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San Francisco California Intellectual Property Law Blog

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.

Discussing the Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy

Domain names are basically street addresses for the web. They are critical pieces of information that hold a ton of value, not just as a part of a company's intellectual property portfolio, but also from the more practical perspective of branding your company and your website.

Unfortunately, this can lead to a lot of "trolls" that register domain names for no purpose other than to force legitimate companies that want to use the domain name to pay up. And in this ever-present internet world, legal disputes over domain names is a integral part of intellectual property law.

Ever heard of the DMCA? It's important to copyright holders

In our last post, we talked about copyright law and some of the common questions that envelop this important aspect of intellectual property law. We will continue this conversation today by discussing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), a law that has been in place since 1998.

Obviously, before the internet existed there was no fear of someone taking your original work of authorship and spreading it like wildfire across an interconnected web of computers that span the globe. But today, that fear is very real. As such, lawmakers passed the DMCA to protect copyright holders in situations where their copyrighted work was pilfered and used over the internet without their permission, or that otherwise infringes upon their copyright.

On copyrights, and the many questions surrounding them

Whether you are trying to copyright one of your original works or you find yourself in the middle of a legal dispute over a copyright, the situation will likely be the same: you will have plenty of questions about how to handle your current predicament. With that in mind, let's talk about a few points related to copyrights and copyright law.

What "original works of authorship" can be copyrighted? There is a wide variety of original works that can be protected by a copyright, including literary works, musical scores, dramatic works, choreographed work, pictorial or sculpted works, graphic works and motion pictures, sound recordings, and even architectural drawings. 

Reviewing common questions with trademarks

Trademarks are a crucial part of the world of intellectual property, but not every person, inventor, writer, or company knows what to do to obtain a trademark or how to appropriately utilize a trademark. With that in mind, we would like to answer some frequently asked questions about trademarks in today's post.

What is a trademark in the first place? A trademark is a legal protection that indicates the source of goods or services. The thing that is trademarked can be a word, name, logo, device, or any combination of the aforementioned aspects. A service mark is associated with a trademark, which distinguishes your service from another.

The basics of a trade secret

Businesses both small and large want to protect the information or know-how that is crucial to their financial success and sustained future. Sometimes this information is in the public sphere, but protected by law. In other situations, the information is kept secret and is maintained privately within the company. These pieces of information are called trade secrets, and they inherently hold value due to their nature of not being public. Maintaining and protecting these trade secrets are critical parts of what truly makes them "trade secrets."

So how do you go about protecting and maintaining your trade secrets? One easy step is to keep the documents, information, or digital files in a secure place, such as on a locked computer or a safe and then labeling the information "confidential." You should also limit the access to the information by only looping in employees who need to know about the trade secret (or the code or password to access the trade secret). And of course you should have nondisclosure agreements.

How can I protect my idea?

Every better mousetrap starts with an idea. You can't patent the idea, however, only the device. Copyrights protect the expression of your idea, whether in artistic form or in written language or musical notation. And once you have advanced your idea to a product for the marketplace, registering a trademark might be important. But again, that's not protecting your idea.

The best way to look at an idea might be to see it as a seed with potential. It could be the next best thing since sliced bread but to find out requires getting the idea from head to reality; the process, in addition to being complicated, can evoke a certain level of paranoia. How can you begin to get your inspiration to market if you find you hold the attitude of Gollum toward his precious?

Who owns a download? Disney files suit against Redbox.

Copyright law has always confused people, especially when it comes to popular media like musical recordings and movies. In the digital era media overlaps with software, making the conversation increasingly muddled.

What constitutes 'fair use' under U.S. copyright law?

If ever an artistic issue existed that called for consulting with an attorney, acceptable application of "fair use" would seem to be it. As we have noted in previous posts, layers of law apply to intellectual property concerns. The mere purchase of a piece of sheet music gives a buyer some limited use rights in terms of performance. However, to include a copyrighted piece of music in a public concert requires getting the OK from the proper agency or the composer.

The fair use doctrine permits limited use of a copyrighted work without the owner's permission. For example, a choir who has legally performed a work might want to offer up a recording of it on its website as a sample to grow potential audience. If the choir didn't have approval to record the piece, posting the whole song could spark a copyright infringement claim. However, fair use might offer some protection if only a snippet of the recording is used.

I bought the sheet music. Can I perform the song in public?

Like any work of art, the argument might be made that music serves little purpose if it is not shared in some form of public setting. But just because you have bought the sheet music for a particular song, it would be a mistake to assume you have secured the right to perform that piece for anyone other than close friends or family.

Whether you are a one-person band looking to perform in a local San Francisco coffee shop or a community choir that performs without charging admission, merely purchasing sheet music is not enough. If you perform in public, you are usually required to pay royalties to one of the performance rights societies that control such things in the United States. Failure to do so could result in a copyright infringement claim that is at least embarrassing, if not costly.

Find the right venue for misappropriated trade secrets relief

Speed matters. We see it in the debate over internet neutrality. No one wants to be left in the dust. In business, the need for speed is especially important in protecting trade secrets. Information zips around the world in the blink of an eye and if that information happens to include proprietary secrets, a business's financial viability could be at risk.

The notion of the value of speed is something ensconced in legal theory. On the criminal side, the concept of swift justice traces back to the Magna Carta and even earlier. The U.S. Constitution's notion of a speedy jury trial is spelled out in the Sixth Amendment.

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