Lawsuit over the Statue of Liberty

You know the  “forever” stamp with a closeup of the face of the Statue of Liberty?  A few years ago, there was a bit of controversy when it was discovered that the image on the stamp is not of the Lady Liberty who presides over the harbor at New York City.  Rather, it is a copy of the cheesy fake statue at the New York-New York casino in Las Vegas!

That’s bad enough.  But now the sculptor is suing the US Postal Service for copyright infringement and may be entitled to royalties for every stamp sold (which comes to 4 billion).  In his lawsuit, the artist, Robert S. Davidson, claims that he “brought a new face to the iconic statue — a face which audiences found appeared more ‘fresh-faced,’ ‘sultry’ and ‘even sexier’ than the original.”  Maybe Mr. Davidson should pay a royalty for plagiarizing–if not vandalizing–the national monument!  Read about the case and compare the images after the jump. [Read more...]

Big business vs. free enterprise

Ezra Klein tells about young conservative think-tanker Derek Khanna, who wrote at his bosses’ behest a paper criticizing the heavy-handed use of copyright law to inhibit competition.  Conservatives praised the paper, but then pushback from corporate funders caused the think tank to pull the paper and fire its author.

Khanna had unwittingly stumbled into a deep fissure in today’s Republican Party. The party sees itself as the champion of private enterprise. But which private enterprises? The ones that exist today? Or the ones that might exist tomorrow?

There’s a difference between being the party of free markets and the party of existing businesses. Excessively tough copyright law is good for big businesses with large legal departments but bad for new businesses that can’t afford a lawyer. And while Khanna, like many young conservative thinkers, believes in free markets, the Republican Party is heavily funded by big businesses. [Read more...]

Copyright and re-sales from overseas

The Supreme Court is considering a case that requires the wisdom of Solomon:

Supap Kirtsaeng was studying in the United States when he struck a nerve in the publishing world by tapping into the market for cheaper college textbooks. Kirtsaeng re-sold copyrighted books that relatives first bought abroad.

His profitable venture provoked a copyright infringement lawsuit from publisher John Wiley & Sons. The case is being argued Monday at the high court.

Kirtsaeng used eBay to sell $900,000 worth of books published abroad by Wiley and others and made about $100,000 in profit. The international editions of the textbooks were essentially the same as the more costly American editions. A jury in New York awarded Wiley $600,000 after deciding Kirtsaeng sold copies of eight Wiley textbooks without permission.

The issue at the Supreme Court concerns what protection the holder of a copyright has after a product made outside the United States is sold for the first time. In this case, the issue is whether U.S. copyright protection applies to items that are made abroad, purchased abroad and then resold in the U.S. without the permission of the manufacturer. The high court split 4-4 when it tried to answer that question in a case in 2010 involving Costco and Swiss watch maker Omega. . . .

The court already has rejected copyright claims over U.S.-made items that were sold abroad and then brought back to the United States for re-sale.

The current case has attracted so much attention because it could affect many goods sold on eBay, Google and other Internet sites, and at Costco and other discount stores. The re-sale of merchandise that originates overseas often is called the gray market, and it has an annual value in the tens of billions of dollars.

Consumers benefit from this market because manufacturers commonly price items more cheaply abroad than in the United States.

The federal appeals court in New York sided with Wiley in this case.

EBay and Google say in court papers that the appellate ruling “threatens the increasingly important e-commerce sector of the economy.” Art museums fear that the ruling, if allowed to stand, would jeopardize their ability to exhibit art created outside the United States.

Conversely, the producers of copyrighted movies, music and other goods say that their businesses will be undercut by unauthorized sales if the court blesses Kirtsaeng’s actions. . . .

[Attorney Theodore]  Olson said there may be good reasons why manufacturers price the same goods differently for domestic and foreign sales, including lower incomes and standards of living in many foreign countries.

via Online, discount sellers back Thai student in Supreme Court copyright case – The Washington Post.

This would seem to be a corollary of the global economy.  Prices are lower in some lower-income markets.  But now it’s possible for consumers in high-price markets to use the internet to buy from the lower-cost countries.

Buying drugs from Canada would be another example, once considered by pharmacy companies as even less fair because the Canadian government subsidizes drugs in that country and makes them cheaper than the free market would dictate.

The advantage to consumers is obvious, but can a company stay in business that way?  Would it force companies to charge high-price market rates in poor countries, thus preventing citizens of poorer nations from buying what they need and would otherwise be able to buy?

