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Comment Re:Half the story (Score 1) 212

For example, if you were to open a fast food shop and call it Walt Disney's Fries Company, the Walt Disney cartoon and theme park company may try to fight this, but they wouldn't stand much of a chance.

Ha, no. They would destroy you so utterly that even brave men would only whisper about you when safe behind locked doors, and as for the store itself, it would be smitten so hard that nothing but twisted weeds would ever grow on that spot again. You might want to read up on trademark dilution.

Comment Re:Half the story (Score 2) 212

It depends.

There's really no such thing as a copyright on a character; there's just copyrights on works, which characters may be part of. Also, where more than one work is at issue, note that the copyright for derivative works only applies to new material added in the derivative work; it doesn't protect the pre-existing material at all.

Not all characters are defined well-enough to be protectable by the copyright to begin with. The degree of characterization matters. A character that's nothing more than a chessman could get reused pretty freely. An extremely well-defined character probably couldn't be. This is like the difference between a butler that did it, but about whom nothing else is told in the book, and a well-defined butler (well, valet, technically) like Jeeves, where we know a lot about him (preferred foods, what he reads, his club, things he knows about, etc.)

So assuming a protectable character, the issue basically boils down to whether the first work in which that character appeared is in the public domain. If it is, then the character -- as he was defined in the public domain material -- is fair game. Otherwise, you'd just be making a derivative of a copyrighted work, which is infringing. Remember, character attributes that first appear in works that are still copyrighted are not available.

As for a trademark, it would unavoidably be lost in this scenario. A trademark can only exist where it serves to indicate that goods bearing the mark originate from a particular source. Since copyright law would allow anyone to make copies or new works which included the mark, and since in the event of conflicts, copyright law trumps trademark law (many people in this discussion have noted the Supreme Court's opinion in Dastar on this point), the mark could no longer indicate that copies shared a common source, and so it would become an unprotected generic mark. If that were not so, the trademark would act like a copyright, which would be unconstitutional.

Comment Re:Half the story (Score 1) 212

Just because the story is in the public domain, that doesn't mean you have the ability to use the trademarks.

Actually, it's usually not a problem. Here's the Supreme Court, weighing in in Dastar Corp. v. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp., 539 US 23 (2003). The thing to know about the case is, there was a tv series based on a book; the book was copyrighted, but the tv series' copyright hadn't been renewed (back when that was a thing), so it had entered the public domain. Dastar made copies of the public domain tv show and sold them. Meanwhile, Fox got the tv rights to the book, then made copies of the tv show and sold them. Fox sued on trademark grounds (specifically section 43 of the Lanham Act).

It could be argued, perhaps, that the reality of purchaser concern is different for what might be called a communicative product -- one that is valued not primarily for its physical qualities, such as a hammer, but for the intellectual content that it conveys, such as a book or, as here, a video. The purchaser of a novel is interested not merely, if at all, in the identity of the producer of the physical tome (the publisher), but also, and indeed primarily, in the identity of the creator of the story it conveys (the author). And the author, of course, has at least as much interest in avoiding passing off (or reverse passing off) of his creation as does the publisher. For such a communicative product (the argument goes) "origin of goods" in 43(a) must be deemed to include not merely the producer of the physical item (the publishing house Farrar, Straus and Giroux, or the video producer Dastar) but also the creator of the content that the physical item conveys (the author Tom Wolfe, or -- assertedly -- respondents).

The problem with this argument according special treatment to communicative products is that it causes the Lanham Act to conflict with the law of copyright, which addresses that subject specifically. The right to copy, and to copy without attribution, once a copyright has expired, like "the right to make [an article whose patent has expired]including the right to make it in precisely the shape it carried when patented-passes to the public." Sears, Roebuck & Co. v. Stiffel Co., 376 U. S. 225, 230 (1964); see also Kellogg Co. v. National Biscuit Co., 305 U. S. 111, 121-122 (1938). "In general, unless an intellectual property right such as a patent or copyright protects an item, it will be subject to copying." TrafFix Devices, Inc. v. Marketing Displays, Inc., 532 U. S. 23, 29 (2001). The rights of a patentee or copyright holder are part of a "carefully crafted bargain," Bonito Boats, Inc. v. Thunder Craft Boats, Inc., 489 U. S. 141, 150-151 (1989), under which, once the patent or copyright monopoly has expired, the public may use the invention or work at will and without attribution. Thus, in construing the Lanham Act, we have been "careful to caution against misuse or over-extension" of trademark and related protections into areas traditionally occupied by patent or copyright. TrafFix, 532 U. S., at 29. "The Lanham Act," we have said, "does not exist to reward manufacturers for their innovation in creating a particular device; that is the purpose of the patent law and its period of exclusivity." Id., at 34. Federal trademark law "has no necessary relation to invention or discovery," Trade-Mark Cases, 100 U. S. 82, 94 (1879), but rather, by preventing competitors from copying "a source-identifying mark," "reduce[s] the customer's costs of shopping and making purchasing decisions," and "helps assure a producer that it (and not an imitating competitor) will reap the financial, reputation-related rewards associated with a desirable product," Qualitex Co. v. Jacobson Products Co., 514 U. S. 159, 163-164 (1995) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Assuming for the sake of argument that Dastar's representation of itself as the "Producer" of its videos amounted to a representation that it originated the creative work conveyed by the videos, allowing a cause of action under 43(a) for that representation would create a species of mutant copyright law that limits the public's "federal right to 'copy and to use'" expired copyrights, Bonito Boats, supra, at 165.

