Copyright Cowboy – The Scott Wickberg Story [Part 4]

SWickberg

Scott Wickberg

Editor’s Note: This is part four of a five-part interview with Scott Wickberg, the first individual to be targeted by the RIAA for copyright infringement for sharing MP3s online. Scott’s story started with an early interest in music, which unfortunately progressed into the events that Scott discusses with Beyond Clause 8 in this interview. Today, Scott operates the vinyl tracking website SlyVinyl and digital marketing firm Wick Creative.

Click here to return to parts one, two, or three.

To listen to the audio for this part of the interview, click here.  

Beyond Clause 8: So you’ve got the local police kicking down your door, you’ve got the [district attorney] calling you up and threatening you, you’ve got the hot chick on MTV calling your name, you’ve got your IT guy giving you jobs, what was your overall feeling? You said you were bitter and scared you might be going to jail for a long time, but were you angry that this had happened? Of course it all dawned on you and you figured out what they were accusing you of after a while, but were you angry, were you scared? What was going through your mind?

Scott Wickberg: I was mainly angry and I got really frustrated. It was exhausting. There was not one moment that I was free from it. There was no going down and getting something from the cafeteria. was no going to class; there was no going to parties. I was never free from it. Everyone always thought I was really cool, but to me, it wasn’t really cool. I wanted to go to school. I wanted to do what I came there to do. Not only did I feel like I was going to be let down, kill all my parent’s money, and go to jail for something that I had no idea I could even go to jail for, but that feeling was compounded by the fact that it never let me go. Continue reading

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The Hobbit: A Tale Of Terrible Torts

In a hole in the ground, there once lived a hobbit…who was the victim of some terrible torts. Sure, everyone is familiar with the epic tale of Mr. Bilbo Baggins and a company of dwarves who reclaimed the Lonely Mountain from Smaug the Dragon—but that is merely one side of the story. The other side is the part that Bilbo never got to tell because the wretched dwarves fled the jurisdiction of the Shire before he could file a lawsuit and provide them with service. This is Bilbo’s story: A Tale of Terrible Torts. Continue reading

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Copyright Cowboy – The Scott Wickberg Story [Part 3]

SWickberg

Scott Wickberg

Editor’s Note: This is part three of a five-part interview with Scott Wickberg, the first individual to be targeted by the RIAA for copyright infringement for sharing MP3s online. Scott’s story started with an early interest in music, which unfortunately progressed into the events that Scott discusses with Beyond Clause 8 in this interview. Today, Scott operates the vinyl tracking website SlyVinyl and digital marketing firm Wick Creative.

Click here to return to parts one or two.

To listen to the audio for this part of the interview, click here.  

Beyond Clause 8: After [your server] was operating a couple of months, walk me through what started to happen. I guess, give me little by little the blow-by-blow of what happened, whether it be by the RIAA or whoever ended up knocking on your door in your dorm room.

Scott Wickberg: It was me and my buddy Jason Thompson, and we were oddly and ironically enough sitting in my dorm room. We’re sitting in there recording music. We were actually writing and singing and playing music. The RIAA contacted the local police, the local police got a search warrant and just came and knocked on my door. I was actually right next to the RA, he was on the other side, so I thought he was like, “shut up, your music sucks,” which would have been a fair complaint.

BC8: (laughs).

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“Epic” TV Show Investigates Copyright Authorship

Everyone’s favorite teenage private eye is back! Fans have been aching for another hit of Veronica Mars ever since the CW cancelled the primetime Untitledprocedural in 2007. The television franchise has now graduated to the silver screen, and it looks like these fans have finally found some relief with the movie’s highly-anticipated release.

Even if you’re not a self-described marshmallow, and you remain completely indifferent to the charms of Veronica’s acerbic wit and sleuthing skills, it’s hard to ignore the impact of this project. Rob Thomas, the creator of the original television show, used Kickstarter, a popular online social fundraising platform, to reach out to fans and secure funding for his film. The Kickstarter campaign succeeded in raising $5.7M, which was double Thomas’ original fundraising goal, and made Veronica Mars one of the first studio films to be (nearly) 100% crowdfunded. Such a novel fundraising model has the potential to make us reevaluate how we view authorship within the context of copyright law and movies. Continue reading

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Copyright Cowboy – The Scott Wickberg Story [Part 2]

SWickberg

Scott Wickberg

Editor’s Note: This is part two of a five-part interview with Scott Wickberg, the first individual to be targeted by the RIAA for copyright infringement for sharing MP3s online. Scott’s story started with an early interest in music, which unfortunately progressed into the events that Scott discusses with Beyond Clause 8 in this interview. Today, Scott operates the vinyl tracking website SlyVinyl and digital marketing firm Wick Creative.

