A Moron In A Hurry

June 27, 2006

Winnie the Pooh

Filed under: Uncategorized — nick @ 11:27 am

The Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal of A.A. Milne’s granddaughter and whether she can regain control of the copyright over Winnie the Pooh. The NY Law Journal reported on the ruling of the 9th Circuit against Milne in December, but the story goes like this: A.A. Milne licensed the right to sell toys based on the Pooh stories to Stephen Slesinger in 1930, who in turn granted Disney an exclusive right to distribute Pooh toys in 1961. Passage of the 1976 Copyright Act granted authors the right to terminate previous licensing agreements, but rather than reject the deal with Slesinger, the Milne estate renewed the deal in 1983 and received a larger share of royalty payments than they had enjoyed in years prior. The 1998 amendments to the Copyright Act again gave authors the opportunity to cancel previous licensing agreements and by then Claire Milne, A.A.’s granddaughter and sole remaining heir, attempted to cancel the agreement with Slesinger.  The court essentially ruled that the 1983 renewal precluded Milne from canceling the original licensing deal and could not itself be canceled under the 1998 amendments.
The case is interesting in its discussion of termination rights under the Sonny Bono Act (see here and here), but also because David Nimmer, son of Melville Nimmer and author of the influential Nimmer on Copyright, represented Milne on the losing side. Further, Melville had represented the Slesinger side in the early stages of the case.
In the opinion, the court dismissed David Nimmer’s contention, supported by his treatise, that a moment of freedom must have existed between the simultaneous revocation and regranting of the rights over Pooh in the 1983 agreement, making it a mere amendment rather than a new contract, as “his assumption.” Ouch.
The 9th Circuit opinion, Milne v. Stephen Slesinger, 430 F.3d 1036 (9th Cir. 2005), can be read here.

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June 13, 2006

Online Not an Amish Paradise

Filed under: Uncategorized — nick @ 8:27 pm

Weird Al admits that he makes more money from an album sale than he does from a download. Of course, this isn't very clear as to whether he's making less in total, or if he makes less per album sold online, or whatever. It sounds like he has recently adjusted his contract, so perhaps he got screwed. Perhaps he is just suffering the fate of an artist who only has one or two worthwhile songs per album, as well as the fact that such "joke" songs are prime suspects when it comes to BitTorrent or LimeWire. Whatever the reason, I'll flip out if I ever hear Weird Al's name thrown around as proof that music downloads hurt artists because the fact that he made so much money back in the day shows exactly how successful record companies were in abusing their customers into wasting money and why they're upset they can't do the same as well today.

 6.15.2006 1:27pm:  I guess I have to flip out now.  Turns out that when you run the numbers, artists do get screwed on digital downloads.  However, they're getting screwed by their labels which makes a huge difference.  Is anyone really working to protect these artists?

A Moral Country with Lax Moral Rights

Filed under: Uncategorized — nick @ 7:04 pm

Here is an interesting look from Plagiarism Today on how the US and Europe deal with the moral rights of creators and how the US lags behind.  Moral rights concern the personal and reputational value of a work to its creator as opposed to traditional copyright rights that protect a work’s monetary aspects.  This issue of moral rights seems especially relevant to the James Joyce lawsuit recently reported on.

Hollywood’s Sacred Cow Growing Thin

Filed under: Uncategorized — nick @ 11:41 am

DVD sales are slowing, causing Hollywood to worry about how to maintain their current profit levels.  Statistics show that DVDs represent half of the revenue Hollywood generates from its movies and sales are expected to only grow 2% this year after double-digit growth only 2 years ago.  By 2010, DVD sales are expected to drop 20% from their current levels.

This shouldn’t be much of a surprise.  The DVD was originally introduced in America in 1997 with the movie Twister being the first DVD release.  It should be expected that over the course of 10 years Americans would be able to build up their DVD collections to the point where they are only concerned with keeping an eye out for newly released movies to buy.  And considering that most movies these days are dogs or are remakes of movies that most already own (and are terrible to boot), such should only further slow DVD sales.

Also, customers seem to be catching on to the favorite studio tactic of repackaging old movies in new ways, and the studios seem to realize this:

“We were shameless,” said Steve Beeks, the president of Lions Gate Entertainment, which has issued several new versions of the Terminator movies. “We would release special editions as long as people would buy them.”

Honestly, except for fanatics, is there really any reason to buy 4 or 5 different versions of the Star Wars Trilogy?

