First the Jerry Siegel heirs, in February; now the Joe Shuster heirs. The lawsuits over the rights of the heirs of Superman’s co-creators may be over. The Shuster heirs appear stuck with a 1992 agreement paying a “pension” of $25,000 per year. The Siegel heirs fared much better: their 2001 agreement included $3 million up front and an ongoing 6% of gross revenues.
Last Thursday, an appellate court effectively affirmed DC Comics’ ownership of the copyright for Superman in what may be the final chapter in a long, complex and ultimately losing struggle by the heirs of Superman co-creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster to regain their rights to the iconic superhero.
On Friday, attorneys for the heirs of Malcolm X told a federal court in Manhattan that The Diary of Malcolm X was available for sale online, in violation of the court’s November 8th temporary restraining order blocking sales of the work. Judge Laura Taylor Swain wasted no time, warning the defendant that it could be held in contempt of court if it disregards her order, and extending the order blocking the sale of the book until a court hearing in January, according to the Associated Press.
The Diary of Malcolm X, which was scheduled to be published earlier this month by Chicago-based Third World Press, is based on journals written by Malcolm X in 1964 as he traveled to the Middle East and Africa. Those journals have been on loan from the civil rights leader’s estate, X Legacy, to the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center since 2003. X Legacy had filed a copyright infringement suit earlier this month asserting that it had the sole right to publish his diaries.
At a House subcommittee hearing Tuesday to discuss online piracy, speakers emphasized education and voluntary cooperation over legislation, even as they acknowledged that voluntary efforts by search engines–a chief gateway to pirated works–had not been effective. John Eggerton of Broadcasting and Cable reports:
Can lawsuits slow piracy in China? We may soon find out.
Top Chinese video sites Youku Tudou, Sohu Video, Tencent Video license their content lawfully and sometimes create their own programs. Now, with the backing of the Motion Picture Association of America, they’ve filed suit against Baidu, China’s dominant search portal, and a smaller competitor for spreading links to unlicensed content. The suits seek about $50 million in damages, according to a story in The Hollywood Reporter.
Congressional efforts to update U.S. copyright law are set to resume next Tuesday, when a House Judiciary subcommittee meets to discuss changing business models and content delivery methods in the digital age.
When Scott Turow stopped by CBS This Morning last week to promote his new book, Identical, co-anchor Charlie Rose turned the discussion to Turow’s “beef with Amazon,” while Norah O’Donnell brought up his April New York Times piece on “The Slow Death of the American Author.”
Turow said Amazon’s below-cost ebook pricing, “destroys physical bookstores and drives the reading public into the ebook, which of course Amazon dominates. They’re a great competitor and I don’t mind fair operation of the market. I don’t like unfair tactics.”
From Australia, which is considering a major change to copyright law, comes an eloquent defense of keeping intact a system that enables authors to get paid when schools and the Australian government uses other organizations use their work. Author Linda Jaivin saves her harshest criticism, however, for the proposed addition of a fair use exception to Australia’s copyright law.*
Jaivin, who writes novels and nonfiction books focusing on China, details what a proposed repeal of statutory licenses would mean for her and other authors.
“As a member of the rights management organisation Copyright Agency for many years, I have received payments ranging from a few dollars to nearly one thousand. Among those bodies who have copied my work are universities and the Attorney-General’s Department. The Australian Law Reform Commission’s proposed repeal of statutory licences, which provide this secondary income, will rob me of an important source of revenue…”
Jaivin then gets to the fair use proposal:
“[A]nd the proposed new ”fair use” exception, that would allow even businesses to use copyrighted content without permission, would mean a business could steal the product of years of work, profit from it and still have the gall to call this ”fair.”
If you are going to do this, please at least have the decency to call it by its correct name: ”theft.’”
To allow others to steal and/or profit from intellectual property that we have created is no different than saying it would be OK to smash your way into a designer’s atelier and grab whatever outfits you fancy.
