Popeye, Get Your Popeye

31 December 2008

As of tomorrow, the beloved spinach spokesman will be in the public domain in most of the world.  In the EU, pretty much the rest of Europe, a smattering of Latin American countries and a handful of African countries, the seventy-year copyright protection on Popeye ends on January 1st, 2009.  (Some countries count from the date of death, rather than the end of the year, in which case Popeye entered the public domain on October 13th of this year.)  Popeye has already been in the public domain for twenty years in about half the rest of the world.

So where can't you use Popeye anyway you please?  Well, that depends on what you want to do with him.  An article in The Telegraph explains that Popeye is also a trademark, so you still can't use Popeye in a way that would constitute trademark infringement.  Other than that, there are at least four countries where  the copyright term extends beyond 70 years:  The US, Mexico, Colombia and Cote d'Ivoire.  Assuming Popeye is currently protected in these countries (all are members of Berne and TRIPS) Popeye will enter the public domain first in Colombia (2018), then in the US (2024; Popeye would have been in his renewal term when the terms were lengethend, giving him a total of 95 years of protection from creation; the first Popeye cartoon was published in 1929.), next in Cote d'Ivoire (2037), and finally in Mexico (2038).

Related Links
E.C. Segar (Popeye's creator).
The Sailor Man's webpage

Following the French?

28 December 2008

Earlier this month, the American Bar Association Journal reported in a little article that the RIAA is going to stop randomly suing people for illegal music downloading.  Seems the RIAA finally realized that tactic was not producing the desired results and getting them extra problems.  This is good news.  However, the new approach is not without its own problems.

"The RIAA now plans a more practical enforcement effort concerning illegal downloads," the article explains.  And just what is this more practical enforcement?

"With the help of Internet service providers, those who repeatedly download music illegally and ignore ISP warnings are expected to have their Internet service first slowed down and then stopped entirely..."

That's practical?!  In a country that historically places such a high value on freedom of speech, independence and privacy, in a society that revolves around technology, this "practical" solution is opening several very large cans of worms.

As it turns out, the solution may not be quite as draconian as the quote makes it sound.  According to the Wall Street Journal, the new plan is actually a series of agreements between the RIAA and different ISP providers.  The deal is that the RIAA will stop suing consumers and the ISP providers will start contacting customers who appear to be illegally uploading copyright protected material.  If the customers ignore the warnings, the ISP providers can slow down and eventually cut-off the internet service.

The IPKat reported some months ago on a similar plan in France.  In late October, the French Senate approved a law that would cut off the internet service of people who illegally download copyright protected material.  Under the French model, internet access revocation is the final out in a three-strikes law.  Strike one: warning email.  Strike two: warning snail mail letter.  Strike three: the dark ages for an entire year.

In general, people seem to like the idea of receiving warnings and a chance to stop infringing behavior better than lawsuits.  However, many have also expressed some concerns.  French Senator Retailleau decried cutting off internet as discriminatory.  He described internet access as an "essential commodity" and its removal as "traumatic."  Readers of IPKat also commented on the variety of privacy issues raised by this method of fighting infringement.

Groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Public Knowledge express similar concerns about the American plan and raise some others.  The president of Public Knowledge is worried about the due process of the system, stating, "we want to make certain that customers are not cut off from their Internet service or have their service altered solely on the basis of a claim by a copyright holder that file sharing is taking place."  The EFF points out that the punishment here seems to greatly outweigh the crime.  Guess Gilbert and Sullivan wouldn't approve.

Some proponents of the new arrangements believe that the warnings given to infringers by their internet providers will be enough to prevent the customers from continuing their illegal behavior.  If this is true, the system is fine because the ISP providers will never need to reach the controversial step of shutting off someone's internet service completely.  But what happens when someone decides to call their bluff?



Other related links:

Will France Introduce Digital Guillotine in Europe
French Internet Law Clashes with EU Position
RIAA Shuts Down its Lawsuit Machine
Three Strikes, Three Countries: France, Japan and Sweden
RIAA to Stop Suing Music Fans, Cut Them Off Instead
RIAA Confirms It Will Take Piracy Fight to ISPs

A Christmas Classic

24 December 2008

What better thing to do on Christmas Eve than take a look at how copyright, or rather the absence of it, has helped shaped a holiday tradition.  I'm speaking, of course, of It's a Wonderful Life.


