“Happy Birthday” Copyright Ruled Invalid

By Joseph Mandour on October 8, 2015

birthdayLos Angeles – The world’s most popular English language song, “Happy Birthday,” is now fully in the public domain if a recent federal judge’s ruling stands. This issue came to court in 2013 when Good Morning to You Productions Corp. filed a class action lawsuit against Warner/Chappell Music, arguing its copyright for the song was invalid.

Good Morning to You Productions is a company owned by independent documentary filmmaker Jennifer Nelson. She was working on a documentary about the song’s history when Warner/Chappell Music charged her $1,500 to use the song. Nelson argued the song should not be under copyright restrictions, and proceeded to file a lawsuit.

The history of the song dates back to 1893, when kindergarten teacher Patty Hill wrote a song with her sister. The lyrics centered around the phrase, “good morning to you,” and used a melody simple enough for her students to easily sing along. The sisters gave the copyright to the Summy Company and it was published in a song book.

In the 20th century, the melody the sisters wrote started using the now famous happy birthday lyrics, though the author(s) of these lyrics were unknown. Summy Co. received a copyright for a version of the happy birthday song in 1935.

Warner/Chappell became the owner of the copyright in 1988, when it acquired Summy’s successor Birchtree Ltd. Since then, Warner/Chappell has collected $2 million annually in licensing fees. A portion of these fees went to a charity chosen by the Hill family, the Association for Childhood Education International.

Federal judge George H. King of the United States District Court in Los Angeles, ruled, “The Hill sisters gave Summy Co. the rights to the melody, and the rights to the piano arrangements based on the melody, but never any rights to the lyrics.” As a result, the copyright Warner/Chappell Music used to collect licensing fees, including the fee it charged to Nelson, was ruled invalid.

In a statement after the ruling, Warner/Chappell Music stated they are examining the court’s opinion and considering their options.

The plaintiffs argue the company should return the licensing fees they rece... Read the rest

Warner Music “Happy Birthday” Copyright Lawsuit Heating Up

By Joseph Mandour on August 7, 2015

birthdayLos Angeles – The copyright struggle over the rights to the most recognized song in the English language is back making news again. Good Morning to You Productions Corp. is the lead plaintiff in a class action lawsuit against Warner Music Group which seeks declaratory relief that the song “Happy Birthday” is in the public domain. Last week the parties were back in court fighting plaintiffs’ request for a judgment which claims that a copyright for the song may never have been valid in the first place.

Warner Music Group has owned the rights to the song since 1988. Reportedly, Warner receives about $2 million a year from royalties related to the public performance of the song. Though we are all free to sing the song in our homes, any public performance including in movies and TV require a payment to Warner.

Very recently attorneys for the plaintiffs claim to have found evidence that not only is the song in the public domain and free for all to use, but also that it has been that way for a very long time. Plaintiffs have discovered songbooks from the 1920’s which may be breaking open the case. The songbooks were reportedly purchased for $3 each from Amazon.com. One songbook shows a third party using the song with the permission of the copyright holder in 1927 which Warner has previously claimed did not occur. Another songbook from 1922, which may be the smoking gun, publishes the tune and its lyrics without any copyright notice which at the time was required to maintain copyright protection. The 1922 date may also indicate that the work is in the public domain. Copyright attorneys for Warner have argued that the copyright in the song does not expire until 2030.

Patty Smith Hill is believed to be the creator of the song, as she first used the melody as a good morning song to her school children. Attorneys for the plaintiffs argue that Hill’s intent was for the song to be for public use, and as such she never sought copyright protection for it.

The case is set to be decided within the next few weeks. If Warner ends up losing the case, they may liable for repaying the royalties collected over the years.

... Read the rest

Rand Paul’s Video Removed From YouTube For Copyright Infringement

By Joseph Mandour on April 10, 2015

voteSan Diego – Rand Paul recently announced his candidacy for the 2016 Presidential Campaign. In doing so he followed in the footsteps of many other White House-hopefuls by using media outlets such as YouTube to draw attention to his campaign.

Paul’s YouTube channel released a video to announce his candidacy. Unfortunately, he received a Digital Millennium Copy Right Act “DMCA” notice to take the video down. The alleged infringement was due to the video’s unathorized use of a country song by John Rich called “Shuttin’ Down Detroit.” The song was used in the video as Rand Paul made his grand entrance to give his candidacy speech.

Paul’s video titled “Stand with Rand: Kentucky” was flagged by Youtube’s “Content ID” system. This system automatically scans videos uploaded for copyright infringement and notifies the owner of any possible infringements. The holder of the rights then gets to decide what to do with the infringing material.

