Tag Archives: Big Thoughts

I Read Dead Peoples’ Email: UPDATE

Originally posted 2005-03-01 00:00:00. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Remember this item?  I wrote, regarding a family’s request for access to a serviceman’s email account after his death, as follows:

I say that absent a specific compelling reason to get the email information — i.e., the location of his will or the buried treasure or something like that — it should die with the man. And, considering that, I would also require that the information ultimately revealed be narrowly-tailored as well. The court in camera, or a special master, or another neutral person should fetch the relevant information and then Yahoo! should blow taps on the account. A hero is entitled to die with his privacy and his secrets intact.

Michell Malkin reports on new developments. Like her, though for different reasons set out in my original post, I’m lukewarm about this move.

UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: Deeper treatment of this issue, and specifically the Justin Ellsworth case, continues apace. Here’s one piece in IP Law & Business (the article is not available on line for free) by Mark D. Rasch, who formerly headed the Department’s efforts to investigate and prosecute computer and high-technology crime. He recommends the creation of an ‘”Internet Living Will” designating who can have access to your electronic assets in the event of death or incapacitation, and the scope of their authority to act on your behalf.”

Also, Jonathan Bick, a lawyer in New Jersey who’s an adjunct professor at Rutgers and Pace law schools, writes in the New Jersey Law Journal, available at Law.com (registration required here, too) that agrees with the argument of my interlocutor Paul Gowder in the comments to my original post (above) that this stuff ought not to stay private: “[D]efending nondisclosure of information after a person has passed away on the basis of privacy would present significant legal difficulties. A typical result was found by the district court in New Era Publications Int’l v. Henry Holt & Co., 695 F. Supp. 1493 (S.D.N.Y. 1988), aff’d, 873 F.2d 576 (2d Cir. 1989), when it dismissed a privacy argument by noting that the author of the copyrighted work was dead, thus eliminating his privacy interests. This would also be the likely outcome should a privacy argument be present in the Yahoo! matter.”

I think it’s the wrong outcome. Expectations, expectations, expectations!

UPDATE ON REPOSTING IN 2009: Recently this item about “what happens to your email when you’re dead?” got a lot of play over Twitter.  This has been dealt with, in terms of what email providers do, elsewhere, too (and in a funny, macabre way here), but the issues I raised in this post — i.e., what should happen to your emails when you’re dead? — are not really being taken to heart by lawyers, policymakers or too many other people either.  Thinking about this more, I realized that I wrote so many posts on this topic, the last of which is here, that it should be part of my backward looking categorization project, and made up a whole category for these “emails of the dead” posts.  Enjoy them… while you can.

Copyright belongs to the ages

Originally posted 2008-03-23 17:14:32. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Media Wonk:

No wonder they call Economics the Dismal Science. At the Internet Video Policy Symposium in Washington yesterday (co-sponsored by Content Agenda), a chorus line of academic economists postulated that content owners face a far more difficult challenge than they know in monetizing their content on the Internet, and that the odds that we can build our way out of the current debate over how to manage scarce online capacity are virtually nil.The most enthusiastically glum was Gerry Faulhaber, a professor at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania and the former chief economist for the FCC. According to Faulhaber, copyright is a dead letter.

“Copyright is a very big issue in the legal world today, but in the business world, when you talk to consumers about protecting copyrights, it’s a dead issue,” he said. “It’s gone. If you have a business model based on copyright, forget it.”

Provocative, I suppose, though it sounds like an overstatement, and not necessarily all that logical. The copyright regime has never depended on the opinions of non-stakeholders, merely the ability to penalize them for infringement. The technological / legal dance is far from over. I would say that the Microsoft business model, to give one example of one that is “based on copyright” at least in part, is not exactly in “forget it” mode, and will not be all that fast.

But that’s not to say it looks good for copyright as a linchpin of monopoly-type business models in the future. No, no, no.