In the mid-1970s, the movie was believed to have fallen into the public domain.  Under the 1909 Copyright Act, a work's copyright term could be renewed once after the first 28 year term expired.  The copyright on the box office flop It's a Wonderful Life wasn't renewed.  (The flopping might have had something to do with the film opening 13 days after Christmas.)  PBS stations started airing the movie regularly at the holidays.  Soon other stations followed suit.  Roger Ebert describes this quasi-public domain period as the best thing that ever happened to the film.  Technically, only the film was in the public domain, not the underlying story.  (Some argue that the movie never really was in the public domain because copyright still existed on the underlying script of which the movie was a derivative work.)  Television stations took advantage of the lower royalty rates, having only to pay acting as though the movie were in the public domain propelled the film into Christmas-stardom.

Television stations' ability to play the film with less remuneration than other films gave them an easy and cheap way to fill their programming slots with a nice wholesome Christmas-related show.  Since it was so cheap and easy to show, every channel could show it and show it often.  The film became a staple of the holiday season.  Even other Christmas films now incorporate it's importance.  In the Home Alone movies, each movie shows the Kevin-less family watching It's a Wonderful Life in a different foreign language.

Currently, It's a Wonderful Life can only be seen on NBC.  The colorized versions have their own copyrights (though they are not shown on tv), and the original gained copyright recognition in the mid-1990s.  A court ruled that because the film is a derivative work and many parts of it are still protected by their own copyrights, the film cannot be shown without infringing someone else's rights.  

The movie is on in the US tonight at 8pm Eastern on NBC.  Or you can watch it here, performed by bunnies.

Some Reflections on Copyright in Nigeria

21 December 2008

Having just returned home from a short internship with the Nigerian Copyright Commission, a few reflections on the state of copyright in Nigeria seem appropriate.

Nigeria's statutory copyright law is fairly well developed.  This is hardly surprising since Nigeria is a member of several of the major treaties.  (Berne convention, 1993; TRIPS (WTO), 1995.)  Generally, the gaps that do exist in Nigeria's copyright laws are in areas that the rest of the world is also trying to sort out, such as computers and new technology's implications on copyright.  These gaps tend to arise less from poorly drafted or inadequate statutes, but rather from the stark absence of case law, especially case law that interprets the Copyright Act to apply to new issues.

Yet, as we've seen, copyright law in Nigeria isn't exactly "working" right now.  (Collecting society issues, problems with pirates, copyright and trade issues.)  The biggest problem is a lack of enforcement of the existing law.  This problem seems to stem from several other issues, most of which are outside the legal system, or at least outside copyright law.

Nigeria is rife with corruption.  People not only do not trust the government, they do not trust each other.  This hinders legitimate enforcement operations by the government, discourages people from bringing civil suits and severely limits entrepreneurial opportunities for private businesses.  But corruption is a national problem, supposedly being addressed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, not something for which the Copyright Commission can take responsibility (at least not outside of its own organization).

Nigeria also has little legitimate infrastructure relating to the arts.  If Nigeria were to remove all the pirated movies, books and CDs from her streets, there would be almost nothing left for consumers to buy.  Consumers who want to purchase legitimate goods often cannot find them.  There is no advertising about new releases or where to purchase them, and no set stores or locations dedicated to selling legitimate copyrighted materials. The Copyright Commission cannot (and should not) be responsible for the production and distribution of goods.  This is an area for investors and developers.  Unfortunately, no one is stepping forward to organize the needed systems, at least not legitimate versions.  There are a lot of optical disc production plants, but most of them produce pirated goods.  The Copyright Commission has a program that allows illegitimate optical disc plants to become legitimate, but there is little information on how well the program is working.

Another issue playing into the lack of enforcement is only partly beyond the reach of the Copyright Commission.  Nigerians seem to have what the Director General of the Copyright Commission referred to as a developing country mentality.  People expect the government to do things for them.  The copyright law was made by the government, the government should enforce it.  This mentality is a huge part of why there are so few civil infringement suits.  Authors often contact the Copyright Commission to report infringement.  The Commission offers to help them organize a case and may offer investigative help, but the authors want the Commission to do everything, bring a case itself and stop the infringer from committing infringement.  The Commission is trying to educate authors about the need to take responsibility for their personal rights, but fighting the overall rely-on-the-government mentality is a job bigger than one single government commission.

In essence, Nigeria has a lot of background issues to address before their existing copyright laws can become truly effective.  But, the country is working towards this, and more people who care about issues are starting to come forward to do something.  It may take awhile, and a lot of work, but Nigeria can become a place where creativity is nurtured rather than stolen.

