Your website is hip, innovative, informative, and interactive and does it all using cutting-edge design. But…is it also inviting legal trouble? Here’s my rundown of a few common website mistakes: You are committing massive copyright infringement. Okay, maybe not you directly but your users are and, under copyright law, that means you are too. If your website allows users to post content, even just comments, then it allows them to commit copyright infringement for which you (perhaps even personally) are responsible. To protect yourself, you need a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) notice and takedown procedure in place, and you need to do it right. It’s not enough simply to say you take down infringing content. You have to specifically follow the statutory requirements. Even websites that purport to follow and rely on the DMCA are often times not doing it right – and, therefore, cannot get the benefit of its safe harbors. You are liable for your users’ comments. Under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, websites are immune from liability for statements posted by their users. That is...sometimes. Where websites get in trouble is where they edit or shape user comments. Some websites may be doing this without even intending to. The manner in which you solicit comments from your users may be enough “shaping” to lose Section 230 immunity. Websites should take a hard look at how they are soliciting user comments. You are in violation of securities laws. Lots of startup companies are in need of capital. What better way to solicit interest from ...


On Saturday, November 13, 2010, the Arts, Communications, Entertainment and Sports (ACES) Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan, together with the Right to Write Foundation, are presenting a program on copyright law and fair use for artists, students, and legal practitioners, including a panel discussion on the seminal fair use case J.K. Rowling. v. RDR Books, also known as The Harry Potter Lexicon Case.  The program will run from approximately 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at the Ann Arbor campus of Thomas M. Cooley School of Law, 3475 Plymouth Road, Ann Arbor, MI 48105.  The cost for the program, including lunch, is $25 per participant ($10 for Cooley students).  This program is made possible by the generous support of Gerald R. Ford Library and Thomas M. Cooley School of Law. Program 9:30 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.                        Registration 10:00 a.m. – 10:45 a.m.                      Keynote Address, presented by Jack Bernard, Asst. Gen. Counsel for the University of Michigan 10:45 a.m. – 11:45 a.m.                      History and Overview of Copyright Law, presented by Lawrence Jordan, Jaffe Raitt Heuer & Weiss 11:45 a.m. – 1:15 p.m.                       Lunch and lecture, The Fair Use Doctrine, presented by Julie Ahrens, Associate Director of The Stanford Fair Use Project 1:15 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.                         The Harry Potter Lexicon Case, a panel discussion with Roger Rapoport, owner of RDR Books; Julie Ahrens, Assoc. Dir. of the Stanford Fair Use Project; Lawrence ...


Program on Copyright Law

The Grand Rapids Legal News provides a nice recap of the Program on Copyright Law and Fair Use for Creative Artists that I participated in last Saturday at Grand Valley State.  From the article: Julie Ahrens of the Stanford Fair Use Project, speaking to a small group of attorneys gathered April 3 in Grand Rapids, quoted Lawrence Lessig’s wry observation: “‘Fair use’ in America is the right to hire a lawyer.” The remark may be humorous, but it is also an accurate comment on what legitimately results from the fair use language. The doctrine is written in a way that lends to each individual case having to be decided by a judge. Ahrens was at Grand Valley State University’s DeVos Center as part of a “Copyright Basics and Fair Use” conference held by the ACES (Arts,  Communications, Entertainment and Sports) Section of the State Bar. It was co-sponsored by the Right to Write Foundation, a clearinghouse on fair use law and a fund to help artists defend fair use cases which operates out of Muskegon. You can read the whole article here.


On Saturday, April 3, 2010, the Arts, Communications, Entertainment & Sports (“ACES”) Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan is co-hosting with the Right to Write Fund, in association with the Stanford Fair Use Project and Grand Valley State University, a lecture on copyright law basics for creative artists followed by a panel discussion on the recent fair use case Rowling v. RDR Books. Lee VanOrsdel, Dean of University Libraries, will be providing introductory remarks.  The copyright lecture will be lead by Grand Rapids copyright lawyer Jeff Nelson of Warner Norcross.  I'm moderating the panel discussion and will be joined by Roger Rapoport, owner of RDR Books, and Julie Ahrens, Associate Director of the Stanford Fair Use Project.  The program will run from approximately 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at the DeVos Center, 401 West Fulton, Lecture Hall 136 E, Grand Rapids, MI 49504. The seminar will provide information and materials for Michigan creative artists and lawyers on important issues of copyright law, fair use, and the First Amendment.  The cost of the event will be $30 per participant ($20 for students), which includes a lunch.  A reception will follow the conference and sponsored by the Right to Write Fund and ACES. About Rowling v. RDR Books.  Muskegon publisher Roger Rapoport, owner of RDR Books, and writer Steve Vander Ark, founder of “The Harry Potter Lexicon” fansite, became embroiled in a copyright battle with J.K. Rowling, author of the hugely popular Harry Potter books, and Warner Bros., producers of the hit ...


It has become a matter of course that any commercial publication is going to have a copyright notice slapped on it by the publisher regardless of the actual copyrightability of the material.  I first noticed this when perusing a book store several years ago and came across a published copy of Congress's 9/11 Commission Report.  The Report is non-copyrightable as a government work.  In this case, a publisher republished the Report in its entirety in book form, without adding any additional material, but nevertheless placed a copyright notice on the book in the publisher's name.  Over the years, I've notice copyright notices on all manner of materials otherwise devoid of copyrightable content, including some deposition transcripts. The Exclusive Rights blog now points to an interesting unpublished opinion from the 10th Circuit concerning court reporters and their transcripts.  A transcript, of course, is nothing more than a written record of all of the oral testimony and arguments made during court proceedings; the transcript is expected to be an exact and unedited record of every spoken word, with each speaker indicated.  As such, transcripts are not copyrightable because, among other reasons, the reporters are not "authors" under the Copyright Act -- the material, to the extent it is copyrightable at all, is not original to the court reporter. This didn't prevent a court reporter from complaining, however, when an attorney obtained copies of the reporter's trial transcripts under New Mexico's Inspection of Public Records Act, instead of paying the court reporter for a copy at a higher ...