“I didn’t make him for you”

Originally posted 2007-03-01 14:25:14. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Google is not a utility. Or an agent of the state, or a thing that owes anyone anything except to the extent they pay for it. At least for now. Eric Goldman has the decision from the U.S. Court for the District of Delaware, and the writeup.

UPDATE: Unrelated, but related:  the Google Censorship FAQ.

SUPER HERO® my foot

Originally posted 2006-03-27 16:08:22. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

UPDATE: Our NPR interview on this topic was on NPR’s “All Things Considered” just before 6 tonight.

We blogged on this topic last week. Today the LA Times weighs in, writing, confusingly:

TICKETS TO THE California Science Center’s latest exhibit, “Marvel Super Heroes Science Exhibition,” sell for $6.75 and up. But there’s one lesson the exhibition offers free of charge to anyone who wanders by the museum, and it’s not about science.

The lesson is in the giant sign looming over the center’s entrance archway: “Marvel ® Super Heroes(TM) Science Exhibition.” The “TM” stands for trademark, signifying that Marvel is claiming exclusive rights to use the term “super hero” as a marketing term for, well, superheroes. The company and its largest competitor, DC Comics, jointly obtained the trademark from the federal Patent and Trademark Office in 1981.

The government’s action means that any company wishing to market a comic book, graphic novel or related item with any variation of “super hero” in the name or title must get permission from Marvel and DC. Dan Taylor, the Costa Mesa-based creator of the “Super Hero Happy Hour” comic, learned about this absurdity two years ago when he was contacted by lawyers for Marvel and DC, prompting him to rename his series to the more pedestrian “Hero Happy Hour.”

What government action? What happened in 1981? (See below — someone else found the answer.) Nor does a claim of a valid registration make any sense in light of the claim in the editorial that the sign says:

Marvel ® Super Heroes(TM) Science Exhibition

If SUPER HEROES were a bona fide registered mark, it should say “Marvel ® Super Heroes ®,” not “Super Heroes(TM).” “TM” signifies the assertion of common-law trademark rights — not a registered mark and, as a practical matter, that a mark was either refused registration or that legal counsel advised against seeking registration (because the refusal would harm a future common law claim).The editorial argues that SUPER HEROES is a generic term not entitled to any trademark protection, which is correct. Genericness is the only way to defend against a registered and incontestible trademark, which presumably one registered in 1981 would be.

Even if it were true that two competing companies could own a trademark jointly in an area where they compete — thereby violating the axiom that trademarks indicate a single source of a good or service with which they are used — they seem to be succesfully avoiding the issue of their absurd joint registration, even as their giant signs claim only a “TM” common-law mark.

I guess that’s some super-heroic PR / legal spin job by the comic book fiends, but why journalists aren’t “getting this” — or why I [couldn’t] for the life of me find the source that does indicate a registration — leaves me pretty confused at the very unlikelihood of it all.

UPDATE: Attorney Robert J. Sinnema points me to registration number 1179067:

SUPER HEROES (“PUBLICATIONS, PARTICULARLY COMIC BOOKS AND MAGAZINES AND STORIES IN ILLUSTRATED FORM [(( ; CARDBOARD STAND-UP FIGURES; PLAYING CARDS; PAPER IRON-ON TRANSFER; ERASERS; PENCIL SHARPENERS; PENCILS; GLUE FOR OFFICE AND HOME USE, SUCH AS IS SOLD AS STATIONERY SUPPLY;] NOTEBOOKS AND STAMP ALBUMS )).

He adds:

If you look at the owner/assignment information it appears to show joint ownership between DC and Marvel. (I’m with you, though–I don’t know how the mark can be a valid indicator of source.)

And why the plural? Believe me, there’s a reason for everything, including the companies’ continued non-use of the ®. They simply don’t want to draw attention to preposterous joint ownership (again — by competitors!) of the registration of a generic term. Ah, but utilizing the joint assignment — when a joint application would never have passed muster — is diabolically clever. It’s still not an enforceable trademark, however — registration, assignment or not.

