Articles Posted in Intellectual Property Litigation

Fair use rules are under review by federal officials. The doctrine — title 17, U.S. code, section 107 in the copyright law — sets boundaries for the reuse of artists’ original works. The rules cover what and how copyrighted materials can be reused, with or without the permission of the creator. The doctrine may seem too vague or too restrictive, depending on your position in a copyright infringement dispute.

The U.S. Department of Commerce issued a paper last summer raising ideas about fair use changes that have more than one well-established musician upset. Steven Tyler, long-time front man for the rock band Aerosmith, recently delivered a written commentary to the government agency. At issue is the agency’s suggestion that fee-based compulsory licenses could be employed to permit the reuse of copyrighted work, minus an author’s permission.

Steven Tyler and several other high-profile musicians are against a rule change, which could mean an author has no say in the recycling of material, even when artists find the reuse objectionable. Tyler’s comments were accompanied by letters from other singers like Sting, Ozzy Osbourne and Britney Spears.

Musician Kanye West certainly is worried about his brand.

Copyright law protects the original works of artists and authors, including the music of the controversial rapper. Creative people like West, who is as much of a product as the works he creates, also are concerned about trademark infringement.

West has filed an intellectual property lawsuit against the creators and digital exchangers of the crypto-currency COINYE, like Bitcoin but with some obvious Kanye West-inspired flourishes. COINYE’s logo shows West as a cartoon character, which currency supporters say is a parody.

Some of the extra money the U.S. Postal Service receives, after California residents start forking over an additional 3 cents for a first-class stamp next month, may go to legal fees. USPS has been named more than once recently in copyright infringement lawsuits.

The designer of the Korean War Memorial sued the agency over using a photo of his sculpture on a stamp without his permission. The artist was the recipient of a $685,000 damage award in September. According to the Washington Post, the sculptor will also receive 10 percent from the sales of USPS collector stamps or merchandise bearing the sculpture’s image.

A similar case is underway over the Statue of Liberty’s “sultry” twin.

One of the most important assets a company has — indeed, perhaps its most important one — is its brand. When people think of iconic companies and product, the first thing that often comes to mind is its brand: McDonald’s, Nike, Coca-Cola — these companies are ones that place great importance on their brands.

And how are brands protected? Through trademarks. If any other shoe company were allowed to put the Nike name — or the iconic “swoosh” — on its products, there would be mass confusion. Some companies even are known by their distinctive packaging, let alone the actual product. Coca-Cola has gone to great lengths to make sure that the uniqueness of its bottle design is maintained.

A recent article on our site discussed a recent case involving Jack Daniel’s, the Tennessee distillery that has been producing whiskey for generations. Jack Daniel’s filed a lawsuit against an upstart company called Popcorn Sutton’s that it says tried to copy its bottle design — down to the label and lettering.

Forfeiture laws allow the federal government to strip criminals of certain assets. Government agencies have a lot of leeway during property seizures, with the idea that convicts should not be able to hold on to real estate, vehicles, bank accounts and other assets acquired due to crimes.

Intellectual property is an asset. Can the government take that, too? A California federal case against the motorcycle club Mongols Nation, LLC, challenges the limits of the First Amendment’s free speech rights, the government’s seizure powers and the legitimate ownership of a trademark.

A massive six-state sweep in 2008 ended with the arrests and convictions of 80 Mongols motorcycle group members. Federal prosecutors described the Mongols as an “outlaw gang” who committed hard-core crimes like drug trafficking, extortion and murder, among many others.

Employers regularly monitor workers’ Internet activity to make sure employees what they’re paid to do. Companies also want to make sure confidential business information doesn’t leak to outside sources.

Off-the-clock workers often believe personal electronic communications are safe from prying eyes. Consumers mistakenly think restrictive privacy settings sever access to online activities. Most browsers offer “no-track” settings. In truth, there are few legal sanctions to prevent Google or other Internet companies from following your virtual habits.

Google successfully deflects serious penalties for prying into users’ personal information, despite numerous past and present privacy rights lawsuits. Federal officials slap Google with fines the company can easily afford. The Internet search engine’s $150 billion value provides nearly-bottomless funds for intellectual property litigation.

A creation of value by an individual or a company is protected by federal and California laws. Intellectual property can include patents, trademarks and copyrights for a commercial product or service, an original process or formula, artistic expressions and even a name.

Brands are distinctive identities that have worth. Theft of intellectual property waters down value causing personal, professional and financial damage. Encroachment upon another person or business’s valuable possessions is stealing.

Some intellectual property battles are business turf wars, with rival companies trying to best one another in a competitive marketplace. Some disputes are private matters, like a current court battle over the legacy of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Super heroes have raked in millions if not billions of dollars in Los Angeles movie studios and theaters around the world. The screen stars of today were not imagined by modern minds. Heroes like Iron Man and Spider-man have been outwitting bad guys for generations on the pages of comic books.

Marvel Comics benefited considerably from the works of late comic book legend Jack Kirby. Kirby’s artistic talents contributed to the invention of the “X-Men” and “The Fantastic Four,” among a host of other come-to-life heroes who dominate today’s blockbuster movies.

Jack Kirby’s four children felt their father’s body of work for Marvel Comics was never fully recognized or remunerated. The heirs filed a copyright lawsuit against the comic book publisher which was appealed by Kirby’s survivors after an unfavorable 2011 decision.

Robin Antonick may not ring a bell among California sports fans, but the name John Madden certainly does. The retired football Hall of Famer and former Oakland Raiders coach is linked to the consistently-popular video game franchise Madden NFL Football.

Antonick was the first developer-designer of Madden NFL Football, first published in 1988 under the name John Madden Football. The designer signed several intellectual property agreements with Electronic Arts, including contracts that guaranteed Antonick confidentiality and royalty payments for the original football video game and all game derivatives.

A lawsuit filed by the developer claimed the game company did not live up to the agreements. A California jury deliberated three days before making a decision. The jury found Electronic Arts published several games through 1996 that did more than resemble John Madden Football. The games’ elements were nearly duplicates of the original.

The talent and creativity of California entrepreneurs supply the nation’s demand for entertainment, technology and thousands of others products and services. The prevalence of originality in Los Angeles is an advantage and a worry. When fresh ideas are profitable, someone may try to steal them.

Intellectual property laws help protect the unique ways products and services are identified by consumers. The “swoosh” symbol tells a sneaker buyer they’re getting a shoe made by Nike. Legal restrictions prevent other shoe manufacturers from trying to pass off products with the same or similar trademark.

Symbols are a single identifier. Trademarks and service marks may also include a recognizable brand name or identifying word like “Twitter.” Privacy and publicity rights and trade dress — the appearance, packaging and advertising of a product — are also protected by laws as well as patents and copyrights.