Pied Piper’s Trademark Problems

On a recent episode of HBO's new show Silicon Valley, the hapless coders find themselves in a bind when they realize that the "placeholder" company name "Pied Piper, Inc." was already in use by Pied Piper Irrigation, another California company. The problem is that they received a check from a venture capitalist in the name of the Pied Piper Inc. - humorous situations then ensue as the protagonist tries solve the problem - and then, I began ranting at the television to the chagrin of my wife. Why, you might ask, does this drive me crazy? Not because it is a common and overused plot point, but more notable because it gets both state registration laws and trademark laws completely wrong by muddling the laws of business registrations and trademarks. Someone already registered my business' trade name - what do I? A trade name is the name used to identify the business. States have varying restrictions on...
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France – Where Everyone Has the Right to Privacy

Article 9 of the French Civil Code provides that: "everyone has the right to privacy." A little while back Kate Middleton was spotted (via a long range lens) topless at a private residence in France.  The resulting photos ended up in the French magazine Closer. The ensuing outrage by the British and the French demonstrates an important issue when works of authorship cross international borders: namely, the U.S. expectations of privacy and Freedom of Speech laws are not embraced in the same ways in other nations and cultures. For example, the French maintain some of the strictest privacy laws in world.  These laws leave little room for arguments of news worthiness.  In fact the French go so far as to prohibit "theft of personal image," which can theoretically be used to ban the taking of photos of individuals even in public spaces.  While the U.S. states have many comparable types of laws, the extent of the French laws is illustrated by the...
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Uncle Fester and Justin Bieber

Well before before Uncle Fester shaved his head and joined the Addams Family, the actor Jackie Coogan was appearing in silent film alongside Charlie Chaplin.  Unfortunately for Jackie, his parents spent all the money from his work and when he  turned 18 he had little to show for his time on stage and screen.  The spectacle  of a child star of Coogan's stature being exploited in that way led to a California Law requiring that child performers be paid in such a way that around 15% of their pay is automatically placed into an untouchable trust fund that only they will be able to access when they turn 18 - many states around the country now have similar laws and they are typically referred to as Coogan Laws.  It is estimated that Bieber is worth around 100 million dollars.  While its impossible to know how much of that is held in a Coogan Trust, it is likely that upon his...
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Public Performance and Ringtones

As if to demonstrate why the general public continues to question the validity of all copyright claims in music, ASCAP recently provided us with one of the stupidest and greediest copyright cases in the recent past. (opinion at www.eff.org). After being sued in relationship to the reasonableness of its blanket licenses (related to its antitrust exemption), ASCAP argued that when someone's cell phone rings with a musical ringtone, the ring is a public performance of the composition and therefore the phone companies owe licensing fees for each call. The Electronic Freedom Foundation, who filed an amicus brief in the case, noted that: “Under this reasoning from ASCAP, it would be a copyright violation for you to play your car radio with the window down!" While I am not sure it is quite this bad, the arguments advanced by ASCAP do require a great deal of legal gymanstics in order to work.While the law of copyright...
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Public Performance

What is a performance license?One of the exclusive rights of composers of songs is to control the right to publicly perform the song publicly. Of course with the way that the music industry has developed, it is not practical in most cases to go to the composer each time a radio station or concert hall wants to play a song for their customers. Coming to the rescue (Debatable, but that's another post) are the folks at ASCAP, BMI, and SEASAC (and a few others). These organizations, commonly referred to as Performing Rights Organizations (“PROs”), have entered into agreements with thousands of composers and music publishers for the right to represent them and to license their music to radio stations and venues. While technically everyone involved (DJ, sponsor, and venue) can be held to jointly infringe a copyright, in practice the venue and promoter is most often the one that is expected to have obtained a license for music performed.What is...
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Tax Deductions for Creatives

As Tax day approaches its important to take into account targeted deductions that benefit Creatives. One such deduction is the Domestic Production Activities Deduction (AKA Section 199 deduction) which was meant to encourage U.S. job creation. The deduction was created in 2004 as a part of the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004 and is one of those nice benefits that is targeted at small businesses operating as sole proprietors, partnerships, LLC, or S Corps. So What? For many creative based businesses, this deduction may provide a significant deduction on gross income, based on the amount of W-2 wages spent in the production of their work. The deduction specifically singles out wages paid out in the sound recording, software (including websites), and film (excluding porn) industries, as well as producers of personal tangible items (clothing, books, etc.) for an additional tax credit against profits. What to do? Simple - if you are engaged in one of these categories, had a profit, and paid W-2...
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Music Publishing Administrator

I recently had the opportunity to consider whether a US artist with airplay in Europe would be better served to find a publisher or to simply hire an agency to administer his rights overseas. While it is hard for any self-reliant musician to pay an extra percentage for doing something that they do themselves in the US, not considering such an arrangement might be leaving money on the table.These agencies can provide independent musicians and small publishers with instant international reach, which includes their bookkeeping expertise, use of sub-publishers in other countries, administrative services to register the copyrights and to affiliate with performing rights groups, and options related to their services in shopping the music for other uses.What to look forWhen considering these groups, I recommend that you ask them about the following:Do they have experience with your type of music? (Yes)Will they register the copyright in the songs on your behalf? (Yes)Will they handle the administration of...
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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...
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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...
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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...
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