UPDATE: Via (and according to) aTypical Joe, I have discovered my inner (trademark – protected) self! Read More…

Two centuries of Blawg Review

Originally posted 2009-03-01 01:04:05. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Blawg Review: #200 went up earlier last week, and, contemplating its bicentennial edition, it got a little philosophical. “Ed” (as in “Ed.,” the nom de keyboard of Blawg Review’s maestro) hosted last week’s edition himself in honor of this milestone.

I particular appreciate this bit, going off on a topic I first had the opportunity to become aware of, and comment on, in the second half of this post, i.e., the transparently commercial blog-as-billboard:

Last week’s host, Mark Bennett, suggested that lawyers who enter the legal blogosphere looking to profit by it are headed for public ridicule; instead, he recommends that “the practical blawgosphere wants you to succeed. Write worth a damn, join in the conversation, link to posts on the blawgs you like reading, and we’ll find your blog and spread the word.” Scott Greenfield applauded Bennett taking a similar position in his Blawg Review last week. Whereas Bennett said that profiteers were welcome in but not well-suited to the blawgosphere, Greenfield put it more bluntly: “This Blawgosphere Ain’t Big Enough for the Two of Us”: “So why can’t we all get along? Because the marketers don’t care about the blawgosphere. They care about the quick buck and scheme.” Austin Criminal Defense Attorney Jamie Spencer blogged about an attorney in Dallas, whose blog is so transparently marketing-oriented that it concludes a post about a bizarre case where a drunk driver ended up with her truck in someone’s pool with “If you too have driven a car into a pool and are in need of an experienced DWI lawyer….”

Who among us hasn’t wished he had that number handy, eh?

And, hey — there was plenty of praise to go around, too, even a little coming out this way:

Colin Samuels, at Infamy or Praise, will remember Blawg Review for the annual award that recognizes the best Blawg Review of the Year. This annual competition is open to all law blogs that have hosted Blawg Review, and the same blogger wins every year. Congratulations, Colin, for getting the most nominations for Blawg Review #189, based on Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, which has earned the award for Blawg Review of the Year 2008. Ron Coleman’s Blawg Review #191, a Chanukah special at Likelihood of Confusion, is this year’s runner-up. In third place in the voting, there was a tie between Rush Nigut’s Blawg Review #147 based on the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, and David Gulbransen’s Blawg Review #182, a special bar exam edition. Twenty-four issues of Blawg Review received nominations this year, which shows the quality and variety of presentations is appreciated.

Colin is very much the man, even if his spelling is a little weak.  His pumping of LOC for notice this year was worth every penny, it seems!

Congratulations to Colin and Blawg Review!

Where you stand depends on where you sit

Originally posted 2009-12-28 09:00:50. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

I’ve never had a guest post in response to a LIKELIHOOD OF CONFUSION® item before, but that’s only because no one with the stature to respond to something I’ve written here based on personal knowledge of the facts has ever had the nerve to ask for one — not until I entered the rock and roll world of the fascinating Ritchie Fliegler, that is.  Ritchie’s a marketing guy, not a lawyer, so, naturally, he’s not afraid to speak truth to, uh, whatever it is this thing we have here is.Here’s what I would love to be able to say is the first of many replies to a LOC blog post from someone with a different point of view, and in a position to know. — RDC

 

“Where you stand depends on where you sit” – Nelson Mandela

This is one of my favorite quotes.  Not only does it ring true on so many levels, it’s also easier to understand than Einstein’s theory of relativity, which says basically the same thing —“Two events, simultaneous for some observer, may not be simultaneous for another observer if the observers are in relative motion.”

What does this have to do with trademark law? Not much actually, but it has a lot to do with a spirited and interesting conversation I had recently, with Ron.

