Who comes to mind when I list the following character traits: lives in a dystopian metropolis, has a deceased parent, fights criminals, rides a motorcycle, has seemingly-superhero strength, is fearless, has dark hair, and–oh, by the way–his name is “Wayne.” More than that, you learn all these facts about Wayne by watching a trailer for a series about Wayne on YouTube, which informs you throughout that Wayne is a character “from the guys who wrote Deadpool,” a fictional superhero. Take a look for yourself:

It should probably come as no surprise that many people watching the trailer–myself included–thought this Wayne might be “Bruce Wayne,” the well-known secret identity of Batman. The comments to the official trailer demonstrate as much. Consider, for example, the “top comment” for the trailer:

The Bruce Wayne most consumers know is the wealthy orphan owner of Wayne Enterprises by day, crime-fighting superhero by night. YouTube’s Wayne shares many of the same traits (except, perhaps, the wealth), and one could certainly believe that the Wayne series might be an origin story for one of the most popular superheros of all time. Of course, by the end of the trailer, you get the impression that the Wayne you’re watching probably isn’t (though there’s no disclaimer):

In total there are over 7,200 comments for the trailer at the time of writing this post. Since the official trailer, YouTube has released additional teaser trailers for the series, each making it clearer that Wayne probably isn’t Batman. Yet, viewers still aren’t quite sure:

What I find interesting about these comments is that they are a readily-available (though perhaps unreliable) data set for proving, or disproving, the existence of customer confusion. Assume that DC Comics, the owner of the Batman mark and Bruce Wayne character (which does not appear to have been registered, but to which DC Comics could have common law rights and copyright protection) could sue YouTube for infringement or dilution. Arguably, the comments on the Wayne trailers show that consumers are drawing a connection between DC Comics and the Wayne series given the name, mood of the series, and common character traits with Batman. In this, YouTube may be free riding on Batman’s popularity. Depending on just how many comments reference Batman, the comments themselves could serve as strong quantitative data of confusion–akin to the kind of survey data usually used to prove that element of a trademark claim.

On the other hand, many of the comments for the series do not reference Batman or Bruce Wayne. Do non-references indicate a lack of confusion, or perhaps a confusion that is dispelled quickly after watching the trailers? This relates to the doctrine of “initial interest confusion,” which is temporary confusion dispelled before a sale or some other commercial harm, but still may be actionable because the party creating the confusion free rides on another’s mark to gain attention. Since widespread access to the Internet, initial interest confusion cases have increased tenfold, but courts disagree about the vitality of the rule. Regardless, that confusion appears to persist in this situation–as demonstrated by the comments for each new trailer–shows that the confusion here may be of the continuing and uncured variety on which many trademark claims are based.

Wayne fully releases on YouTube in January 2019. There do not appear to be any lawsuits pending at the moment. And there does not appear to be a “Wayne” trademark registration for the series. But if YouTube (or the series’ creators) file for one, DC Comics could oppose the registration–and has done so for similar marks in the past. We’ll keep you updated with any new developments! In the meantime, let us know what you think in a comment below.

Happy Halloween from DuetsBlog! I write today regarding a scary subject: unregistered intellectual property. The horror! Ask any IP professional about registration, and you’re likely to hear that registration is one of the most important steps in protecting IP. Whether it is a patent, trademark, or copyright, registering IP often provides the IP owner greater rights than if the IP was unregistered. There is sometimes an exception for trade secrets, but that’s for another time…

A scary place for some; credit: Gen. Progress

Registering IP, specifically copyrights, may become even more crucial in the future. One of the most important upcoming U.S. Supreme Court cases this term–which begins in October (coincidental?)–is Fourth Estate Public Benefit Corp. v. Wall-Street.com, LLC. The appeal addresses the question of whether the creator of an unregistered work may sue for copyright infringement so long as the creator has applied for a copyright on the work, rather than requiring the creator to wait for the Copyright Office to register the work. The dispute comes down to 17 U.S.C. § 411(a), which provides that:

no civil action for infringement of the copyright in any United States work shall be instituted until preregistration or registration of the copyright claim has been made in accordance with this title.

Currently, the Fifth and Ninth Circuit Courts of Appeal have held that creators may sue for infringement as soon as they file the appropriate paperwork and fees for registration. Importantly, the Ninth Circuit encompasses Hollywood, providing greater protection to many of the nation’s creators. I ran into this issue myself on a case in these venues, and thankfully the law in these jurisdictions supported bringing a claim for copyright infringement without awaiting registration.