When Congress has wished to create such an addition to the law of copyright, it has done so with much more specificity than the Lanham Act's ambiguous use of "origin." The Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990, 603(a), 104 Stat. 5128, provides that the author of an artistic work "shall have the right ... to claim authorship of that work." 17 U. S. C. 106A(a)(1)(A). That express right of attribution is carefully limited and focused: It attaches only to specified "work[s] of visual art," 101, is personal to the artist, 106A(b) and (e), and endures only for "the life of the author," 106A(d)(1). Recognizing in 43(a) a cause of action for misrepresentation of authorship of noncopyrighted works (visual or otherwise) would render these limitations superfluous. A statutory interpretation that renders another statute superfluous is of course to be avoided. E. g., Mackey v. Lanier Collection Agency & Service, Inc., 486 U. S. 825, 837, and n. 11 (1988).

[The Court found that the Lanham Act did not prevent Dastar from selling copies of the public domain video, and then said:]

To hold otherwise would be akin to finding that 43(a) created a species of perpetual patent and copyright, which Congress may not do. See Eldred v. Ashcroft, 537 U. S. 186, 208 (2003).

Comment Re:Can't copyright titles (Score 1) 224

Actually, you cannot trademark the mere title to a work.

In order to just function as a trademark, a mark must indicate that all goods bearing a particular mark originate from the same source; merely identifying the good is insufficient.

The title to a work merely identifies the work. That's not enough to be a trademark. Only if there are multiple works, forming a series, and the mark is a shared part of the title indicating that all the works are part of that series, and that anything in that series shares a common source, can there be a real trademark.

So in 1991, the book DOS for Dummies was released. If that had been the end of it, it wouldn't be trademarkable. But it was followed up by Windows for Dummies and about a million others, and so FOR DUMMIES became a protectable mark. (And apparently there had been a single book by a different author back in the 70's called Auto Repair for Dummies, but since it was a standalone, it didn't have prior rights to the mark)

This is why the Harry Potter books are all titled Harry Potter and the Something Something. Otherwise they'd probably indicate somewhere on them that they were part of the Harry Potter series (as the Lord of the Rings books, among others, do).

Comment Re:Seems simple enough to reverse this strategy (Score 3, Informative) 224

Sorry, but that won't work.

You're citing 17 USC 106A. That only applies to the author of "a work of visual art." That term is specially defined in the Copyright Act, in the definitions section at 17 USC 101. The relevant parts of the definition are:

A "work of visual art" is--

(1) a painting, drawing, print, or sculpture, existing in a single copy, in a limited edition of 200 copies or fewer that are signed and consecutively numbered by the author, or, in the case of a sculpture, in multiple cast, carved, or fabricated sculptures of 200 or fewer that are consecutively numbered by the author and bear the signature or other identifying mark of the author; or

(2) a still photographic image produced for exhibition purposes only, existing in a single copy that is signed by the author, or in a limited edition of 200 copies or fewer that are signed and consecutively numbered by the author.

It really isn't possible for anything online to qualify, due to the requirement of there being only a single copy (a copy is defined in the Copyright Act as being a tangible object containing the work; a computer file isn't a copy, but a hard drive can be, which means that if other people can download it, they're necessarily making a new copy), or no more than 200 copies if each copy is signed and numbered and which are a limited edition.

What this is actually meant for is fine art, like a painting, art prints, etc. Not art posted online. It was a nice try, but you've got to check the statute more thoroughly if you want to cite it correctly.

