Category Archives: current events

#Aereo was always doomed to fail

and today it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

I have added some final thoughts on fair use to my review of the Aereo decision. You can download the Article from ssrn at this link (http://ssrn.com/abstract=2529047 …).

The main addition to my post from a few days ago is the following paragraph:

Unlike Cablevision’s remote-DVR, Aereo was an unlikely candidate for fair use. Holding that a remote DVR is fair use would be logical extension of the Supreme Court’s 1984 Sony Betamax decision. Like a VCR, a DVR simply allows the consumer to do that which they were already authorized to do more conveniently. No doubt, Aereo would make the same argument with respect to its service, but there is one critical difference. Judge Chin’s intuition that Aereo’s design was a mere “Rube Goldberg-like contrivance, over-engineered in an attempt to avoid the reach of the Copyright Act,” was spot on; however a technological contrivance should not be the foundation for a legal contrivance. The very fact of Aereo’s contrivance to avoid the public performance right is the reason why it’s fair use claim should fail. Congress amended the Copyright Act in 1976 to make the retransmission of free to air television broadcasts an additional copyright tolling point. There could not be a better argument against fair use than the fact that Aereo’s service was designed to defeat the purpose of the statute. There was no need for the Supreme Court to adopt such a tortured and opaque reading of the transmit clause of the public performance right. Aereo could have been decided as simple fair use case.

Digital Humanities and Legal Scholars in Authors Guild v. Google filed

On Thursday this week, we filed a brief on behalf over 150 researchers, scholars and educators in Authors Guild v. Google, currently on appeal to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.
The Brief of Digital Humanities and Legal Scholars argues that Copyright law is not, and should not be, an obstacle to the computational analysis of text. Copyright law has long recognized the distinction between protecting an author’s original expression and the public’s right to access the facts and ideas contained within that expression.
We are confident that the Second Circuit will vote to maintain that distinction in the digital age so that library digitization, internet search and related non-expressive uses of written works remain legal.
The final version of the brief is available on the free online repository ssrn.com at this link address: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2465413.
We are grateful for the support of so many wonderful scholars in this important case and we are even more grateful for all the fascinating research that these computer scientists, english professors, historians, linguists, and all those working in the digital humanities do to enrich our lives.
We would also like to thank The Association for Computers and the Humanities and the Canadian Society of Digital Humanities/Société canadienne des humanités numériques for their support as institutions.
Matthew Jockers
Matthew Sag
Jason Schultz

Authors Guild v. HathiTrust — Libraries 3 : Authors Guild 0

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the most important parts of the District Court decision in Authors Guild v. HathiTrust. Here is a link to the decision –AGvHathiTrust_CA2_2013.

Along with the district decision in this case and the one in Authors Guild v. Google, this makes the current score, Libraries 3 : Authors Guild 0

The decision confirms that library digitization (as performed by Google in conjunction with the University of Michigan, University of Illinois and many others) does not infringe copyright if it is done for the purpose of allowing blind and visually disabled people to read books. 

Access to the PrintDisabled
The HDL also provides print‐disabled patrons with versions of all of the works contained in its digital archive in formats accessible to them. In order to obtain access to the works, a patron must submit documentation from a qualified expert verifying that the disability prevents him or her from reading printed materials, and the patron must be affiliated with an HDL member that has opted‐into the program. Currently, the University of Michigan is the only HDL member institution that has opted‐in. We conclude that  this use is also protected by the doctrine of fair use.

The decision confirms that library digitization does not infringe copyright if it is done for the purpose  of text-mining or creating a search engine. This is core of the non-expressive use argument that Matthew Jockers, Jason Schultz and I made in the Digital Humanities Amicus Brief  (http://ssrn.com/abstract=2274832). That brief was joined by over 100 professors and scholars who teach, write, and research in computer science, the digital humanities, linguistics or law, and two associations that represent Digital Humanities scholars generally.

