December 9, 2005
SF Police Officers Suspended Because of Video; But Is It Art?
Nearly twenty San Francisco police officers have been suspended as a result of their involvement in the making of videos that show cops in what the Mayor, Chief of Police and many others regard as racially and sexually objectionable scenes. The officers claim they were meant as parodies intended as "comic relief" for a holiday party. City officials have launched an investigation, which may result in criminal charges against the officers. One of those being investigated, Andrew Cohen, has retained attorney Daniel Horowitz, who has advanced a First Amendment defense for his client. He told ABC that Cohen is "an artist" and said that Cohen included "social commentary" in the video. Read more here.
Vikram David Amar's Second Column on "Commander in Chief" and Constitutional Law
Vikram David Amar returns with another look at constitutional law and the tv series "Commander in Chief" here.
December 7, 2005
Copyright Infringement Suit Against Mary J. Blige Thrown Out
U. S. District Court Judge Charles S. Haight Jr. has thrown out a copyright infringement lawsuit against Mary J. Blige and several of her co-writers brought by Sharice Davis, ruling that Davis' co-writer had assigned his rights in the songs at issue to one of Blige's co-writers. The plaintiff "conceded that the Disputed Compositions were co-authored by non-party Bruce Chambliss, defendant Miller's father....Davis registered the Disputed Compositions with the United States Copyright Office on two occasions, listing Chambliss as a co-author....In deposition testimony, Miller likewise asserts that Chambliss is the author of Disputed Composition "L.O.V.E."....Miller also presents two written agreements...., in which Chambliss assigns his rights in each of the Disputed Compositions to Miller....The Written Agreements each provide that "[Bruce Chambliss] does hereby sell, assign, transfer and set over to unto Bruce Millerd/b/a/ CWAB Music (SESAC), its successors and assigns, an undivided one hundred percent (100%) share in and to all of [Bruce Chambliss's] right, title and interest in the [Disputed Composition] of the universe-wide copyrights in and to the musical composition....' According to Defendants, the Written Agreements served to memorialize a prior oral transfer...Davis hotly contests the existence of any oral transfer...."
The judge granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment on all federal law claims. He declined to assert jurisdiction over the state law claims. "The defendants' motion rests upon Chambliss' alleged transfer to Miller of his rights in the Disputed Compositions. The defendants content that Chambliss orally transferred this rights sometime between late 1998 and early 1999, and that this transfer was ratified by the Written Agreements...signed on June 23, 2004. The Copyright Act requires that transfers of copyright ownership be made in writing. The writing requirement may be satisfied, however, by the copyright owner's subsequent execution of a writing confirming the earlier oral agreement....A number of inconsistencies are apparent in the testimony describing the allged oral transfer and subsequent written confirmation....Chambliss claims he was motivated to sign over his rights in all of his musical works to his son because he knew he would be going to prison....The earlier incarceration took place between the creation of the Disputed Compositions, whereas the later sentence was served after the song "L.O.V.E." has already been used by Miller....Thus Chambliss's recollection appears to be in error. Chambliss' timing is not only internally inconsistent, it is also contradicted by the testimony of Miller, who dates the transfer to either late 1998 or early 1999....Neither Chambliss nor Miller provides any further details...They both testify simply that Chambliss orally transferred all the songs had had ever written to Miller. Furthermore, the existence of the alleged oral agreement was unknown to any of the other parties involved...until Miller's deposition on December 9, 2003....Finally, Davis maintains that Chambliss told her, in the presence of a witness...that she could have all the songs they had co-written, that those songs were hers to keep and to do with them as she wished....Taken together, these inconsistencies amount to a factually issue that must be resolved by a finder of fact. Inr resolving all ambiguities and drawing all inferences against Defendants, as the movants, I conclude that a reasonable jury could find an oral agreement never existed between Chambliss and Miller.
