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U.S. Supreme Court declines to hear copyright infringement case

News and Notes Focused on the 3 Public Faces of IP Law

  • Brand Image Protection - Trademark Law
  • Visual Image Protection - Copyright Law
  • Personal Image Protection - Right of Publicity Law

The Image Protection Law blog has been created in order to share stories and information on the legal aspects of: 1) the marketplace reputation of a company or product captured in its trademark, 2) published or publicly-displayed artwork, photography, and any created visual design, and 3) use of a person's photograph or likeness for product promotion or other commercial purposes.

The "IP3" share at least one thing in common: Image is everything. In these posts let's look at what that means in the realm of intellectual property in the news, but let's also be prepared to explore if there's something more beyond "everything." Don't forget, the intellectual in "intellectual property" doesn't mean smart or brainy, although by nature true creators often are. The word is used to refer to any creation, i.e., a "product of the mind." While this blog will be regularly updated, you are encouraged to share your thoughts on these posts.

Musicians and the recording industry are very protective of their intellectual property. This can lead to conflicts when users of Internet music-sharing websites unlawfully download content. One recent case involving copyright infringement may interest those in California concerned with such topics.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently declined to hear a suit brought by Sony Corp. and Vivendi SA's Capitol Records against Vimeo LLC on allegations of copyright infringement. Vimeo LLC is a video-sharing Internet platform. Some recordings included on the website are by "oldies" bands.

At issue was the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA.) This law keeps Internet service providers from being liable for the actions of users who upload content that is copyrighted, so long as the Internet service provider takes down the infringing content once they know that such infringement is taking place.

The plaintiffs in this case pursued a lawsuit against Vimeo, claiming that nearly 200 videos were uploaded by Vimeo users, which constituted infringement. In 2013, a federal court decided that Vimeo may be responsible for recordings on its site created prior to 1972. This was based on the argument that DMCA protections did not extend to recordings created prior to 1972, as 1972 was the year that Congress began including recordings within the realm of federal copyright law. According to the court, recordings created before 1972 fell under the protection of state laws.

Last year, the New York Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the federal court's decision. It ruled that the DMCA was applicable to infringement lawsuits based on either federal law or state law. According to the court, Internet service providers should not be responsible for keeping track of every single posting, in order to make sure that the posting did not include recordings created prior to 1972.

Following that, the plaintiffs appealed their case to the U.S. Supreme Court. However, the Court decided not to hear their case, meaning the Circuit Court's ruling stands. This ruling affects both the recording industry, which feared "rampant" copyright infringement would take place, and high-tech companies who feared they would have to police all content on their websites generated by users.

As this shows, intellectual property litigation can be incredibly complicated. Knowing who can be held liable is key to many cases. Those who believe they are the victim of copyright infringement can consult an attorney to better understand who may be held responsible.

Source: Reuters, "U.S. Supreme Court refuses to hear Vimeo music copyright dispute," March 27, 2017

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