Warner Music Group owns the rights to “Shuttin’ Down Detroit,” and decided to block the video due to copyright infringement. In place of the video a Youtube statement read: “This content contains content from WMG, who has blocked it in your country on copyright grounds.”

Rand Paul is not the first Presidential candidate to use YouTube to promote a presidential race, and he is also not the first to have content removed due to alleged infringements.

President Barack Obama’s popular ‘Yes We Can” speech was made into a YouTube video and song which brought attention his campaign without any copyright issues. Candidate Mitt Romney also turned to YouTube as a media outlet but was not so lucky. His video featured Obama singing an Al-Green song and was later taken down due to copyright infringement. After debating over the issue, YouTube allowed the video to remain uploaded.

In Florida ... Read the rest

Seth McFarlane Sued Over Alleged “Ted” Copyright Infringement

By Joseph Mandour on March 26, 2015

Teddy bearLos Angeles – Seth McFarlane is known for his crude humor and most notably as the creator of Family Guy. In 2012, McFarlane took his unfiltered creativity to the big screen with the movie premiere of “Ted.” The movie portrayed a vulgar teddy bear (“Ted”) and his life and relationships in the human world. Ted is not your typical teddy bear as he enjoys the wilder side of life by drinking, smoking, and partying. Since its release, “Ted” the movie has become a worldwide blockbuster netting around $550 million.

In July of last year, Bengal Mangle Productions sued McFarlane’s Fuzzy Door Production Company as well as Universal Pictures and Media Rights Capital filed in U.S. District Court in the Central District of California. The lawsuit alleged copyright infringement of an animated bear named Charlie. Bengal Mangle claimed that it created a screenplay, “Acting School Academy” in 2008 that featured a character named Charlie, “a teddy bear who lives in a human, adult world with all human friends. Charlie has a penchant for drinking, smoking, prostitutes, and is a generally vulgar yet humorous character.”

Bengal Mangle Productions launched a number of web series in 2008 including “Charlie the Abusive Teddy” and “Acting School Academy.” In both series, Charlie was portrayed as a wild and bad-mannered teddy bear who also lived among humans.

The lawsuit that was launched against McFarlane and the “Ted” producers claimed that Charlie and Ted were similar in physical attributes and that there were striking personality similarities. Bengal Mangle claimed that the foul-mouthed teddy bears were thus substantially similar and that McFarlane had unlawfully copied their animated bear.

A Los Angeles federal Judge dismissed the case in mid-March, claiming that Ted was not a copyright infringement. The ruling states that McFarlane had independently created “Ted” with no imitation of Bengal Mangle’s Charlie bear.

After the case, the plaintiffs conceded that they believed Seth McFarlane had created Ted independently of Charlie. Representatives of both Universal Pictures and McFarlane commented that they are sat... Read the rest

Copyright Infringement Costs Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams $7 Million

By Joseph Mandour on March 12, 2015

music-sheetLos Angeles – Robin Thicke’s biggest hit song to date has now cost him and co-writer Pharrell Williams over $7 million. The children of 70’s musician Marvin Gaye noticed similarities between their father’s 1977 hit “Got to Give it Up” and Thicke’s 2013 release of “Blurred Lines.”

Fans of both Thicke and Gaye also noticed similarities, as well as reviewers and other listeners. This Youtube sample attempts to show the likeness of the songs: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ziz9HW2ZmmY

A federal court ruled on Tuesday that there were overwhelming similarities between the two songs, and Gaye’s children are to receive about $7.4 million.

When “Got to Give it Up” was first released, United States Copyright law did not allow an audio recording of music to be protected, but instead only the sheet music. In the court room, jurors were not allowed to listen to the audio recording of the hit song to sway their decisions. The jurors were only allowed to consider the sheet music as that was the only copyright protection recorded.

A musicologist brought to testify stated that the likenesses between the two songs includes a similar repeated theme as well as parallel bass and keyboard lines.

Interestingly, only Thicke and Williams are responsible for the payout. During the trial, Thicke went against his previous creative claims by stating that he did not aid in the writing of the song. Pharrell agreed by saying that he had written the song alone in 2012. The record company involved with the production of “Blurred Lines” is not responsible for any of the damages.

Thicke dug his own grave when his song was first released, as he told reporters he was “trying to be Marvin Gaye” when writing the song, and that he was heavily influenced by the soul legend. In court, Thicke brushed off most of his previous remarks by stating that he had made a lot of false statements in order to promote his song. Unfortunately for him, the jury did not agree with his approach.