Google Books Settlement and Privacy Concerns

NPR had a radio story the other day on the Google Books settlement and the privacy concerns raised by authors and publishers.  It's short but does a great job of covering the the issue. For those that don't know, Google has been working on a project to scan millions of library books and put them online.  Essentially, doing for books what Google has already done for the Internet; making them searchable and accessible.  The project is the subject of a copyright lawsuit filed by authors and publishers and a tentative settlement is waiting approval from the judge (which is likely to come this fall).  The problem for some authors and publishers, however, is that the settlement covers the copyright issue but doesn't address Google's practice of tracking and storing users' personal search and reading habits.  The danger is that this private information could be used inappropriately.  The example given in the NPR piece is where your health insurance company may find out what medical books (and diseases) you are searching for and reading.  The EFF and ACLU don't want Google to save this kind of reader data. To get a better understanding of the issue, I recommend listening to the full NPR story.


"A 12-person jury deliberated six hours over two days in January before awarding [the plaintiff] $50,000 in compensatory damages.  The verdict made him the first plaintiff awarded damages in a libel suit against a blogger....The case is one of at least 50 similar suits filed in the past several years." -- Kansas City Daily News, October 26, 2006 "Social media - always fun until someone gets sued." -- FP Legal Post, March 16, 2009 What are blogs, wikis, and online forums? Blogs, wikis, and online forums are part of the Web 2.0 social media explosion that are changing the way we do business and work with each other. Web 2.0 represents one of the greatest opportunities of our lifetime to share ideas and work collaboratively. However, Web 2.0 also represents one of the newest legal threats to people and companies utilizing these tools.  Whether you are new to Web 2.0 or a relative old-timer, you have probably witnessed more and more stories every day about people and companies getting in trouble for what they or their users have posted online. What legal liability issues can arise from my blog, wiki, or online forum? Generally, you face the same liability issues as anyone making a publication available to the public. The main legal liability issues include: Defamation Intellectual Property (Copyright/Trademark) Trade Secret Right of Publicity Invasion of Privacy Whenever you open the Web 2.0 door, inevitably someone will publish information or post content that others don't want published.  Someone might, for example, publish something that someone considers defamatory or private, republish someone's copyrighted content without permission, or misuse or ...


You probably already knew that a software license is a contract between an owner of computer software and an end user of that computer software - sometimes called an End User License Agreement or "EULA" - that specifies the scope of the rights granted by the owner to the user.  But what you may not know is the meaning behind the many different types of software and licenses out there.  Here are just a few examples of the types of software and licenses typically used: "Free software" or "open source software" is software which can be used, copied, studied, modified and redistributed without restriction.  "Free" in this sense, however, doesn't mean "gratis" but rather "free to do with as you please."  The usual way for software to be distributed as free software or open source software is for the software to be accompanied by a software license and a copy of the source code of the software. "Freeware," by contrast, is software that is available free of charge but is nevertheless generally proprietary, and therefore restricted as to its use.  The only criteria for software being classed as "freeware" is that it be provided to users at no cost, thus freeware can be subject to any licensing terms its owner deems necessary. "Shareware" is a marketing method for software, whereby a trial version is distributed in advance and without payment, either by downloading from the internet or, in some cases, from magazine cover-disks.  A shareware program is often accompanied by a request for payment, and the ...


Amazon caves into Authors Guild demands.

  If you are at all interested in tech gadgets, you have by now heard of Amazon's Kindle, a devise for reading electronic books (or e-books).  The Kindle is essentially an iPod for book readers, allowing users to download and store multiple e-books on a mobile devise.  Originally launched in November 2007, Amazon released the newest version last month (at the hefty price of $359).  This new version includes a function that enables the e-book to be read aloud; thus, turning your e-book into an audio book. This "read aloud" function caught the attention of the Authors Guild which demanded that it be disabled.  Amazon rightly argued that the feature did not violate any of the exclusive rights granted by copyright law to the copyright owners.  (Imagine if you had to send royalty payments for reading bedtime stories to your kids.)  Not in the mood for a fight, Amazon has nevertheless caved in.  Publishers now get to decide whether or not their books sold for Kindle will permit the "read aloud" function - even for public domain books. This is an unfortunate loss for consumers.


I'm giving a presentation on copyright law basics for VSA Arts of Michigan next Thursday, February 12, 2009.  Here's a brief description of the lecture from the VSA website: In today's world with the web and mass production, artists can advance their careers like never before. But these very tools that can be great assets to the artist can actually cause problems. Copyright is an issue that today's artists need not only to be aware of but also need to understand. VSA Arts of Michigan is pleased to present this needed topic to advance the careers and abilities of artists. The presentation will focus on an overview of basic copyright issues and then go into the specifics for musicians, visual artists, and writers. This workshop will make you aware of current rights you have and how to protect your work. As an artist in the 21st century you need an understanding of copyright issues, so this presentation cannot be missed. More information can be found on the VSA website.  I hope to see you there.