The Commission’s proposal would replace statutory licenses for certain uses, including educational uses, with a system of “voluntary licensing arrangements” worked out by individual content owners (for more on how this would work, see this explanation from Australia’s Copyright Agency). Proponents say a more flexible system is better suited to the digital age. As Jaivin sees it:
“(The new system) will confront writers with the burden of tracking down copyright breaches and of finding the means to prosecute them under law. Few of us have the time, legal expertise or financial wherewithal to do so, so this effectively disempowers us even to pursue what legal rights we would have left.
The ALRC would put the onus of proof of the crime on the victim, which cannot be a good principle of law in any of its aspects.”
*Fair use is a defense to copyright developed by American courts to reconcile copyright protection with free expression. It’s rather vaguely defined and its application varies greatly from case-to-case. Many other countries, including Australia, recognize a similar but much more carefully enumerated exception to copyright known as fair dealing.
How do you protect the intellectual property of authors in the digital market?
The question was posed this weekend to Tim Hely Hutchinson, group chief executive of Hachette UK, during an interview with the South China Morning Post. Hutchinson responded:
“One of the most important new roles for publishers is the protection of copyright – how do we protect authors against piracy and casual file sharing? We have a subcontractor who sweeps the internet every day to find infringing editions and we send every infringer a takedown notice. If they persist we take legal action. And that is successful – the books do get taken down.”
Hutchinson also discussed DRM (encrypting digital files such as ebooks to discourage illegal copying), a hot-button topic in some circles:
“And on casual file sharing, we strongly support the maintenance of DRM – digital rights management – so all the files, e-books and audio are encrypted and all our contracts with people like Amazon make it impossible for people to share or to lend. Lots of people say take DRM off, it’s old-fashioned, but that’s wrong. Our primary job is to represent authors and authors deserve to be paid. One way is by making sure we keep the DRM on.”
While the interviewer did not specifically mention piracy in China, widespread theft of intellectual property in the country makes DRM all the more important.
Last year Hachette opened a sales office in Hong Kong, stepping up its focus on the region. During the interview, Hutchinson contrasted Asia’s robust growth to the “relatively small and static market” for books in the U.K. And he said Asian readers tend to prefer nonfiction such as business and self-improvement books. “It’s less literary and more to do with getting on in life,” he said.
Class certification is premature in the Google mass books digitization case, says a federal appellate court. Fair use has to be decided first.
In the latest twist in the litigations over Google’s library-scanning project, The Second Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday vacated Judge Denny Chin’s class certification ruling* of last May in Authors Guild v. Google. The appellate court said that resolution of the fair use issues needed to come first since it would help determine whether “the commonality of plaintiffs’ injuries, the typicality of their claims, and the predominance of common questions of law or fact” merited treating the lawsuit as a class action.
In other words, if Google’s fair use defense requires a book-by-book analysis, then this would weigh against class certification. If a fair use ruling can be made more broadly, then judicial economy is more likely to weigh on the side of class certification.
An author caught selling a book that plagiarizes from works by romance writers Tammara Webber and Jamie McGuire is blaming a rogue ghostwriter for the copying and has removed the book from all sales outlets.
The author, Jordin Williams, tweeted: “I am officially letting all funds go. I’m sadden by this that a ghostwriter did this through guru. Thankfully I never received any money.”
Jane Litte of the Dear Author blog noticed the plagiarism and posted screen shots of Williams’ Amazingly Broken alongside strikingly similar passages from Webber and McGuire Wednesday. The book was pulled within hours of the Dear Author post, after readers complained directly to Amazon and to Williams via social media.
In a Twitter conversation posted by Jason Boog on the GalleyCat blog, Williams apologized directly to Webber and McGuire. She said she hired the writer who copied their work through the online freelancer marketplace odesk.com (she earlier thought she’d used Guru.com). Williams tweeted, ”I take the blame. Just saying how it happened. I do wish someone would give me a website to check plagiarism of ‘books’. Others don’t work.”