The Tenth and Eleventh Circuits have held that filing for registration is insufficient; a creator must have obtained preregistration or actual registration to sue for infringement. It’s the stuff of nightmares for procrastinating creators in Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida!

But creators around the country, especially in Hollywood, let out a collective shriek when the federal Government filed a brief in support of the Tenth and Eleventh Circuits, arguing that “a copyright-infringement suit may not be filed until the Register of Copyrights has either approved or refused registration of the work.” Beyond the statutory arguments in support of this position, the Government argued that  “although…the registration requirement may temporarily prevent copyright owners from enforcing their rights, that is the intended result of a congressional design to encourage prompt registration for the public benefit.”

Maybe the Government is right; requiring registration will certainly encourage registration. But on the other hand, many small creators either do not have the time or resources to seek registration for every work. However, even in cases in which there is copying, a creator can file an expedited application for registration, which sometimes results in a decision in less than a week.  So perhaps the rule from the Tenth and Eleventh Circuits isn’t that scary after all. A non-expedited application can take months, though. Thus, the rule from the Fifth and Ninth Circuits provides greater protections to creators who may face copying immediately after creating a work and who do not have the ability to file an expedited application. We’ll see what’s in the Supreme Court’s candy bowl this term. To be continued…

— Jessica Gutierrez Alm, Attorney

 

Earlier this month, the United States Postal Service (USPS) was ordered to pay $3.5 million in damages to a sculptor for copyright infringement.

Seeking a unique redesign for its “Forever” stamps, the USPS searched stock photos for images of the Statue of Liberty.  They found a particularly striking photo on Getty Images and paid $1,500 for a license.  Between 2010 and 2014, the USPS produced and sold 4.9 billion Forever stamps featuring the Statue of Liberty photo obtained through Getty Images.  There was only one problem—this was not the Statue of Liberty.  Instead, the photo was of the Lady Liberty replica statue displayed in front of the New York-New York Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.  The differences may be subtle, but on a side-by-side comparison, the distinction becomes clear.

On close inspection, you can even see the small plaque affixed to the crown of the Las Vegas statue.  “This one’s for you, mom”–the sculptor’s dedication to his mother-in-law.

The USPS discovered the mix-up in 2011 after only a few months of production.  They stated that they still would have selected the image had they known it depicted the Las Vegas statue, and continued producing the stamps.  Robert Davidson is the sculptor of the Las Vegas replica statue.  Recognizing that the USPS was profiting from his original work of art, Davidson sued the USPS for copyright infringement.

After a two-week bench trial, the court found in favor of Davidson.  The $3.5 million damages amount was calculated as a 5% royalty on the USPS’s profits on the stamp.

 

How can someone claim copyright on a replica of a famous statue?

The short answer is: it’s not an exact replica.  As the court in this case explained, “a work of art need not be wholly original to be copyrightable.”  Rather “it need only be a new and original expression of some previous work or idea.”  The standard for obtaining any copyright protection is relatively low.  To demonstrate that Davidson’s statue is eligible for copyright protection, he need only show a “modicum of creativity.”  In a 1991 case, the Supreme Court described the level of creativity required as “extremely low” and stated that “even a slight amount will suffice.”  Feist Publ’ns, Inc. v. Rural Tel Serv. Co., 499 U.S. 340, 345 (1991).  In addition, to obtain protection for his sculpture, Davidson needed to show some nontrivial variation from the New York statue that distinguishes it in some meaningful way.

The court found that Davidson met this burden.  The court seemed particularly persuaded by Davidson’s testimony that he sought to give his sculpture a more “feminine” and “fresh” face, as compared with the “harsher” and “more masculine” look of the original.  Questions about the application of societal beauty standards to the Statue of Liberty aside, the court determined that the softened jaw line, rounded face, and modified eyes and lips were sufficient for copyright protection in the derivative work.

 

Since the USPS obtained rights to the image through Getty Images and paid a licensing fee, how was this an infringement?

This was my first question when I learned the USPS paid a licensing fee for the photo.  However, it turns out the photo itself was an infringing work.  According to Davidson’s complaint, the photographer took the photo and posted it for sale on Getty Images without Davidson’s permission.  Thus although USPS paid a licensing fee to the photographer, the license was still based on use of an infringing, unauthorized work.  Continued sale and distribution of the photograph, whether by the photographer or USPS, constituted additional infringement.