And copyright adds another dimension.  Writers get nothing when their works are re-sold in used bookstores or online, which has always struck me, being an author, as wrong, though I can’t think of an alternative that wouldn’t also be wrong.

Wikipedia is on strike today

If you try looking something up today on Wikipedia, you won’t be able to.  The ubiquitous online encyclopedia is shutting down as a way to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) currently before Congress.  Other sites, such as Reddit and Boing Boing are also joining the strike.  Google and others will not shut down, but they will put up messages decrying the attempt at internet “censorship.”  Here are some details:

Though the Stop Online Piracy Act has the support from the likes of Hollywood, the music industry, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, many Silicon Valley firms say it effectively amounts to censorship. To show their opposition to the bill, some sites are planning a service blackout on Jan. 18. Hayley Tsukayama reports:

Wikipedia, Reddit and Boing Boing are planning to black out their services Wednesday to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act by showing users the bill’s effect on Web companies. These companies object to language in the bills, which are aimed at stopping online piracy on foreign Web sites, that grant the U.S. government the right to block entire Web sites with copyright-infringing content on them from the Internet.

Wikipedia will block all of its English-language pages — the first time since the encylopedia’s 2001 launch that it has ever restricted access to those pages as a form of protest.

“[It’s] a decision that wasn’t lightly made,” the company said on its blog Monday. The decision to take down the free encyclopedia’s English pages was made with the input of 1800 Wikipedia users who voted overwhelmingly in favor of the blackout, according to statement from the Wikimedia Foundation. . . .

via SOPA protests planned by Google, Wikipedia and others on Jan. 18 – The Washington Post.

What would SOPA do?  As I understand it, the target is sites that pirate movies and music.  But what the bill does is to allow for court orders that would actually take down sites–including those from other countries–by delisting the domains and stopping search engines and service providers from accessing them.  From Everything You Need to Know about Congress’s Online Piracy Bills:

At a basic level, SOPA — and its Senate analogue, the Protect IP Act — would enable copyright holders and the Justice Department to get court orders against sites that “engage in, enable, or facilitate” copyright infringement. That could include, say, sites that host illegal mp3s or sites that link to such sites (the revised House bill focuses primarily on foreign sites like, oh, Pirate Bay). Courts could bar advertisers and payment companies such as PayPal from doing business with the offending sites in question, order search engines to stop listing the accused infringers, or even require Internet service providers to block access entirely. The bills contain other provisions, too, like making it a felony to stream unauthorized content online. . . .

Why are tech start-ups so vehemently opposed? These companies have argued that the bills are tantamount to Internet censorship. Rather than receiving a notification for copyright violations, sites now face immediate action — up to and including being taken down before they have a chance to respond. Intermediary sites like YouTube and Flickr could lose their “safe harbor” protections. Nonprofit or low-budget sites might not have the resources to defend themselves against costly lawsuits. And, meanwhile, larger companies like Google and Facebook could be forced to spend considerable time and money policing their millions of offerings each day for offending material.

Do these online piracy bills threaten free speech? Plenty of law professors, including Harvard’s Laurence Tribe, think so. The original version of the bill would have allowed copyright holders to block advertising and payment services for an accused Web site before a judicial hearing even took place. The new version of the House bill would require a hearing first, but, as Julian Sanchez notes, the bill “still makes it far too easy for U.S. corporations to effectively destroy foreign Internet sites based on a one-sided proceeding in U.S. courts.” Other critics have worried that the bill’s language is far too broad, threatening all sorts of potentially benign Internet uses. What’s more, the Electronic Frontier Foundation worries that the bill cracks down on electronic tools to circumvent government blacklists that are essential to human rights activists and political dissidents around the world.

Could the bills actually “break” the Internet? Many tech experts think so. The bills would give courts the power to order rogue sites to be de-listed from the Domain Name System — basically, the Internet’s phone directory. U.S. service providers would be tasked with acting as if the site didn’t exist at all (although the newly revised House bill gives a little bit of flexibility here). A big potential pitfall here is that the Internet is global, and it’s possible that users could seek out foreign DNS servers to access blacklisted sites. Some experts have raised security concerns about this splintering of the Internet’s architecture.

I’m curious who in Congress is pushing for this?  Democrats or Republicans or both?

Do you think this is much-needed protection of intellectual and creative property?  Or are the methods too heavy-handed, with unintended consequences that could damage the internet as a whole?


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