Comment Re:Mickey Mouse copyirght extenstions... (Score 1) 183

The Mickey Mouse character has trademark protections, not copyright protections.

No.

Characters are not creative works themselves, eligible for copyrights, but where characters appear in copyrightable creative works, the work itself, including the sub-part of the work which is the description of the character, is copyrighted. If the description is very minimal, a third party may be able to avoid infringing on the copyright of the work even though he reuses the character without permission. On the other hand, if the character is described in quite a bit of detail, reuse of that character may rise to the level that could qualify as infringement. If the character reappears in other works, the qualities of the character added there may also be copyrightable. If the original work in which the character appears enters the public domain, so does the character -- as he appeared in that work. Later changes to the character may remain protected until the works in which those changes first appeared also enter the public domain.

Character copyrights is a commonly understood shorthand for this concept of copyrights in those portions of a work in which a character appears.

For a fictional character to be a trademark, it must be used in a trademark capacity; just appearing in a creative work will not suffice. The character must be used in such a way as to indicate that the source of the goods or services that it's used in conjunction with are understood by the public to all originate from a particular source. When the character is used with goods that could come from any source, it has no function as a trademark.

For example, in the US, all of the original works by JM Barrie in which Peter Pan appears are in the public domain. Thus, anyone is free to make their own creative works featuring the Peter Pan character, plots, etc. And boy, do they ever -- I think there's yet another Peter Pan movie adaptation coming out this year, and there's always plenty of books, comics, cartoons, etc. Since anyone can do it, no one can have a trademark on the Peter Pan character with regard to any sort of creative work; the character is utterly incapable of indicating a single source.

However, there is a PETER PAN brand of peanut butter. The company that makes it has a trademark on it, and a perfectly good one. There's only one source of PETER PAN-brand peanut butter, and the public domain status of the character for creative works has no relevance in the field of peanut butter. Ditto for KING ARTHUR for flour, or BIBENDUM as used with tires.

Mickey Mouse's original appearance was in a still-copyrighted short film, so there is a copyright that protects the use of the character. There is also a well-known MICKEY MOUSE trademark used on all manner of products. It can be used in conjunction with creative works because no one else is allowed to use them with such works due to the copyright; thus all such works must originate from one source, and trademark protection is possible. When that first short film enters the public domain however, anyone can use the Mickey Mouse character in creative works, and this will kill the MICKEY MOUSE trademark with regard to goods that are creative works. The mark will only retain vitality in unrelated fields.

Derivative works could be created of Steamboat Willie once the copyright expires, but COULD *NOT* feature Mickey Mouse because Mickey Mouse would still be protected by trademark.

Wrong. Derivatives could feature Mickey Mouse, and the MICKEY MOUSE trademark applicable to such things would have ceased to exist at the same time as the copyright.

Those trademark protections would not be able to keep people from making copies of Steamboat Willie because Steamboat Willie itself always had authorized use of the character.

Wrong. First, because as noted the trademark would be dead at that point. Second, you utterly don't understand how trademarks work; if anyone can produce a good using the mark, that will kill the mark. It doesn't matter whether or not it's an exact copy of a good that was allowed to use the mark. In fact, that is precisely the sort of situation that trademarks are meant to protect against!

Trademark and copyright protect entirely different things, and you cannot reasonablyy use both to protect the same work

And yet it happens every day. Copyright and trademark can protect different aspects of a single work. There is no rule, outside of your absurd imagination, that says otherwise. I discussed this before with the Coca-Cola bottle.

If you are going to debate hypothetical situations, you should probably ask a lawyer or somebody else with a sufficient experience in IP law how it will go down, if you aren't willing to listen to somebody from another country.

Congratulations: I am a lawyer, (have been for some time, in fact) and my practice centers on copyright and trademark law. I assure you, I know what I'm talking about.

Still, if you'd like to read more on the issue of character copyrights and trademarks, try this law review article that a moment's googling produced: http://connecticutlawreview.or...

As for me, I don't think this discussion is going to become productive, so I'm done.

Comment Re:Mickey Mouse copyirght extenstions... (Score 1) 183

if they used the LEGO term, even to say they were compatible with LEGO, even with all explicit trademark acknowledgements, it would be at LEGO's discretion to either issue a C&D or not to bar them from continuing to refer to them, unless they company were somehow able to show that they were not a competitor for LEGO in any way

Sigh. I'm getting tired of having to do your homework for you:

It is the wholesale prohibition of nominative use ... that would be unfair. It would be unfair to merchants seeking to communicate the nature of the service or product offered at their sites. And it would be unfair to consumers, who would be deprived of an increasingly important means of receiving such information. As noted, this would have serious First Amendment implications. The only winners would be companies like Toyota, which would acquire greater control over the markets for goods and services related to their trademarked brands, to the detriment of competition and consumers. The nominative fair use doctrine is designed to prevent this type of abuse of the rights granted by the Lanham Act. ...