 

Isn’t this protected fair use?

The USPS raised the issue of fair use as a defense to the infringement.  Fair use does not have a clear-cut definition.  In determining whether an otherwise infringing use constitutes fair use, courts look to four factors: (1) The purpose and character of the use; (2) The nature of the copyrighted work; (3) The amount of the copyrighted work that was used; and (4) The effect of the use on the author’s market.  The USPS’s argument for fair use relied in part on its low profit margin on the stamps and a lack of any harm to Davidson’s ability to capitalize on the sculpture.  The court sided with Davidson.  As the court explained, although the profit margin for individual stamps was low, the USPS collected over $70 million in pure profit from the stamps.  The court also noted that the USPS never offered a public attribution or apology to Davidson.

 

Shouldn’t the sculptor have sued the photographer instead of the USPS?

It seems Davidson had options here.  Both the photographer and the USPS unlawfully used Davidson’s work.  The photographer produced and sold a derivative work (the photo) based on the original copyrighted work (the sculpture).  The USPS then reproduced and sold the same infringing photo.  Both the photographer and USPS used, and profited from, Davidson’s underlying original work.  It is likely that Davidson also could have sued Getty Images for displaying and licensing the infringing work.  It seems Davidson probably made the strategic decision to sue the U.S. government, rather than the photographer or Getty, as the potential for damages was considerably higher.

A few months ago, a federal district court in New York held that several publishers violated a photographer’s copyright when they embedded a photograph from one of the photographer’s Twitter posts. Goldman v. Breitbart News Network, No. 17-CV-3144 (KBF) (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 15, 2018). The photographer, Justin Goldman, had sued Breitbart News Network, TIME Inc., The Boston Globe and other online publishers last year for copyright infringement, alleging they displayed in various online news stories, without permission, a photograph he took of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, which he had posted on Twitter.

In their defense, the publishers invoked the “Server Test,” based on the prominent Ninth Circuit decision, Perfect 10, Inc. v. Amazon.com, Inc., 508 F.3d 1146 (9th Cir. 2007), which held that the unauthorized display of Google Image search engine results, of photographs stored on third-party servers, did not constitute copyright infringement, provided that such images were not hosted on Google’s servers. Essentially, the Server Test provides that website publishers are not liable for copyright infringement if they embed content hosted on third-party servers, but not their own servers.

But in the Goldman case, the New York court (under the jurisdiction of the Second Circuit), questioned the validity of the Ninth Circuit rule, because the court concluded that the Copyright Act does not require physical possession of the copyrighted material. The court relied on Supreme Court precedent supporting that merely transmitting copyrighted material can constitute infringement, regardless of “invisible” technical distinctions regarding the means of the infringing display or distribution, see American Broadcasting Co.s, Inc. v. Aereo, Inc., 134 S. Ct. 2498 (2014). Therefore, the court declined to apply the Server Test, and concluded that the publisher defendants “violated plaintiff’s exclusive display right [and] the fact that the image was hosted on a server owned and operated by an unrelated third party (Twitter) does not shield them from this result.”

Furthermore, the court emphasized a “critical” distinction with Perfect 10 regarding the “paramount” role of the user. The web users in Perfect 10 were required to click on the thumbnail images in the Google Image search, in order to see the full-size images hosted on third-party servers. By contrast, in the Goldman case, visitors to the defendants’ websites would immediately see the full-size image, without any volitional act of clicking to connect to a third-party server.

On March 19, the district court granted the publisher defendants’ motion to certify the decision for interlocutory appeal to the Second Circuit, acknowledging the parties’ representations that the decision created “uncertainty for online publishers” with a significant “impact beyond this case” due to the popularity of Twitter and “retweeting.” Some commentators, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, suggest that the Goldman decision threatens in-line linking and, if followed by other courts, could require monumental changes to online news publishing. One amicus brief in the New York case also predicted that the Goldman ruling will “transform the internet as we know it.” While some of these gloomy predictions may be overstated based on a single district court decision, the appeal to the Second Circuit will certainly be closely watched, so stay tuned for updates.

 

— Jessica Gutierrez Alm, Attorney

 

WWE wrestler Randy Orton has some unique ink on his arms and back, created by tattoo artist Catherine Alexander.  Orton—and his tattoos—are featured in the WWE 2K video games.  Alexander claims ownership of copyright in the tattoos, and is suing WWE and the makers of the video games for their depiction of the original tattoos.

