Archive for September, 2008

Jammie Thomas wins – sort of?

Friday, September 26th, 2008

Ms Thomas, a single mother of two, is was the first person successfully prosecuted to a substantive trial by the RIAA in the USA for copyright infringement by P2P file “sharing” – using KaZaa, she downloaded and “shared” 24 copies of protected sound recordings.

The jury awarded RIAA statutory damages of US$220,000 by the jury (or $9,250 per song file downloaded).

Well, (pending the appeal), it’s all coming unstuck – a bit.  The trial judge, of his own motion (they do things differently over there?), recalled the matter, heard further argument and has granted a retrial on the basis that his instruction to the jury was erroneous. 

Jury Instruction No. 15 was as follows:

“The act of making copyrighted sound recordings available for electronic distribution on a peer?to?peer network, without license from the copyright owners, violates the copyright owners’ exclusive right of distribution, regardless of whether actual distribution has been shown.”  

The error appears to be in those words “regardless of whether actual distribution has been shown”.  

US copyright law, like much in the US I guess, is rather different.  The US Copyright Act does not include a “making available” right (see art. 8 WCT and arts 10 and 14 WPPT).  In the funny way they do things there, copyright owners do not get an exclusive right to communicate a work electronically; rather they get – in addition to publication and reproduction rights – (1) a right to publicly perform it and (2) to distribute copies: see 17 USC §106, in particular (3):

(3) to distribute copies or phonorecords of the copyrighted work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending.”   

The “public performance” right is how they provide control over broadcasting.  It turns out, however, that distributing copies requires that there be an actual distribution, not just a making available for distribution.

Four comments:

First, the trial judge has granted a new trial.  

Even on the narrow approach taken by the trial judge (putting to one side the potential for an appeal), Ms Thomas seems to be extremely exposed.  For example, the RIAA argued that the error didn’t matter because Ms Thomas infringed the copyright by downloading the recordings: an exercise of the reproduction right.  The trial judge noted that may well be right, but it was impossible to tell whether the jury awarded the US$220,000 damages on the basis of infringing the reproduction right or the erroneous instruction no. 15, or some combination of factors.

Similarly, the only proof of “distribution” was the copy downloaded by the RIAA’s private investigator.  Ms Thomas argued that this could never be a distribution because the copyright owner (and its authorised agents) can’t infringe its own copyright.  The trial judge rejected this:

The Court holds that distribution to MediaSentry can form the basis of an infringement claim.  Eighth Circuit precedent clearly approves of the use of investigators by copyright owners.  While Thomas did not assist in the copying in the same manner as the retail defendant in Olan Mills – by actually completing the copying for the investigator – or as the retail defendants in RCA/Ariola – by assisting in selecting the correct tape on which to record and helping customers copy – she allegedly did assist in a different, but substantial manner.  Plaintiffs presented evidence that Thomas, herself, provided the copyrighted works for copying and placed them on a network specifically designed for easy, unauthorized copying.  These actions would constitute more substantial participation in the infringement than the actions of the defendants in the Eighth Circuit cases who merely assisted in copying works provided by the investigators.   

That is, by using KaZaa, Ms Thomas placed (whether knowingly or not) unauthorised copies of the recordings in her “shared” file so that other KaZaa users could access it and copy it.  That would be sufficient for liability for distribution if a copy were shown actually to be distributed.  A retrial was necessary, however, because it wasn’t possible to tell how much that infringing act contributed to the damages award and how much as a result of the erroneous Jury Instruction No. 15.

Secondly, the trial judge’s interpretation of the distribution right seems somewhat narrower than what some people had been arguing: that distribution required distribution of physical copies, not transmission of electrons.

Thirdly, Ms Thomas’ imaginary Australian cousin, would not have much hope: see e.g. ss 31(1)(a)(iv) and 85(1)(c) of the Copyright Act 1968, bearing in mind the “communicate” is defined in s 10910 to mean

make available online or electronically transmit (whether over a path, or a combination of paths, provided by a material substance or otherwise) a work or other subject-matter, including a performance or live performance within the meaning of this Act.

and there would also be the small matter of the reproduction of the infringing copy on her computer.

