The U.S. Supreme Court today granted a motion made by the Acting U.S. Solicitor General to participate in oral argument as an amicus in the case of Unicolors v. H&M. The case asks the Court to decide whether the Ninth Circuit properly construed the language of 17 U.S.C. § 411 relating to whether courts must have evidence of intent to defraud before referring copyright registration validity questions to the Copyright Office. Oral argument is set for November 7.
The American Law Institute (ALI) is under fire this week for its Restatement of Copyright Law project, which it was set to vote on during its Annual Meeting this week. According to the Copyright Alliance, ALI members on June 8 approved many sections that will make up the first three chapters of the Restatement. In 2019, members of Congress sent a letter expressing serious concerns over the project. Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Representatives Ben Cline (R-VA), Martha Roby (R-AL), Theodore Deutch (R-FL) and Harley Rouda (D-CA) sent a letter to ALI stating that laws created through federal statute like copyright are “ill-suited for treatment in a Restatement” and threaten to muddle the law. The U.S. Copyright Office, the American Bar Association (IP Law Section) and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office raised similar concerns.
In August, amid growing concern that the U.S. Copyright Office has become antiquated and out of touch with the needs of modern users, Senator Thom Tillis sent a letter to Librarian of Congress Dr. Carla Hayden and Register of Copyrights Karyn Temple asking them to answer a number of questions relating to the timeline for their efforts to modernize the Copyright Office. Hayden and Temple submitted their responses Monday, noting that the modernization effort is “one of the most significant operational undertakings the Library and Copyright Office face in the near term.” In their letter to Tillis, Hayden and Temple explained that, while efforts are already underway, including the expected launch of a limited-pilot version of the new Copyright Recordation system by Spring of 2020, modernization “remains an ambitious and technologically sophisticated undertaking.”
Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) sent a letter to Librarian of Congress Dr. Carla Hayden and Register of Copyrights Karyn Temple on Tuesday, August 27, asking that they help him to “speed up the modernization process” for the U.S. Copyright Office. Tillis posed seven pointed questions to Hayden and Temple, which in part implied that their agencies’ reliance on legacy contractors and internal staff to implement the pending IT updates could be the source of proposed timelines that Tillis characterized as “unnecessarily long in the age of agile IT.”
On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Intellectual Property convened an oversight hearing of the U.S. Copyright Office featuring testimony from Karyn Temple, the Register of Copyrights and Director of the Copyright Office. Much of the hearing focused on the Office’s efforts to modernize its information technology infrastructure and business processes, although implementation of the recently passed Music Modernization Act (MMA) and new forms of digital piracy were also discussed.
On October 11, the Orrin G. Hatch-Bob Goodlatte Music Modernization Act (MMA) was enacted into law after passing both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. The bill was drafted in order to modernize U.S. copyright law as it relates to the licensing of copyright protected music for use in digital streaming services such as Spotify or Apple Music. Such digital service providers (DSPs) may obtain a new kind of license created by the law, known as a blanket license, which covers the distribution of all musical works available for compulsory licensing. DSPs may then make these works available to consumers through covered activities, such as delivering digital phonorecords of musical works available in the form of a permanent download, a limited download or as an interactive stream.In short, the blanket license under the MMA allows Spotify and others to offer streaming music services without having to negotiate licenses with copyright-owning entities, including recording studios and songwriters. Instead, these streaming services would obtain a blanket license from the Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC), another new feature of the MMA. The MLC is a non-profit entity responsible for administering blanket licenses to DSPs, collecting and distributing royalties, enabling copyright owners to claim ownership of musical works and administering a process by which royalties for works with unidentified owners are equitably distributed to known copyright owners. The statutory language of the MMA directs the Register of Copyrights to designate the membership of the MLC within 270 days of enactment of the law. Given the date on which the MMA was enacted, this would indicate that July 8 of this year is the deadline for Register of Copyrights Karyn Temple to designate the MLC that would start administering blanket licenses at the beginning of 2021. There are two groups that have proposed their own membership of the MLC to the Copyright Office: a coalition of major publishers from the music industry, including the National Music Publishers Association (NMPA), Songwriters of North America (SONA) and Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI); and the American Music Licensing Collective (AMLC), a collection of songwriters, musicians, tech developers and executives from smaller rights organizations and publishers within the music industry.