This case is one in a string of lawsuits alleging copyright infringement based upon celebrity or athlete tattoos.  In 2017, tattoo artist James Hayden sued the makers of an NBA video game for depicting several tattoos he’d created for LeBron James.  And remember that Mike Tyson-like tattoo on Ed Helm’s face in The Hangover 2?  In 2011, tattoo artist S. Victor Whitmill brought a copyright infringement suit against Warner Brothers Entertainment in an attempt to block the release of the movie.

 

 

Nonetheless, the copyrightability of tattoos remains in question.  These cases frequently settle out of court, and thus we do not yet have a clear judicial determination of whether tattoos on skin constitute copyrightable works of art.

Much ink has been spilled over the legal merits of whether a tattoo is copyrightable.  But legal theory aside for a moment, should tattoos be copyrightable?  Do we want our copyright jurisprudence to venture down a path of allowing one person or entity to have a property right in another person’s skin?

The artistic nature of tattoos makes it difficult to square the tattoo artist’s creative rights with with the tattoo bearer’s bodily autonomy.  Under copyright law, the mere act of displaying a copyrighted work can be an infringement.

Nimmer on Copyright is likely the most widely used treatise on American copyright law.  David Nimmer himself submitted a lengthy declaration for the defendant in the Hangover case.  In his declaration, Nimmer described some of the bizarre outcomes we might see if we decide tattoos are indeed copyrightable:

  1. With particular respect to celebrity and athlete tattoos, magazines, TV networks, documentary film makers and others could be required to obtain licenses from tattoo artists behind the celebrity’s or athlete’s tattoos.  If those licenses are not obtained, the celebrity or athlete herself could be liable for contributory infringement.
  2. An adjacent or overlapping tattoo might constitute a derivative work, which could itself be an infringement of the original artist’s rights.  Nimmer suggests this could lead to a court order to have the offending work laser removed.
  3. The Visual Artists Rights Act allows certain works of art to be granted “recognized stature,” which allows an artist to prohibit intentional or grossly negligent destruction of a work.  Under this Act, if a tattoo were granted “recognized stature,” the artist could obtain a court order barring removal or destruction of the tattoo.
  4. Even if the tattooed person goes so far as to obtain an exclusive license of all rights from the artist, that does not necessarily solve the issues described above.  Some copyright licenses can be subject to an inalienable right of the artist to terminate the license 35 years after grant.  As Nimmer explained, “For example, a 20-year old actress might get a tattoo from X, subject to his agreement (negotiated by her counsel) to assign to her all copyright interests in the image and never to terminate the grant.  When she turned 55, she might nonetheless be shocked to learn that X now has the right to block merchandising of her image.”

These may be extreme examples, but they serve to illustrate the difficult intersection of tattoo artistry with existing copyright jurisprudence. Accordingly, Nimmer suggests the best solution might be legislative.  When courts could not square the realities of computer software with existing copyright laws, the Computer Software Copyright Act of 1980 was passed.

Eventually, a tattoo copyright case is bound to reach a court decision.  Until then, the uncertain legal grounds will continue to rest on selective enforcement and out of court settlements.

— Jessica Gutierrez Alm, Attorney

Fanfiction refers to the art of creating fiction using another author’s characters or universe.  I was first introduced to the concept in high school, when a friend began writing Harry Potter fanfiction.  (Side note: this is not one of those situations where the “friend” is actually me.)  My friend used the same well-known characters—Harry, Hermione, Ron, etc.—and details of the world created by J.K. Rowling, including Hogwarts, muggles, the Ministry of Magic, and Diagon Alley, to create an otherwise original plot.

Fanfiction is typically shared among fellow enthusiasts, and rarely results in publication, movie deals, or notable profits.  For this reason, intellectual property rights are often not enforced against fanfiction creators, which has led many to mistakenly believe that fanfiction is a categorically protected use.

While IP rights holders typically tolerate—and even encourage—fanfiction, one recent fan-sourced plotline caught the attention of CBS and Paramount.  In 2014, Axanar Productions launched a crowdfunding campaign to produce a “feature-quality Star Trek film,” entitled “Axanar.”  The campaign raised over $1 million through combined Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns.  To promote the campaign, Axanar Productions released a 20-minute preview entitled “Prelude to Axanar.”  And it’s awesome.

