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Negotiating Subsidiary Rights in Book Publishing Deals

The right to publish a book isn’t the only right that authors can grant to a publisher or retain for themselves. Authors may also grant or retain subsidiary rights in the book. A subsidiary right is the right to publish or produce the book in other formats, such as e-books, audiobooks, films or television shows, and more. This post details some of those rights and gives authors and literary agents insights on how and when to negotiate those clauses of a book publishing deal.

In reality, it is often very hard for an author to retain these rights for himself or herself entirely. As such, the author may be more successful negotiating for a larger split in the profits from these rights. 

Television and Film Rights

Any author in this day and age knows that there is just as much, if not more, money to be made in adaptations than there is in book sales alone. As such, authors generally want to retain as many adaptation rights as possible, and the publisher will generally propose broad language that grants them a broad right to sell all the adaptation rights.

In particular, movie and television adaptations have a strong potential to earn authors a lot of money on top of their book royalties. Because these adaptations have such high earning potential, most publishers will want this right. However, some authors are successful in arguing that they should retain this right, especially if the publisher has never licensed a book to a production company or network before or if the author is represented by a literary agency with connections to movie and television producers, studios, or networks.

An author with a skillful literary agent may be better poised to exploit these rights than a publisher with little experience in the film and television industry. Many reputable literary agencies have special agents specifically charged with exploiting the subsidiary rights of the authors represented by those agencies. That being said, reputable publishing houses often have similar employees who are specifically charged with exploiting the subsidiary rights of the books they publish. It is important for authors to discuss this topic with their literary agent and their publisher to determine what arrangement is best.

E-books, Audiobooks, and Other Formats

There is also a large market for e-books and audiobooks that can be easily exploited as a secondary source of income for authors. As such, book publishing contracts will also regulate whether the author grants or retains the right to exploit the book as an e-book, audiobook, or in some other format.

Audiobook services like Audible are eager to increase the size of their audiobook library and are generally willing to buy almost any published book they can. However, many large publishers are allocating resources to exploiting audiobook rights in-house. These publishers may demand that the derivative right in audiobooks be granted, so the publisher can produce the audiobook in-house and distribute it within existing channels. In such cases, it is likely in the author’s best interest to allow the publisher to do so. Alternatively, an author may be represented by a literary agency with expertise and experience in the area of licensing books to e-book and audiobook companies. In such instances, it may be in the author’s best interest to retain these rights, so his or her literary agent can exploit those rights on his or her behalf. It is important for authors to discuss this topic with their literary agent and their publisher to determine what arrangement is best.

Merchandising

T-shirts, bobbleheads, posters, trading cards, bookmarks, and stationary are all common items on the shelves of bookstores. Frequently, these items feature characters and trademarks licensed from popular books. The authors of these books receive royalties on the sale of those items.

Successful authors that have retained the right to license their characters and trademarks to third parties may seek representation by a licensing agency. Licensing agents have a role similar to literary agents in that they receive a portion of the profits earned on deals that the licensing agent locates and negotiates on the author’s behalf. Licensing agents have connections to retailers, designers, developers, and other merchandisers that are looking for the latest craze to put on their t-shirts, video games, board games, and other products. These relationships make the licensing process easier to execute.

Similarly, many literary agencies and publishers have in-house teams that are tasked with locating interested merchandisers and negotiating merchandise licensing deals on the author’s behalf. Others may rely on third-party licensing agencies. Authors should discuss this matter with their literary agent and publisher to determine who is best suited to exploit these rights in a way that maximizes the author’s potential profits.

Drafting Subsidiary Rights Clauses

From a copyright law standpoint, all these licensing opportunities are considered derivative works. The right to make an adaptation is known as a derivative right. Here is an example of a broad adaptation clause that most benefits the publisher:

Author grants Publisher the exclusive right to sell, license, and otherwise exploit the derivative rights in the Work throughout the world during the full term of copyright and any renewals and extensions thereof except as provided herein.

By using the broad term “derivative rights,” the publisher receives the right to exploit the book as a motion picture, radio play, television show, audiobook, theatrical play, and any other possible format. Thus, it would benefit the author to negotiate this broad “derivative rights” language down to more specific, narrower terms that exclude specific adaptations which the author hopes to exploit himself or herself. If the author seeks to retain certain derivative rights for himself or herself, it is best to explicitly state that in the contract. If the author and the publisher will split the profits obtained from exploiting certain derivative rights, it is best to also explicitly state that in the contract. For example:

Author shall retain the exclusive right to sell, license, or otherwise exploit the Work as an e-book and an audiobook throughout the world during the full term of the copyright and any renewals and extensions thereof except as provided here.

Author grants Publisher the exclusive right to sell, license, or otherwise exploit all other derivative rights in the Work in all other formats, excluding e-books and audiobooks, throughout the world during the full term of the copyright and any renewals and extensions thereof except as provided herein. All sums from the sale of these rights or materials produced under those rights shall be divided so that the Author receives fifty percent (50%) of the net amount received.

It is important for the author to negotiate who has control over these rights and what the author’s royalty will be. Typically, the publisher will seek the sole right to negotiate and sign contracts in regard to subsidiary rights. However, a skilled literary agent will negotiate terms more favorable to the author.