This week in Other Barks & Bites: Karyn Temple is appointed Register of Copyrights; the International Trade Commission recommends excluding certain iPhone models for infringing Qualcomm patent claims; the EU approves new copyright rules which will affect online media platforms; Senators Tillis and Coons move forward with stakeholder discussions on a legislative fix to Section 101 of patent law; Peloton responds to copyright infringement suit by dropping online cycling classes; Amazon adds nearly 1,000 jobs in Austin, TX; the District of Delaware tosses out willful infringement claims against Intel; and Oracle files opposition asking Supreme Court to deny a petition for writ filed by Google.
This week on Capitol Hill, the Senate appropriations Committee will hold a hearing on efforts leading to advanced nuclear reactor technology while the Senate rules committee will consider a bill that would amend the nomination process and the required qualifications for the Register of Copyrights. Over in the House of Representatives, hearings on artificial intelligence applications for national defense, Google’s data collection practices and a recently passed bill for bridging the digital divide will also take place this week.
One of the new exemptions for motion pictures includes the expansion of the exemption of TPMs protecting motion picture clips on DVDs, Blu-Rays and streaming services to include fictional films; the prior exemption only protected documentary filmmakers circumventing TPMs on those tech platforms to capture movie clips. Fictional filmmakers are now able to circumvent TPMs on the same platforms where the circumvention is intended to capture a clip for use in parody or where the clip is significant for biographical or historical reasons.
Some circuit courts have held that a work is “registered” and the copyright owner can sue an infringer as soon as the applicant files the application, deposits a copy of the work and pays a fee. This is known as the “application” approach. Other circuit courts follow the “registration” approach which requires the Copyright Office to act on the application—by examining it and either approving or refusing it—before the copyright owner may file suit. So, which approach is correct? We should soon have an answer as the United States Supreme Court has agreed to hear Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corporation v Wall-Street.com, LLC to resolve this issue and finally decide what it means to be “registered.”
H.R. 1695 would amend 17 U.S.C. 701. Currently, the Register of Copyrights is appointed by the Librarian of Congress, and acts under the Librarian’s direction and supervision. That would change if and when H.R. 1695 becomes the law of the land. The substantive change would add the following sentence: “The Register of Copyrights shall be a citizen of the United States with a professional background and experience in copyright law and shall be appointed by the President from the individuals recommended under paragraph (6), by and with the advice and consent of the Senate.”
Google tries to strike a “patent peace” with a new cross-licensing initiative for Android developers. The Federal Circuit is petitioned for review of a judgment in a patent case on the grounds that arbitration flouted public policy. A couple of Texas academic institutions square off in a patent battle over cancer treatments. Also, a House bill moves forward which would make the Register of Copyrights a Presidential appointee.
In a fast moving story that developed late last week, Maria Pallante is now the former Register of Copyrights. According to The Register, critics believe this was an attempt by certain well placed tech giants in Silicon Valley to assert influence over U.S. government policy during the waning days of the Obama Administration.
At the end of her speech Pallante mentioned that she had just received a letter from the Senate Judiciary Committee, specifically sent by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who Chairs the Committee, and Ranking Member Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT). The letter from Grassley and Leahy asked the Copyright Office to undertake a study and to report back on a number of software copyright issues. Pallante read a portion of the letter received from the Senate Judiciary Committee, which said: “As software plays an ever increasing role in defining consumer interactions with devices and products, many questions are being asked about how consumers can lawfully use products that rely on software to function.” She then remarked that this inquiry goes away from copyrights merely protecting expressive content, and further pointed out that the Senate is asking about works that are protected by copyright but still functional.
The Copyright Office has told Congress that the copyright laws are showing their age and need Congressional attention. With the prospect of comprehensive copyright reform on the horizon the familiar battle lines are being drawn between those who absolutely need copyright protection to survive and create versus those who are a part of the infringement culture. Without a solution to the growing culture of infringement original creation of copyrightable works will continue to experience downward pressure, which will ultimately curtail original creation by all those other than corporate conglomerates that have the resources to police and enforce. Do we really want to see the market squeeze out independent content creators due to copyright laws that don’t function given the new age technological realities?