July 2010 Archives

While not as exciting as the new phone books, the Copyright Office released its latest rulemaking on exemptions to the DMCA prohibition on circumventing technological protection measures of copyrighted works: Rulemaking on Exemptions from Prohibition on Circumvention of Technological Measures that Control Access to Copyrighted Works. The current exemptions include:

  1. Short clips from DVD's "when circumvention is accomplished solely in order to accomplish the incorporation of short portions of motion pictures into new works for the purpose of criticism or comment" to meet the goals of fair use for:
    1. Educational uses by college and university professors and by college and university film and media studies students;
    2. Documentary filmmaking;
    3. Noncommercial videos.

  2. Programs to enable phone handsets to execute software applications (phone "jailbreaking.")

  3. Computer programs that enable used wireless telephone handsets to connect to a wireless telecommunications network with the permission of the network owner

  4. Technological protection methods on computer-based video games, when circumvention is accomplished solely for the purpose of good faith testing for, investigating, or correcting security flaws or vulnerabilities, if the information derived from the security testing is used primarily to promote the security of the owner or operator of a computer, computer system, or computer network; and the information derived from the testing is used in a manner that does not facilitate copyright infringement or a violation of applicable law.

  5. Computer programs protected by dongles that prevent access due to malfunction or damage and which are obsolete.

  6. Literary works distributed in ebook format when all existing ebook editions of the work contain access controls that prevent the enabling either of the book’s read-aloud function or of screen readers that render the text into a specialized format.

Links
EFF: EFF Wins New Legal Protections for Video Artists, Cell Phone Jailbreakers, and Unlockers "The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) won three critical exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) anticircumvention provisions today, carving out new legal protections for consumers who modify their cell phones and artists who remix videos — people who, until now, could have been sued for their non-infringing or fair use activities."

Nate Anderson, Ars Technica, Apple loses big in DRM ruling: jailbreaks are "fair use" "This time, the Library went (comparatively) nuts, allowing widespread bypassing of the CSS encryption on DVDs, declaring iPhone jailbreaking to be 'fair use,' and letting consumers crack their legally purchased e-books in order to have them read aloud by computers."

Jon Healey, LA Times, More legal reasons to circumvent electronic locks: "The biggest beneficiaries may be documentary filmmakers and iPhone software developers. The former gained permission to circumvent the Content Scramble System software on DVDs to copy short portions of copyrighted motion pictures for non-infringing uses. In an interesting twist, the copyright office extended the exemption to anyone making a documentary, not just members of a recognized group of filmmaking professionals."

MGE v. GE
In other DMCA Anti-Circumvention news, the Fifth Circuit ruled last week that in order to deserve protection under the anti-circumvention provisions, the technological prevention measures need to protect an action that copyright law reserves for the copyright owner. MGE UPS Systems Inc. v. GE (5th Cir. Jul. 20, 2010)

Merely bypassing a technological protection that restricts a user from viewing or using a work is insufficient to trigger the DMCA's anti-circumvention provision. The DMCA prohibits only forms of access that would violate or impinge on the protections that the Copyright Act otherwise affords copyright owners… Without showing a link between “access” and “protection” of the copyrighted work, the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provision does not apply. The owner's technological measure must protect the copyrighted material against an infringement of a right that the Copyright Act protects, not from mere use or viewing.

GE was using a version of MGE's systems that were modified to work without a copy protection dongle, but GE was not otherwise infringing on any of MGE's copyrights. The circumvention was done to use the MGE products that GE purchased, but not to distribute or perform copies of MGE's copyrighted works.

Nilay Patel, Engadget, Did the Fifth Circuit just make breaking DRM legal? Not quite.

Previously, the Second Circuit and Supreme Court disagreed on whether the FCC Indecency regulations were arbitrary and capricious (the Second Circuit finding that they were adopted arbitrarily and capriciously and the Supreme Court overturning and ruling that the Commission ruled on a rational basis to extend indecency enforcement.) In its first pass at this case, the Second Circuit avoided ruling on whether the FCC indecency regulations violated the First Amendment because the Commission failed to satisfy the APA's prohibition on arbitrary and capricious regulations.

Today's ruling goes to the core matter: whether the FCC's indecency regulations are compatible with the First Amendment. In Fox Television Stations v. Federal Communications Comm., the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the FCC indecency regulations violate the First Amendment because they are unconstitutionally vague, creating a "chilling effect that goes far beyond the fleeting expletives at issue here."

Although the Supreme Court found broadcast indecency regulation Constitutionally permissible, this court notes the vast change in the media landscape and technological empowerment that makes broadcast less particularly pervasive than it was in 1978. "The past thirty years has seen an explosion of media sources, and broadcast television has become only one voice in the chorus. Cable television is almost as pervasive as broadcast – almost 87 percent of households subscribe to a cable or satellite service – and most viewers can alternate between broadcast and non-broadcast channels with a click of their remote control."