This series informs authors, literary agents, lawyers, publishers, and other interested readers about the basics of book deals. It provides tactics and tips to be used when negotiating a book deal. It consists of four parts that cover negotiating the following topics:

  1. Registering Trademarks and Copyrights
  2. Exclusivity and the Grant of Rights
  3. Subsidiary Rights
  4. Other Important Rights

Check back each week for the newest post or subscribe to the newsletter on bobbydesmond.com to get it sent directly to your email inbox.


About: DJ turned JD highlights the latest legal updates in the entertainment and media industries, intellectual property, the internet and social media. The blawg is compiled and curated by Bobby Desmond. After working as a radio personality, Bobby attended the University of Florida Levin College of Law in order to pursue an in-house legal career at an entertainment or media corporation. He has interned at PBS with America’s Public Television Stations in Arlington, VA and at AMC Networks in New York, NY. He graduated in May 2018 and passed the New York Bar Exam in July 2018.


 

Negotiating the Grant of Rights in Book Publishing Deals

This post is the second in a four part series that informs authors, literary agents, lawyers, publishers, and other interested readers about the basics of book deals. It provides tactics and tips to be used when negotiating intellectual property rights in a book deal. Check back each week for the newest post or subscribe to the newsletter on bobbydesmond.com to get it sent directly to your email inbox.


Grant of Rights

The grant of rights is a dense clause of legalese that transfers the author’s right in the book to the publisher. In copyright law, the author has a “bundle of rights” that he or she can grant to third parties (like a book publisher.) An author can grant the publisher some or all of these rights. If an author grants only some of these rights, the author retains the other rights that he or she does not grant the publisher. In large part, negotiating a book deal comes down to what rights the author wants to give to the publisher and what rights the author intends to keep for himself or herself. Here is an example:

Author grants to Publisher the exclusive right to print, publish, sell, distribute, license, and otherwise exploit the work in the English language, in all formats, in whole or in part, throughout the world during the full term of copyright and any renewals and extensions thereof except as provided herein.

Within this one sentence, the author has granted the publisher numerous sticks in that bundle of rights including exclusivity, language, format, territory, and term.

Generally, publishers will seek broad language to ensure the author is granting them the entire bundle of rights. An author with a valid reason to retain some of those rights may negotiate for narrower language. Retaining rights can be an effective way for an author to increase the amount of profits he or she receives from any given book. However, retaining the wrong rights can have a negative impact on the author’s financial success. Authors should generally only seek to retain rights if they have good reason to do so. Authors should generally avoid selfishly retaining rights that they do not have the means or intentions to exploit. If the publisher has the means and intends to publish the book in all languages, formats, and territories, then it is often to the advantage of both parties for the publisher to have the ability to do so.

Exclusivity

In an exclusive publishing agreement, the author grants the publisher the right to publish the book, and the author gives up his or her right to grant other publishers that same right. Generally, publishers require authors to grant them the exclusive right to publish a book.

Note that the author in the example above has granted the publisher “the exclusive right to print, publish, sell, distribute, and license the work in the English language…” This means that this publisher is the only publisher that can publish this book in English, so the author cannot grant this right to anyone else.

In a non-exclusive publishing agreement, the author grants the publisher the right to publish the book, but the author also retains the right to grant other publishers the right to publish the book. There are a few notable exceptions where a non-exclusive publishing agreement may be preferable.

First, an author that self-publishes his or her book should prefer to sign a non-exclusive book publishing contract that allows the author to take that book to as many self-publishing platforms as possible.

Second, serial rights are useful when an author wishes to provide a publisher with the non-exclusive right to reprint a work that has already been published in another publication. For example, imagine a publisher seeks to republish a short story that has already been published in a literary magazine. The author will want to provide the literary magazine with first serial rights. In other words, the author gives the literary magazine the exclusive right to publish the short story for the first time in any publication, but the author retains the right to reprint the short story after that. So, the author can then provide a second publisher with the non-exclusive right to publish the short story in a hardcover collection of short stories. This arrangement allows the author to continue signing non-exclusive agreements in the future with other publications.

Language and Translation Rights

It is important to note that exclusivity is limited by the terms that follow it. Take, for example, the clause above, which states that the publisher has “the exclusive right to publish the work in the English language.” Here, the author has granted the publisher the exclusive right to publish the book in English, but the author has retained the right to publish the book in other languages. So, the author would be free to go to a foreign language book publisher and sell them the rights to publish the book in Spanish, German, Chinese, or any language other than English.

Remember, both the author and the publisher have the same goal in mind: to sell as many copies of the book as possible. If a publisher has the means and intends to translate and publish the book in other languages, then it does not benefit the author to retain this right, especially if the author has no connections to foreign language book publishers. In such cases, authors should grant the publisher the right to publish the work in all languages. However, if a publisher does not have the means or does not intend to translate and publish the book in other languages, then it may benefit the author to retain this right, especially if the author or the literary agent has connections to foreign language book publishers that are willing to translate and publish the book in other languages. In such cases, authors should grant the publisher the right to publish the work in those specific languages only.

Format

Format refers to the form the book will take, such as hardcover, paperback, e-book, or some other format. In the example above, the author has granted the publisher the right to publish the book “in all formats,” but authors may choose to retain some format rights.