And Now, Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Program

20 December 2008

Ip's What's Up would like to thank our readers for their patience during our down time.  Goldenrail has returned safely to the land of abundant internet, and we will resume our regular schedule tomorrow, Sunday, December 21.

Follow-Up to: Developing Decent Digital Distribution Solutions

10 December 2008

In our previous post, Developing Decent Digital Distribution Solutions, Ip's What's Up reported about a Vanderbilt University class called "Stealing in Music City" where the students had to develop a new digital distribution system for the music industry.  The three student groups presented their solutions last week Tuesday, December 2nd.  The video of their presentations is now available on YouTube and VUCast.

The video itself is almost an hour long, and Ip's What's Up doubts many of its readers have time to watch the whole thing.  We wanted to summarize the groups' projects for you.  Unfortunately, the Nigerian internet didn't like that plan.  So, we offer you a summary of the first group and most of the second group.  (Our apologies to Group 3.  We are sure you put a lot of effort into your project as well and will report on it as soon as we're able.)

Groups one and two each consisted of three, visibly nervous, first-year students.  It is apparent from their presentations that they learned a lot about copyright and the music industry during their semester and that they put a lot of work into developing their solutions.  We hope their professors are proud of them and will continue the seminar in the future.

Group 1

The first group pulled ideas to improve the music industry from a variety of sources.  They talked about revising the copyright law to make it easier for artists, consumers and labels to understand, particularly the areas relating to ownership, fair use and the public domain.  That's probably good for everyone, except the attorneys.

On the production end, the group adopted the licensing model mentioned by David Byrne in a Wired.com article.  Through the group's version of this model, artists could only license their recordings to a label for a limited time, rather than assigning the entire copyright to the label.  (The label would not be allowed to own any masters.)  The group adopted this plan because they believe labels play an important role in promoting artists but also think artists should have more say in their careers.

On the distribution side, the group incorporated two ideas supported by Professor Michael Bressman.  (Professor Bressman teaches the IP Clinic at Vanderbilt law and visited the undergraduate class as a guest speaker.)  The group suggested an increase in the number of legal online music distribution sites and that these sites should use monthly fees rather than per song payment arrangements.  The group seemed unaware that there are more music download sites than iTunes, but perhaps that was just their example.  [Some music sites: iTunes (the standard), eMusic (which is monthly subscribtions), amazon.com (drm free), napster (the newer, legal version), payplay.fm, puretracks, there are many more.  Note: Some of these will not work outside the US.]

The group also looked at changing social norms, turning illegal downloading into something un-cool instead of something normal.  The ideas here were a bit reminiscent of anti-drug and anti-gang programs (Downloading Abuse Resistance Education?), and made this Ipper feel rather old.  Their suggestion: include internet safety and copyright in the existing elementary school computer classes.  These classes already teach students how to type and use the internet; they should teach how to do it safely and legally.

In addition to incorporating music downloading etiquette into computer classes, the government should also use things like pamphlets and public service announcements to educate people about piracy.  They suggested these tools be a bit less extreme and a bit more honest than the RIAA's versions.

Overall, it seemed the group attempted to address several different aspects of the music downloading issue: the relationships between people in the industry, the availability of legal downloadable music for consumers, and the social norms that still seem to lean towards acceptability for illegal downloading.

Group 2

Group 2 took a different approach and developed a unique system for digital distribution.  They described it as using the technology of file sharing but ensuring artists and labels get paid.  Their system consists of a government run network that sounds sort of like a Facebook for record labels and publishing companies.

Record labels, publishing companies and independent artists with more than twelve songs can sign-up to be part of the network.  They will get their own page that they can design however they'd like.  They can use the page to promote different artists, activities and events, and to offer downloads of their catalogues.  (The reason for the minimum of twelve songs has to do with balancing the costs and benefits of the system for independent artists.)

The consumers choose from one of various subscription levels.  Each subscription allows them to share a certain number of files per month, with the platinum level giving them unlimited access.  The prices for these subscriptions are intended to be fairly low in order to shift the economic supply curve: lower cost = more downloads.  It's a little confusing if the "sharing" involves offering tracks already in consumers libraries for upload/download by another, or if it really just means downloading from one of the label/publisher pages.  (This may be clarified later in the group's presentation, if anybody is able to watch the whole thing and can add some clarity to this point, please leave a comment.)