Hollywood’s hope lies in the the future of HD-DVDs (or Blu-ray, if it ever comes out).  With a new format and shiny new players that may or may not work with all the new HD-TVs on the market, Hollywood seems poised to push consumers towards restocking their collections with the new format.  Whether consumers, who may have finally gotten that last DVD to finish their collection, start buying up the new format is questionable.  As the saying goes, you can lead a man to a cow, but you can’t make him drink the milk.

June 12, 2006

I’ll Take a Fendi and a 10-Pack of Socks

Filed under: Uncategorized — nick @ 1:08 am

Fendi, a unit of Louis Vuitton, is suing Wal-Mart, claiming that it carries knockoff handbags, wallets and key chains and is passing them off as genuine items.  No reports, however, about how many of the counterfeit goods, available for as much as 45% off, have been sold.  It’s good to see that the venerable Wal-Mart is not above the Chinatown counterfeit operation, but it remains to be seen whether Fendi will seek to have the guilty Wal-Mart stores evicted from their buildings, a favorite trick of LVMH’s legal team.

Vikings Were the Original Pirates

Filed under: Uncategorized — nick @ 12:32 am

This Norwegian website has a rundown of the trouble Apple is having in that country over iTunes and DRM.  A complaint was filed in January by the Consumer Council with the Consumer Ombudsman (I love that title) claiming that iTunes is unfair to Norwegian consumers because, among other things, it can change consumer’s rights to their purchased music at any time after the purchase, consumers are unable to crack the FairPlay DRM system to allow iTunes music on non-Apple players, Norwegians must subject themselves to English law regarding any dispute over iTunes, nor is iTunes liable if it harms a consumer’s computer (a la the Sony rootkit fiasco).  The official complaint can be read here.  Then last week the Consumer Ombudsman agreed with the complaint and has contacted Apple over the allegations:

Among other things, the decision clearly states that the terms of agreement demanded by iTunes are unreasonable with respect to Section 9a of the Norwegian Marketing Control Act. Moreover, it is unreasonable that the agreement the consumer must give consent to is regulated by English law. That iTunes disclaims all liability for possible damage the software may cause and that it may alter the rights to the music, are also considered unreasonable. iTunes must now alter their terms and conditions to comply with Norwegian law by the 21.of June.

Thanks to (c)opyBites.

People So Excited Over Shiloh, It’s Suing

Filed under: Uncategorized — nick @ 12:11 am

Gawker appears to be in some hot water with Time's lawyers over last weeks pictures of Brangelina's Shiloh. Last Tuesday Gawker reported that People magazine won the auction for the North American rights to the baby pictures by ponying up a whopping $4.1 million. In its coverage, Gawker included a thumbnail of the Hello magazine cover, a magazine that bought the rights for the pictures overseas. It wasn't long after the posting that Time's lawyers contacted Gawker and threatened legal action over copyright infringement. Reading the play-by-play provided by the emails is also quite interesting. EFF is all over this and provides a fair use analysis. Gawker has since replaced the Hello thumbnail with one of the People cover.

Though one would hope that this is a clear case of fair use, the more interesting question to me is the international flavor of the controversy. Does it make sense anymore for exclusive geographic rights agreements, like this one, if the magazines are going to post their pictures online as well as in print? And assuming this is fair use, is Gawker's behavior a real problem or is the problem that Time paid lots of money for a right that wasn't as good a deal as they thought? I'm not sure that Time actually thought about the fact that Hello's cover would be available online before their cover was, essentially robbing them of their exclusive North American rights. Such could explain what appears to be a rushed legal effort to stamp out Gawker's coverage, or perhaps it strikes me as rushed merely because their trying to defend a suspect position.

June 5, 2006

To Telecommute or Not To Telecommute

Filed under: Uncategorized — nick @ 7:06 pm

Techdirt posts on extremes in the telecommuting managing fad. For an interesting look into the costs and benefits of working from home, I suggest The Social Life of Information by John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid. It's a great book that's well written and discusses all of the ways that people absorb and process information without ever thinking about it. The central argument of the book is that even with all the technology that allows us to be somewhere else, there is much we take for granted about face-to-face interaction that needs to be recognized in an online world. One learning situation the book describes is sitting in the desk next to a more experienced worker and all the knowledge you gain merely by overhearing the difficulties and solutions they encounter. I may not be much of a book reviewer, so don't take my word for it, this is what Slashdot had to say:

This book is fantastic. I would like to buy a few dozen copies and pass them out in airports while I wear saffron robes. Or leave them in hotel rooms Gideon style.

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