Remember, both the author and the publisher have the same goal in mind: to sell as many copies of the book as possible. If a publisher has the means and intends to publish the book in all formats, then it does not benefit the author to retain certain format rights, especially if the author has no connections to publishers that can publish the book in those formats. In such cases, authors should grant the publisher the right to publish the book in all formats. However, if a publisher does not have the means or does not intend to publish the book in all formats, then it may benefit the author to retain the right to publish the book in certain formats, especially if the author or the literary agent has connections to publishers that are willing to publish the book in those formats. In such cases, authors should grant the publisher the right to publish the work in those specific formats by using limited language such as “in hardcover and paperback” or “as an e-book.”

Territory

Generally, grants may be worldwide or country-specific. In the example above, the author granted the publisher the exclusive right to publish the work “throughout the world.” Authors should approach negotiation of this term in the same way he or she approaches negotiation of the language and format terms. If a publisher has the means and intends to publish the book throughout the world, then it is likely to the authors advantage to grant the publisher this right – since it means more book sales! However, if a publisher does not have the means or does not intend to publish the book in foreign countries, then it may benefit the author to retain the right to publish the book in other countries, especially if the author or the literary agent has connections to foreign book publishers. In such cases, authors should grant the publisher the right to publish the work in those specific countries or territories.

Term

The term refers to how long the publisher can publish the book for. Generally, publishers will require this period of time to be measured as “the full term of such copyrights (and any and all extensions and renewals thereof)” – which is for the life of the author plus 70 years.

There are a few notable exceptions. For example, book publishing contracts for translations are generally between five to ten years, and audiobook publishing contracts are often for ten years.


This series informs authors, literary agents, lawyers, publishers, and other interested readers about the basics of book deals. It provides tactics and tips to be used when negotiating a book deal. It consists of four parts that cover negotiating the following topics:

  1. Registering Trademarks and Copyrights
  2. Exclusivity and the Grant of Rights
  3. Subsidiary Rights
  4. Other Important Rights

Check back each week for the newest post or subscribe to the newsletter on bobbydesmond.com to get it sent directly to your email inbox.


About: DJ turned JD highlights the latest legal updates in the entertainment and media industries, intellectual property, the internet and social media. The blawg is compiled and curated by Bobby Desmond. After working as a radio personality, Bobby attended the University of Florida Levin College of Law in order to pursue an in-house legal career at an entertainment or media corporation. He has interned at PBS with America’s Public Television Stations in Arlington, VA and at AMC Networks in New York, NY. He graduated in May 2018 and passed the New York Bar Exam in July 2018.


 

Registering Trademarks and Copyrights in Book Publishing Deals

Once an author lands a book deal, negotiations begin. Typically, these negotiations start with a preliminary discussion between the author and the publisher about the terms of the book publishing contract. The publisher then memorializes the details of that discussion in a memo. This memo generally includes details about the grants, royalties, and any options for future books. Then, the publisher drafts the contract based on their standard book publishing contract.

There are many terms and clauses in the standard book deal that need to be renegotiated and redrafted to be more favorable for the author. These negotiations are done by the publisher and the author’s literary agent or lawyer. Most often, the author’s literary agent or lawyer will review the contract and make changes called redline edits. The publisher will then review these changes and decide whether it accepts them or not. Typically, this process will go back and forth for a couple rounds until both sides are happy with the deal.

This series informs authors, literary agents, lawyers, publishers, and other interested readers about the basics of book deals. It provides tactics and tips to be used when negotiating a book deal. It consists of four parts that cover negotiating the following topics:

  1. Registering Trademarks and Copyrights
  2. Exclusivity and the Grant of Rights
  3. Subsidiary Rights
  4. Other Important Rights

Check back each week for the newest post or subscribe to the newsletter on bobbydesmond.com to get it sent directly to your email inbox.


Once a book is finished, an author may be curious as to whether he or she should register the copyrights and trademarks in his or her book, title, and cover design. This post discusses how the book publishing contract regulates copyrights and trademarks. It provides authors, agents, lawyers, and publishers with tips and tactics for negotiating who is responsible for registering trademarks and copyrights.

Copyright Registration

Generally, books are creative works that are protected by copyright law simply by being written. There is no requirement that an author register the copyright in a book. However, authors can seek additional protections and advantages by registering the copyright in their book before submitting their book to publishers. For example, an author that registers the copyright in his or her book can obtain statutory damages and attorney’s fees in federal court. Registration is also seen as prima facie evidence of copyright ownership, if the case does go to court.

Alternatively, the author may choose to rely on the publisher to submit the copyright registration. This does not fully protect the author against the possibility that the book may be plagiarized by a beta reader, editor, publisher, its employees, or some other party that has access to the work before publication. Nor does it protect the author against the possibility that the publisher may forget or fail to properly register the copyright in the book. In such instances, the author will only be able to seek actual damages and profits (excluding attorneys’ fees) which will likely be much less than if the copyright was registered by the author ahead of time.

As many writing blogs point out, it is not necessary for an author to copyright his or her manuscript before sending it out to agents or publishers. Your book is already protected just by being fixed in a tangible medium – in other words, by being written. Hopefully, there is little to no chance that your book will be plagiarized by the friends you ask to read your manuscript or reputable agents and publishers. However, there is a chance that the work could be infringed, and $35 is a small price to pay for piece of mind.

Copyright registration is an easy process, but authors may seek an attorney to complete the registration process properly. Those authors that do choose to copyright their manuscript should beware of online registration services that charge exorbitant fees or suggest paying extra for unnecessary certificates of ownership. Likewise, authors should avoid falling for the myth of the “poor man’s copyright.” Sending yourself a a copy of your manuscript in the mail and keeping the envelope unopened as evidence that you wrote the manuscript before the postmarked date is not a protection recognized by the copyright statute or by U.S. courts.

