ASCAP, AT&T and ringtones

ASCAP is suing AT&T in the USA for copyright infringements when an AT&T subscriber’s phone plays a ringtone. ASCAP is a collecting society for public performance and broadcast rights. It alleges that when the subscriber receives a phone call in, say, a restaurant and the phone plays a ringtone it is a performance in public that needs a licence.

Fred Lohman from the EFF says this claim is doomed in America. Their copyright act has §110(4) that excludes from the public performance right ‘performances made “without any purpose of direct or indirect commercial advantage.”‘

Why wouldn’t Telstra or Optus or, for that matter, Apple be liable in Australia if APRA or PPCA came calling?

We don’t have a §110(4) so, if you were in a restaurant or walking down Collins St in rush hour and your phone started playing a ringtone you had installed, you the phone owner wouldn’t be able to use Fred Lohman’s escape clause.

So could the phone company or Apple or whoever sold you the ringtone potentially be liable for authorising your infringement (if it be an infringement)? If we are still living in the world where Telstra was liable for the music on hold played by users of Telstra’s network (before the Act was changed by the Digital Agenda Act), the question doesn’t seem so fanciful?

The phone company or whoever could presumably be liable only on the basis of authorising the phone user’s conduct which would have to be infringing in itself. Now, liability for authorisation may not be a foregone conclusion; but in Cooper, the ISP was liable at least in part because it could have prevented the website even operating. Would it make a difference if the alleged authoriser just provided the phone or the ringtone?

One argument might be that if you, the subscriber, paid for and downloaded something described as a “ringtone”, there must be an implied licence. Maybe. But in an awful lot of cases, the person who can give you rights to download and store the ringtone on your phone will not have rights to license the performance right – that right will have been assigned to, you guessed it, APRA or another collecting society. Although APRA and AMCOS now seem to be “almost” the same entity.

Surely, a court would find that, although the ringtone might be heard incidentally in public by unwitting passersby or bystanders, the playing of the ringtone was really in private? Well, maybe. But then why have those exceptions in the Act for incidental uses of things like artistic works in public places (s 65) or reading or recitation of reasonable portions of published literary or dramatic works (s 45)? (At least, you wouldn’t have to pay a licence fee for the lyrics!) and making temporary copies as part of a technical process of use (s 111B)? And there is a specific statutory licence for the playing in public of sound recordings (s 108).

Maybe a court could be persuaded to look a little more liberally at whether or not a ringtone is a substantial part of the original recording? A ringtone afterall can only be 30 seconds in duration. This seems very unlikely given that 8 bars of  Colonel Bogey infringed.

Is there something wrong with the way we legislate specific exceptions for specific technological problems?

Shameless self-promotion

Turns out, I’m doing a talk on IceTV for the Victorian Society of Computers and the Law in Melbourne on Monday, 13 July 2009June 2006 at 1.00 pm.

More details here.

The Pope on IP

Howard extracts from, and links to, Pope Benedict VI’s Encyclical on Social Issues which includes some pronouncements on intellectual property: via here.

What’s the priority date for a divisional patent?

Mont has an innovation patent for a travel pack.

It sued Phoenix for infringing the innovation patent; Phoenix  counter-claimed for invalidity on the grounds of Mont’s own use commencing in October 2004.

Patents Act 1990 s 24 (read with Reg. 2.2(1A)) provides a patentee with a grace period: protecting the patentee against attacks on grounds of lack of novelty or inventive step/innovative step by reason of the patentee’s own authorised use or disclosure within the 12 months prior to “the filing date of the complete specification”.

The background was as follows:

In October 2004, it had started offering travel packs made according to the invention for sale.

In May 2005, it filed a complete application (with a complete specification) for a standard patent.

In November 2006, however, it filed a complete application (and of course a complete specification) for an innovation patent as a divisional application from the earlier standard application and this application matured into the innovation patent.

The trial judge had found that the “grace period” had to be calculated from the date of filing the complete specification for the divisional application, not the parent.

The Full Court has now allowed an appeal ruling that “the complete specification” referred to in reg. 2.2(1A) in the case of a divisional application is the complete specification for the parent.

Jagot J (with whom Emmett J agreed) explained the rationale:

76 By the provisions relating to divisional applications, the Act and Regulations establish a scheme in which an applicant may ensure that a claim for an invention that the applicant has previously disclosed in a complete specification as filed and which is within the scope of the claims of the complete specification as accepted takes a priority date as if the claim had been included in that earlier complete specification. The scheme thus ensures that the requirements of novelty and inventive step or innovative step for the claims within the divisional application (which are essential determinants of the validity of the patent application) are assessed by reference to a priority date established by the date of the earlier (or parent or original), rather than the later (or divisional) specification.
77 All features of this statutory scheme for divisional applications are consistent. Hence, the claims in any patent granted on a divisional application take the priority date of the claims in the earlier (or parent or original) application. Publications or uses of the claimed invention, after that priority date, cannot affect the validity of any patent granted. The term of any patent granted on a divisional application is also taken to have started on the same date as the date of the earlier (or parent or original) application.

