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Two Weeks in Review

By Zak Kurtz

Judge Fines Russia $44 Million for Refusing to Hand Over Jewish Books

Recently a federal judge ordered Russia to pay a $43.7 million dollar fine for refusing to return collections of Jewish books and documents to the Hasidic Chabad-Lubavitch group located in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. The center of this dispute relates to a collection of 12,000 books and 50,000 religious documents known as the Schneerson Library. These texts were gathered by the Chabad organization for over 200 years prior to World War II, and stored in Russia.

This ruling relates back to a 2010 decision by a federal district court for the District of Columbia that ordered the Russian government to hand over the Schneerson Library collection. The Russians claimed that this collection is a "treasure of the Russian people," and refused to abide by this decision. The Russians' failure to comply with this order forced the judge to fine Russia $50,000 a day in 2013. Now, with Russia's continued objections, the judge has issued another order. The $44 million order is an accrual of the previous fines so far.

Since 2010 the State Department has commented on this high profile case, and has claimed that the judge's decisions could inflame Russian-American relations. However, the judge and many others disagree.


'London Fields' Premiere at Toronto Festival Suffers Creative Rift

The Toronto International Film Festival saw the world premiere of "London Fields." The movie that is based on a noir, pre-apocalyptic crime thrilling novel by Martin Amis. However, the producer's version of this book caused a recent dispute over the control and content of the movie.

The film's top four stars -- Johnny Depp, Billy Bob Thronton, Jim Sturgess and Amber Heard -- all wrote letters to the movie's producers, objecting to a provocative cut of the movie. According to the letters, the movie's new cut includes violent imagery that was not overseen by the film's credited director, Mathew Cullen, but by another producer, Chris Hanley. For several months Cullen and the aforementioned actors claimed that Hanley turned "London Fields" into an unrecognizable, avant-garde experiment that violated the spirit of the project.

This battle regarding the new cut of the movie led Cullen to file charges against Hanley in Los Angeles County Superior Court. The complaint alleges that Hanley and his crew "secretly prepared their own version of the film." The suit requests that Cullen's name be removed from connection with this film, among other remedies.

The Toronto Festival's artistic director, Cameron Bailey, acknowledged the dispute in an email statement. Bailey concluded by stating, "We're aware that the team that made the film is coming to agreement, and we're looking forward to launching it." The dispute puts a cloud around a star-laden project. Hanley, on the other hand, described this situation a little differently, claiming that these creative rifts are a familiar part of the production process for him.


YouTube Dancing Baby Case Sets Fair Use Copyright Guidelines

The decision in the highly awaited "dancing baby" case is in. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco issued a ruling that will change the way media companies handle their intellectual property online. The three-judge panel ruled that copyright holders must consider fair use before asking media companies like YouTube to remove videos that the copyright holders believe infringe upon their rights.

The ruling is viewed as a victory for Internet users, as the activity at issue in this case represents one that millions of individuals engage in on an ordinary basis. More specifically, recording family, friends, or one's self dancing or doing silly things with only minimal use of copyrighted material, is a regular happenstance.

The facts of this case could apply to almost anyone. In February 2007, Stephanie Lenz from Pennsylvania, filmed her toddler dancing to Prince's song "Let's Go Crazy" and uploaded it to YouTube. The 29-second video caused Prince's publishers to object to its posting and demand that it be taken down. Lenz then filed suit, which started a legal battle that lasted for more than eight years.

The advocacy group known as Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) represented Lenz in this lawsuit against media giant Universal. EFF's legal director stated that the ruling "sends a strong message that copyright law does not authorize thoughtless censorship of lawful speech."

A spokesman for the Recording Industry Association of America, Jonathan Lamy, said, "We respectfully disagree with the court's conclusion about the D.M.C.A. and the burden the court places upon copyright holders before sending takedown notices," referring to the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act.


Instagram Is Redefining The Term 'User Engagement'

With the "dancing baby" decision highlighting one of the emerging areas of copyright law, the area relating to user-generated content remains murky. The New York Times highlighted the not so rare situation of Shareen Way, a mother who posted a picture of her four-year old daughter on Instagram wearing pink Crocs sandals, which image Crocs used for marketing purposes. Shareen posted her image using the hashtag #Crocs, and the company pulled that image from her Instagram account, featuring it in a gallery of its user-generated photos on its website without her consent. Only after a reporter on Instragram notified her did Crocs seek permission from her to use the image.

Social media sites like Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter have long been sources of selfies and candid shots that retailers and other companies mine for "consumer engagement." Instagram claims that it is only responsible for how brands use consumers photos posted on its site. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) could essentially step in if Instagram violates its own privacy policy or terms of service, however, both situations are rare and leave users like Way with few options other than costly litigation.

The increase in user-generated content by companies and brands, mixed with the concerns by privacy groups and consumer advocates has only added to the confusion, as legal boundaries are far from clear. In 2012, Facebook reached a class-action settlement over its practice of turning a users' "likes" into ads tailored to their friends. The settlement is currently being appealed, however, it further accentuates the cloudy area into which user-generated content falls.


"Happy Birthday" Song Invalidated by Judge

Last week a judge ruled that the long held copyright in the "Happy Birthday to You" song is not valid. If the ruling stands, the song will become part of the Public Domain. Warner Music Group (Warner) has controlled the song's usage since 1988, and collected a reported $2 million annually in licensing. However, a Los Angles District Court decision has invalidated the company's right to the most popular tune in the English language.

The closely watched case began in 2013, when Jennifer Nelson, an independent filmmaker planning to make a documentary about the song, filed suit. The long awaited ruling this week discussed the complex history of the song, including the existence of copyright registrations and songbooks stretching back more than a century.

In short, the judge found that the successors-in-interest did not own a valid copyright in the "Happy Birthday" lyrics, thus invalidating the present claim by Warner. The 43-page ruling gives plenty of reasons for those closely watching this case as a challenge to long copyright terms and corporate control. A spokesman for Warner said that the company was "looking at the court's lengthy opinion and considering our options."



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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on September 29, 2015 12:18 PM.

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