Trademark Registration

On the other hand, the title and cover design of the book may also be protected by trademark registration and trade dress rights. Typically, authors will not register trademark in their work before publication. Instead, the publisher’s in-house team will register these rights for the author.

In the event that an author does wish to trademark his or her work, such as an author who self publishes, a trademark attorney should be consulted, as the trademark registration process is more difficult and legally technical than the copyright registration process. A trademark attorney can provide authors with a thorough search of the Trademark Electronic Search System and relevant case law to advise an author on the likelihood that their title or cover design will receive protection.

A trademark attorney can also counsel authors on what classes their works should be registered under. Typically, authors will want to register under Class 16 which covers paper and printed products such as books. There may be other applicable classes such as Class 9 which protects audiobooks among other relevant products. In addition to being more confusing than copyright registration, trademark registration is also more expensive. The filing fees alone cost between $225-$400 per class.

Registration by the Publisher

Many authors will decide to postpone copyright registration and allow their publisher to complete the registration process in-house. If the author plans to rely on the publisher to register the copyrights or trademarks in the book, title, and cover, then the book publishing contract should include a clause which states that it is the publisher’s responsibility to do so in the author’s name but at the publisher’s expense before publication.

Separately, the author should ask the publisher to agree to indemnify the author, in case the publisher forgets or fails to properly register the copyrights or trademarks in the book, title, or cover.

Copyright Notice

The book publishing contract should require the publisher to include a notice of copyright in the name of the author in a form, place, and manner that complies with copyright law in the United States and/or wherever the book is published.

Assignment vs. License

An assignment occurs when an author gives up the copyright in the book to the publisher. In other words, the author no longer owns the copyright in the book, and the publisher is now the rightful owner of the copyright. This is most common in scenarios where the author is an employee of the publisher. For example, a journalist whose work is routinely published by a news magazine.

A license occurs when an author grants a publisher permission to use the copyright. In other words, the author retains ownership of the copyright in the book, and the publisher may reproduce, distribute, and sell the book. As such, an author of a book or series should always consult a trained agent or licensed attorney to ensure that the book publishing contract grants the publisher a license to exploit the work, not an assignment of the copyright. It is the agent or attorney’s job to guarantee that the book deal is as favorable to the author as possible in this regard.


About: DJ turned JD highlights the latest legal updates in the entertainment and media industries, intellectual property, the internet and social media. The blawg is compiled and curated by Bobby Desmond. After working as a radio personality, Bobby attended the University of Florida Levin College of Law in order to pursue an in-house legal career at an entertainment or media corporation. He has interned at PBS with America’s Public Television Stations in Arlington, VA and at AMC Networks in New York, NY. He graduated in May 2018 and passed the New York Bar Exam in July 2018.


 

Why Do Startup Companies Need Intellectual Property Lawyers?

Lawyers play an integral role in helping startups develop rapidly and protect their creations. Startup lawyers have an acute business sense and a desire to truly learn about the business plan, people, and finances of the companies they represent. Startup lawyers also have an in-depth understanding of the different business organizations and all the ways to protect intellectual property rights including patents, copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets. Startup lawyers can keenly express the differences, benefits, and drawbacks of each business organization and IP category to their client.

Startup lawyers appreciate that new businesses are often tight on cash, but a little money spent now is a lot of money saved and hassle avoided in the future. Startup lawyers can help new businesses properly structure their company, spot potential legal liabilities, and adequately explain why it is always best to have a protect-first, defend-second strategy. As such, startup lawyers are a necessary expenditure that will protect a startup company’s IP by filing copyrights, searching trademarks, prosecuting patent applications, or developing strategies to protect trade secrets in hopes of avoiding expensive litigation in the future.

Once the client has a working foundational knowledge of the available options, the lawyer will help the startup craft an individualized approach that factors in the company’s product or service, the maturity of the company and its entrepreneurs, market conditions, available capital, and competition while also providing the company with flexible solutions that will lead to growth and prevent infringement.

After IP registration has been filed, startups may question the value of these intangible rights. Startup lawyers counsel clients on the fluctuation of the value of a startup’s IP over time, and they assist the client in understanding the cause behind delays in registration and in addressing the cause of those delays. Most importantly, startup lawyers have the knowledge necessary to estimate a rough probability of whether IP rights can be obtained, and startup lawyers have the experience required to create a plan of action in the event that an application is denied.


About: DJ turned JD highlights the latest legal updates in the entertainment and media industries, intellectual property, the internet and social media. The blawg is compiled and curated by Bobby Desmond. After working as a radio personality, Bobby attended the University of Florida Levin College of Law in order to pursue an in-house legal career at an entertainment or media corporation. He has interned at PBS with America’s Public Television Stations in Arlington, VA and at AMC Networks in New York, NY. He graduated in May 2018 and passed the New York Bar Exam in July 2018.


 

The internet is terrible at handling copyright takedown requests, so what can sites and content creators do to improve the DMCA takedown procedures?

