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March 2011 Archives

March 9, 2011

EASL Job Bank Info Updated

The EASL Lawyers in Transition (LIT) Job Bank has been updated! To view the Job Bank, please visit the EASL Lawyers in Transition group page on LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com).

The EASL LIT Job Bank on Linked In is an exclusive benefit for members of EASL. In order to view the Job Bank, you must request to join the EASL LIT group page on Linked In. To join, visit www.linkedin.com and search for NYSBA Entertainment Art and Sports Law Lawyers in Transition Committee under "Groups." After submitting your request to join the group, we will confirm that you are a member of EASL and your request will be granted.

March 22, 2011

Fair Use Decision

By Monica Pa

On March 18, 2011, the Southern District of New York (Batts, J.), 08 Civ. 11327, issued a decision in the closely-watched copyright infringement case involving the well-known "appropriation" artist Richard Prince. In a surprising decision, the court held that images created by Price infringed the plaintiff Patrick Cariou's copyright in photographs of Rastafarians in a series of collages and paintings created by Prince and sold by his art dealer, co-defendant the Gagosian Gallery.

In 2000, Patrick Cariou published Yes, Rasta, a book of photographs that was released by PowerHouse Books. The book featured photographs of portraits of Rastafarian individuals in and landscapes of Jamaica.

Richard Prince is a well known artist who has shown at numerous museums and other institutions, including a solo show at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. He is represented by the Gagosian Gallery, Inc., which is owned by Lawrence Gagosian. Prince admits that he used 41 images from the plaintiff's book as artistic elements in a series of paintings titled "Canal Zone", which was first exhibited in St. Barts and then in a 2008 exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery in New York City. The work included images taken from Yes, Rasta, some in their entirety, some where only portions were used, some were collaged, enlarged, cropped, and/or painted-over. The "Canal Zone" included photos and works from other sources as well.

The defendants argued that Prince's use of the plaintiff's photographs was a permissible fair use, which allowed him to use copyrighted materials for purposes like commentary, criticism, news reporting, and scholarship, as set forth in Section 107 of the Copyright Act.

The court, however, held that Prince's use of plaintiff's photographs in these collage works was not fair use. It reasoned that there is no "per se" exemption for appropriation art; instead, for the "fair use" defense to be available, there must be "a focus on the original works or their historical context[.]" Order at 16. Yet the court did not cite to any case law support for this proposition; instead, this rule appears to impose a wholly new element for a fair use defense. The court argued that, based on its reading of prior precedent, those cases all "impose[] a requirement that the new work in some way comment on, relate to the historical context of, or critically refer back to the original works." Id. It concluded that "Prince's paintings are transformative only to the extent that they comment on the Photos; to the extent they merely recast, transform, or adapt the Photos, Prince's Paintings are instead infringing derivative works." Id. at 18.

The decision appears to contravene the Second Circuit decision in Blanch v. Koons, 467 F.3d 244 (2d Cir. 2006), which held that the fair use defense was available to the "appropriation" artist Jeff Koons who had used the plaintiff's photograph in his collage painting. In Blanch, the court held that "[w]hen, as here, the copyrighted work is used as 'raw material,' in the furtherance of distinct creative or communicative objectives, the use is transformative." Id. at 254. Judge Batts, however, distinguished Richard Prince's collage paintings from Jeff Koon's paintings by holding that Koon's work was transformative; specifically, the purpose of Koons' paintings, unlike Prince's paintings, was "to comment on the role such advertisements [like the plaintiff's photographs] play in our culture and on the attitudes the original and other advertisements like it promote." Order at 17.

The district court's recent decision in Prince should certainly concern artists and galleries who had previously relied on Koons in the creation, distribution, and sale of "appropriation" art. The decision appears to add a new and poorly-defined element to the "fair use" defense (e.g., the necessity that works actually "at their core focus on the original works or their historical context"). Finally, in reading this decision, it is unclear whether and to what extent the attorneys for Prince relied on Blanch, which should have served as a playbook for their litigation defense. Certainly, it would not have been difficult to argue that, like Koons, Prince was also commenting on plaintiff's allegedly appropriated image. Indeed, it is surprising that Prince's attorneys thought to argue initially that there was no copyright in the plaintiff's photographs whatsoever, a position that is against well-settled law that has, for decades, held that photographs are worthy of copyright protection. Order at 10.

The decision is available at: http://www.scribd.com/doc/51219154/Cariou-v-Prince-S-D-N-Y-Mar-18-2011.

March 23, 2011

Judge Chin Rejects the Amended Settlement Agreement in the Google Books Case

By Mary Rasenberger

Judge Chin issued his long-awaited decision in the Google Books case yesterday, rejecting the Amended Settlement Agreement (ASA). He did so on the grounds that the ASA does not meet the "fair, adequate and reasonable" standard for class actions settlements. Acknowledging the many benefits of the ASA, Judge Chin nevertheless found that the ASA "would simply go too far."