She would not of course be exposed to statutory damages.  As Howard Knopf, over at Excess Copyright notes, the trial judge is extremely upset about the imposition of statutory damages in this context.

Although if the imaginary Australian cousin continued after receipt of a letter of demand “additional damages” might loom large: see Review v Innovative Lifestyle at [55] – [65] (a registered designs case).

Finally, trade war?  Well, not yet.  Who knows whether there will be an appeal and how long it will take.  In any event, the making available right is in the WIPO Copyright Treaty and the WIPO Performers and Phongrams Treaty.  These are not obligations that are required to be implemented by TRIPS and so are not subject to the WTO dispute resolution procedures.

But hey, may be Australian copyright owners could lobby the Australian government and get it to take matters up under the Free Trade Agreement procedures.  One can imagine (well fantasise is perhaps more accurate) that the US administration and Congress would be terrified at the offence to their treaty partner’s rights amidst all that Wall Street “flu”.  At least, it might be something to poke them back in the eye with (in due course and providing they are not wearing lipstick).

Case is Capitol Records Inc v Jammie Thomas here.

Barefoot deeper into the drink

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

Not only did E & J Gallo fail in its infringement action against Lion Nathan’s Barefoot Radler mark for beer, but Lion Nathan successfully applied to get E & J Gallo’s trade mark removed for non-use.  Various grounds were advanced to support the use of the trade mark.  The surprising thing about this second part of the case, however, is that wine labelled with E & J Gallo’s trade mark was actually sold in Australia during the relevant non-use period.

(For the background and the first part of the case see here.)

The non-use period ran from 2004 to 2007.  E & J Gallo had acquired the trade mark by assignment in January 2005.  Neither E & Gallo’s predecessor, nor E & J Gallo had exported wine under the trade mark to Australia in the relevant period.  

What happened was that E & J Gallo’s predecessor had exported some 60 cases of wine to Germany in 2001.  Somehow, some of this wine made its way to Australia and was offered for sale, and sold, by someone known as Beach Avenue Wholesalers.

Flick J rejected the contention that the fact of the offering for sale and sale by Beach Avenue Wholesalers was sufficient to constitute use of the trade mark.  His Honour also rejected the contention that Beach Avenue Wholesalers, someone who neither E & J Gallo nor its predecessor ever knew of or heard about was an authorised user of the trade mark.

His Honour distinguished Estex Clothing Manufacturers Pty Ltd v Ellis & Goldstein Ltd (1967) 116 CLR 254 on the grounds that the trade mark owner there had consciously projected its goods into the course of trade in Australia.

One interesting thing about this approach is it is directly at odds with the cases, and reasoning, on why parallel imports don’t infringe trade marks: the fact that the trade mark owner had put the goods on the market anywhere was and is sufficient.

An appeal from Flick J’s decision is scheduled for hearing in November, NSD1085/2008

Innovation review

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

I’m still wading my way through the Innovation Review.

Meanwhile Duncan Bucknell is highly critical, particularly of recommendation 7.2:

Recommendation 7.2: Patent law should be reviewed to ensure that the inventive steps required to qualify for patents are considerable, and that the resulting patents are well defined, so as to minimise litigation and maximise the scope for subsequent innovators.

As Duncan points out, what does this actually mean?  Well, Ben Roxborough at IPRoo thinks we should pay much more attention to this recommendation as it appears to be, or be very close to, what IP Australia thinks should happen.  Follow Ben’s link from here.

If that is right, then there must be a very good chance that, whatever it means, it is going to happen.

One certainly can’t quibble with the idea that patents should be certain and clear in scope.  Indeed, Besson & Meurer contend that one of the main reason why the patent system in the USA is not working properly is precisely because patents there are not clear and certain in scope. (Blog summaries here and here.)

