Beware of Work-for-Hire Nuances

The term “work-for-hire” is often loosely used to refer to an agreement with an author, musician, or other independent contractor to create a copyrighted work.  “Work-for-hire” agreements are routinely entered for the purpose of vesting ownership of the work with the party paying for the work.  The term “work-for-hire” has a precise meaning under the U.S. Copyright Act, and if care is not used to properly draft the agreement, the partying paying for the work may not legally own all rights to the work. 

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Special Copyright Provisions for Certain Nonprofits

As discussed in our prior article, use of a copyrighted work by a nonprofit organization will not usually qualify as a fair use. However, several statutory provisions of the Copyright Act (17 U.S.C. § 101 et seq.) allow certain nonprofit organizations to use copyrighted works without obtaining the copyright owner’s permission. Most of those provisions have very technical requirements and apply to limited circumstances. Before relying on one of those provisions, the nonprofit organization should review all statutory requirements to make sure its use qualifies. One of the more useful provisions allows a nonprofit organization to perform a nondramatic literary or musical work at fundraisers. In order to qualify for this provision, no admission fees can be charged at the showing, those performing the work must do so at no charge, and all proceeds from the performance, such as donations, must be used exclusively for charitable purposes. 

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Nonprofits and the Fair Use Defense

It is a common misconception that nonprofit organizations have special rights to use copyrighted works without permission. This misconception arises from the first fair use factor, which considers “the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes.”  As explained below, “nonprofit educational purposes” is very narrowly defined. Even if a use is actually included in “nonprofit educational purpose” the use may not qualify as a fair use if the other fair use factors weigh against fair use. While the law does not generally grant nonprofit organizations the right to use copyrighted works as a fair use, the U.S. Copyright Act does grant several statutory exemptions in limited situations.

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Brexit Changes European Trademark Registration Strategies

With the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union becoming official on January 31, 2020, trademark owners should evaluate their trademark registration strategies to ensure their marks remain protected throughout Europe. While the U.K. was a member of the E.U., trademark owners were able to protect their marks in the U.K. and all other E.U. member states with a single, European-Union trademark registration. The U.K.’s withdrawal will not bring any immediate changes to the trademark registration process, as E.U. trademark registrations will continue to be valid in the U.K. until the end of the transition period on December 31, 2020.

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Supreme Court to Hear “Not-So-Generic” Case Regarding Generic Trademarks

UPDATE: In an 8-1 decision, the Court found in favor of Booking.com and held that its trademark was entitled to registration (Patent and Trademark Office v. Booking.com B. V.). The Court reasoned that since one entity can own an Internet domain name at the same time that a domain name can serve a source-indicating function to the general public. The Court rejected the USPTO’s categorical rule against registration of a generic word following by a “.com” or other top-level domain name. Writing for the majority, Justice Ginsburg explained that the controlling test “depends on whether consumers in fact perceive that term as the name of a class or, instead, as a term capable of distinguishing among members of the class.”

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case that could have profound implications for owners of generic marks.  In United States Patent and Trademark Office v. Booking.com B.V., the U.S. Supreme Court will decide if adding the term “.com” to a generic word creates a protectable trademark for an online business.  This case arose when the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) refused registration of “Booking.com” as a trademark for an online travel website.  The USPTO determined that the word “Booking” was generic for hotel reservation services.  Adding the top-level domain “.com” to the generic word, the USPTO reasoned, did not create a distinctive mark because top-level domains do not ordinarily serve a source-indicating function.

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Supreme Court to Decide Epic 10-Year Copyright Infringement Case

UPDATE: Oral arguments are scheduled for October 7, 2020. Due to COVID-19, oral arguments will be conducted by phone. A live feed of the argument will be available at c-span.org and a recording will later be posted to the Supreme Court’s website. A decision is expected by the end of the Court term in June 2021.

The “copyright lawsuit of the decade” is finally coming to a conclusion, as the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari to Google LLC v. Oracle America, Inc.  The Court’s decision is immensely important to the computer software industry since the Court will decide if a software application programming interface (API) is protected by copyright. The Court may, for the first time in 25 years, address the copyright fair use doctrine by deciding if use of an API is a fair use. This case has a long and convoluted history, but it started in 2010 when Oracle sued Google, alleging that Google committed patent and copyright infringement by using Java application programming interface declarations in its Android platform. The patent claims were resolved, leaving the copyright infringement claim. After several rounds of decisions, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit held that APIs were protected by copyright and that Google’s use of them did not constitute fair use. Google appealed to the Supreme Court seeking reversal of those decisions.

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Proposed Legislation Would Create a Small Claims Court for Copyright Disputes

The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that would create a small claims court for copyright disputes.  If enacted into law, the Case Act would create a dispute resolution system known as the Copyright Claims Board. The Copyright Claims Board would be housed within the U.S. Copyright Office and would be an alternate forum to resolve copyright disputes when the amount in controversy is less than $30,000. Under the legislation as currently worded, the Copyright Office would be responsible for setting up a filing system, enacting rules to govern proceedings, and appointing panels of copyright experts, called Copyright Claims Officers, to decide disputes.  Many details still need to be worked out, but all disputes would be decided based upon written submissions and Internet-based communications with no in-person appearances in court. Intellectual property practitioners are likely familiar with the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB), which decides federal trademark registration disputes.  Trials before the Copyright Claims Board could share similarities with the TTAB.

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Beware of Copyright Trolls

Have you ever copied a photograph from a website thinking that the photograph was free to use?  You may have thought this because the photograph did not contain a watermark or copyright notice. Maybe the photograph claimed that it was “royalty free,” and you assumed that meant it was free to use for no charge.  Or, perhaps you were aware that using the photograph was not authorized, but you figured it would never be discovered. These are common mistakes that can prove to be costly.

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New Rule Requires U.S. Counsel to Represent Foreign Trademark Applicants and Registrants

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) issued a new rule that requires foreign trademark applicants and registrants to be represented by an attorney licensed in the United States. Under the U.S. counsel rule, codified at 37 C.F.R. § 2.11(a), any trademark applicant or registrant domiciled outside of the United States must retain U.S. counsel to file any document before the USPTO.  This rule change is an effort to combat the unauthorized practice of law as well as the use of fake or suspicious specimens. The rule change was prompted by the USPTO’s examination of foreign trademark applications. In some cases, foreign applicants filed hundreds of trademark applications in their own names.  After reviewing those applications, the USPTO discovered that those applications were, in fact, filed by foreign practitioners.

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Avoid Copyright Infringement

How to Properly Use Music and Images During Worship Service

Churches today use a variety of intellectual property during worship services, such as music, photographs, quotes, and video clips.  These materials can be important to a worship service by increasing engagement, illustrating a point, or adding extra meaning to the service.  However, most materials are protected by copyright laws.

Using intellectual property without the permission of the copyright owner or other legal authority is copyright infringement and can result in significant monetary damages.  Churches need to know the legal issues that apply to using intellectual property so they can take steps to get permission when needed and avoid copyright infringement.    Continue reading “Avoid Copyright Infringement”