to regain control of a copyright twenty-five years after the initial assignment of rights in the work (rather than twenty-five years from the author’s death). Heald’s report was commissioned by the Heritage Committee to evaluate the effect of such a change.

Heald’s report reviews the private and public benefits of providing a statutory right to terminate transfers. As detailed in the report, providing a termination right gives authors the ability to renegotiate a contract or to bring a work back into print with a new publisher or by self-publishing. The public, in turn, benefits from a measurable increase in the availability of works to the public. Drawing on data from the US, UK, and Canadian book markets, Heald shows the negative effect of copyright term length on the availability of books in print and how rights reversion can increase the ability of book titles.

The report also examines the private and public costs of a statutory reversion right. Heald evaluates claims that publishers will offer diminished compensation to acquire rights that are subject to termination. He concludes that because publishers of books, for example, can anticipate earning 99.5% of the present value of the book by year 25, the potential that an author will terminate a transfer of rights at year 25 should not change the business models of rational book publishers. On the public cost side, Heald argues that potential costs (such as exacerbation of orphan works problems and potential issues for investors in derivative works) can easily be minimized by careful drafting of the termination right.

In sum, Heald recommends that Canada adopt a termination right that:

  • provides creators a non-assignable, non-waivable right to terminate any transfer of an exclusive right no earlier than 25 years after the execution of the transfer;
  • extinguishes itself five years after it becomes available;
  • takes effect no earlier than twelve months after the creator is notified of the intent to exercise the right;
  • requires that notice be subject to registration;
  • requires that termination can only be exercised by claimants holding 51% or more of the termination right; and
  • provides protection for a transferee who properly licensed the copyrighted work to create its own authorized original work of authorship.

The full report is available here.

Resource List: Copyright and COVID-19

Posted April 1, 2020

We’ve collected resources to answer questions that you might have about fair use, access to educational materials, and temporary changes to Copyright Office operations during the COVID-19 outbreak. We’ll continue to add to this resource list as relevant resources are released; please check back often.

Public Statement of Library Copyright Specialists: Fair Use & Emergency Remote Teaching & Research

A group of library copyright specialists recently released a Public Statement on Fair Use & Emergency Remote Teaching & Research to provide clarity for U.S. colleges and universities about how copyright law applies to remote teaching and research in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. In response to concerns that copyright may pose impediments to a rapid shift to remote instruction—or conversely, that copyright is not relevant—the Statement authors review how fair use and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”) apply to remote teaching. As they conclude, “[w]hile legal obligations do not automatically dissolve in the face of a public health crisis, U.S. copyright law is, thankfully, well equipped to provide the flexibility necessary for the vast majority of remote learning needed at this time.” Read the Statement here.

Resilient Digital Materials for College and University Teaching and Learning: Copyright and Open Education Strategies

The Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property is presenting a series of webinars to help teachers navigate concerns around copyright when finding digital teaching materials:

April 17, 03:00 PM ET: Educational fair use in the COVID-19 emergency: yes you can scan (and more) for colleges and universities (watch the webinar recording here)

April 24, 03:00 PM ET: Finding teaching materials for Fall 2020 and beyond: evaluating resilient digital teaching and learning materials from open and commercial sources for college and university teaching (including finding materials and evaluating licensing) (watch the webinar recording here)

May 1, 03:00 PM ET: Creating teaching materials for Fall 2020 and beyond: authoring and adapting Open Educational Resources for colleges and universities (strategies, systems, and sources for creating OER)

Register here for the entire Higher Education track or for individual webinars within the track.

Reading Aloud: Fair Use Enables Translating Classroom Practices to Online Learning

As many teachers face an abrupt shift to online teaching, there have been questions about how copyright law applies to the translation of classroom-based practices of reading aloud to students to the digital environment. This guide examines how fair use applies to read-aloud activities online, concluding that “[w]hen researchers translate classroom practices of reading aloud to online student facing tools, such as distribution through a school website, learning management system, or live webcast, fair use enables most of the same practices online that take place in person. Read the guide here or watch the webinar recording.

Over 50 Publishers Offering Free Content on Project MUSE

In response to challenges created by COVID-19, Project MUSE has partnered with more than 60 publishers to temporarily make scholarly content freely available to assist with access for the many students, faculty, and researchers now working remotely. More than 15,000 books, and over 230 journal titles—comprising well over 10,000 issues and more than 185,000 articles—are available through this initiative. More details on the content and the full list of participating publishers are available on the Project MUSE website.

United States Copyright Office’s Public Notice Regarding Timing Provisions Involving Certain Registration Claims and Notices of Termination for Persons Affected by COVID-19

The United States Copyright Office has announced temporary extensions for registering copyrights and recording notices of termination for those unable to comply with deadlines as a result of the COVID-19 emergency. The Copyright Office has provided this temporary measure to accommodate copyright owners who may be prevented from completing and submitting materials in a timely manner due to lack of access to physical documents, including deposit copies of copyrighted works, or the inability to deliver materials to a mail carrier. To qualify, applicants must submit a statement certifying under penalty of perjury that they would have met the deadline but for the national emergency. For applications that can be submitted entirely in electronic form, the timing provisions are unchanged. For more information, visit the Office’s webpage dedicated to operational updates during the COVID-19 pandemic.