Barbie v. Bratz: Scope of employment and tainted copyrights

Think that idea that you put together in your free time is free for you to use? Think again. While not binding in any court here in Minnesota, the legal battles between Barbara Millicent Roberts (Yes, that's her full name) and Cloe, Sasha, Yasmin, and Jade recently took a turn for the worse for Bratz manufacturer MGA Entertainment Inc. and are a good example of why creative professionals need to understand what their employers view as their work responsibilities, and why companies hiring creatives need to make sure they know the origins of those great ideas coming from new employees.After a large number of Mattel employees, including Bratz designer Carter Bryant, defected and came to work at MGA and MGA launched its Bratz line, Mattel filed suit claiming the Bratz dolls were designed on their dime and therefore they held the copyright for their design. After a jury trial that resulted in a jury finding...
Read More

SPNN Presentation

I had the opportunity the other night to cover for another attorney in a presentation at the Saint Paul Neighborhood Network (SPNN) regarding copyright law, release forms, and fair use in video production. I typically enjoy these programs, as I always learn new things based on the questions I receive. As I experienced when I conducted a similar presentation last year to a national association of public media, the questions were well thought-out and addressed the many of central legal issues that new comers and old hands alike run into when creating video productions. Unfortunately, many of the questions necessitated the maddeningly frustrating answer of "it depends." This a problem that aggravates many clients, because obviously if they are paying for your expertise, they expect concrete, text book response. Unfortunately, to fully resolve most people’s questions related to fair use and privacy rights requires a fuzzy answer, as various criteria must be weighed against one another and more than...
Read More

Election Judge

I had the fortune to serve as an election judge last Tuesday. Even though the day is long (16 plus hours), performing that service is one that I enjoy every time I do it. Not only is having the opportunity to serve the community a positive experience, but having the opportunity to see my neighbors come through the door to exercise their civic voice is a joy that I can recommend to everyone. This year was no exception and in many ways it was even more enjoyable as the number of first time voters was high.In many ways the outcome here in Minnesota is illustrative of the importance of exercising that civic voice. The presidential race was one in which, through the power of many first time voters, an "improbable" candidate was elected and a milestone in our nations history has been reached - regardless of your opinion of the outcome, there can be...
Read More

Liability for Withholding Passwords

Update (6/8/10): Terry Childs was found guilty of one felony count of denying computer services. Does your company have a clear policy concerning who may receive admin passwords? The city of San Francisco apparently has some problems in this area. Terry Childs IT manager Terry Childs was arrested earlier this year for refusing to provide administrative passwords for the city's computer network. The city alleges that he was setting up a network that he could take over remotely and take down at his whim - Mr. Childs claims that the policies of the city did not allow him to provide the passwords to his managers and that once he turned them over to the Mayor, the management simply didn't understand the technology enough to understand how to use them. Apparently out of fear that his release will result in a melt down of the city's computer network, the judge in the case has set bail at 5 million dollars, as opposed to a lower...
Read More

Jacobsen v. Katzer – Open Source infringment

In August, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit issued a ruling (Jacobsen v. Katzer) that has been widely discussed as acknowledging the rights of developers of open source software. This opinion, while not necessarily binding in Minnesota, is helpful in illustrating important issues that relate not only to open-source software licensing and development but to general contracts that apply to everyone.The dispute involved an open-source developer and a company that used the open-source code as a part of their own software. Despite a license that required that the open-source developer be credited and copyright information retained in subsequent use of the code, the defendant stripped out this information. The issue was whether failing to provide this information caused the subsequent software to be an infringement of the plaintiff’s copyright, or whether it was simply a breach of contract - the difference meaning considerably different remedies.The opinion contained an extensive discussion on the importance of “conditions” verses...
Read More

Copyright Basics

Every once and a while it is good to go back to basics.What is a copyright?A copyright is a set of rights (often referred to as a "bundle of rights") afforded to the owner of original works. Under federal law these rights include the right to reproduce the work, prepare derivatives of the original, and the right to perform the work publicly. By controlling these rights the owner may receive income from licenses in the form of royalties or directly from the sale of these rights.How do I get a copyright?Under current U.S. law all that is required to get a copyright is that the original work be "fixed" in a "tangible form." For example, if you are a writer, once the words appear on the page (or on computer disk) you have a copyright. There are no registration requirements to obtain the copyright, however, in order to enforce the copyright the work must be registered with the Copyright Office...
Read More

Poor Man’s Copyright

A frequent comment I hear when talking with musicians is that they think mailing a copy of their music to themselves will work just like a copyright registration, but cheaper. This is sometimes known as a "Poor Man's copyright." While this might (and I use the term loosely" be helpful from an evidence standpoint, it doesn't really help with who created it and it will likely run into all kinds of evidentiary problems. Writers are much better off going ahead and filling out the copyright application. By filing a registration you set yourself up to collect attorney's fees and potentially higher damages if you have to file a lawsuit. By the way, in order to even get into a court on a claim of copyright infringement you have to file a registration, but if you wait to long to register you may lose out on some forms of damages.The better advice is to always put together a...
Read More

Morals Clause

What does a "morals clause do?MoralityThe basic idea is simple - if you are in the public eye and you do something stupid and doing that stupid thing makes the purpose of the contract frustrated, then the other party can say I'm canceling the deal. For example, lets say the Queen of England enters into a contract with a department store to endorse its new clothing line "Queen." She might have a clause in her deal that says something likeQueen agrees to conduct herself with due regard to public conventions and morals, and agrees that she will not do or commit any act or thing that will tend to degrade her in society or bring her into public hatred, contempt, scorn or ridicule, or that will tend to shock, insult or offend the community or ridicule public morals or decency.She then gets arrested for soliciting men in a downtown Minneapolis hotel. The Department store has an interest in protecting its...
Read More

Non-compete is based on customers, not location.

While worker non-competes have are generally construed against the employer, the standard of enforceability in the sale of a business in more liberally interpreted in favor of the party seeking to enforce, as it is focused on whether the restriction is reasonable to protect the goodwill of the business that was sold.When selling his optometry business, Jay Peterson agreed not to “participate, compete or be engaged in the business of optical goods . . . within a five-mile radius of . . ." the location of his former business. After a dispute arose concerning the terms of the sale, Peterson opened a new practice ten miles away, which would have been fine except for the fact that he then took out advertising in the newspaper located in his old town encouraging clients to come and see him at the new location. In February, the Minnesota Appellate court ruled that the Peterson could be prevented from placing those advertisements even though...
Read More

Minimum Contacts in A Virtual World

This article was orignally printed in Minnesota Bench & Bar (February 1998)Each month thousands of American businesses create new Internet sites in order to market and distribute products and services nationally or internationally. The ease of using the Internet for global marketing has struck down many of the previous financial and legal hurdles that companies were required to clear. Consequently, many businesses are rushing forward without considering the possibilities that they may be subjected to the jurisdiction of distant states or nations, and courts increasingly are finding that web pages create the minimum contacts necessary to exercise personal jurisdiction over distant defendants. Thus, the challenge for attorneys is to help businesses use this vibrant medium without being subjected to the jurisdiction of foreign states and countries. The rest of this article can be found at kunklelaw.net...
Read More