Like many of you, my Google alerts are set to tick off on a number of subjects near and dear to me, classic cars, family members, former employers and the like. A few days ago the Google light went off alerting me to a blog post about a former employer, Fender Musical Instruments Corporation (FMIC) and their failed attempt to register trademarks for their famous guitar-body shapes – Strat, Tele and P-Bass. The article was well written, and thoughtful, however, in a vortex of relativity that would do ol’ Albert proud, my blood started to boil at what I perceived as purposeful errors and omissions by an uninformed outsider.

Now, I have been away from FMIC for well over two years, but I still have many dear friends at the place as well as a lingering vested interest… so I sprung in to action and sent a message with a requisite level of rancor. Read More…

King Kong meets Godzilla

Originally posted 2007-03-05 19:25:23. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Via Drudge — FT.com unleases a whopper:

Microsoft on Tuesday launches a fierce attack on Google over its “cavalier” approach to copyright, accusing the internet company of exploiting books, music, films and television programmes without permission.Tom Rubin, associate general counsel for Microsoft, will say in a speech in New York that while authors and publishers find it hard to cover costs, “companies that create no content of their own, and make money solely on the back of other people’s content, are raking in billions through advertising and initial public offerings”.

Mr Rubin’s remarks, presaged in an article in Tuesday’s Financial Times, come as Google faces criticism and legal pressure from media companies over services allowing users to search online for books, films, television programmes and news. Viacom, the US media group, instructed YouTube, which Google owns, to remove 100,000 clips of copyright material.

Okay, so there’s a touch of irony here:

You see, Microsoft excels at marketing. They don’t excel at innovation. In fact, very little of what Microsoft has to offer is truly innovative. There is a tendency to come late to the game and snatch up an idea and build on it, perhaps years after the concept has hit the market, and call it their own. They market themselves as innovators and do a degree they are. Their innovation comes in the spit and polish and not in the technological breakthrough itself.

Examples of this go way back …

Arguably, Google has innovated more — with its search engine technology and the applications it has spun off them, and in the way it has changed the face of how people use their (and others’) computers — than Microsoft ever will. What commercial reality is motivating this attack, then? Read More…

Side by side comparison doesn’t decide likelihood of confusion

Originally posted 2006-07-11 17:14:18. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Dooney & Bourke's pattern

This is an important decision: The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has partially reversed the earlier ruling of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (full decision here) in Louis Vuitton Malletier v. Dooney & Bourke, Inc.

Here’s the “money quote” as a once-great blogger taught me to say (citations and internal quotes omitted; link added) :

We turn next to the question of likelihood of confusion. . . . The similarity of the marks is a key factor in determining likelihood of confusion. To apply this factor, courts must analyze the mark’s overall impression on a consumer, considering the context in which the marks are displayed and the totality of factors that could cause confusion among prospective purchasers.’ The district court here noted that there were “obvious similarities” between the Louis Vuitton and Dooney & Bourke handbags. However, it determined that despite the similarities, the two marks were not confusingly similar. It appears the trial court made the same mistake that we crioticized in [the] Burlington Coat Factory [decision]: inappropriately focusing on the similarity of the marks in a side-by-side comparison instead of when viewed sequentially in the context of the marketplace. The district court reasoned:

[I]t could not be more obvious that Louis Vuitton uses the initials “LV,” while Dooney & Bourke uses its trademarked “DB” logo. Thus, a consumer seeing these trademarks printed on these bags, either up close or at a distance, is not likely to be confused. . . . [T]he Dooney & Bourke bags only use their “DB” initials; there are no geometric shapes interspersed with the monogram. . . . [T]he colors used on the Dooney & Bourke bag are noticeably toned down, and consequently fail to evoke the characteristic “friction” sparked by Murakami’s bright, clashing colors, the Louis Vuitton marks create a very different overall impression (i.e., large interspersed shapes and initials in crisp, bold colors) than the Dooney & Bourke bags (i.e., tightly interlocked initials in dulled colors).