Thicke and Pharrell’s lawyers claim that the jury’s decision will have a future negative impact on rising singers. They argued that many will be ... Read the rest

Who Owns The Copyright To Left Shark?

By Joseph Mandour on February 13, 2015

sharkSan Diego – Katy Perry’s half-time routine at the Super Bowl has continued to be in the spotlight weeks after the show aired. Her performance and vocals are not the sole cause. Instead it is her fascinating backup dancers.

The “Left Shark” in Perry’s beach themed show has become popular as the dancing shark didn’t appear to know what it was doing. The awkward shark has gone viral as a result and both the left and right sharks have appeared on talk shows and are becoming celebrities.

Replica figurines and clothing portraying the “Left Shark” have been sold online by a number of vendors, most notably by Fernando Sosa. Mr. Sosa designs 3D images and figures and was actually the recipient of a cease and desist letter sent by lawyers representing Perry.

Among other demands, the letter stressed that Sosa remove the products from his website and turn the merchandise over to the opposing counsel. But what about the “Right Shark”? The letter also purported to clarify that Katy Perry owns “both shark images and costumes” that were depicted in the half time show. Along with this, any representation of either shark without Perry’s approval would allegedly be a violation of her intellectual property rights.

Sosa claimed that he did not want to be subject to legal threats and decided to defend his creative use of the shark merchandise.

Sosa’s representative Chris Sprigman replied to the letter while adding some demands of his own. The reply demanded answers to several questions, including questing how Perry could own a copyright to a shark costume. Sprigman also suggested that if someone did indeed own a copyright to the costume, it would likely be the NFL or the designer behind the creation of the sharks, not Perry.

The retort also claimed that outfits or costumes are not easily copyrightable thus it is questionable whether the shark costumes are subject to copyright rights at all. Katy Perry’s lawyers have not yet replied to the letter, perhaps because they realize proving ownership of any copyright will likely be extremely difficult.

... Read the rest

Fox Claims that Dish Network’s Ad Skipping is Copyright Infringement

By Joseph Mandour on January 31, 2015

satellite-dishLos Angeles – Prime features of any cable DVR is the ability to pause live television and fast forward through commercials. In addition to this, several DVR makers are offering their customers the ability to automatically skip over commercials.

Dish Network’s “Hopper” Package allows customers the chance to not only skip commercials and record an entire evening of shows, but also to access recorded programs from anywhere on their portable devices. Fox thinks that such features go too far and thus sought to limit these features in a copyright infringement claim against Dish.

U.S. District Judge Dolly M. Gee recently ruled in Dish Network’s favor by stating that ad-skipping features and remote access do not constitute copyright infringement. However, Gee also noted that there are some aspects of the Dish features that violate its contract with Fox.

The contract between Fox and Dish restricts copying of any program from outside the home. Gee ruled that the “Hopper Transfers” feature provided by Dish as a violation of this agreement. This package would have allowed the user to download shows directly to their phones or tablets.

Dish fought back by claiming that it’s “PrimeTime Anytime” simply allows one to access a program that has already been downloaded to their DVR and thus would not represent a copyright infringement.

In an attempt to support their case, Fox compared the Dish disagreement with the recent Aereo landmark case. However, Gee noted differences between the two cases. Dish customers are simply gaining access to their own DVR in their home, whereas Aereo streamed directly to the customer.

This is not the first time Dish Network has fought for rights relating to its services. Vice-President R. Stanton Dodge stated that the network is “proud to have stood by [the consumers] side in this important fight over fundamental rights of consumer choice and control.”

A spokesperson for Fox stated that the disagreement is not about consumer rights with regard to new technology. Rather, it is about protecting creative rights from becoming a copyright infringement.

In another battl... Read the rest

Sony’s Movie The Interview May Also Be a Copyright Infringement

By Joseph Mandour on January 8, 2015

sonyLos Angeles – Sony Corporation’s movie release of “The Interview” has not exactly enjoyed smooth sailing. The movie’s Christmas Day debut was shown in only 300 theaters nation-wide after terrorist threats and a system cyber-hack emerged regarding the controversial plot.

“The Interview” has been under the spotlight as it negatively depicts North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and some of the country’s domestic policies. President Barack Obama even got involved in the debate when he suggested that Sony should still release the movie amid all the chaos.

However, threats and limited access have not stalled the viewing of “The Interview.” Millions have watched the movie online. Websites such as YouTube allowed an online rental of the movie and other web sites also provided many people a means of downloading the movie.

Sony now faces new challenges with the movie due to an alleged Copyright Infringement. Unlike Katy Perry and her “Firework” track making an appearance in the movie, K-Pop star Yoon Mi-rae is not thrilled about her song’s appearance.