Trademarks are part of our common language, and we all have some right to use them to communicate in truthful, non-misleading ways.

That's from Toyota Motor Sales, Inc. v. Tabari, 610 F.3d 1171 (9th Cir. 2010). Hint: Toyota's LEXUS mark was at issue, and had been used by a competitor, and the court did not come down on the side of Toyota.

Nominative use is a doctrine in US trademark law by which parties other than a trademark holder can use a trademark without permission if:

1) The product is not readily identifiable without using the mark. (LEGO bricks are not readily identifiable without using the LEGO mark to refer to them; otherwise you'd have to say something stupid like 'plastic toy bricks made by a well-known Danish plastic toy brick company')

2) The defendant does not use more of the mark than necessary. (The word LEGO in an ordinary typeface would be fine; the red, yellow, black and white square-shaped LEGO mark, with its distinctive balloonish typeface, on the other hand, would be too much merely to indicate compatibility)

3) The defendant cannot falsely suggest sponsorship or endorsement by the trademark holder. (This is typically done by not using the mark in a way that suggests a relationship, while also disclaiming any relationship. It doesn't require not using the mark at all, however; the public recognizes that not all uses of a mark indicate endorsement)

Note, there is no requirement that the defendant claiming nominative use not compete with Lego. That's perfectly fine. If I make toy bricks and I want to say that based on a survey, children prefer my bricks 10 to 1 over LEGO brand bricks, I'm totally free to do so. (Provided, of course, that I have got such a survey; I can't just make crap up)

The decision of whether advertising should directly refer to competitors (e.g. People who took the Pepsi challenge preferred Pepsi to Coke) or whether it should not (e.g. Our dishwashing liquid works better and faster than brand X) is entirely one of the advertiser's preference. There is no legal requirement compelling one over the other, provided that the ad is truthful and (to some extent) not misleading.

I am suggesting that Steamboat Willie describes the cartoon, and Mickey Mouse describes the character.

If the MICKEY MOUSE mark describes the character, and the copyright on the Mickey Mouse character lapses such that anyone can create works featuring the Mickey Mouse character (which is a copyright issue), the MICKEY MOUSE mark no longer is capable of indicating that all such marked goods originate from a common source, which is a fundamental requirement for a trademark. Thus, the MICKEY MOUSE trademark is lost with regard to such goods, e.g. DVDs, comic books, and the like.

So if one makes an unauthorized copy of Steamboat Willie, they are not actually using the trademark in Mickey Mouse without permission

Yes, they are. "Without permission" means the same thing as "unauthorized," genius. It's no different than if I make an unauthorized copy of a Louis Vuitton purse.

Copyright and Trademark protect different things

Yes, but different aspects of a single object can be protected by different sorts of rights.

Consider a humble glass bottle of refreshing Coca-Cola. The shape of the bottle is protected by a design patent. The COCA-COLA mark is protected as a trademark. The formula for the liquid inside is protected as a trade secret. If it's a decorative bottle with a picture of Santa or a bear, or Santa Bear, the artwork is likely copyrighted. If the artwork is of a particular real person, it may also be protected by that person's right of publicity. And if they make the bottle out of some new sort of safety glass, the formula for the glass itself may be an invention protected by a patent. All this wrapped up in a single item that you can get out of a vending machine with the change in your pocket.

The Mickey Mouse character is protected, in different capacities, even in the same work, by both copyright and trademark. This is not even slightly unusual.

As I said, even though their trademark continues to be respected, the copyright on their oldest cartoons have already expired in several first-world countries with IP laws quite similar to those in the USA, and that did not extend their copyright as the US did. I live in one such country. The character was never freely copyable here even though the cartoon itself was.

I have no idea what your country is or what its laws are like, and as I said before, I really don't care. I've been discussing US law this entire time, which is reasonable on a US-based website, like this one, and that's all I'm really interested in.

Comment Re:Mickey Mouse copyirght extenstions... (Score 1) 183

when the Steamboat Willy copyright expires ...

Someone could make a derivative work of the Disney short and call the title character something other than Mickey Mouse, but if they tried to call him Mickey Mouse, Disney could take action against them for using their trademark without permission.