  • Photojournalist Aaron Lavinsky recently took to Twitter after Universal Music sent the social media site a take down request of his 30 second clip of a gigantic crowd of mourners singing Purple Rain shortly after Prince’s death in April 2016. The Minneapolis Star Tribune employee explained that “DCMA takedowns are an important tool for artists who need to protect their intellectual property online, but a major corporation abusing [the] system to remove a news video shot by a newspaper photographer is inappropriate.” Fortunately, the company later retracted its takedown request. However, the case shows just how easy it is for large corporations to ignore fair use laws and abuse the DMCA’s copyright takedown procedures. Had this reporter not known the law and had the voice, audience, and platform to fight back, this important news report could have been lost forever.
  • Other reporters have noticed their content wholly reuploaded on LinkedIn and complained that the company fails to act quickly in removing obviously infringing material from its site. Den Howlett of diginomica.com found his article republished in its entirety on an account that did nothing but repost hundreds of other online news articles in their entirety. Eventually, LinkedIn removed the post and the account after multiple tweets back and forth between the original content creator and the social media site over a course of multiple days.
  • TorrentFreak released a recent report that impostors are manipulating Google’s search results in their favor by filing false copyright takedown requests against their competitors. By sending in a request to takedown a competitor’s site under the guise of being the original content creator, impostors are able to boost their own search results on Google. It is important to note that the DMCA only allows copyright holders and authorized third parties to file takedown requests, but the bad faith requesters have ignored this critical requirement to great and damaging effect.
  • The BBC is facing criticism that it used YouTube’s takedown regime to censor certain political messages. Earlier this month, the BBC sent takedown requests to YouTube that resulted in the removal of hundreds of videos uploaded by a pro-independence vlogger, Wings Over Scotland. The channel holds steadfast its belief that the videos fell squarely within the fair dealing exemptions to that country’s copyright laws. The user claims the BBC was acting with political bias in targeting pro-independence channels with takedown requests while allowing other political vloggers that shared its anti-independence values to use its content freely. The BBC denied this accusation and admitted to sending takedown requests for channels across the political spectrum. While this user’s defense is no where near as strong as the Purple Rain case above, the incident serves as an example of the fear that DMCA takedown requests may be used to silence certain political speech.
  • YouTube operates on a three strike policy which results in an entire channel and account becoming subject to termination after three copyright infringements – a system that many have suggested is subject to abuse and often results in improper infringement determinations. Paul Davids recently received a warning that he was infringing the copyright of his own song. Another YouTuber downloaded a track that he had uploaded, added vocals and a guitar riff, and reuploaded the improved song. Because the sites copyright detection system had determined Paul Davids’ video contained elements within the copycat’s video, Paul Davids received a warning for copyright infringement and was told that any money earned on his video would be redirected to the copycat. This type of thing happens frequently, many YouTubers suspect. In 2015, a YouTuber lost the monies earned from stock footage he uploaded and then licensed to Epic Records, after Sony sent the social media site a request to take down the YouTuber’s original content. Even Justin Bieber struggled to upload a new song after a fan beat him to hit in 2010.
  • Recently, YouTube launched its Copyright Match pilot program which identifies full reuploads of original content on YouTube and allows the original poster to review it and decide to take action. In its announcement, YouTube was already cognizant that the new tool would be rife with abusers. It warned that intentional or repeated misuse of the system, attempted probing, or reverse engineering would result in loss of the feature. The company is putting the fair use determination in the hands of the original creator who may then request YouTube remove the infringing content from its site. In a sense, the company is crowd sourcing its copyright infringement prevention procedures back to the content creators themselves. However, some content creators have already criticized YouTube for keeping this and similar services in the dashboards of only a selected few. Others have suggested that this and similar tools are too risky – as the tools often result in unfair content deletion or channel removals. If the program is successful, its not hard to see how this regime could easily be expanded on YouTube and implemented across other social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as well as blog and web-hosting services.

About: DJ turned JD highlights the latest legal updates in the entertainment and media industries, intellectual property, the internet and social media. The blawg is compiled and curated by Bobby Desmond. After working as a radio personality, Bobby attended the University of Florida Levin College of Law in order to pursue an in-house legal career at an entertainment or media corporation. He has interned at PBS with America’s Public Television Stations in Arlington, VA and at AMC Networks in New York, NY. He graduated in May 2018 and passed the New York Bar Exam in July 2018.


 

Mavrix’s Misguided Guidelines: An Offense Against the DMCA Safe Harbor Defense

I am incredibly proud to announce that my article Mavrix’s Misguided Guidelines: An Offense Against the DMCA Safe Harbor Defense has been published in the Journal of Technology Law and Policy. This case comment was a labor of love for almost a year on a topic that I am deeply interested in – online copyright infringement. In the article, I argue that the Ninth Circuit’s guidelines for determining whether a website may seek limited liability in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s safe harbors are too stringent and prevent worthy websites from the protection they so desperately need to foster a strong online marketplace for speech and trade. I hope you all enjoy my argument, and I would love to hear your opinions about not only my article but also about how we choose to enforce copyright laws on the internet.