Vuitton's pattern


We disapproved almost identical language in Burlington Coat Factory. Utilizing a side-by-side comparison can be a useful heuristic means of investigating similarities and differences in respective designs, so long as a court maintains a focus on the ultimate issue of the likelihood of consumer confusion. Courts should keep in mind that in this context the law requires only confusing similarity, not identity. Further, where, as here, the plaintiff claims initial-interest and post-sale confusion, market conditions must be examined closely to see whether the differences between the marks are likely to be memorable enough to dispel confusion on serial viewing. The district court erred because it based its determination that confusion between the Vuitton and Dooney & Bourke marks was unlikely at least in part on an overemphasized side-by-side comparison. This is suggested by the district court’s comment that no amount of expert opinion, legal analysis, or demonstrative evidence can overcome the clarity that comes from direct observation.

Read that excerpt again, then re-read it; then email it to your favorite federal judge — and your favorite client or prospective client, or non-specialist lawyer dabbling in trademark, who can’t understand why the PTO doesn’t understand the difference between his spelling that uses a “z” and the other guy’s pre-existing registration that uses an “s”.  Again:

Courts should keep in mind that in this context the law requires only confusing similarity, not identity. Further, where, as here, the plaintiff claims initial-interest and post-sale confusion, market conditions must be examined closely to see whether the differences between the marks are likely to be memorable enough to dispel confusion on serial viewing.

Got it? Read More…

Revisiting the Black List

Originally posted 2006-03-07 13:14:43. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

David Bernstein writes:

[Northwestern Law Prof Martin] Redish concludes, and this Reviewer agrees, it was entirely appropriate — under the First Amendment, and also morally — for businesses and individuals to boycott members of the Stalinist CPUSA.

(SKIP PARAGRAPH IF YOU DON’T CARE ABOUT LAW SCHOOL POLITICS. ) Marty Redish wrote that? Very impressive for its political incorrectness. Maybe he’s hankering to follow (one of my other first-year NU Law professors — took Redish’s course on federal jurisdiction, too, which really paid off…) Dan Polsby, also recently getting attention on the Volokh blog, to George Mason Law. Interesting NU / George Mason thing going on here — what with Bernstein’s article appearing the NU Law Review…. (Ugh. I should leave this stuff to Brian Leiter.)

But really, I highly recommend the link, assuming that like everyone else you don’t read law review articles. Everything you thought about the “Red Scare,” pretty much, was wrong (unless you’re the type who reads this blog regularly, I guess). And the fact that a mainstream First Amendment authority such as Redish will write that this was an issue of moral choice, not “stifling of dissent,” is a very good development.

Credit card companies get green light to profit from, enable Internet piracy

Originally posted 2007-07-04 23:59:37. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

credit_card_logos_10.gif

Reuters reports that in Perfect 10, Inc. v. Visa Intl. Serv. Assn., 494 F.3d 788, 793 (9th Cir. 2007) the Ninth Circuit has affirmed (opinion here), 2-1, a ruling that there is no third-party copyright or trademark liability for credit card companies such as Visa and MasterCard or the banks that process their transactions, arising from their central — essential, really — role in the sale of counterfeit merchandise (including, as in this case, unauthorized copies of dirty pictures) on the Internet:

Writing for the majority, Judge Milan Smith Jr. said credit card processors, unlike Web search providers, do not direct online traffic. “They in no way assist or enable Internet users to locate infringing material, and they do not distribute it,” Smith wrote.

“Here, the infringement rests on the reproduction, alteration, display and distribution of Perfect 10’s images over the Internet,” Smith wrote.

If you didn’t guess from the title, I disagree with this. Why do judges keep missing this? The credit card companies are very much in the profit chain of infringing websites — websites that do nothing but sell counterfeit goods — and they make no serious effort, even when notified, to prevent this activity from occurring.

