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Week in Review

By Martha Nimmer

Welcome to the Public Domain, Detective

Late last month, an Illinois federal judge declared the famous British detective Sherlock Holmes to be in the public domain.

Author and editor Leslie Klinger initiated the lawsuit in February of last year, seeking a declaration that many of the stories and characters in the Holmes oeuvre had passed into the public domain. Klinger, a Sherlock Holmes expert who authored The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes and contributed to an anthology called In the Company of Sherlock Holmes, went to court after repeatedly being threatened with legal action by the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

How, exactly, could a character who first appeared in publication in 1887 not be anything but public domain, you ask? As noted by The Hollywood Reporter, "all but about 10 of Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories predate 1923, and the essential issue of this dispute was to determine what that meant exactly." In response to Klinger's suit, the Doyle estate argued that the Sherlock Holmes character was developed over time in a series of works that spanned decades, which would make it virtually, if not impossible, to carve out the detective's "personality into both in- and out-of-copyright parts." Essentially, the estate's attorneys averred, "to deny the estate copyright on the whole character would be to give the detective 'multiple personalities.'"

Unfortunately for the late author's estate, U.S. District Judge Ruben Castillo was unconvinced, stating that "[i]t is a bedrock principle of copyright that 'once work enters the public domain it cannot be appropriated as private (intellectual) property,' and even the most creative of legal theories cannot trump this tenet." Judge Castillo was careful to point out, however, that some elements of the Sherlock Holmes story are still protected by copyright. Dialogue, characters and traits first introduced in stories published after 1923 are still subject to copyright.


Read the complaint here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/125702680/Holmes

Read the ruling here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/194106658/Gov-uscourts-ilnd-280181-40-0

Oh, Snap

On New Year's Day, millions of Snapchat users were greeted with news that a hacker had published a database said to contain 4.6 million Snapchat user names and phone numbers. The popular disappearing photo app, which boasted 350 million users as of September, has yet to comment on the data breach.

The hacker, or hackers, known as "Lightcontact," originally posted the database on the social news and entertainment website Reddit, as well as on a website called SnapchatDB.info. The site was removed, "but not before the data quickly circulated around the Web, with programmers building web tools - such as GS Lookup and Snapcheck - to help Snapchat users check to see if their own user names or phone numbers were leaked," writes The Wall Street Journal. Snapchat users around the world have found their user names and phone numbers in the database.

This data security breach comes just five months after Gibson Security, a computer security research firm, warned the Venice Beach, California-based company that its data were vulnerable to hacking. After its warnings went unheeded, Gibson Security published a blog post, alerting Snapchat users to the risk of personal data theft.


"Bound" to Be Sued

The music video for Kanye West's new single, "Bound 2," has received attention from comedians and talk show hosts. The (bizarre) video for the song features Kanye West on a motorcycle, with a naked Kim Kardashian holding on to the singer as they ride off into a southwestern sunset. Despite the inexplicable video, the song itself has become quite popular. Unfortunately for West, this acclaim has also brought with it certain legal implications.

Last month, Ricky Spicer, the former soul singer of The Ponderosa Twins Plus One, filed suit in New York court against West, Roc-a-Fella Records, Universal Music Group and Island Def Jam Music Group. According to the complaint, Spicer seeks an "injunction and damages for alleged violations of New York civil right of publicity law (section 51), unjust enrichment and common law copyright infringement."

The suit states that the plaintiff's voice is the audible, albeit altered, "vocal heard throughout the chorus of the Yeezus track, singing the lyrics, 'Bound, bound / Bound to fall in love.'" Specifically, "Mr. Spicer's voice is sampled exactly as he recorded it and his voice, altered by the Defendants, is also heard several times," the 13-page complaint states. Spicer further alleges that this audio was sampled without his authorization, and that he has received no compensation for its use.

Spicer was discovered in the late 1960s after singing with friends at a local high school talent competition. According to The Hollywood Reporter, "Chuck Brown of Suru Records introduced [Spicer] to The Ponderosa Twins, and the group recorded 'Bound' when Spicer was 12 years old. Though he performed with Gladys Knight and James Brown, the court papers say that 'for all of his accomplishments, Mr. Spicer was not fairly compensated.""



Read the complaint here: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/sites/default/files/custom/Documents/ESQ/west.pdf

Little Bill, Big Problems

Heirs of the late-artist Varnette Patricia Honeywood have sued Viacom, MTV and Nickelodeon for allegedly defrauding the cartoon artist's estate of millions of dollars of residuals for her work on the "Little Bill" cartoon series, based on books by (nonparty) Bill Cosby.

Filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, the heirs' complaint claims that Honeywood, who died in 2010, created the original art for the "Little Bill" television series, "which the defendants exploited, 'but failed and continue to pay substantial 'residual' compensation due" to the trust." According to the suit, this residual compensation amounted to over $500,000 a year for broadcasts of the cartoon in just the Los Angeles television market alone.

The series, set in Philadelphia, feature an imaginative and inquisitive five year old boy -- "Bill/little Bill" -- and his family members. The main character is based on Bill Cosby's deceased son, Ennis William Cosby. The series is broadcast by the Nick Jr. Network, sister channel of Nickelodeon.

Honeywood's heirs demand an accounting, money owed plus interest, and damages for fraud and breach of contract.


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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on January 2, 2014 4:14 PM.

The previous post in this blog was Daniel v. Goliath: Photographer Daniel Morel Awarded $1.2 Million for Copyright Infringement from Photo Agency Giants AFP and Getty.

The next post in this blog is Capitol Records, LLC et al. v. Vimeo LLC et al., case number 1:09-cv-10101, (SDNY).

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