According to Mi-rae’s music label Feel Ghood Music, there were discussions with Sony regarding use of Mi-rae’s song “Pay Day” in “The Interview.” Unfortunately for Sony, there were no signed contracts, legal steps, or final decisions made. The label stated that while initial discussions did take place, there was no final arrangement or contract. The problem being that Sony never cleared or otherwise paid Yoon Mi-rae or the label for the right to use the song. Feel Ghood Music and Yoon Mi-rae expressed their discontent with the use of the song, and plan to take legal action against Sony.

Sony’s alleged Copyright Infringement does not necessarily mean a messy lawsuit or more headaches for the corporation. Feel Ghood Music stated that an out of court settlement agreement to retroactively make a deal is possible. For Yoon Mi-rae, perhaps the extra publicity for her song will turn into a positive in the end.

Sony was not as hard hit as some expected with the shortened release of “The Interview” and Sony remains hopeful that a quick resolution will come with regard to... Read the rest

Judge Rules “Blurred Lines” Bears Copyright Similarities to Marvin Gaye’s Song

By Joseph Mandour on November 13, 2014

concert-2Los Angeles – Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams have lost the first round of their court battle over copyright infringement with Marvin Gaye’s family. Judge John Kronstadt denied Thicke’s and Williams’s motion for summary judgment ruling that there are similarities between “Blurred Lines” and Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” and that those similarities are enough for the case to be sent to trial.

The judge wrote in his decision that lawyers for the Gaye family have shown sufficient proof that certain elements of “Blurred Lines” may be “substantially similar” to protected, original elements of “Got to Give It Up.” The judge also pointed to significant similarities in the two songs’ hooks, baselines, signature phrases, keyboard chord and vocal melodies. Indeed, these unique song structures and features may constitute “protected expressions,” the judge ruled. Also, according to court documents, all of those who created “Blurred Lines” admitted they were familiar with Gaye’s hit before they wrote the song.

The lawsuit was filed by Thicke and Williams in August 2013 after they were contacted by Gaye’s family alleging copyright infringement. Later, Gaye’s representatives filed a counterclaim alleging infringement regarding a second song, citing similarities between Thicke’s “Love After War” and Gaye’s “After the Dance.” Both sides presented experts such as musicologists and argued over the nuances of copyright law.

The hearing even addressed Thicke’s deposition comments admitting to drug abuse and lying to the media. Thicke told a reporter last year that “Blurred Lines” came out of admiration for “Got to Give It Up” and that he and Williams aspired to make “something with that groove.” However, according to court documents made public two months ago, Thicke said during a deposition that he was drunk and high every time he did an interview last year.

This issue came up because of the inverse-ratio rule in copyright law where more access to a song necessita... Read the rest

Judge Rules Grooveshark Employees Committed Copyright Infringement

By Joseph Mandour on October 2, 2014

GroovesharkLos Angeles – A federal judge in New York ruled that Grooveshark, a free online music service that has been a nemesis to major record companies, has in fact infringed copyrights. Grooveshark has been the target of the recording industry’s attacks for hosting music files without permission. The Florida-based Grooveshark, owned by Escape Media Group, makes millions of songs available to listeners for streaming.

In spite of being continually challenged in court by the recording industry, Grooveshark continued to garner a large audience. The company has been around even before the arrival of other streaming outlets. But unlike other outlets such as Spotify, Grooveshark operated without approval from record companies and music publishers. By the end of 2011, Grooveshark boasted 35 million users. It was drawing big-name advertisers such as Groupon and even Mercedes-Benz.

The court ruled that Grooveshark’s actions are not protected by the “safe harbor” provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. On the other hand, Judge Thomas P. Griesa of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, who granted summary judgment in the case, stated that the company is liable for copyright infringement because its own employees uploaded a total of 5,977 songs without the necessary permission. Grooveshark maintained that its actions were protected by the safe harbor provision.

Grooveshark infringed on the plaintiffs’ exclusive performance rights each time it streamed music from such artists as Jay-Z, Madonna, Eminem and Pink, the court ruled. In addition, the court found that Grooveshark discarded crucial evidence in the case including lists of files that employees and officers had uploaded to the service. When the next phase of this case is resolved, Grooveshark may have to pay millions of dollars in penalties and potentially shut down.

Last week, a federal judge in California ruled that satellite broadcaster Sirius XM violated copyright laws by playing songs by the 1960s band The Turtles without permission. The case is a threat to music streaming companies that have not been paying all royalties on pre-1972 recordings.

... Read the rest
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