Archive for the ‘Intellectual Property’ Category

Who Owns the Monkey’s Selfie?

Posted by | Intellectual Property | September 25, 2014

What happens when a monkey takes a selfie? The field of intellectual property often has bizarre questions arise, but recently a picture went viral of a monkey who apparently took a photographer’s camera, and started taking pictures, including this awesome self portrait.

Apparently, British photographer David Slater had set up his camera in Indonesia to grab photos of crested black macaques. However, one of the monkeys found the camera when he stepped away, and took some photos, including the selfie above. When the photo went viral, Slater tried to take back control in a copyright dispute with Wikimedia Commons, who had posted the picture on Wikipedia.

Whether Slater owned the copyright seemed like nothing more than an interesting discussion among copyright lawyers, until the Copyright Office weighed in last month. In true fashion, it took them 1,200 pages to basically say that you can’t own a copyright to a monkey selfie.

“Materials produced solely by nature, by plants, or by animals are not copyrightable.” Humans need to create the work, or the Copyright Office will not register it. A less ridiculous example would be works created not by animals, but by machines. Music composed by an algorithm (, or perhaps art based on fractal computations ( would not be copyrightable without additional human modifications.

It turns out the monkey was just the start of a much larger argument over the ownership of works produced by non-humans.


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Is It In the Public Domain?

Posted by | Intellectual Property | June 17, 2014

Belief in the power of the public domain is one of the main causes of intellectual property violations. Just because something is on the internet, does not mean you are free to use it. The term “public domain” does not mean anything accessible by the public. It’s a very complicated field of law dealing with expired (or otherwise invalid) copyrights. Fortunately, Berkley Law School has published a useful guide for determining public domain as it relates to copyright. I saw that with a caveat – it’s useful for attorneys, but everyone else may find it a bit overwhelming. It seems that even making it easy makes it look hard.

BerkleyLaw – Is it in the Public Domain? [pdf]

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Tesla Releases Patents to the Public

Posted by | Intellectual Property, News | June 13, 2014

Elon Musk Sharing Technology to Boost Innovation in the Industry

Elon Musk, the founder of electric car company Tesla, announced that Tesla is releasing its technology patents in an attempt to boost innovation in the electric car market. While the announcement was heavily coated in altruistic jargon about saving the environment, it just may be a great business move. First, open source software tends to be better, more secure, and more profitable for those who utilize it well. Why can’t the same be true of engineering technology?

Second, the electric car industry has not made the strides to the wider market many had hoped. Because of this, there is very little infrastructure and support for electric cars. This means Tesla is fighting a nation of combustion vehicles, and the lobby they bring with them, all alone. For example, Tesla’s business model of selling vehicles directly to customers has been banned in New Jersey.

Finally, it’s clear that there are numerous hurdles to entering the market due to the fear of patent litigation. A new study shows that patent trolling has a significant negative effect on a start-up’s ability to get funding. Musk cleared that problem by announcing that they would not pursue patent litigation. This allows for new innovations in the marketplace that Tesla can capitalize on. And hopefully make more demand for the product.

Remember, the original purpose of patents was to limit intellectual property ownership so that ideas would be opened to the public in a short period of time. The laws have changed drastically since then. Considering the overuse of patent litigation, and the value added by open source technology, it might make more sense today to invite collaboration rather than overly protect intellectual property.

Washington Post – Elon Musk: Take our Tesla patents, please! – Tesla Motors appeals NJ regulation banning car sales directly to consumers

ArsTechnica – New study suggests patent trolls really are killing startups

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Intellectual Property Gone Awry

Posted by | Intellectual Property | June 10, 2014

Intellectual property laws were designed to do two things (1) encourage innovation and (2) promote economic growth. Rather than get into the problems with modern intellectual property law, and how far it has strayed from its second purpose, I thought it would be fun to look at some of the more recent examples of IP gone bad.

“π.” trademarked. Calculate circumference at your own risk.

That’s right. Brooklyn artist Paul Ingrisano received a trademark for the Greek symbol pi, which as we all know, is a mathematical constant (3.14159…) used for many important calculations. Ingrisano was selling shirts with the symbol followed by a period – π.