Wrong, because the instant the copyright expires, a large part of the trademark lapses. Disney no longer has any rights to base a cause of action on. The reason for this is that because copyright law no longer prevents anyone from making copies or derivatives and putting them into commerce, the MICKEY MOUSE mark changes from being descriptive (of the character named Mickey Mouse) with secondary meaning (which can only originate from Disney) to being merely descriptive, without secondary meaning.

It looks to me as though you're putting the cart before the horse, incorrectly believing that the trademark survives the entry of the work into the public domain. But it does not; only a few fragments of the trademark survive.

Ultimately, copyright and Trademark are two wholly different pieces of intellectual property that govern entirely different things, handled almost entirely orthogonally to eachother, and in practically all cases, one has absolutely no effect on the other.

Sure. But this is one of those exceptional cases.

The only way that trademark could possibly be affected by Steamboat Willie falling into public domain is if that would or might cause the public to not realize who Mickey Mouse belongs to, but since the copied work is still a *COPY* of the work, and so would still be clear who owns the intellectual property that is still very much alive.

Actually that is exactly what happens; when everyone and his dog can legally create new, derivative, Mickey Mouse cartoons, because the underlying copyright has expired, the public is assumed to no longer associate the MICKEY MOUSE mark, to the extent it pertains to goods including creative works, only with such goods made by Disney. This is SHREDDED WHEAT, which I'll get to in a moment.

Also, note that trademark doesn't care about whether a work is a reproduction of something or not. It cares about the origin of a specific, tangible copy, not of the underlying work. If you start Mark-T Press, and print up copies of Romeo and Juliet, I am not allowed to start Kangarooski Press and print up copies that bear your mark. OTOH, I am perfectly entitled to print up copies of Romeo and Juliet under my own mark. In fact, so long as you're just reprinting the play (and not making such substantial changes as to amount to a new work, which is a bit more difficult than you'd think), I'm even entitled to make copies of your version, so long as I take care to not use your mark and to only use my own, thanks to Dastar, which eliminated reverse passing-off for works (and hopefully is the beginning of a trend of eliminating reverse passing-off altogether).

Be aware that the copyright status on the short has already expired in several countries that do not practice the copyright durations the US currently has in place, and the cartoon can be freely distributed or copied in said jurisdictions, while the trademark status has remained entirely unaffected.

I'm only familiar with US law, and that's all I've been discussing the entire time. I have no knowledge or interest in how other countries handle this, except as how it might provide us with good ideas or cautionary examples in our own legal reform efforts.

I am not directly familiar with the Shredded Wheat case you mentioned

It is Kellogg Co. v. National Biscuit Co., 305 U.S. 111 (1938).

The relevant language:

The plaintiff [Nabisco] has no exclusive right to the use of the term 'Shredded Wheat' as a trade name. For that is the generic term of the article, which describes it with a fair degree of accuracy; and is the term by which the biscuit in pillow-shaped form is generally known by the public. Since the term is generic, the original maker of the product acquired no exclusive right to use it. As [defendant] Kellogg Company had the right to make the article, it had, also, the right to use the term by which the public knows it. ...

Moreover, the name 'Shredded Wheat', as well as the product, the process and the machinery employed in making it, has been dedicated to the public. ... Since during the life of the patents 'Shredded Wheat' was the general designation of the patented product, there passed to the public upon the expiration of the patent, not only the right to make the article as it was made during the patent period, but also the right to apply thereto the name by which it had become known. ...

It is contended that the plaintiff has the exclusive right to the name 'Shredded Wheat', because those words acquired the 'secondary meaning' of shredded wheat made at Niagara Falls by the plaintiff's predecessor. There is no basis here for applying the doctrine of secondary meaning. The evidence shows only that due to the long period in which the plaintiff or its predecessor was the only manufacturer of the product, many people have come to associate the product, and as a consequence the name by which the product is generally known, with the plaintiff's factory at Niagara Falls. But to establish a trade name in the term 'shredded wheat' the plaintiff must show more than a subordinate meaning which applies to it. It must show that the primary significance of the term in the minds of the consuming public is not the product but the producer. This it has not done. The showing which it has made does not entitle it to the exclusive use of the term shredded wheat but merely entitles it to require that the defendant use reasonable care to inform the public of the source of its product.

the terminology accurately described the product in the first place

Are you suggesting that MICKEY MOUSE does not 'accurately describe' a product including the Mickey Mouse character?

