Bad Reception: Web-TV Service Avoids Lawsuit

antenna home roof watch tv sky send transmitter by, Pixabay user Hans, licensed by Creative Commons.

Hello, is there anybody in there?

There seems to be a buzz in the air around New York City recently and cable/satellite providers aren’t happy about it.  The internet-powered television service, Aereo, allows users to enjoy basic programs for an incredibly small cost and has thrived despite a growing number of lawsuits.  Companies such as Cablevision contend that this alternative to their offerings violates certain copyrights and contracts.  Aereo argues that since their units include small antennas, the analog signal they pick up is free over the airwaves and not breaking any laws.  Aereo, which is backed by media executive Barry Diller, plans to grow their service area over the next few months including major cities such as Washington D.C., Boston, and Chicago. Read more

Mojang Settles with Zenimax over “Scrolls” Trademark

Scrolls, by Flickr user "Bracketing Life", licensed via Creative Commons
A bunch of trademark infringements in a basket.

Mojang, the creators of the indie sleeper hit videogame Minecraft, have settled with Zenimax, the publisher of the ultra-popular Skyrim, over the use of the word “scrolls” in Mojang’s upcoming release.  Zenimax and their subsidiary, Bethesda Softworks, claimed that the game’s name, which is simply “Scrolls”, was too close to their trademark property “The Elder Scrolls”, a long-running game series since 1994 whose latest installment grossed at least $600 million.  Trademark lawsuits are generally about whether a consumer would reasonably confuse a product, based on how similar the names are or whether the products themselves are similar, among other things.  While any idiot could tell at first glance that Scrolls is not the same as The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Zenimax’s main purpose in filing this lawsuit was most likely to demonstrate their willingness to protect their trademark.  If a defendant in a future, actual case of trademark infringement can prove that Zenimax has not attempted to enforce its trademark in the past, the company could possibly lose the trademark entirely — a situation that the occasional frivolous suit against low-key indie developers can help avoid.  The settlement in this case allows Mojang to keep the name “Scrolls”, but cedes the trademark, “Scrolls”, over to Zenimax.  Ostensibly, this is what both companies wanted in the first place.

The judge in this case noted that scrolls are very common in fantasy, which is the genre of both games.  An analogy to this case would be if Lord of the Rings author J.R.R. Tolkien sued every fantasy writer to later use “rings” in the title, despite the fact that magic rings are a common element in all fantasy stories.  Interesting, because a comparison of the Elder Scrolls universe and Tolkien lore will unearth nearly-derivative similarities on all levels that I won’t bore you with (though I could probably discuss that for a few hours).  So do they owe the Tolkien estate any money?  Should they stop making their games due to copyright?  In creative endeavors, creators build upon the works of creators past.  Though this case was about the title of a game, and not at all about gameplay or visual style or even content (if it were, they would have no case whatsoever), hopefully Zenimax will at least recognize their own creative debts.

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Harley-Davidson Given the Boot

The motorcycle company Harley-Davidson has settled a suit with the estate of Marlon Brando over the unlicensed use of the iconic actor’s name.  Apparently, Harley-Davidson produced and sold a boot called the “Brando” which resembled the footwear worn by the actor in the 1953 film The Wild One.  The details of the settlement are not public.  What came over the Harley-Davidson company to think selling clothing called “Brando” would be a good idea?  They license their own name for $43.2 million a year — surely they must know how copyright works.  Perhaps they thought they could fly a little closer to the sun this time, though this writer asks: is nothing sacred?

Read more at Reuters

Indie Record Label Group Wins $10 Million Infringement Settlement

Don't copy that floppy
A still from the beloved and perplexing 90s PSA, “Don’t Copy that Floppy”

Limewire, the P2P file sharing software, has agreed to yet another settlement in copyright infringement litigation, this time with the indie label representative group Merlin.  The software company, which allowed users to transfer music and other copyrighted files between each other, previously settled with major record labels for $105 million.  As part of a court order, Limewire has been unavailable to download since October, 2010.  Today’s announcement deals with the smaller labels, who represent such artists as multiple-Grammy winning Adele.  In the much-publicized lawsuits against Napster, the indie labels were left out of the settlements due to a lack of resources, despite being affected just as much as the major labels.  The Merlin group was created to offset this imbalance, representing a multitude of labels and boosting their ability to defend themselves against copyright infringement.

As the world moves beyond physical copies of records and towards direct digital downloads, what does the future look like for record companies and copyright?  Napster and P2P networks of that ilk represented a new wave of interaction between people and music.  Free digital copies of songs, despite being illegal, were an irresistible lure for many users.  The fallout of litigation against the companies, though, did little to stop this proliferation of easy-to-use digital downloads.  After Napster came Kazaa, then Grokster, then Limewire, all fallen by mountainous legal fees.  However, a look at the current popularity and resilience of Bittorrent and the Pirate Bay reveals that free illegal downloads are not going away.  So, the problem is not simply a matter of law.  It’s a matter of customer preferences.  Record companies now have to compete with free, which to them is impossible,  leading to buckets of litigation as a solution.  Another avenue is to make buying music easier and more satisfying than the free option — a solution that Apple has capitalized on with the popularity of the iTunes music store, and which Amazon and Yahoo are now starting to explore.  Perhaps labels need to adapt to this change instead of fighting it.  Surely their legal fees will go down, if nothing else.

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