Whether it was the impressive production value, the appearance of actor Richard Hatch from Battlestar Galactica, or the overwhelmingly successful crowdfunding campaign, Axanar Productions caught the attention of the makers of Star Trek.

In late 2015, CBS and Paramount sued Axanar Productions for copyright infringement.  The amended complaint, summarized here by Ars Technica, alleges 57 instances of copyright infringement divided into categories, including characters, races, costumes, settings, logos, plot points, dialogue, and theme.  It’s pretty clear that both the Prelude to Axanar, and the planned Axanar film, are intentionally based on the Star Trek universe and incorporate at least some copyrightable Star Trek elements.

Axanar takes place 20 years prior to the start of the Star Trek Original Series (i.e., the William Shatner series).  At least one episode of the Original Series includes characters discussing the “Battle of Axanar,” in which Garth of Izar was a heroic victor.  According to the Kickstarter campaign, “Axanar tells the story of Garth and his crew during the Four Years War, the war with the Klingon Empire that almost tore the Federation apart.  Garth’s victory at Axanar solidified the Federation and allowed it to become the entity we know in Kirk’s time.”  The preview, Prelude to Axanar, is a documentary-style telling of the Axanar battle by the characters themselves, including Garth of Izar.

Axanar Productions appears to be relying primarily on a defense of fair use.  The fair use defense considers four factors in determining whether a work that technically infringes a copyright is excused nonetheless.  The factors include: (1) the purpose and character of the use; (2) the nature of the copyrighted work; (3) the amount and substantiality of the copyrighted work used; and (4) the effect of the use on the potential market for the copyrighted work.  Some recognized forms of fair use are parody, criticism, and journalism.  While perhaps not a parody or criticism, fanfiction does seem potentially defensible under fair use, due at least to the transformative nature of the work.  That is, Axanar Productions does not seek to supplant the existing Star Trek films, books or television series, but rather to create an entirely new work with their own creative process.

A California federal district court disagreed with Axanar Productions’s fair use defense.  Ruling on motions for summary judgment earlier this month, a federal judge concluded that Axanar and Prelude to Axanar are not protected under fair use.  The court found all factors of the fair use analysis weighed in favor of CBS and Paramount.  Regarding the effect on the plaintiffs’ market, the court held that the Axanar films take the place of stories that the plaintiffs might want to create in the future or might want to license.  As David Post Points out in the Volokh Conspiracy, this results in somewhat circular reasoning—albeit reasoning supported by precedent.  Because others would be willing to pay a licensing fee to make these works, they’re not fair use.  But suggesting that others would be willing to pay a licensing fee presumes that the works are not fair use to begin with.  The case is set to begin trial on January 31st to decide the issues of “substantial similarity” between the works and willful infringement.

What do you think? Is fanfiction permissible fair use?  Should it be?  Is this another situation where a culture of information sharing and technology is at odds with antiquated IP laws?  (See Napster.)  Does it depend on profit?  (Axanar Productions maintains that it is a nonprofit organization.)  Does it depend on the funding and/or sophistication of the infringer?  And in that vein, who qualifies as a “fan?”  If Disney were to create Axanar, would that be fair use?

Notably, CBS and Paramount recently released some “Fan Films” guidelines, promising not to enforce their IP if their very specific guidelines are followed.

 

James Mahoney, Razor’s Edge Communications

Somebody might steal my ideas.

I’ve heard this consistently over the years, including in a few conversations this past month.

One was with a woman who wants to market her art as greeting cards, but is certain that the “big” card companies would copy her ideas and elbow her out.

The other was with a carpenter who’s afraid somebody will copy his unique designs and import cheap, mass-produced knock-offs from China.

So neither is doing anything to establish a market for their work.

Their fear and loathing aren’t entirely unfounded. To wit:

Not long ago, I received an emailed school photo with a cheery “Just passing along [child’s] handsome school photo. Feel free to print!”

And when a columnist for The Wall Street Journal asked business leaders about their favorite apps, one answered, “Pinterest. I’m a visual person and … We just bought a ski house in Utah that needed bunk beds. I found 185 different bunk bed photos, emailed my favorite to the contractor, and he’s building a knock-off.”

Now individually neither of these is going to break the bank for the school photographer or the creator of the original bunk bed (though in the photographer’s case, at least, the loss of income is real and could be fatal if enough people violate the copyright). But both are prime examples of the blithe indifference most people have to the copyrights and other protections of artists and artisans.