Where individuals have the option to block content or channels, as on cable television, the First Amendment does not support bans on indecency that are as large. In US v. Playboy, the Supreme Court found that a technology that could block access to channels on a house-by-house basis made a content-based speech restriction unconstitutional.

The court notes that most modern televisions and DTV converter boxes that allow older TV sets to pick up today's broadcast television signals are equipped with the V-chip, that allows individual television owners to block potentially offensive content from entering their homes. (Previously: Are Indecency Regulations Obsolete?

There is considerable disagreement among the parties, however, as to what framework Pacifica established. The FCC interprets Pacifica as permitting it to exercise broad regulatory authority to sanction indecent speech. In its view, the Carlin monologue was only the most extreme example of a large category of indecent speech that the FCC can constitutionally prohibit. The Networks, on the other hand, view Pacifica as establishing the limit of the FCC’s authority. In other words, they believe that only when indecent speech rises to the level of “verbal shock treatment,” exemplified by the Carlin monologue, can the FCC impose a civil forfeiture. Because Pacifica was an intentionally narrow opinion, it does not provide us with a clear answer to this question. Fortunately, we do not need to wade into the brambles in an attempt to answer it ourselves. For we conclude that, regardless of where the outer limit of the FCC’s authority lies, the FCC’s indecency policy is unconstitutional because it is impermissibly vague.

Vague rules for what constitutes impermissible indecency has a chilling effect on speech. To the extent that restrictions on speech are Constitutional, they must be specific and clear to avoid having a chilling effect on speakers. The prohibition on vague regulations (the vagueness doctrine) serves several important objectives in the First Amendment context:

  • First, the doctrine is based on the principle of fair notice.

  • Second, the vagueness doctrine is based 'on the need to eliminate the impermissible risk of discriminatory enforcement.' Specificity, on the other hand, guards against subjectivity and discriminatory enforcement.
  • Although the Commission sought to give broadcasters guidance in its 2001 document, Industry Guidance on the Commission’s Case Law Interpreting 18 U.S.C. § 1464, the court finds that the Commission's policy is overly vague, especially after the changes to the fleeting expletive rule.

    "The Commission argues that its three-factor “patently offensive” test gives broadcasters fair notice of what it will find indecent. However, in each of these cases, the Commission’s reasoning consisted of repetition of one or more of the factors without any discussion of how it applied them. Thus, the word “bullshit” is indecent because it is “vulgar, graphic and explicit” while the words “dickhead” was not indecent because it was “not sufficiently vulgar, explicit, or graphic.” This hardly gives broadcasters notice of how the Commission will apply the factors in the future.

    "The English language is rife with creative ways of depicting sexual or excretory organs or activities, and even if the FCC were able to provide a complete list of all such expressions, new offensive and indecent words are invented every day.

    "The FCC’s current indecency policy undoubtedly gives the FCC more flexibility, but this flexibility comes at a price. The “artistic necessity” and “bona fide news” exceptions allow the FCC to decide, in each case, whether the First Amendment is implicated. The policy may maximize the amount of speech that the FCC can prohibit, but it results in a standard that even the FCC cannot articulate or apply consistently."

    Because indecency seems to be a case-by-case judgment (where the Commission knows it when it sees it), the court worries that the FCC could apply discriminatory enforcement to chill speech from particular speakers or particular types of speech.

    "We have no reason to suspect that the FCC is using its indecency policy as a means of suppressing particular points of view. But even the risk of such subjective, content-based decision-making raises grave concerns under the First Amendment. Take, for example, the disparate treatment of “Saving Private Ryan” and the documentary, “The Blues.” The FCC decided that the words “fuck” and “shit” were integral to the “realism and immediacy of the film experience for viewers” in “Saving Private Ryan,” but not in“The Blues.” Fox, 489 F.3d at 463. We query how fleeting expletives could be more essential to the “realism” of a fictional movie than to the “realism” of interviews with real people about real life events, and it is hard not to speculate that the FCC was simply more comfortable with the themes in “Saving Private Ryan,” a mainstream movie with a familiar cultural milieu, than it was with “The Blues,” which largely profiled an outsider genre of musical experience."

    This has a chilling effect on speech.

    "Under the current policy, broadcasters must choose between not airing or censoring controversial programs and risking massive fines or possibly even loss of their licenses, and it is not surprising which option they choose. Indeed, there is ample evidence in the record that the FCC’s indecency policy has chilled protected speech.