As a counter-example, while Lego's last standing patent on Lego bricks expired in 1989, nobody else that makes so-called compatible building blocks is allowed to call their product Lego, nor are they allowed to even explicitly say they are compatible with Lego (even if they are) without first getting permission from Lego to do so (and they would be extremely unlikely to receive such permission, since they would be a direct competitor), because Lego still holds trademark status on the term in the context of a toy (and also as a company name).

As the last part of the quote from SHREDDED WHEAT discusses, there is a difference between a mark that is associated with a product, and a mark that is associated with the source of a product. If you sell ELEVATOR-brand vertical conveyance devices, you're doing okay. But if the public associates the ELEVATOR mark with the actual device itself, then you lose your trademark because it has become a generic term for any such device. This is genericide. It's happened with ELEVATOR, TRAMPOLINE, ESCALATOR, THERMOS, and YO-YO. It came very close to happening with SANKA but then people started using decaf as a generic term instead. XEROX, BAND-AID, VELCRO, KLEENEX, Q-TIP, and in fact, LEGO have been teetering on the precipice for years. But this is why you see their advertising very clearly refer to things like VELCRO-brand hook and loop fasteners, KLEENEX-brand tissues, and in the case of legos, LEGO bricks. Xerox has been running public awareness ads for decades in order to keep their mark alive. My favorite had the tagline 'You can't xerox a xerox on the xerox,' pointing out that they would greatly prefer it if people did not use the XEROX mark as a generic term for photocopying, photocopies, and photocopiers, respectively.

If the applicable patents are expired, then anyone can make LEGO compatible bricks. And thanks to the nominative use doctrine of trademark law, anyone who does make LEGO compatible bricks is allowed to say that they are compatible with LEGO bricks, so long as they don't misrepresent their bricks as originating from the Lego company itself.

But Lego NEVER refers to their product as LEGOs. That would be to invite the loss of the LEGO mark. They refer to their product as bricks. Go ahead and tell me that MICKEY MOUSE doesn't mean the Mickey Mouse character, in the minds of the relevant portion of the public.

Of course, if Disney had trademarked the title "Steamboat Willie", they would lose certainly lose trademark protection on that title once the work with that fell into public domain.

You can't trademark the title of a creative work for the same reason; it's a descriptive term for the work itself, without secondary meaning. When you see a trademark in a title, it's because it's part of a series of similarly named works. Like for Harry Potter books, the HARRY POTTER mark can only arise because all the books are named Harry Potter and the something something. If the titles were all totally distinct (e.g. "The Sorcerer's Stone," "The Chamber of Secrets," etc.) without an overarching series name, the titles would not be trademarkable.

Comment Re: Mickey Mouse copyirght extenstions... (Score 1) 183

If you create something, you have the natural, "god-given" right to exclude others from doing anything with it.

Wrong. You only have a natural right to control whether or not you create it at all.

someone else's free speech rights don't extend to seeing or copying it at all.

A third party certainly doesn't have a right to compel you to reveal your work to them. But if you do deliberately or inadvertently reveal it, they do have a natural free speech right to copy it and to distribute those copies as they see fit.

Comment Re:Mickey Mouse copyirght extenstions... (Score 1) 183

Not quite. It has always been a balancing act

All you've identified there is a gap between what copyright policy requires and what we actually have implemented. I'd be the last person to say that our copyright laws, as enacted, have lived up to our proper policy goals. But that doesn't change what the correct policy is.

Copyright doesn't exist absent affirmative action by the government, and it is wholly utilitarian in nature. This means that there is no policy of balancing interests. Rather, it is a question of how it can best serve the public interest; if giving something to authors may accomplish that, then we should do it to an appropriate extent, and if not, we shouldn't do it.

It's little different than the farmer who wants to haul his carrot harvest to market in a wagon pulled by a mule. He might have to feed the mule some of the carrots to get it to pull the wagon, but there's no balancing act between the farmer and the mule. (Indeed, as soon as it's more cost-effective for the farmer to just get a gas-powered truck, the mule gets sent to the glue factory)

copyright has been deliberately adjusted to make sure that it's society that benefits from the release of works into the public domain and not a second degree economic interest.

That's not true. You're arguing in favor of monopolies controlling commodity goods, which is an odd stance to take. Society benefits tremendously from works being in the public domain, and available for the economic exploitation of any and every party that cares to give it a go. So long as anyone is free to make copies of Shakespeare, it doesn't hurt society if some publishers charge for copies of it. Given that competition is possible for copies of the same public domain work, all that will happen if one publisher tries to charge too much is that someone else will step in and sell it for less. This all works to bring the price of copies down, which in turn increases the public's access to the work, which is necessary for the work to be of use.

after the discussions about estates providing for heirs began to get serious in the 1830s and later, to make sure that families wouldn't be unduly burdened by the premature death of their income earner.