Yet is that really enough reason to never do anything with one’s creations? Does it really make sense to settle for zero market because of vague fears that someone somewhere might do you wrong?

I don’t think so.

The better course is to get educated on how to protect your work through copyright registration, trademark, etc. Then lawyer-up to take action if and when you need to, and let those puppies out of the box.

And yes, I stole the idea for the title of this DuetsBlog from Hunter S. Thompson. The irony is not lost on me.

 

Debbie Laskey, MBA

These days, as newspapers and magazines are on the wane, it seems as if anyone who can write has become an online journalist to promote his or her area of expertise. In social media lingo, the title is now known as a “blogger.”

According to Wikipedia, “A blogger is a person who keeps a blog as a major activity in his or her life…Many blogs provide commentary on a particular subject; others function as more personal online diaries; others function more as online brand advertising of a particular individual or company. A typical blog combines text, images, and links to other blogs, Web pages, and other media related to its topic. The ability of readers to leave comments in an interactive format is an important contribution to the popularity of many blogs.”

Since a blog is an important element of an overall social media marketing plan that may include sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Google Plus, it’s important to consider how the blog’s theme and content reflect a business’ or individual’s brand. Does the blog’s voice reflect the brand in a consistent manner? And, most importantly, who reviews the content before posting it live? Does only the Marketing Department review the content? Or, do the Public Relations, Technology, and Legal Departments also review the content?

There are some actions you can and should take to protect your content. First, set up daily alerts with Google Alerts and TalkWalkerAlerts with keywords such as your brand or brands, business name, and blog title. This way, you will receive immediate notification when and/if your content appears on an unknown website. Second, check out the US Government’s copyright site to answer a myriad of questions about copyrights for online content. And third, make sure to add a copyright symbol at the end of all blog posts and on all web pages.

In the words of Oleksiy Synelnychenko of IP WatchDog, “Under the DMCA or Digital Millennium Copyright Act, all content published online is protected under copyright law [because] any content, no matter the form it takes (whether digital, print, or media), is protected under copyright law.”

So, keep up the great writing, aka, blogging – just do your due diligence to protect your content.

-Wes Anderson, Attorney

A common refrain: “There must be a way to protect this idea, either by trademark or copyright.” Regrettably, in many instances, the answer is “none of the above.” Take, for example, the humble chicken sandwich.

Late last week, a three-judge panel at the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit upheld a granted motion to dismiss with a holding worthy of a double take: “the district court properly determined that a chicken sandwich is not eligible for copyright protection.”

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The plaintiff, Norberto Colón Lorenzana, was a former employee of South American Restaurant Corporation (“SARCO”), a franchisee of Church’s Chicken in Puerto Rico. During his employment as a manager, Lorenzana came up with “the concept for a new chicken sandwich that could be included on Church’s menu.” As alleged in Lorenzana’s complaint, the concept was a hit, and SARCO/Church’s began offering the new sandwich – dubbed the “Pechu Sandwich.” SARCO eventually obtained a federal trademark registration for the mark PECHUSANDWICH in 2006, though SARCO did not file a five-year declaration under Section 8, and so the registration was cancelled in 2013.

Lorenzana’s relationship with SARCO and Church’s soured from there, and Lorenzana brought suit in the District of Puerto Rico, alleging that SARCO “received economic benefits from plaintiff’s creation” without compensating him, and that SARCO “intentionally, willfully, fraudulently, and maliciously procured the registration of Plaintiff’s creation in the Patent and Trademark Office without his consent and proper compensation” — essentially a claim for fraud on the PTO. Lorenzana sought “no less than $10,000,000.00 as damages.” (You can read the full complaint here)

SARCO quickly moved to dismiss Lorenzana’s complaint, asserting that it did not state sufficient facts to allege fraud on the PTO. Ruling on the motion, the District Court for the District of Puerto Rico agreed and dismissed the claim. The court then generously read in a claim for copyright infringement (the complaint made no specific reference to copyright protection or the Copyright Act), but summarily dismissed that claim as well, holding “Neither plaintiff’s idea for the chicken sandwich recipe or the name ‘Pechu Sandwich’ is subject to copyright protection.”

Lorenzana appealed to the First Circuit, which unsurprisingly affirmed the District Court. As a quick refresher, according to Section 102 of the Copyright Act, there are eight categories of creative works eligible for copyright protection:

(1) literary works; (2) musical works, including any accompanying words; (3) dramatic works, including any accompanying music; (4) pantomimes and choreographic works; (5) pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works; (6) motion pictures and other audiovisual works; (7) sound recordings; and (8) architectural works.