The crux of our argument was that mass digitization of books for text-mining purposes is a form of incidental or “intermediate” copying that enables ultimately non-expressive, non-infringing, and socially beneficial uses without unduly treading on any expressive—i.e., legally cognizable—uses of the works. The Court of Appeals appears to have agreed.

FullText Search
It is not disputed that, in order to perform a full‐text search of books, the Libraries must first create digital copies of the entire books. Importantly, as we have seen, the HDL does not allow users to view any portion of the books they are searching. Consequently,  in providing this service, the HDL does not add into circulation any new, human‐readable copies of any books. Instead, the HDL simply permits users to “word search”—that is, to locate where specific  words or phrases appear in the digitized books. Applying the relevant factors, we conclude that this use is a fair use.

The Court left itself some room to maneuver if it turns out that, for reason, digitization for non-expressive uses like text mining causes unforeseen harm in different circumstances. For example, a digitization project that did not bother with any kind of security might not be fair use.

Without foreclosing a future claim based on circumstances not  now predictable, and based on a different record, we hold that the  balance of relevant factors in this case favors the Libraries. In sum,  we conclude that the doctrine of fair use allows the Libraries to  digitize copyrighted works for the purpose of permitting full‐text  searches.

With that appropriate caveat, this is a great win for for humanity and the Digital Humanities respectively.

I am proud to have played my small part in this case over the years.

New Jersey’s anti-Tesla laws and the car dealership racket

Over 70 economists and law professors have signed a letter opposing New Jersey’s direct automobile distribution ban.

Why should you care?

This ban is aimed at keeping the Tesla electric car out of New Jersey, but this effects you even if you have no interest in an electric car. State laws protecting car dealerships add thousands of dollars to the cost of every new car.  NPR’s Planet Money program has an excellent summary of this issue.

The International Center for Law & Economics sent an open letter to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie today, urging reconsideration of the regulation.

As the letter notes:

 the regulations in question are motivated by economic protectionism that favors dealers at the expense of consumers and innovative technologies. It is discouraging to see this ban being used to block a company that is bringing dynamic and environmentally friendly products to market.

Among the letter’s signatories are some of the country’s most prominent legal scholars and economists from across the political spectrum.

Read the letter here: Open Letter to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie on the Direct Automobile Distribution Ban

Read Geoffrey Manne‘s post on Truth On The Market

Aereo, Copyright, Technological neutrality, function v. effect

American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. v. Aereo, Inc., is a case scheduled for oral argument before the Supreme Court next month. The case gives us an interesting opportunity to reassess the oft-stated aim that copyright law should be technologically neutral.

Aereo offers consumers the ability to watch live free-to-air broadcast television via the Internet with the ability to pause, rewind and fast-forward programming. Aereo provides this service by receiving free-to-air broadcast television on a vast array of micro-antennae, each antenna being dedicated to an individual subscriber. The signals so received are reduced to individual copies of individual programs. These copies are then transmitted to individual subscribers, either virtually live or at some later time. See WNET, THIRTEEN v. Aereo, Inc., 712 F. 3d 676, 680-683 (2d Cir. 2013).

If technological neutrality is a question of the effect of a given technology, then Aereo is, in effect, the same as retransmission system and thus a public performance. But if technologically neutrality is a question of function, then Aereo is a remote DVR + one-to-one performances. It is thus a copying system and not the originator of public performances.

Judge Chin’s dissenting opinion takes an effect-based perspective and argues that regardless of how the Aereo system actually works:

Aereo’s “technology platform” is, however, a sham. The system … is a Rube Goldberg-like contrivance, over-engineered in an attempt to avoid the reach of the Copyright Act and to take advantage of a perceived loophole in the law.

The Copyright Act aims for neutrality in that the public performance right in 17 U.S.C. § 106(4) is defined to include the right “to transmit or otherwise communicate a performance… to the public, by means of any device or process.” Id. § 101. But the problem with Chin’s dissent is that the “by means of any device or process” language does not mean that non-public transmissions are rendered into public transmissions simply because they have the same effect as technology we recognize as implicating the public performance right.

