Posts by Public Knowledge:

A 2008 Copyright Office policy decision has resulted in cable operators getting charged copyright royalties for transmissions of broadcast content that do not actually take place — transmissions referred to as “phantom signals” since they eerily appear on copyright holders’ balance sheets, but not on a cable subscriber’s television screen.  Now, this really starts to sting when you realize that the cost to cable operators of these rather spooky royalties charges necessarily get passed on to cable subscribing consumers for content they never actually receive!

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An article in the New York Times caught my eye last week.  Apparently, the name “Dark ‘n’ Stormy” to describe a beverage made from rum and ginger beer is a trademark registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.  Now, the Times article took a rather light-hearted approach to the issue here, likely because the proposition is somewhat laughable, but if you stop to think about it, this is actually a little scary.  Just a few weeks ago my roommate offered me a Dark ‘n’ Stormy, and I’m as sure that he failed to use the two ounces of Gosling’s Black Seal rum required for the legal use of the trademarked name as I am that he had no idea the name of the drink he’d just made was trademark-protected in the first place.
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There was a lot of talk last week regarding the proposition that strengthening copyright laws might be necessary to protect news sources from online “free riders.”  Even our own Harold Feld chimed in, in this week’s episode of “5 Minutes with Harold Feld”.  The flurry of commentary on this was owed in large part to a post by Judge Posner on his Becker-Posner Blog.  The most relevant (and divisive) sentence in the post is the following:

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This past Monday, the Federal Circuit ordered a full court review of Tafas v. Doll, the case that is challenging the Patent and Trade Office's (PTO) proposed rules for limiting patent application continuations. These rules would require that more information be submitted with patent applications that contain a large number of claims. In a friend-of-the-court brief (PDF) filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, The Public Patent Foundation, PK and other public interest groups urged that a decision by the Federal District Court for Eastern Virginia blocking the proposed rules be overturned.

These proposed rules are needed to help reduce abuses of the current continuation process.

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Last week, the jury in the retrial of Ms. Jammie Thomas-Rasset found that the willful infringement of the copyrights of 24 songs–about 2 CDs worth–warrants the awarding of statutory damages of $1.92 million. That is $80,000 per song, a huge increase over the $220,000 awarded in the original Thomas trial. Given the massive sum awarded by the jury, Ms. Thomas-Rasset, a mother of two with modest means, will now likely spend the rest of her life in debt. At present, it seems that her only hope is a constitutional challenge to the damages award, which her legal team has already filed. The sheer magnitude of these damages has started a debate over statutory damages and whether they are just as currently applied by the courts. In this blog post, I will discuss two situations where these damages are currently being unjustly applied: suits against private citizens and suits against businesses.

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You may have read recently that the US Supreme Court declined to take up the Cablevision case. This was where Hollywood studios and some cable networks sued Cablevision for providing essentially a network-based TiVo, where the programs that the subscriber requested to be recorded were saved on Cablevision’s servers, not on the box that sat atop their television. That the Court decided to let the appeals court’s decision stand — that Cablevision was not directly liable for public performances — is a good thing because it’s a ray of hope that lets online service providers know that (for now) they’re free to develop innovative “cloud-based” services. Which is where I come in…

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At the beginning of June, the FCC's Media Bureau handed down a decision allowing Evolution, Inc. to produce a low-end* digital-to-analog set-top box to aid in the digital TV changeover.

Why is this a bad thing? Because the integrated decryption component in Evolution's box sounds a death knell for the competitive market.

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Last week in DC, CISAC, a France-based international umbrella organization for collecting societies, sponsored the 2nd "World Copyright Summit."  This event was billed as a "2-day event where the shape and impact of the new creative, economic, technological and legal environment can be discussed." As a hardcore copyright geek, I was excited to attend the event. It appeared promising; with PK's President Gigi Sohn on the first panel, I was hoping to hear some lively discussions focused on users rights, new media and new business models.   Unfortunately, PK's appearance on the first panel was the end of the public interest focus of the conference.  The rest of the conference focused almost entirely on how to get collecting societies paid with no connection to the real innovations going on in copyright. 

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Greetings, all! My name is Matthew McHale, and I'm the first of Public Knowledge's interns to arrive for the summer.

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