It goes without saying that international laws aren’t a uniform concept. Trespassing in the US is a much different idea, for example, from trespassing in Scotland.
But then there’s intellectual property. This bundle of rights exists largely in the same form around the world. And ideally, IP would be treated equally and licensed correctly around the world. Of course, that’s not how things really happen.
A recent case that made headlines here in the US is a good illustration. There’s some interesting IP news coming out of the EU as well right now. Let’s dive in!
Have you ever wondered where the United States Postal Service (“USPS” or “postal service”) gets its images from for postal stamps?
It’s simple – they use stock photos (at least for some). But the matter becomes complicated when they choose the wrong ones.
This is what happened when the USPS issued its Statue of Liberty stamp in late 2010. The post office chose an image showing a zoomed-in shot of Lady Liberty’s face…
But the photo they chose wasn’t of the real Statue of Liberty. It was a replica which is installed at the New York New York casino in Las Vegas.
The postal service was alerted to its error in 2011 but acknowledged that it would have chosen the same image regardless. The USPS continued distributing the stamp until retiring it in 2014, leading the replica’s sculptor to sue for royalties.
The postal service argued that the sculpture wasn’t entitled to copyright protection because it was a mere replica of a famous sculpture. Moreover, the use of the image was protected under copyright’s fair use doctrine because USPS derived little benefit from using the replica.
Robert Davidson, the sculptor, argued that his sculpture was sufficiently distinct from the original due to his attempts to feminize Lady Liberty’s face. (You can compare the images side by side here.) The US Court of Federal Claims agreed, deeming his work original and thus defeating the postal service’s fair use argument.
The court – which hears monetary claims against the government – then had to decide what Davidson was owed. The USPS asserted that there is huge demand to appear on a postage stamp and that it never had to pay more than $5,000 for a license.
The court disagreed. Instead, it focused on the percentage of the stamps that had been sold but never used. Those stamps were pure profit for the postal service, and as such, it should pay a royalty on them… along with the $5,000. Davidson was awarded a total of $3.55 million.
USPS assures that it has put safeguards in place to prevent this type of thing from happening again in the future. But if the price of postage goes up in the near future, perhaps we’ll know why!
Fashion house Versace was recently sued for trademark infringement by a much smaller brand. (Yes, this might sound like the opposite of what you’re used to hearing.)
Streetwear brand No Fixed Abode claims it has been using a lion doorknocker emblem as its logo since the company began in 2013. Principal Emma Mann alleges that she previously alerted Versace to its infringement of her common law mark. After her application to register the mark was granted by the European Union Trademark Office, she brought suit in the British High Court.
No Fixed Abode is seeking injunctive relief banning Versace from using its own lion doorknocker image, along with monetary damages. Yet the ubiquity of this symbol, the newness of the registration, and the young age of the streetwear brand suggest that it may face an uphill battle.
Will Versace fight it out? Settle? File a counterclaim? Time will tell!
The EU is continuing to regulate the role of American tech giants in their society. Fresh on the heels of the General Data Protection Regulation (known as the “GDPR”) coming into effect, a committee within the EU Parliament has just voted to strengthen copyright laws.
The new restrictions were suggested by the European Commission two years ago and propose making online platforms more accountable for their content. (This is a huge contrast with American law. The federal Digital Millennium Copyright Act actually specifies that online publishing platforms are frequently not liable for their content.)
Two aspects of the proposed law are particularly controversial. One provision would require search engines to pay publishers for using their news snippets. The other pertains to sites with a lot of user-generated visual content like YouTube, Instagram, and eBay. Those sites would be required to use a filter to prevent users from uploading copyright-protected materials without having a license.
Copyright holders are in favor of the proposed rules. Of course, they want to be compensated for their content. But they also say the rules will contribute to a better quality internet with more accurate information.
The Civil Liberties Union for Europe and others who are opposed argue that the rules will violate free speech. One prominent politician has vowed to challenge the rules and request a vote in Parliament.
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