Given Australia’s role as an IP importer, and bearing in mind we have the innovation patent too, one can’t really quibble with the idea that we shouldn’t be granting standard or “real” patents for things that wouldn’t get patented overseas – well, I suppose one can quibble, but I’m not at all sure what would be the justification for allowing patents in Australia which are not patentable elsewhere.  

(As an aside, I wonder how requiring more inventiveness, if it can be defined, fits in with having innovation patents – which are certainly real – but for rather more limited, limited terms.)

In the Alphapharm case (see esp. [80 -81], however, the majority of the High Court pointed out that there didn’t seem to be a “standard” international approach.  On the other hand, there is some evidence emerging that it may be easier to get patents in Australia than Europe and Japan but, possibly, not the USA.

If that is what the evidence does suggest, one might then have to go on to ask (amongst other things) how much of the difference is due to, say, EU-centric rules like no patents on computer programs as such?

Now, I have previously mentioned that Prof. Mark Lemley provides one of the clearest explanations I have come across on whay that is not a good idea (listen to podcast #62).  And that was in the context of considering patentable subject matter.

And guess what, that is the subject of another Australian governmental review.  So, it looks like change is coming.  Perhaps, you should get involved?

On recommendation 7.3:

Recommendation 7.3:  Professional practitioners and beneficiaries of the IP system should be closely involved in IP policy making.  However IP policy is economic policy. It should make the same transition as competition policy did in the 1980s and 90s to being managed as such.

I can’t do better than quote the new DG:

In this regard, it is useful to remember that intellectual property is not an end in itself. It is an instrumentality for achieving certain public policies, most notably, through patents, designs and copyright, the stimulation and diffusion of innovation and creativity on which we have become so dependent, and, through trademarks, geographical indications and unfair competition law, the establishment of order in the market and the countering of those enemies of markets and consumers: uncertainty, confusion and fraud. In the end, our debates and discussions are about how intellectual property can best serve those underlying policies: whether modifying the international framework will enhance or constrain innovation and creativity and contribute to their diffusion, and whether it will add confusion, rather than clarity, to the functioning of the market.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t tells us in any particular case whether more protection or better exceptions are required.  It does, however, remind us what the rules are trying to balance.

The Secret – more forum wars

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

Late in July, Sundberg J found that Australia was clearly an inappropriate forum to litigate the dispute over ownership and infringement of copyright in the film and the book, The Secret.  Now there is an appeal on foot.

To recap: interests associated with Ms Rhonda Byrne commenced proceedings in Australia claiming to be the owner of copyright in the film of The Secret.  Drew Heriot was the director of the film – there is a dispute between the parties over whether he was employed by one of the Byrne interests or the respondent in this proceeding.  In any event, the Heriot interests brought parallel proceedings in the USA.

Sundberg J considered Australia was clearly an inappropriate forum.  Broadly, this was on the basis that it was necessary to have regard to the whole dispute between the parties, not just the component of the litigation relating to Australia.  On that basis, by far the greater amount of damages at stake were those for infringement in the USA (the book has featured on Oprah, amongst others) and only the US court would have power to amend or correct the US Register of Copyrights.  The judge in the US has apparently reached a similar conclusion.

Now, the question in Australia is who should hear the application for leave to appeal: a single judge or the Full Court.  Heerey J has directed that the matter go before a Full Court and, subject to any directions by the Full Court, be heard concurrently with, or immediately before, the appeal.

His Honour considered that the Byrne interests would suffer substantial prejudice if it turned out that Sundberg J’s decision was wrong:

9 However the US proceeding will deal not only with copyright ownership, but with questions of infringement and damages, issues which do not arise in the Australian proceeding. There will be a significant burden, both financial and otherwise, on the applicant in having to contest that proceeding. Moreover, as Mr Batt for the applicant points out, his client’s Australian proceeding was commenced first, seeking a remedy under Australian legislation arising out of events which allegedly took place in Australia. The opportunity for the applicant to contest, and possibly win, the Australian proceeding, without having to defend the more extensive US proceeding, is something of real value, the loss of which arguably amounts to real injustice, supposing Sundberg J’s decision to be wrong. Apart from anything else, victory in the Australian proceeding may create some issue estoppel in favour of the applicant, or give it leverage in commercial negotiations.