New Lawsuits in Traditional and Social Media Law

  • When Life Gave Beyoncé YouTube Snippets, She Made “Lemonade.” The estate of YouTuber Messy Mya is suing the Formation singer for $20 million over three samples used in the music video of Lemonade’s lead single. The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana recently denied Beyoncé’s motion to dismiss, finding the YouTuber’s estate has sufficiently alleged that “they can recover statutory damages and attorney’s fees” for Beyoncé’s continued willful infringement of the samples. The court elaborated that Beyoncé had not shown that the estate’s requests constituted “redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter” sufficient to strike it from the record.
  • College Football Coach’s Retweet Results in Lawsuit. Sports psychologist Dr. Keith Bell is suing King’s College and the school’s head football coach for copyright and trademark infringement, after the coach retweeted an image of a printed passage from Bell’s 1982 book, Winning Isn’t Normal. The allegedly infringing image was originally tweeted by Northeastern State University’s baseball team, which is not a part of the lawsuit.
  • Breitbart Sued for Borrowing BLM and Brady Photos. In a similar social media inspired lawsuit, a freelance photojournalist is suing Breitbart for using an Instagram photo of Black Lives Matter protesters without his permission on 20 separate URLs. A Getty Images photographer also accused Breitbart of infringing its copyright in a photo of Tom Brady for embedding Gerry Images’ tweet into one of its stories.
  • Multiple Defamation Suits Filed after Spree of Sexual Harassment Allegations.
    • The #MeToo social media campaign has inspired hundreds of women and men to speak out about instances of sexual harassment by famous entertainers, producers, and newsmen. Now, the subjects of the claims are suing their accusers for defamation. Bill O’Reilly seeks $5 million from a man who claimed on Facebook that the former Fox News host sexually harassed his ex-girlfriend through relentless late-night phone calls. The #MeToo post also details how O’Reilly allegedly asked the poster’s ex-girlfriend to assist O’Reilly in mudding the name of a different woman who had accused him of sexual harassment.
    • Harvey Weinstein, Brett Ratner, a Washington sheriff, and other alleged sexual harassers have also sued or have threatened to sue their accusers or the media organizations that published the claims.
    • On the other hand, accusers are also utilizing defamation laws against the men they say sexually harassed them. For example, a former contestant on The Apprentice filed a suit against President Trump after he publicly denied the claims she lodged against him.
  • Highly Controversial Steele Dossier at the Center of Multiple Defamation Claims.
    • Aleksej Gubarev is suing for defamation after Buzzfeed failed to redact his name when they published the now infamous dossier about President Trump’s alleged ties to Russia. Buzzfeed’s lawyers filed a motion to compel the Department of Justice, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, James Comey, and James Clapper to answer or confirm nine questions about their role in verifying the document. While other media outlets have filed Freedom of Information Act requests to gather information about the government’s verification process, Buzzfeed’s request arguably carries more weight, since the information is necessary for its defense that their article was a “fair and accurate report of the records that were a basis of official government actions.” The news site seeks protection under Florida’s reporter privilege, common law, and the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, while the government argues any response would require disclosing classified information.
    • Buzzfeed isn’t the only party that wants answers: Gubarev is seeking to discover who provided Buzzfeed with the dossier. Fusion GPS, the firm hired to investigate Trump’s ties to Russia, and Christopher Steele, the document’s author, both deny being the source.
    • Separately, three owners of Russia’s largest commercial bank have filed their own suit against the firm and the document’s financier Glenn Simpson, in addition to their existing defamation claim against Buzzfeed.

About: DJ turned JD highlights the latest legal updates in the entertainment and media industries, intellectual property, the internet and social media. The blawg is compiled and curated by Bobby Desmond. After working as a radio personality, Bobby attended the University of Florida Levin College of Law in order to pursue an in-house legal career at an entertainment or media corporation. He has interned at PBS with America’s Public Television Stations in Arlington, VA and at AMC Networks in New York, NY. He graduated in May 2018 and passed the New York Bar Exam in July 2018.


 