"Since a genuine issue exists as to whether Chambliss ever orally transferred his rights in the Prior Compositions to Miller, the Court need not consider whether the Written Agreements are sufficient to satisfy the writing requuirement as a written ratification of a prior ratification of a prior oral transfer. Defendants contend, however, that even if there was no prior oral transfer...the written agreements would nonetheless be valid to defeat Davis' claims. I agree. Defendants agree that, as a co-owner of the copyright in the Disputed Compositions, Chambliss may grant a retroactive license to the works that cures past infringement. The Written Agreements...serve to retroactively transfer the Disputed Compositions to Miller. Defendants argue that, having effected authorization from one joint copyright owner, they are immunized from any copyright infringement action brought by the other joint owner. Dispute the factual questions that abound...there exists no genuine issue as to the intent of co-author Chambliss to transfer his right to Miller....When there is no dispute between transferor and transferee of a copyright as to the validity of the transfer, such a transfer has been consistently upheld. This is the case even when the license or transfer taken place after the institution of an action for copyright infringement..."
The case is Davis v. Blige, 2005 U. S. Dist. LEXIS 29483 (2005)(U.S. Dist. Ct. S. D. N.Y.).
December 6, 2005
More About Wikipedia
The AP's Dan Goodin has more about changes to Wikipedia here.
What's Wrong With Wikipedia
When John Seigenthaler found a fake biography about himself on Wikipedia, the massive Internet encyclopedia, maliciously and falsely linking him to the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy, he tried to get it corrected, and then wrote about it in USA Today. In that piece he suggests that the problem is the anonymity of Wikipedia authors, and by extension Section 230 of the CDA. Possibly; he could also have fixed the page himself, although that might have led to a recurring war between himself and the anonymous author over the text. In an interview on NPR's Talk of the Nation today Seigenthaler said that he has no interest in participating in the Wikipedia project and thus did not edit the bio himself. He also revealed that a great deal of additional malicious information appeared in the bio, leading to the Wikipedia editors' decision to "protect" the page.
Meanwhile, the story continues to engender debate, not only over defamation on the Internet and the general issue of the credibility of Internet sources, but more specifically over Wikipedia and the measures its founders have taken to fix the problem Seigenthaler's fake bio has brought to light. What was previously hailed as Wikipedia's great experiment--the communal nature of the project which allowed all comers to contribute information to a massive online encyclopedia--has now given way to a new directive which recognizes that a great many people may not know as much as they think they do and some people may not have benign intentions. Only registered Wikipedia users will be allowed to "contribute new pages" although anyone can edit them. During the Talk of the Nation interview Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales explained that once pages are created, they enter a kind of "watch list". He maintains that non-registered users pose less of a danger as editors than they do as creators of pages. Meanwhile, traces of the fake Wikipedia Seigenthaler bio still circulate on the 'net.
Is Copyright a Good Idea?
In an essay in the International Herald Tribune, Joost Smiers and Marieke van Schijndel imagine a world without the protections of copyright.
Julie Hilden on Tom Cruise's Potential "Outing" Lawsuit Against South Park
FindLaw's Julie Hilden considers the recent "South Park" episode that suggestsTom Cruise is gay and analyzes a potential Cruise v. South Park lawsuit. Could Cruise win such a suit? Should he file one? Read more here.
December 5, 2005
University Drops Charges Against Student Photographer
The University of Pennsylvania has decided to drop disciplinary proceedings against a student who took photographs through a dorm window of a couple having sex and then posted them online on his campus website. One member of the couple alleged that she had been sexually harassed.The University charged the student with misuse of University resources and sexual harassment but declined to continue proceedings after the media and bloggers around the country focused attention on the story. Read more on the initial investigation here and on the resolution here.
John Dean on Justice Scalia and New York Times v. Sullivan
Findlaw's John Dean has some thoughts on the landmark ruling New York Times v. Sullivan, and on Justice Scalia's views on the same subject. Read more here.