Heerey J did avoid the question of whether the decision was in fact wrong.  It was not the subject of detailed submissions by either party.  In any event, experience taught that the two questions could not often be treated in a vacuum.  Moreover, there was a chance the matter could be dealt with in the November sittings if not before.

TS Production LLC v Drew Pictures Pty Ltd [2008] FCA 1329

Misleading or deceptive conduct?

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

Lilly has a patent in Australia for “difluro nucleoside antivirals”.  In January 2000, it was granted an extension of term for the patent until March 2009.  In March 2008, Interpharma brought proceedings to have the extension of term revoked.

One of the grounds for Interpharma’s action was that Lilly had engaged in misleading or deceptive conduct contrary to the Trade Practices Act 1974 to secure the extension of term.  (For those interested in the technicalities, the application for an extension was said to claim that the substance claimed in claims 1 to 4 of the patent was a substance listed on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods – see Patents Act s 70.)

Sundberg J granted summary judge against this claim on the grounds that, even if it were misleading or deceptive, Lilly’s application to and communications with the Commissioner were not conduct in “trade or commerce”.  Lilly was of course engaging in trade and commerce, but what needed to be shown was that the representations were made in the course of a trading or commercial relationship between Lilly and the Commissioner.

Lilly also obtained summary judgment against Interpharma’s remaining claims on the basis of Interpharma’s delay.

The extension was granted in 2000 and by s 75 (and the regulations) anyone wishing to challenge must file an opposition within 3 months.

Interpharma did not come into existence until 2 years after the extension of term was granted. Sundberg J was particularly critical of Interpharma’s delay after it became aware of the extension of term – a period of 7 months including 5 months after obtaining the complete file from the Commissioner and the institution of proceedings.  However, his Honour’s reasoning would appear to be much broader:

40 I agree with Lilly that once the opposition period has expired and an extension is granted, the patentee and third parties are prima facie entitled to proceed on the basis of the extension. Admittedly, one must take into account that the applicant was not incorporated until nearly two years after the extension. Nevertheless, the public interest to which I have referred is relevant notwithstanding that. As a matter of fairness in the administration of the patent system, it would be extraordinary if extensions could be challenged some eight years after grant. Even taking into account the applicant’s date of incorporation, it would still be extraordinary that a challenge could be made six years after that.

The case is Interpharma Pty Ltd v Commissioner of Patents [2008] FCA 1283.

Australian on top

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

On 22 September, Dr Francis Gurry’s election as the next Director General of WIPO was unanimously confirmed by the General Assembly.  His term starts on 1 October.  His appointment runs until 2014.

WIPO Press Release here.  Dr Gurry’s acceptance speech and his plans here.

Congratulations, Dr Gurry!

Brazil apparently took the opportunity to point out that one of the challenges lying ahead is centralising control over enforcement issues.  For this and a summary of events see William New at Intellectual Property Watch.

ACTA-phobes

Friday, September 19th, 2008

The “gang” secretly negotiating ACTA (the Anti-Counterfeitng Treaty) is starting to attract increasingly organised opposition:

*  “100 groups” (ranging from the EFF in the USA to the Australian National University to …) have signed a “letter” challenging much of what is (assumed) to be going on behind closed doors

* China, supported by Brazil and India, amongst others, has launched a campaign to force ACTA back into WIPO

Of course, one might speculate that the developing countries or the “South” (in a non-US civil war sense) might feel they have better voting prospects in WIPO than, say, a treaty which is being negotiated without them by, apparently,  Australia, Canada, European Union, Japan, Jordan, Korea, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, Switzerland, United States, and the United Arab Emirates.  Then again, one might wonder if that will dissuade the gang of 13 (if one may count the EU as “one”) from rushing headlong onwards?