As described in prior posts on this blog, the ASA was the result of a copyright infringement lawsuit brought by the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers against Google for Google's scanning all of the books found on the shelves of its library partners - the libraries of major academic institutions - and then displaying snippets of those books on its Google Book Search service. The parties negotiated a settlement agreement in the form of a class action settlement on behalf of all authors and publishers of a book (or "Insert," portion of a book, such as an article, chapter, or preface) and their assignees or heirs who owned a copyright interest in the book as of January 9, 2009. The ASA, a complex 160-plus page agreement (and a true masterpiece of an agreement), released Google from claims for its scanning and past snippet use of the books and Inserts and gave Google the rights, among others, to display and sell copies of out-of-print books without permission (but a right holder cold opt-out) and of in-print books with permission.

Judge Chin notes that approximately 500 submissions were filed commenting on the settlement, with the vast majority objecting, and that 6,800 class members opted out altogether. He succinctly summarizes the principal legal arguments made objecting to the ASA and addresses each in turn:

1. Inadequate notice to the class: Some class members argued that as huge an effort as the notice was (1.26 million individual notices were sent), it did not reach all class members.

Judge Chin rejected this argument because of the number of individual notices, the fact publisher and author associations worldwide were notified, and a website was established to provide information, as well as the enormous publicity surrounding the case, which together ensured adequate notice. He states that "it is hard to imagine that many class members were unaware of the lawsuit."

2. Inadequate class representation: Certain objectors argued that they were part of a group of authors or publishers that were not adequately represented by the author and publisher class representatives because they had different interests. This included academic, foreign and insert authors, as well as those who have not claimed their works but who, by their silence, would be granting Google a future license.

The court concluded that "there is a substantial question as the existence of antagonistic interests between the named plaintiffs and certain members of the class" and viewed the differing interests as "troubling."

3. The forward-looking and opt-out licenses exceed what a court is permitted to approve under Rule 23: One of the main arguments put forth by various objectors was that the claims in the suit related to Google's acts of scanning and making snippets available, activities Google argued were fair use, but the relief included broad grants of future licensees, including from those who never consented. These licenses would relieve Google and others from future claims for acts not necessarily contemplated in the lawsuit. In other words, the settlement releases "claims not properly before the Court."

Judge Chin concludes that the licenses for future uses do exceed what the court is permitted to approve under Rule 23. He quotes the Justice Department's brief stating that the ASA "is an attempt to use the class action mechanism to implement forward looking business arrangements that go far beyond the dispute before the Court." Judge Chin finds three aspects of the ASA particularly troubling under Rule 23 - inadequate representation (discussed above), over-breadth of the releases and the encroachment of Congress' authority to create and revise the copyright laws (discussed below). In particular, Judge Chin finds that the released claims do not come within the scope of the pled claims under the Firefighters and Wal-mart Stores standards.

4. The ASA encroaches on Congress' legislative prerogative to enact and amend copyright laws: Congress alone, and not the courts, has the right to address issues presented by new technologies. The ASA's opt-out provisions for out-of print books (i.e., the automatic license to Google unless a right holder comes forward and opts out) expropriates rights of authors and publishers without permission in contravention of the exclusive rights of copyright in the U.S., international treaties, foreign copyright laws and section 201(e) of the Copyright Act -- which expressly prohibits any government body (including the judiciary) from expropriating or taking any copyright rights without voluntary transfer of the copyright owner.

The court agrees with these arguments -- that Google's license to display and sell out-of-print books without the permission of the rights holders (who may only opt-out) encroaches on Congress' authority to enact and amend copyright laws. Judge Chin cites to Supreme Court and other precedent stating that it is up to Congress to determine whether and how copyright should be amended to address issues such as orphan works and mass-scale digitization. He also concurs with many of the objectors who argued that the opt-out provision for out-of-print books is contrary to the fundamental principles of copyright -- "that it is incongruous with the purpose of copyright law to put the onus on copyright owners to come forward ... when Google copies their works without first seeking their permission."

5. The ASA would give Google a de facto monopoly over unclaimed works: Only Google will have the right to make all out-of-print books available without having to seek permissions on an individual basis. No one else can effectively compete with that, as no one else will have the rights to the out-of-print, unclaimed works.

This is perhaps the most troubling aspect of the ASA - that it would give Google a "right, which no one else in the world will have..." (citing the Internet Archives' submission), giving it a monopoly over unclaimed (or orphan) out-of-print books. No other entity will be able to license as complete a database as Google. The ASA would also arguably give Google even more control over search, given its exclusive rights to the data on the unclaimed books.

6. The ASA does not provide enough protection for privacy of users: The concern is that Google will be entitle to collect enormous amounts of data from users and their use of Google Books Search and has not agreed to sufficient protections in the ASA.

Judge Chin is sympathetic to these arguments, but does not find them to be severe enough that they alone would provide a sufficient basis for rejecting the ASA.

This well-reasoned, sound decision itself explains the long wait. It is clear that Judge Chin carefully reviewed all of the briefs and submissions, as well as scholarship on the case and case law precedent, and carefully and judiciously weighed the various arguments in light of the precedent. While there is certain to be an appeal, this will be a very hard decision to overturn.

About March 2011

This page contains all entries posted to The Entertainment, Arts and Sports Law Blog in March 2011. They are listed from oldest to newest.

February 2011 is the previous archive.

April 2011 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.