An effect-based vision of technological neutrality flatly contradicts the basic structure of rights under the Copyright Act. The Copyright Act defines the rights of copyright owners with respect to six particular acts–thus, for example, reproducing a copyrighted novel without permission or justification is infringement, reading a copyrighted novel is not. 17 U.S.C. §106(1)-(6).

There are many reasons why we should not disregard the technical details of a system like Aereo’s, but perhaps the most important one is simply that transforming effects into functions is not necessary. Aereo has indeed designed its system to avoid making public performances, but it has done this by adding thousands of individual copies. We should not feel the need to label every performance from a copy as a public performance given that the copyright owner also has an exclusive right to reproduce the work in copies.

This post is a reaction to Brad Greenberg’s presentation on the issue of technological neutrality in copyright at the Fourth Internet Law Scholars Work-in-Progress Symposium.

Google Books held to be fair use

Authors Guild v. Google: library digitization as fair use vindicated, again.

After more than eight years of litigation, the legality of the Google Books Search engine has finally been vindicated.

Screen Shot 2013-11-14 at 10.35.00 AM

Authors Guild v Google Summary Judgement (Nov. 14, 2013)

The heart of the decision

The key to understanding Authors Guild v. Google is not in the court’s explanation of any of the individual fair use factors — although there is a great deal here for copyright lawyers to mull over —  but rather in the court’s description of its overall assessment of how the statutory factors should be weighed together in light of the purposes of copyright law.

“In my view, Google Books provides significant public benefits. It advances the progress of the arts and sciences, while maintaining respectful consideration for the rights of authors and other creative individuals, and without adversely impacting the rights of copyright holders. It has become an invaluable research tool that permits students, teachers, librarians, and others to more efficiently identify and locate books. It has given scholars the ability, for the first time, to conduct full-text searches of tens of millions of books. It preserves books, in particular out-of-print and old books that have been forgotten in the bowels of libraries, and it gives them new life. It facilitates access to books for print-disabled and remote or underserved populations. It generates new audiences and creates new sources of income for authors and publishers. Indeed, all society benefits.”  (Authors Guild v. Google, p.26)

Even before last year’s HathiTrust decision (Authors Guild v. Hathitrust), the case law on transformative use and market effect was stacked in Google’s favor. Nonetheless, Judge Chin’s rulings in other cases (e.g. WNET, THIRTEEN v. Aereo, Inc.) suggest that he takes the rights of copyright owners very seriously and that it was essential to persuade him that Google was not merely evading the rights of authors through clever legal or technological structures. The court’s conclusion that the Google Library Project “advance[d] the progress of the arts and sciences, while maintaining respectful consideration for the rights of authors and other creative individuals, and without adversely impacting the rights of copyright holders” pervades all of its more specific analysis.

Data mining, text mining and digital humanities

An entire page of the judgment is devoted to explaining how digitization enables data mining. This discussion relies substantially on the Amicus Brief brief of Digital Humanities and Law Scholars signed by over 100 academics last year.

“Second, in addition to being an important reference tool, Google Books greatly promotes a type of research referred to as “data mining” or “text mining.”  (Br. of Digital Humanities and Law Scholars as Amici Curiae at 1 (Doc. No. 1052)).  Google Books permits humanities scholars to analyze massive amounts of data — the literary record created by a collection of tens of millions of books.  Researchers can examine word frequencies, syntactic patterns, and thematic markers to consider how literary style has changed over time.  …

Using Google Books, for example, researchers can track the frequency of references to the United States as a single entity (“the United States is”) versus references to the United States in the plural (“the United States are”) and how that usage has changed over time.  (Id. at 7).  The ability to determine how often different words or phrases appear in books at different times “can provide insights about fields as diverse as lexicography, the evolution of grammar, collective memory, the adoption of technology, the pursuit of fame, censorship, and historical epidemiology.”  Jean-Baptiste Michel et al., Quantitative Analysis of Culture Using Millions of Digitized Books, 331 Science 176, 176 (2011) (Clancy Decl. Ex. H)” (Authors Guild v. Google, p.9-10)