University of WA v Gray (No. 24)

Friday, September 19th, 2008

What do you do if you have an appeal on foot, but the other side starts selling off the subject matter of the dispute?

Now that French J has gone on to loftier planes, Siopis J has inherited this behemmoth.

In the principal proceedings, the University had sued Dr Gray claiming (in very broad terms) that he had invented some very successful the micro sphere technologies while an employee with the consequence that he held the rights to the technologies on trust for the University.  Dr Gray, however, had sold the IP to Sirtex in which, after its public listing, he became the owner of a large parcel of shares.

Dr Gray and Sirtex had given undertakings not to deal with the IP or the shares pending trial of the matter.

The action failed, but the University has appealed and the appeal is due to be heard in November.  

The undertakings also lapsed when French J gave his judgment.  Dr Gray and Sirtex refused to continue the undertakings pending the appeal.  Despite diligent monitoring by the University’s solicitors, Dr Gray sold both his shares in Sirtex to another company, ACN, of which he was the sole shareholder and director.

The University did two things.  First, it sought interlocutory injunctions against Dr Gray and ACN to restrain dealing in the shares in ACN and the proceeds of the sale of the shares to ACN.  Secondly, it sought to amend the application in the original proceeding to add ACN as a party and bring new claims against it – remember, judgment has already been given and there is an appeal on foot.

While Siopis J acknowledged there were cases where originating documents and pleadings could be amended, even after judgment, this was not one.

13 In my view, O 13 is not to be construed as permitting the amendment of the originating application or pleadings to plead causes of action based on facts and matters which occurred after the date of the judgment. A construction of the Rules which would permit amendment in those circumstances would be inconsistent with the finality principle and the principle that an appeal in this Court is by way of a rehearing directed at correcting error. (See Branir Pty Ltd v Owston Nominees (No 2) Pty Ltd (2001) 117 FCR 424 at 432-440.) The policy considerations militating against the University’s contention are expressed in the following observations of Gibbs CJ, Wilson, Brennan and Dawson JJ in Coulton v Holcombe (1986) 162 CLR 1 at 7:

It is fundamental to the due administration of justice that the substantial issues between the parties are ordinarily settled at trial. If it were not so the main arena for settlement of disputes would move from the court of first instance to the appellate court, tending to reduce the proceedings in the former court to little more than a preliminary skirmish.

So, the amendment application was refused.  However, the interlocutory injunction was granted and the University ordered to commence a separate proceeding against Dr Gray and ACN within 7 days.

University of Western Australia v Gray (No 24) [2008] FCA 1400

Patents List procedures

Friday, September 12th, 2008

The Victorian Bar’s website has posted the Victorian Registry’s new Notice on Patents List procedures:

Notice to Practitioners and Litigants issued by the Victorian District Registrar –  Proceedings under the Patents Act 1990 (Cth) dated 2 September 2008.

They don’t seem to be up on the Federal Court’s site yet.

Australian Innovation Review

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

The Government has released the Report On The Review Of The National Innovation System. 

You can download copies of the Report, an Overview, the 3 different press releases, the Minister’s introductory remarks and the Minister’s speech from here.  I wonder if the prospects of implementation are increased or decreased by the quantity of media assistance?

As the Report points out, “we have known for several generations that innovation pre-eminently determines our prosperity.”

And yet:

as a share of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Australian Government support for science and innovation, has fallen by nearly a quarter. Also the number of researchers per 1,000 employees has declined substantially in the last decade, and US patents granted per 1,000 population have plunged from 0.06 to 0.01 (1999–2003). And yet during this time, the public revenue was fed by a torrent of cash from the mineral boom. 

There are 201 pages, plus 7 annexes.  There are 15 pages of recommendations.

Interestingly, there is also a software analysis of the main themes identified in submissions and, very usefully, the Departmental summary of the submissions.

Comments can be submitted to the Ministry until (at least) 23 September 2008.  Well, it is almost 2 weeks!