76 By the provisions relating to divisional applications, the Act and Regulations establish a scheme in which an applicant may ensure that a claim for an invention that the applicant has previously disclosed in a complete specification as filed and which is within the scope of the claims of the complete specification as accepted takes a priority date as if the claim had been included in that earlier complete specification. The scheme thus ensures that the requirements of novelty and inventive step or innovative step for the claims within the divisional application (which are essential determinants of the validity of the patent application) are assessed by reference to a priority date established by the date of the earlier (or parent or original), rather than the later (or divisional) specification.

77 All features of this statutory scheme for divisional applications are consistent. Hence, the claims in any patent granted on a divisional application take the priority date of the claims in the earlier (or parent or original) application. Publications or uses of the claimed invention, after that priority date, cannot affect the validity of any patent granted. The term of any patent granted on a divisional application is also taken to have started on the same date as the date of the earlier (or parent or original) application.

Similarly Bennett J said [49]:

49 The scheme of the Act provides that, where the invention of the divisional was disclosed in the parent, the publication or use of the invention within 12 months before the filing date of the parent must be disregarded for the purposes of assessing the novelty and inventive/innovative step of each of the parent and the divisional, provided that a patent application for the invention is filed within the prescribed period. This applies where the divisional is of a parent standard patent or a parent innovation patent. Where the invention of the divisional was disclosed in the parent, the words “the complete application” in reg 2.2(1A) refer to the parent application and not to the divisional application.

Jagot J also provided a detailed rebuttal of Phoenix’ contentions.

Mont Adventure Equipment Pty Ltd v Phoenix Leisure Group Pty Ltd [2009] FCAFC 84

ps: IPTA was granted leave to intervene (and while advocating the view that the Full Court adopted, was ordered to pay any additional costs incurred by the parties as a result of the intervention).

pps:a patentee who needs to rely on a grace period to preserve the validity of the patent in Australia may well still lose the patent outside Australia where the grace period does not apply

Linking should infringe?

Judge Posner (of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in the USA) writing extra-judicially on his blog has stirred up a maelstron in the blogosphere with a typically  thoughtful and provocative post contending that linking to websites should be copyright infringement. (At the time of writing, there are only 211 comments!)

Less contentiously (at least in terms of blogosphere reaction), Prof Becker’s reaction is that newspapers are doomed:

That the Internet is a more efficient provider of news and opinion than newspapers is seen in the fact that hardly anyone under age 40 now reads papers. Readership is also declining among older persons ….

Although the printed newspaper industry is doomed, and will be missed by those of us that remember newspapers in their heyday, they are being replaced by good substitutes in the form of blogs, social networks like Facebook and Twitter, online news gathering by various groups, including newspapers, and other electronic forms of communication. People in democracies will continue to have access to independent and often quite accurate, reports on events in their own countries and most other parts of the world.

from The Social Cost of the Decline of Newspapers? Becker

Marty Schwimmer rounds up some of the reaction to Judge Posner.

Judge Posner has seized on what is widely seen as a crisis in the newspaper industry. That crisis has led Rupert Murdoch and Associated Press, in particular, to start waging a public relations war against Google. The difficulty is, if they really don’t want the links (and all the incoming traffic), they can block them quite simply.

Read Danny Sullivan’s thoughtful expose of the threadbare nature of these Emperors’ clothes: esp. here and here.

(ps Of course, here in Australia, you do have to be careful you are not linking to websites that contain infringing content themselves – Cooper v Universal.)

Upcoming copyright and patent talks

Ben Fitzpatrick will be giving his highly regarded annual update of patents for IPSANZ on 16 July at 12.15 at the RACV Club in Melbourne.

Details will be available here (in due course).

After talking in Melbourne on 3 August, Dr Gurry will be delivering a speech at the National Press Club in Canberra on 4 August and then

on 6 August, the keynote speech at the Reimagining copyright for the 21st century in Canberra at the National Gallery. In what promises to be an exciting conference, there will also be papers by:

  • Professor Brad Sherman: Key developments in the last 40 years of copyright
    that shape our thinking about the future
    * Professor Sam Ricketson: Copyright and functional products
    * Sophie Goddard SC: Development of copyright by the courts
    * Dr Matthew Rimmer: The role of fair use in creative freedom
    * Associate Professor Melissa de Zwart:The role of copyright in innovation
  • Professor Brad Sherman: Key developments in the last 40 years of copyright that shape our thinking about the future
  • Professor Sam Ricketson: Copyright and functional products
  • Sophie Goddard SC: Development of copyright by the courts
  • Dr Matthew Rimmer: The role of fair use in creative freedom
  • Associate Professor Melissa de Zwart:The role of copyright in innovation

More details from here.

Finally, details about the biennal Copyright Society Symposium on 14 and 15 October 2009 in Sydney are up here.