Typically, a trademark has to be distinctive in order to qualify for registration. It’s unclear why the trademark office considered π distinctive enough, even with a period at the end. But it gets worse. Ingrisano is not the first person to exploit the use of the universal mathematical symbol by putting it on a t-shirt. So he sent a cease and desist letter (with demand for profit accounting) to Zazzle, the online t-shirt company, which happened to sell shirts featuring π, even though they didn’t have the period. Ingrisano’s attorney considered them confusingly similar to the trademark .

The worst part of the story is that Zazzle actually banned use of the 3,000 Greek letter on its products. While they have since reinstated them on the site, the fact that they had to shut down shows that something has gone amiss.

Wired – This Guy Trademarked the Symbol for Pi and Took Away Our Geeky T-Shirts

Amazon’s Patent for Photos on a White Background.

Amazon has been making news lately, and not for anything good. First their bullying of publishers using their site, and then a patent on photography. Amazon has received a patent for taking pictures of products in front of a white background. I’m sure they will use it responsibly. For further analysis, see this great explanation by Stephen Colbert:


Local Governments Getting in on the Action

Even governments are getting in on the action. Typically, governments cannot trademark their official seals, since it is like public property. However, that did not stop County of Union, New Jersey from demanding a public access TV show critical of the local government to stop using the symbol. This story does have a happier ending though. First, the USPTO denied the county’s trademark application as being illegal. Second, the court hearing the case found that there was no trademark, and even if there had been, the show’s use wasn’t infringing.

Volokh Conspiracy – County of Union (N.J.) tries to use trademark law to stop critic from using county seal on her blog

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Sex, Pirates, and Trolls

Posted by | Intellectual Property | June 04, 2014

Using IP Addresses to Troll for Copyright Infringement

Sexy pirates…copyright trolling…it’s all the same really.

Today we’re going to discuss something a bit more saucy. How about sex and pirates and trolls? Sound exciting. Then let’s get started. You may have heard of patent trolls, who make a living suing others for infringing patents. Now there are porn trolls. The pornography business has never been short of money, but now its finding a new source of revenue. It turns out the nation’s largest filer of copyright lawsuits is, an online porn company. Last year, they accounted for one-third of all copyright lawsuits in the country.

The X-Art Copyright Trolling Method

They make adult videos that are open to subscribers. Upon learning that about six times more people were pirating their films than paying for them, they went on the offensive. First, they identify the IP addresses of those who obtain the videos via BitTorrents. Then they file a case requesting the maximum penalties (about $150,000 per movie). Using the discovery process, they get a name and address for the IP address from the service provider. Unlike other companies using IP addresses to crack down on copyright infringement, X-art sues each downloader individually.

Is an IP Address Sufficient?

The use of IP addresses is generally a problem, since there are potentially many users of one address. A network may have multiple users, squatters, hackers, or others just passing through the connection. As such, identifying the defendant is a serious issue. Some courts are starting to learn more about the nature of IP addresses, and are pushing back on using them as defendants (California, also in Washington state). Not that it matters. In the case of X-art, almost all defendants settle the case for a few thousands dollars rather than face the embarrassment of a trial over pirated porn.

It reminds me of the movie Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. In that movie, a character comes up with a scheme for making money: Advertise sex toys, and allow people to send in money to a legitimate sounding business. Then notify the customer that the toy is out of stock, and refund their money using a check holding a very dirty sounding company name. Then see who actually cashes the checks.

That’s certainly illegal, but is X-art engaging in the same thing? Is it different because they may actually have infringement? Who knows if everyone is too embarrassed to fight back.

New Yorker – The Biggest Filer of Copyright Lawsuits? This Erotica Web Site

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Copyright Dispute Over ‘The Hateful Eight’ Script

Posted by | Intellectual Property | May 21, 2014

The Fight Between Quentin Tarantino and Gawker

Earlier this year, a case fizzled out between director Quentin Tarantino and the blog regarding copyright infringement. Tarantino alleged that Gawker had violated copyrights by posting a link to Tarantino’s script for his upcoming movie, The Hateful Eight. After some back and forth, Tarantino eventually dismissed the case, but it shows some interesting arguments regarding fair use and contributory infringement. You can read a more thorough summary at the Digital Media Law Project.

Digital Media Law Project – Tarantino v. Gawker Media, LLC

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