Authors Guild Seeks Supreme Justice

The Authors Guild has taken its decade-long fight with Google to the U.S. Supreme Court.  The Guild has filed a request for the High Court to review the battle over whether Google has the legal right to provide scanned excerpts of books online.

Google has maintained that the excerpts are simply a research tool for Internet users and that they fall under the Fair Use Doctrine of American copyright law.  The Authors Guild sees it as a form of republication without payment to the authors.

The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled in Google's favor.  The rationale for that decision was that the Court didn't consider the excerpted matterial a meaningful alternative to having the full book.  Therefore, in the Court's view, the excerpts didn't infringe the authors' copyrights on the works as a whole.

According to an article in the Washington Post, the Guild isn't trying to shut down Google's practice of scanning books but, rather, have Google pay for the right to do so.

Blond Jesus Has Plaintiff Seeing Red

A man is suing the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the City of New York over artistic depictions of Jesus that represent Christianity's most revered personage as a fair skinned blond.

According to the lawsuit filed in a New York court by plaintiff Justin Renel Joseph, such depictions on display in the museum are "anti-Semitic, racist and offensive."  The complaint maintains that Jesus, a man of Hebrew descent living in the Middle East at that time, "would not be genetically disposed to possess such features."

Citing the First Amendment and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Mr. Joseph is asking the court to order that the artworks be removed from public display.

Did Anne Frank Have a Co-Author?

Nothing stirs up controversy like the prospect of a lucrative copyright coming to an end.  In this case, I'm talking about the book, The Diary of Anne Frank.

The classic work is a Jewish teenage girl's recounting of the days when she and her family tried to evade from the Nazis by hiding in a secret annex of an Amsterdam factory.  The family was eventually captured, and only Anne's father, Otto Frank, survived.  He brought the diary to light for the world by having it published.

The copyright in Europe was set to expire as of January 1, 2016.  However, according to a New York Times story, the Swiss foundation that currently holds the copyright is contending that Otto Frank was actually a co-author of the book, which would push the copyright expiration date in Europe to 70 years after his death in 1980.

This raises at least two issues:  First, if Otto Frank was a co-author, then does that call into question previous assertions that the diary was in Anne's own words?  Does that constitute a form of fraud on the buying public?  (Just asking.)  And, second, what does this new claim on the duration of the book's copyright do to those who've been planning various republications next year of what they had thought was about to become a public domain work?

If history is any indication, claims of copyright protection that go beyond what was originally thought to be the expiration date typically wind up in court.  I wouldn't be the least surprised to see this one there.

A Snippet of Legality

If you've been following the legal battle involving the Authors Guild and various other literary plaintiffs versus Google, the victory -- at least so far -- goes to the search engine giant.

The case involved Google's practice of scanning a huge number of copyright protected books that populate public libraries for the purpose of providing a digital copy to both the library and the Google online archives.  The Google archives are then searchable by keyword, and "snippets" (a.k.a. excerpts) of the book are made available to read online.  Authors claimed it constituted copyright infringement.  Google claimed fair use.

In its recent ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that, although the digital copies constituted derivative works of the originals (and the creation of derivatives is the sole right of the copyright holder), the digitalized snippets are a transformative use in that they provide information about the book without providing the whole book.

Holy Copyright Infringement, Batman!

I believe I've mentioned in past blog posts that most characters can't be copyrighted unless they possess some very specific and unique traits that distinguish them from all others.  Batman would be one such character.

But what about the Caped Crusader's wheels?  I'm talking about the Batmobile.  Can a non-human, non-living piece of machinery qualify as a character for the purposes of copyright?

Yes, says the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.  In a case involving a man who sold unauthorized replica kits allowing people to make their cars look like the Batmobile (either the 1960s TV series version or the 1980s movie version), the Court ruled that the replicas constituted copyright infringement on a "character" that belongs to DC Comics.  According to the ruling, depictions of the Batmobile -- with its many miraculous crime-fighting operations -- make it a character in the stories, even though it's not a thinking character.