The widows and orphans argument has always been unmitigated bullshit. Works usually have zero copyright-related economic value; of the few that do have such value, they usually burn through the vast majority of it within a short time after the first publication in a given medium. Only the tiniest fraction of works have long-lasting copyright related economic value.

Suggesting that the survivors of a deceased author need longer terms in order to live off the value of a copyright requires that it be a copyright of this sort. Given the rarity of such works, it's as stupid a suggestion as saying that you might as well leave them a shoebox full of lottery tickets.

If you actually care about providing for your family, you need to take out a life insurance policy, and you need to save and invest your money wisely in a diverse portfolio. And just to be safe, you'd better vote for politicians who will enact government programs to provide actual, useful assistance to poor people.

The reality behind the widows and orphans argument is that a handful of authors and publishers who already won the lottery, as it were, by holding the copyrights on works with long-lasting copyright related economic value, wanted to preserve their gravy train. It's as if the winner of a $100 million dollar jackpot used some of that money to successfully lobby for a retroactive increase to a $200 million dollar jackpot.

Fundamentally, the idea of a copyright term that exceeds the commercial relevance of the work is to discourage people from being able to step in due to expiration and start profiting from the works of others, in furtherance of the incentive to produce new works of cultural enrichment, by making it harder for moochers to swoop in. We've gone too far because of a small number of intensely valuable outliers, but the answer is not extremism in the other direction, either.

I'm not arguing in favor of extremism in any direction. I don't think that copyrights should be short, I think that they should be no longer than absolutely necessary. An overly-long copyright is harmful to the public because it is waste. An overly-short copyright is harmful to the public because it doesn't incentivize authors as much as is appropriate. What we need are copyright terms (and scope) that hit the sweet spot where we get the most efficiency: the most works created and published yet for the least restrictions on the public.

But this also means that your disrespect for 'moochers' is totally inappropriate. Ideally we could grant copyright terms (we'll set aside scope for now) on a case-by-case basis. If the minimum copyright incentive that author Smith needs to write and publish his book is 3 years, then we grant him 3 years. If the minimum copyright incentive that filmmaker Jones needs to film and distribute his movie is 10 years, then we grant him 10 years. If the minimum copyright incentive that painter Brown needs to paint and sell copies of his painting is 0 years, we don't grant him a copyright at all. Does this allow for third parties to compete against Smith in 3 years, Jones in 10 years, and Brown from day one? Sure. But who cares? Granting one day's worth of a longer term to any of them is pointless, because they've already got the minimum amount they needed to do what we want them to do: create and publish works. It's as wasteful to grant them more as it would be to offer a construction project to the lowest bidder, yet to then double the payment to the winner just for the hell of it.

In practice, we can't fine tune copyright grants that well; we'd need to staff the Copyright Office with a legion of psychics. But we can still try to make it work efficiently. For example, requiring registration helps us weed out authors like Brown who have so little reason to care about copyright that they wouldn't bother to register. Offering short terms and renewals helps us weed out authors like Smith, who only care about copyright for a little while, and then stop because it's no longer valuable enough to them to merit filing the renewal. (We know that few works were ever renewed historically, so that's a real thing) And for authors like Jones, longer maximum term lengths -- up to a point -- could still be available. They just wouldn't be automatic, so that we don't inadvertently grant such long terms to Smith and Brown, who don't need them.

And as for authors like Black, who create a work but insist on a copyright that lasts forever, or at least for an immensely long time, even if that really is the necessary term in order to incentivize the creation and publication of the work, we can say fuck it; Black wants more than the work is worth to the public. It might be nice to have that work created and published, but a sane copyright system is more valuable than that particular work, so we'll just all have to live without, and Black can get a job doing something else.

At no point however, is the idea that we should discourage third parties from being able to compete freely ever considered, because it's dumb, basically. The copyright monopoly should not last any longer than it needs to to get works created and published. If this allows for third parties to step in while a work is commercially viable (and given that people still reprint works from antiquity, that can be a very long length of time indeed!) then so be it. There's nothing at all wrong with it. In fact, it's great, because it drives down prices and increases access to works.

Comment Re:Mickey Mouse copyirght extenstions... (Score 1) 183

I don't understand your comment. I'm saying that whatever Disney's trademark rights in the Mickey Mouse character are, once the first work in which the character appears enters the public domain, that opens the door for third parties -- that is, parties other than Disney -- to use the character, at least in some ways, and it limits the scope of Disney's trademark.