The court held that Google Books was “[transformative] in the sense that it has transformed books text into data for purposes of substandard research, including data mining and text mining in new areas, thereby opening up new fields of research. Words in books are being used in a way they have not been used before. Google books has created something new in the use of text — the frequency of words and trends in the usage provide substantial information.”

A snippet of new law

Last year, the court in HathiTrust ruled that library digitization for the non-expressive use of text mining and the expressive use of providing access to the visually disabled was fair use. Today’s decision in Authors Guild v. Google supports both of those conclusions; it further holds that the use of snippets of text in search results is also fair use. The court noted that  displaying snippets of text as search results is similar to the display of thumbnail images of photographs as search results and that these snippets may help users locate books and determine whether they may be of interest.

The judgment clarifies something that confuses a lot of people — the difference between “snippet” views on Google books and more extensive document previews. Google has scanned over 20 million library books to create its search engine, mostly without permission. However, Google has agreements with thousands of publishers and authors who authorize it to make far more extensive displays of their works – presumably because these authors and publishers understand that even greater exposure on Google Books will further drive sales.

The court was not convinced that Google Books poses any threat of expressive substitution because, although it is a powerful tool for learning about books individually and collectively, “it is not a tool to be used to read books.”

The Authors Guild had attempted to show that an accumulation of individual snippets could substitute for books, but the court found otherwise: the kind of accumulation of snippets that the plaintiffs were suggesting was both technically infeasible because of certain security measures and, perhaps more importantly, was bizarre and unlikely: “Nor is it likely that someone would take the time and energy to input countless searches to try and get enough snippets to comprise an entire book.  Not only is that not possible as certain pages and snippets are blacklisted, the individual would have to have a copy of the book in his possession already to be able to piece the different snippets together in coherent fashion.”

Significance

Today’s decision is an important victory for Google and the entire United States technology sector; it also confirms the recent victory libraries, academics and the visually disabled in Authors Guild v. HathiTrust.

Unless today’s decision is overruled by the Second Circuit or the Supreme Court — something I personally think is very unlikely –, it is now absolutely clear that technical acts of reproduction that facilitate purely non-expressive uses of copyrighted works such as books, manuscripts and webpages do not infringe United States copyright law. This means that copy-reliant technologies including plagiarism detection software, caching, search engines and data mining more generally now stand on solid legal ground in the United States. Copyright law in the majority of other nations does not provide the same kind of flexibility for new technology.

All in all, an excellent result.

* Updated at 4.57pm. The initial draft of this post contained several dictation errors which I will now endeavor to correct. My apologies. Updated at 5.17pm with additional links and minor edits. 

 

 

 

 

Our Robot Overlords

There is a great story today on io9.com illustrating just why automatic copyright filtering can never be a complete solution to online copyright issues. In short,

Dumb robots, programmed to kill any broadcast containing copyrighted material, had destroyed the only live broadcast of the Hugo Awards.

Apparently, a licensed clip from Dr. Who (which would have been fair use even if it had not been licensed) triggered the filtering software and exterminated the webcast. Companies like Ustream are of course free to implement whatever dumb software they like, but if filtering becomes the norm we will all be subject to prior restraint by mindless automatons. I, for one, do not welcome our new robot overlords.

Second Circuit to Hear Google’s Appeal of Class Action Certification

The order is here. It is likely that the rest of the case will be put on hold while this question is addressed, and yet the Hathitrust litigation is rolling on. The Authors Guild, which represents only 8500 authors, is trying to cash a billion dollar check (they hope) on behalf of a class of millions. Class action lawyers and copyright lawyers will be watching this case very closely.