I am not just shooting from the hip here. I researched this issue extensively for a Very Important Client, and came to the conclusion that, under the right circumstances, liability should, indeed, attach. I cannot understand, for example, why the Ninth Circuit spends so much time focusing on the fact that the credit card companies do not themselves operate the infringing websites the way flea market operators (who have been held contributorily liable) operate the markets where counterfeit items are sold. That is besides the point. I find this language particularly frustrating:

[T]he ability to exert financial pressure does not give Defendants the right or ability to control the actual infringing activity at issue in this case [as would be required to find liabilty]. . . Defendants can only refuse to process credit card payments to the offending merchant within their payment network, or they can threaten to do so if the merchant does not comply with a request to alter content. While either option would likely have some indirect effect on the infringing activity, as we discuss at greater length in our analysis of the Grokster “stop or limit” standard below, so might any number of actions by any number of actors.

Since when is the fact that other things would also work mean that the law will not require a party in a position to prevent illegality — and which is profiting from the transactions — to do what is in its power?

I’m not alone; not by a long shot. The dissenter? Read More…

Google Gets it Right

Originally posted 2005-08-04 18:30:32. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Perfect discrimination is every seller’s dream. The Internet at once promises to make that dream reality and yet provides consumers with the range of choice and potential transparency of the sell side that can maximize their options as well. From a microeconomic point of view, it’s a fascinating dynamic. In this online Wired article, “Media Hack” Adam L. Penenberg explains how Google is approaching perfect discrimination in the advertising business — and is only just scratching the surface.

No more Star Chamber opinions

Originally posted 2006-04-17 12:23:01. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Legal Times reports:

The Supreme Court on Wednesday adopted a historic rule change that will allow lawyers to cite so-called unpublished opinions in federal courts starting next year. The new rule takes effect unless Congress countermands it before Dec. 1.

The justices’ vote represents a major milestone in the long-running debate over unpublished opinions, the sometimes-cursory dispositions that resolve upward of 80 percent of cases in federal appeals courts nationwide. In some circuits these dispositions have no precedential value and cannot be cited. . . .

Unpublished opinions first came into vogue in the 1960s as a time-saving device for appellate judges. Though the propriety of an essentially secret judicial process has been debated for years, the catalyst for change came in 2000, when the late 8th Circuit Judge Richard Arnold ruled in a routine case that stripping unpublished opinions of precedential value was unconstitutional because it gave judges a power not authorized by Article III of the Constitution.

Sounds right to me. I wrote this on the INTA list last winter:

The issue of non-citability and “not precedential” rulings in the federal courts is a troubling one, because it goes square against the idea of the common law and statutory interpretations as being based on accretions of precedent. There is usually no way for the mortal to know why one decision is regarded as worthy of being deemed precedential and others are not, nor to understand why, if it is not good enough for precedent, the ratio decidendi (if you will!) of a given opinion was good enough for that case. Judge Kozinski takes a shot at explaining why citation to unpublished opinions is not allowed here, essentially arguing from the not-too-principled position that they’re not written all that well, but this still leaves us with the question of published TTAB decisions not being citable.

The suggestion by a list member that attorneys should “always note that they are not offered as precedent but as indicative of how the TTAB has approached similar matters in the past” isn’t too helpful to me. I understand his distinction, I guess – that the decisions are not offered as _binding_ precedent – but his use of it is still what I think lawyers call precedent. Since so few cases really are binding in the sense that no distinction can be made between a precedent and the case at bar, this just strikes me as the plain old use of precedent — precisely to demonstrate how other tribunals have approached similar matters in the past.

Judge Kozinski is quoted in the article cited above as saying, “When the people making the sausage tell you it’s not safe for human consumption, it seems strange indeed to have a committee in Washington tell people to go ahead and eat it anyway.” But Judge Kozinsky, you’re not allowed to sell sausage that’s unfit for human consumption. If you want to do that, go into the arbitration business — not an Article III judge-for-life job, or for that matter, a fairly comparable gig with the TTAB.

UPDATE:  A good (not new, but good) treatment here.