New Lawsuits from the Internet invoking IP and Media Law

  • Another Rich Man Sues a Website after Bad Press. In a case that is reminiscent of billionaire Peter Thiel financing Hulk Hogan’s suit against Gawker after the site outed Theil as gay, game developer Jonathan Monsarrat is suing Encyclopedia Dramatica for publishing a wiki-page which cited to stories accusing the millionaire of creating a dating service to collect information on women and allegedly distributing alcohol to teenagers. (This is not the first time Monsarrat has sued a site that published unflattering stories about him. He previously sued a LiveJournal blogger that posted a story about his arrest in 2010. Monsarrat later dropped that case after it became clear that it was brought in bad faith.) The newest suit claims Encyclopedia Dramatica infringed on Monsarrat’s copyright in quotes from forum posts and a photo of Monsarrat in a beaver costume. Encyclopedia Dramatica believes this suit was also brought in bad faith. Follow this case for potential anti-SLAPP litigation, for insight on the recent trend of websites being sued by the rich for publishing unbecoming stories and on the recent trend of websites crowdfunding legal defenses.
  • Spotify Sued after Struggling to Obtain All Necessary Music Licenses. Amongst rumors that the company plans to launch on the NYSE, Spotify was recently hit with two copyright infringement lawsuits (here and here). Spotify has deals to license the sound recordings and other licenses to publicly perform the songs, but songwriters and music publishers are suing for unauthorized use of the song compositions. The streaming service sends out notice of intention letters as required to attain Section 115 compulsory licenses from the songwriters and publishers, but argues that finding each of the co-authors of their entire catalog is too hard a task. Spotify has settled similar cases in the past for tens of millions of dollars. Keep up with these cases to remain fully aware of the development of mechanical licenses in the age of the internet and for insight on class action lawsuits that involve IP infringement.
  • Requesting Access to Social Media Accounts in the Hiring Process. A new lawsuit alleges NBC demanded prospective employees share their personal social media accounts before being offered an interview. Half the states ban prospective employers and universities from requesting access to a prospective employee’s personal social media accounts. Although requesting social media access is not prohibited during the hiring process in New York, providing access to personal social media accounts could potentially reveal protected Equal Employment Opportunity information such as age, religion, and medical information.
  • Sci-Hub Sued Again for Providing Free Access to Scholarly Works. Hoping to mimic a $15 million award for a similar plaintiff in the Southern District of New York, the American Chemical Society is suing Sci-Hub under copyright and trademark law for spoofing the ACS’s website and provided access to over 62 million academic publications (which are published by a collection of sites including ACS, Elsevier, Springer, and more.) Some academics believe the publishing sites are unlikely to receive any of the awarded damages, since Sci-Hub is run out of Russia under a variety of domain names and IP addresses. Other academics, however, intend to use these case as inspiration in their protests against the publishing sites for affordable access to academic publications. Follow this string of cases for insight on collecting damages from defendants overseas and for trends in the licensing of scholarly works.
  • Jenner Shirts Inspire Social Media Outrage, Lawsuits, and Satirical Copycats. Kendall and Kylie Jenner received a cease and desist letter for use of The Doors’ likenesses, after the reality star sisters released a line of $125 t-shirts with the images of the band and other musical icons including Tupac Shakur, Metallica, Pink Floyd, Ozzy Osbourne, and Biggie Smalls. The family of the Notorious B.I.G. took to Instagram to declare that the shirts had no affiliation with or approval from the rapper’s estate, while Sharon Osbourne sent out a tweet critical of the girls’ decision to include her husband in their fashion line. After only two shirts were sold, the line was pulled, and Kendall Jenner tweeted an apology. The photographer behind the Tupac Shakur images is now suing the sisters for copyright infringement, but the Jenner sisters claim to have a valid license for the images. (Shortly thereafter, the rock band Arcade Fire satirized the shirts by making their own versions to mock the Jenner sisters, followed by an apology tweet that mimicked Kendall’s own tweet.) Separately, Kylie Jenner is being sued for copying an artists’ painting of biting lips for an advertisement promoting her upcoming show, Life of Kylie. Keep up with these case for more tweets from celebrities attempting to sound like lawyers.
  • @realDonaldTrump Faces a #realLawSuit after Blocking Twitter Users. The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University is representing a flock of Twitter users who have been blocked by the President’s account. The suit claims @realDonaldTrump is a constitutionally protected public forum and that blocking users unconstitutionally prohibits access to government statements and unconstitutionally prevents petitions for redress of grievances. In a similar case, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia ruled that a Facebook user’s constitutional rights were violated when a county official blocked his account. Separately, a photographer is suing the Trump Organization for copyright infringement after the company posted the photographer’s copyrighted work on its site and the @realDonaldTrump Instagram account. Follow these cases for insight on how Trump critics are using the First Amendment and IP law as a check and balance against the President.

About: DJ turned JD highlights the latest legal updates in the entertainment and media industries, intellectual property, the internet and social media. The blawg is compiled and curated by Bobby Desmond. After working as a radio personality, Bobby attended the University of Florida Levin College of Law in order to pursue an in-house legal career at an entertainment or media corporation. He has interned at PBS with America’s Public Television Stations in Arlington, VA and at AMC Networks in New York, NY. He graduated in May 2018 and passed the New York Bar Exam in July 2018.


 

Litigation and Policy Trends in Entertainment, Media, and IP Law

Litigation Trends in Social Media, Music, and Video Streaming:

  • The Most Litigious Firms in Copyright Law Are Boutiques. Small boutique firms (specializing in a certain area such as photojournalism, fashion, and the internet) filed the most copyright lawsuits during the second quarter of 2017. Between April 1 and June 30, Liebowitz Law Firm filed 113 new copyright cases, the most by a single firm. Doniger Burroughs came in second place with 83 new lawsuits this quarter. Doniger has filed at least 40 new copyright lawsuits each quarter for the last two and a half years. Lonstein Law Office came in sixth place with 14 new copyright lawsuits that all alleged bars had illegally shown UFC matches.
  • Paparazzi Plaintiffs Sue Celebrities for Instagram Posts. Celebrities and their social media accounts are being targeted by a string of paparazzi plaintiffs who are suing the celebs for posting photos of the themselves that were candidly taken by the paps. Diddy recently settled an infringement suit brought against him for posting a picture on his Instagram account. The paparazzi plaintiff took the photo of Diddy at the opening of a Harlem charter school. A paparazzi plaintiff also sued Khloe Kardashian after she posted a picture of herself on her Instagram account that the pap had captured of Khloe and Kourtney Kardashian eating out in Miami.
  • Artists Advised Not to Reveal Inspiration behind New Songs. After Pharrell Williams said he was “channeling … that late 70s feeling” of Marvin Gaye’s music which played a pivotal role in William’s younger years, Gaye’s estate was awarded $7.3 million for copyright infringement in Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams’ “Blurred Lines.” Industry leaders and agents are cautioning artists not to publicly declare the inspirations behind their latest music, out of fear that “inspiration can [now be interpreted as] a catalyst for infringement.” Other artists are required to sign contracts that reveal their inspirations to the record labels, which use those lists to research potential infringement claims before they happen.
  • Beware of the Newest Way to Illegally Stream Content. Mobdro is the one of the latest streaming services that facilitates infringement by directing users to a trove of illegal live and on-demand television shows, movies, and sporting events. While the app isn’t available in the app store, in-the-know users are able to install the app for free online in order to play content directly on their TVs through Google’s Chromecast or Amazon’s Fire TV Stick. The new app has been frequently compared to Kodi, another streaming service that has been the subject of numerous lawsuits.