Those categories make no room for recipes, which are functional directions to achieve a result rather than a creative work. Therefore, the First Circuit concluded that “[a] recipe — or any instructions — listing the combination of chicken, lettuce, tomato, cheese, and mayonnaise on a bun to create a sandwich is quite plainly not a copyrightable work.”

From there, the First Circuit turned “to the meat of [the] allegations” (pun presumably intended) and held that Lorenzana failed to sufficiently allege “that any false statement exists” that would constitute fraud on the PTO. So while the name PECHUSANDWICH is certainly eligible for trademark protection as evidenced by the registration, Lorenzana did not sufficiently allege factual grounds for fraud. Lorenzana did not claim ownership of or priority to the PECHUSANDWICH mark, presumably because SARCO, not Lorenzana, was the party to actually use the mark in commerce.

While Lorenzana is left uncompensated for his sandwich, we at least have the comfort of knowing that chicken sandwiches remain above the copyright infringement fray.

-Wes Anderson, Attorney

It has been a tumultuous year for copyright owners. The old cliche is “if you love something, set it free,” but it seems plenty of third parties are happy to take on that task when it comes to copyrighted content.

Now that mainstream smartphones allow anyone to capture high definition video, mobile apps in particular have been fertile ground for uploading and sharing infringing content. The Mayweather-Pacquiao fight in May may have smashed revenue records, but it also exposed novel methods for pirating digital content.

And even-newer apps are never far away. Earlier this month, filmmaker and popular YouTube video creator Casey Neistat released his new mobile app, “Beme” (pronounced “beam,” but also a play on “be me”). Pitched as “the simplest and most authentic way to share your experience on video,” the app takes a new approach to sharing in the same vein as Snapchat. It allows users to share video without touching a button – just by holding or blocking the iPhone’s proximity sensor near the earpiece. The app takes a four-second video and then immediately posts it on Beme’s network for followers (and strangers) to access. Once viewed, the videos disappear from a user’s timeline.

The Beme app, as seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=139&v=mixsze6uJPg
The Beme app, as seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=139&v=mixsze6uJPg

Beme may give pause to copyright owners given recent history. Consider the plight of Periscope, the live-streaming app owned by Twitter that launched in March 2015 to enormous fanfare. During the aforementioned Mayweather-Pacquiao fight, Periscope was the app du jour for watching unauthorized streams of the pay-per-view fight. It was as simple as streaming a TV screen to millions online. Periscope also became known as a popular platform for watching the latest Game of Thrones episode, much to the consternation of HBO. Twitter quickly found it did not have the adequate measures in place to police all those live streams on such a novel platform.

Is Beme the next Periscope? It’s clear that Periscope is a different breed of app – it allows a user to “stream” video live for an indefinite period of time, and videos remain accessible to the public for up to 24 hours after broadcast. Periscope also allows viewing across various mobile platforms.

As for Beme, it certainly isn’t built with the intent of sharing copyrighted content. As discussed in this video, Beme videos are limited to four seconds, and they play in relatively low quality compared to traditional HD video. The app is iPhone-only, with no Android app or web access as of yet. But there are some features that may facilitate, rather than hinder, piracy. Users can stitch an indefinite amount of four-second videos together to create a longer series of videos — and, unlike Periscope, Beme videos aren’t accessible via a public link, so infringing content could go undiscovered.

Is Beme the next frontier for copyright owners? In essence, the app’s novelty makes it difficult to predict whether it will be a platform for pirated content – that’s up to the users. In the meantime, content owners would do well to remain vigilant. And to Beme’s credit, it has deployed some measures to control the content shared through its app. Despite being a fledgling app and company, Beme wisely deployed a robust Terms of Use and DMCA Policy on its website right as the app launched. Beme doesn’t yet have a “report” button in its app, and so the sole recourse for content owners is to send a DMCA notice to Beme under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, or DMCA.

Beme's DMCA Policy
Beme’s DMCA Policy

Time will tell whether Beme’s listed contact is inundated with DMCA notices as the platform develops. If nothing else, Beme serves as a valuable case study: copyright owners must police an ever-growing library of content-sharing platforms, and mobile app developers should ensure the proper policies are in place – such as terms of use, privacy policies, and DMCA policies – to police infringing activities by users, however remote the possibility may seem.