    "During the previous proceedings before this Court, amicus curiae gave the example of a local station in Vermont that refused to air a political debate because one of the local politicians involved had previously used expletives on air. The record contains other examples of local stations that have forgone live programming in order to avoid fines. For instance, Phoenix TV stations dropped live coverage of a memorial service for Pat Tillman, the former football star killed in Afghanistan, because of language used by Tilliman’s family members to express their grief. A station in Moosic, Pennsylvania submitted an affidavit stating that in the wake of the FCC’s new policy, it had decided to no longer provide live, direct- to-air coverage of news events “unless they affect matters of public safety or convenience.” If the FCC’s policy is allowed to remain in place, there will undoubtedly be countless other situations where broadcasters will exercise their editorial judgment and decline to pursue contentious people or subjects, or will eschew live programming altogether, in order to avoid the FCC’s fines. This chill reaches speech at the heart of the First Amendment.

    "As these examples illustrate, the absence of reliable guidance in the FCC’s standards chills a vast amount of protected speech dealing with some of the most important and universal themes in art and literature. Sex and the magnetic power of sexual attraction are surely among the most predominant themes in the study of humanity since the Trojan War. The digestive system and excretion are also important areas of human attention. By prohibiting all “patently offensive” references to sex, sexual organs, and excretion without giving adequate guidance as to what “patently offensive” means, the FCC effectively chills speech, because broadcasters have no way of knowing what the FCC will find offensive. To place any discussion of these vast topics at the broadcaster’s peril has the effect of promoting wide self-censorship of valuable material which should be completely protected under the First Amendment."

    And while solidly striking the current indecency regulations as unconstitutional, the court leaves the possibility that the Commission could come up with indecency enforcement regulations that would be constitutional (after all, the Second Circuit can't overturn Pacifica.)

    Sheet Music Sharing

    While most of the discussion of online music sharing has focused on P2P sharing of MP3 encodings of sound recordings, there is also a scene sharing copies of copyrighted sheet music. Broadway composer Jason Robert Brown decided to take a stand by registering for one of the most popular sheet music swapping sites and asking people trading copies of his sheet music online to stop, with casual, friendly, personal e-mails. He had an exchange with one teenager who wants copies of Brown's music without having the means to buy it online: Fighting With Teenagers: A Copyright Story

    On Jun 28, 2010, at 4:39 PM, Brenna wrote:

    Alright, "Mr. Brown" I have a problem and that problem is your fault. I need the sheet music to "I'd Give It All For You" but thanks to your little stunt, I can't get it. And I cannot just go to the store and buy it. My parents don't support my theatre all that much and they won't buy it for me. And I need it pronto. If you're actually Jason Robert Brown, what can you do to help me with my situation?

    On Jun 28, 2010, at 7:43 pm, Jason Robert Brown wrote:

    Well, that's a stupid question, Brenna. If you "needed" to go see Wicked tonight, you'd need to pay the $140 to do it or you just wouldn't be able to go. And if you couldn't go, you'd have to go do something else. Likewise, you should pay for things that other people create, or you should content yourself with the free and legal options available to you.

    The sheet music costs $3.99, you can download it in one minute, and you're doing the legal and correct thing. That's what I can do to help you.



    The entire exchange is interesting.

    Here is an example of the exact type of creator that copyright law should be protecting -- a younger composer still creating works. By having income generated by his copyrighted works, through the sale of sheet music, licensing performances and recordings, it encourages Brown to continue composing and creating more, since he can focus on creating, rather than a day job.

    Reposting copyrighted sheet music online doesn't fall into a copyright grey area, it's simple straightforward infringement.

    Is this a generational divide? As the first generation to grow up with the internet, are today's teenagers just used to taking information freely off of the internet?

    David Pogue shares a letter from MIT Media Lab's Michael Hawley, who has compliled 15 gigabytes worth of scans of scores. Hawley writes, "I play the piano. Over the years, I have collected 15,000 piano scores in PDF form, covering about 400 years of classical keyboard works. It’s like lint in the drier of the Internet. Much of it is not available anywhere for purchase, or even findable in libraries for circulation. Max Reger’s arrangement for two pianos of Wagner’s overture, for instance? Well, the Max Reger Institute in Karlsruhe, Germany has a copy…"

    Assuming that most of these are old scores, this is an entirely different issue. It is not piracy or copyright infringement. If these scores are in the public domain, there's no copyright infringement to scan and publish them online. If students need access to scores, an internet archive of public domain scores are all perfectly legal to host and publish.

    Of course, some of these scores may be of works that are out of print, but still protected by copyright. In that case, it's an orphan works issue, which gets into the more interesting gray areas of copyright law.

    And finally, there's the issue of transcriptions of songs, which we last discussed in 2006 with relation to guitar tabs: Everything Old is New Again, in Bb.