How the hell did you get from that to shilling in favor of Disney? I think perhaps you should read posts more carefully before replying.

Comment Re:Mickey Mouse copyirght extenstions... (Score 1) 183

If the copyright on "Steamboat Willie" expired, anyone could copy the work or create derivative works from it featuring a similar character, but they could not call the character in derivative works Mickey Mouse, nor use Mickey Mouse's image in such works.

No, when the Steamboat Willy copyright expires, there is no longer a copyright which prohibits people from making or distributing additional copies of the work, from publicly performing or displaying the work, or from preparing new derivative works based on it (such as a new Mickey Mouse short in which he commands a homemade submarine powered by barnyard animals or something). Of course, attributes of the Mickey Mouse character which originated in later, still copyrighted material would not be available; thus you're using the original 1928 black and white Mickey, or forking a new version of the character off from there. Can't give him a dog named Pluto, nor even the distinctive Mickey Mouse voice, as those both appeared in later films.

They would, however, be able to still freely copy the original work even though it featured said character that is still under trademark because the copy of the work is not considered a new work, it is considered a *COPY*

I don't know why that would matter from a trademark perspective. Trademark is concerned with goods bearing a mark all originating from the same source, so as to protect consumer expectations regarding consistent levels of quality. Even the goods of two different sellers are indistinguishable, that alone doesn't mean that one is free to use the trademark of the other.

The trademark issue here is whether the MICKEY MOUSE trademark even survives, at least with regard to goods such as motion pictures. This is because the MICKEY MOUSE trademark is inescapably connected to the Mickey Mouse character, and now the character is free for all to use, meaning that his presence in a work no longer indicates that it comes from a single source. That -- the freedom to use the character, and the loss of the single source expectation of consumers -- is what kills the trademark. And we know that the copyright lapsing will control what happens to the trademark based on precedents like Dastar (where the Supreme Court said that trademark is not allowed to operate like a perpetual form of copyright), and SHREDDED WHEAT (where the Supreme Court said that where a patent expires, anyone is free to use the invention and to use the previously trademarked, descriptive name of the invention).

the work uses the trademark with permission

First, there would largely no longer be a trademark. Second, that would be clear naked licensing, which would likely invalidate the mark anyway.

Comment Re:Mickey Mouse copyirght extenstions... (Score 1) 183

Sorry, but no. If anyone can make a copy of a work featuring a trademarked character, then the trademark on that character, with regard to goods that are copies of creative works, has to lapse, as the mark has become generic in that context. Once the door is opened for multiple sources of identically marked goods, it kills the trademark. This is just the copyright version of the SHREDDED WHEAT case from the 1930s, plus a bit of the more recent Dastar case.

And the trademark can't prevent people from copying works or creating new derivative works that feature the same trademarked characters.

You're thinking of something more like nominative use, in which a third party can use a mark without permission under certain circumstances. I'm saying that there would no longer be an applicable mark at all.

Comment Re: Mickey Mouse copyirght extenstions... (Score 1) 183

There is no stripping of assets.

The natural state of a creative work is to be in the public domain. Authors do not create copyrights; the public creates them (through our servant, the government), with the public benefit in mind. Some works aren't even eligible for copyright at all, because it wouldn't be for the public benefit. When a copyright is granted, it is for a limited period of time, because a perpetual copyright can never be for the public benefit.

Thus, a better way to imagine the situation is this: if the government owns a parcel of public land, such as a small building suitable for a restaurant at a visitor's center in a national park, it can rent the restaurant space to a private business for a period of time. So long as the restaurateur makes his rent and follows other previously agreed upon terms (e.g. compliance with applicable law, signage that complies with the standards set by the park administrators, etc) he is free to profit as much as he can.

But when the lease expires, the restaurateur cannot argue that his business venue has been taken from him, even though it might be a profitable location forever. It was never his to begin with; he just got to use it for a while.

Regarding Mickey Mouse, copyright policy has to ignore subjective assessments of artistic value. What's important is getting as many works as possible created, published, and into the public domain (and as close to the public domain as possible until fully in the public domain). That's how you best serve the public interest.

And if an author argues that his private interest is more important than the public interest, that's all well and good, and I don't have a problem with his self interest (indeed, we're relying on it to motivate him), but why should the public ignore its own collective self interest? As there's no possibility of a copyright without it being granted by the public, authors are not in a strong bargaining position.

"The geeks shall inherit the earth." -- Karl Lehenbauer

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