The government is in charge of setting up this network and managing it, as well as acting as a sort of collecting society for all transactions on the network.  The group chose the government to run the network in order to eliminate the cost created by a middle-man like iTunes and because they felt the government would bring a certain neutrality, less focused on profit and more focused on boosting the economy and supporting the industry.

Although similar in some ways to existing on-line stores, their system seems to present some unique ideas.  If it does indeed involve file sharing with a collecting society-type entity tracking, it offers some definite benefits over existing on-line music options, like locating those hard to find remixes.  There would be a lot of details to work out before such a system would be viable (such as ensuring that tracks are properly identified), but it's certainly an interesting idea to ponder.



{related to digital distribution...]

Alphabet War

07 December 2008

About a month ago, Ip's What's Up posted an entry about the status of collecting societies in Nigeria.  The main issue is the ongoing feud between the two former collecting societies, MCSN and PMRS, and the Nigerian Copyright Commission (NCC).  Well, it looks like the beef is getting bigger.

The Guardian newspaper published a story this past Friday about allegations flying back and forth between MCSN and the NCC.  The news article is a bit cryptic, especially for those of us who are not fluent in Nigerian English, but it appears that the NCC and MCSN are on opposing sides in two different matters.


First, there is the old matter of MCSN suing the NCC (as its counterpart, PMRS is doing) over the Collecting Society Regulations and the section of the Copyright Act that authorizes these regulations.  (For those who are interested, the MCSN suit is: Musical Copyright Society of Nigeria LTD/GTE v. Nigerian Copyright Commission, SUIT NO. FHC/L/CS/478/2008, but this Ipper has no idea where you can find any reporting on the case.)  Basically, MCSN claims that the relevant sections of the Nigerian Copyright Act violate MCSN's fundamental human rights as protected by Sections 40 and 44 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution, as well as violating Articles 10 and 14 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights.


The Guardian article discusses a second conflict between the NCC and MCSN.  According to the article, the NCC is currently investigating MCSN based on a complaint from the International Federation of Phonographic Industries.  The complaint alleges that MCSN is pirating films, both reproducing them and publishing them.  (Publishing, under the Nigerian Copyright Act, is making a work available to the public.)

MCSN claims that this complaint never existed and was only fabricated by the NCC in order to make it appear that the NCC's raids on the MCSN offices were justified.  NCC says it's legitimate.  MCSN says that NCC is harassing MCSN and its affiliates by questioning collecting societies in the UK (Performing Rights Society and Mechanical Copyright Protection Society) and raiding MCSN offices in Nigeria.  NCC says it had to question the UK societies because MCSN claimed to have received authorization for their alleged pirating behavior from those societies.

Clear as Mud

This Ipper is quite confused by all of this, and doesn't really know what to believe.  Both parties involved in this battle have been known to spin things a little bit away from the truth.  What is certain is that MCSN does not have authorization to act as a collecting society, and that, in general, the NCC has authority to conduct investigations in matters of alleged piracy.  The Director General has stated that MCSN cannot receive authorization to become a collecting society until it meets transparency requirements.  MCSN seems to think there it is actually some sort of NCC vendetta that is preventing MCSN from receiving authorization.  Both parties claim to be acting in the best interests of copyright and the artists.  Maybe some readers can shed some light on the situation.

One thing is clear, whatever is going on here, it's not doing anybody any good, especially not the artists.

They're Your Pirates, You're Responsible

03 December 2008

We are all aware that intellectual property issues are global issues, but do we realize on how many levels this is true?  Sometimes they go beyond clashes in countries' policies and down to a very basic level of individuals' actions.

It's no secret that many of Nigeria's counterfeit-producing optical disc plants are owned by Chinese.  What is surprising, at least to this Ipper, is that Nigerians seem to be blaming China for this fact.  Indirectly, the presence of Chinese-owned optical disc plants in Nigeria is China's fault.  The plants have relocated due to increased copyright enforcement in Asia.  But, there is likely no Chinese policy that says those wishing to create pirated discs should go to Nigeria, and depending on where the companies incorporated, the Chinese government may have little to no control over them.  Yet, in his opinion piece for The Daily Sun, Tunde Thompson lumps Chinese-owned optical disc plants together with a string of failed Chinese government sponsored projects. 

IP is very important in Nigeria; some sources claim over 60% of the population get their income from creative industries.  Piracy is certainly a hot-button issue.  It seems the actions of a few Chinese citizens in Nigeria could damage relations between the two countries.  What can China do about it?  How far should one country stick its neck out to protect the intellectual property laws of another country?  And where do the pirates go next if Nigeria manages to crack down on them?