Policy Trends in Entertainment, Media, and Intellectual Property:

  • Google Influences Policy by Paying Professors for Research. Drawing on a list of IP academics, Google paid between $5,000 and $400,000 for hundreds of research papers that the tech giant then cited in its fight against regulations. Google made the payments either directly or through the think tanks it funds. Some professors gave Google a degree of editorial oversight, allowing the company to review the work and offer suggestions before publication. The professors argue that disclosing research to the company before publication ensures accuracy. Additionally, Google told professors that it appreciates attribution or acknowledgement of its financial support. However, many professors did not disclose their financial incentives. Google argues that it values the independence and integrity of universities, and simply supports IP and tech researchers in hopes of amplifying voices that argue for an open internet. Other tech giants have also paid professors for research. In fact, Microsoft, Qualcomm, Verizon, and AT&T have all paid for negative research on Google. Some have compared this new trend in the tech industry to Big Tobacco’s funding of questionable research into the dangers of smoking.
  • U.S. Tech Companies Unite in Support of Net Neutrality. On July 12, tens of thousands of tech companies and websites protested proposed changes to net neutrality rules in the United States during the Internet-Wide Day of Action to Save Net Neutrality. Sites including Facebook, Netflix, Twitter, Reddit, Amazon, and OkCupid participated by displaying banners or videos and by promoting hashtags or other media to incite their users to oppose the new administration’s attempts to overturn the Obama-era regulations on internet fast-lanes. Other companies including internet service providers like AT&T and Verizon voiced support for net neutrality while opposing the 2015 regulations.
  • “Right to Repair” Bills. Repair rights advocates argue that corporations are abusing copyright law to prevent third-party mechanics from fixing their products. Specifically, The Repair Association takes issue with companies that use the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provision to prevent mechanics from fixing smart machines, since doing so often constitutes a hack punishable by hefty fines and prison time. This leaves customers with only two options: return to the manufacturer for an expensive repair or buy a new device. The point of contention frequently comes down to whether users are owners or licensees of the products – usually, you own the hardware but license the smart software. Twelve states are currently considering “Right to Repair” bills which would require manufacturers to sell parts and manuals to be used by third-party mechanics. On the national stage, the You Own Devices Act, which was introduced to Congress in February, would extend the first sale doctrine to software, by restricting a company’s ability to prevent their customers from reselling or leasing their products. Customers would be able to transfer the licenses of any software on their devices to the new owner.
  • New Bills would have Major Impact on Music Industry if Passed. Congressional representatives have introduced or reintroduced multiple bills that seek to make copyright law apply more evenly and equally across the many different entities in the music industry. Here is a brief look at some of the most important aspects of these pending bills:
    • Fair Play Fair Pay Act of 2017. In an attempt to make copyright law apply to traditional broadcast radio stations as it does to digital streaming services, this bill would require terrestrial stations to pay royalties to copyright owners by giving copyright owners a new exclusive right to perform or authorize the performance of a sound recording by means of any audio transmission. The bill was previously introduced in 2015, but failed to pass after extensive lobbying by the radio industry.
    • Performance Royalty Owners Music Opportunity to Earn Act of 2017. In a different approach to a similar issue, this bill would require terrestrial radio stations to secure permission to use an Artist’s song. While the bill does not change the royalty landscape, Congressman Issa explained that the bill “calls the bluff of both sides in a debate over performance rights” by allowing artists to pull their songs from radio and miss out on the “exposure and promotional value” of radio air time.
    • Compensating Legacy Artists for their Songs, Service, and Important Contributions to Society Act. Terrestrial radio isn’t the only free-riding target that Congress has its sights set on. This bill would require streaming services to pay a royalty for pre-1972 songs, by applying existing law to songs created before February 15, 1972 in the same way that it is applied to songs created after that date.
    • Allocation for Music Producers Act. This bill would amend Section 114 of the Copyright Act to grant music producers a new right to be compensated for their recordings through the letter of direction process.
    • Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act of 2017. Under current law, the Librarian of Congress has the authority to appoint a Register of Copyrights. The bill seeks to make the position a presidential appointment subject to Senatorial confirmation and limited to a renewable ten-year term. While the position has no power to make law, anyone appointed plays a signification role in shaping copyright policy – a role that expands under this bill.
    • Copyright Office for the Digital Economy Act. Similarly, this bill would make the position of Register a presidential appointment, however the position would not be renewable. This bill also seeks to move the Copyright Office away from the Library of Congress to a more independent position.

About: DJ turned JD highlights the latest legal updates in the entertainment and media industries, intellectual property, the internet and social media. The blawg is compiled and curated by Bobby Desmond. After working as a radio personality, Bobby attended the University of Florida Levin College of Law in order to pursue an in-house legal career at an entertainment or media corporation. He has interned at PBS with America’s Public Television Stations in Arlington, VA and at AMC Networks in New York, NY. He graduated in May 2018 and passed the New York Bar Exam in July 2018.