Click here to return to part one.

To listen to the audio for this part of the interview, click here.  

Beyond Clause 8: So you said your friends started idolizing you as the cool kid and you were all set up with the multiple CD burners and all these computers, did you become the go-to man to be able to share the music that no one else could get? Or was it hard to get everything that you were able to get your hands on through these websites?

Scott Wickberg: Yeah, it definitely evolved into that, and I don’t think it’s stopped since then. Even after things went down, I still have been that guy—like, I would make monthly mixtapes of the best songs, and I’d drop those to my friends via MP3. Now I do that via sly vinyl; I make a monthly playlist every month on our Spotify account, and it just kind of turned that way because I had access to quite a bit of resources very quickly. I loved music, so naturally you get the question of ‘hey I need a new album, what should I listen to?’ and you’re just like, ‘um…this one?’ and people say ‘man, this was great!’ then more people start asking you ‘what should I listen to?’ And in some way, when there’s not a whole lot of people out there who have that kind of access to music and listen to it as nonstop as I do, it wasn’t like there were a whole bunch of other people to ask. Now, everyone in the world has an opinion about music and has access to all of it, but back then that wasn’t really the case. So, I was somewhat in a way a gatekeeper of music. I mean, everyone could still go buy CDs, but what were you going to do, go to Hastings (laughs) and sit at the listening booth for four hours while you ask the guy who wants you to leave to open another CD for you? (Laughs) It did kind of evolve that way and it hasn’t really stopped.

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Copyright Cowboy – The Scott Wickberg Story [Part 1]

SWickberg

Scott Wickberg

Editor’s Note: This is part one of a five-part interview with Scott Wickberg, the first individual to be targeted by the RIAA for copyright infringement for sharing MP3s online. Scott’s story started with an early interest in music, which unfortunately progressed into the events that Scott discusses with Beyond Clause 8 in this interview. Today, Scott operates the vinyl tracking website SlyVinyl and digital marketing firm Wick Creative.

To listen to the audio for this part of the interview, click here.  

Beyond Clause 8: Scott, give me a bit of background about yourself. I know specifically that you operate a company called SlyVinyl. Could you tell me a little bit about that?

Scott Wickberg: Yeah. Sly actually came about because me and a buddy used to follow another blog called Vinyl Hounds. It was just some dude posting occasionally some records; there was really no other way to find limited records other than going to every label [web]site and band site. Then, [Vinyl Hounds] decided to become no longer, and I said “You know, there’s an opportunity to jump in and make a site like that.” But the thing that doesn’t make any sense about why I started it—I was saying “nobody has time to go search all these sites and find all these releases,” and so I created a project where that’s exactly what I do. (laughs) I really don’t know what motivated me to go that route. It was just, “There’s a need, let’s go fill it.” I started it, and about six months in it was an overwhelming project. So I asked guys who had been actively commenting on the blog to give me help writing, because I need help making it happen or I was going to give it up. Unanimously, fifteen of the dudes said, “We’re in.” So, it took off from that point to where we have started this group of music lovers across the world. It’s pretty cool.

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@twitter #hostage_situation

TwitterCan you imagine if you bought a website like apple.com or google.com when the internet was just gaining traction? What would it be worth today? Well, soon after Twitter first launched, Naoki Hiroshima was clever enough to register the single-letter Twitter handle @N. Over the last seven years, Hiroshima has been offered as much as $50,000 to purchase the handle, and each time declined.

Due to @N being so sought after, Hiroshima became accustomed to repeated password change verification e-mails from his PayPal and GoDaddy accounts. On January 20, 2014, after receiving an e-mail from GoDaddy notifying him that his username and password had been changed without his permission, he called to question this change. After speaking with a GoDaddy representative, it became clear that a hacker had gained access to his GoDaddy account, which was linked to his personal e-mail address. The hacker was able to pose as a PayPal employee to gain Hiroshima’s credit card information and used this information to access the GoDaddy account. With this information, Hiroshima’s e-mail and Facebook accounts had been compromised. It soon dawned on him that his @N Twitter handle was the target of the attack. He was able to secure his Twitter account for the time being by quickly changing the username and password. Continue reading

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Tattoos: Copyrightable Art or Something Else?

The other day, I caught a Hangover movie marathon, which got me thinking about copyrights.  Remember the scene in Hangover 2 where Stu (played by Ed Helms) gets that famous Mike Tyson tattoo on his face? Screen Shot 2014-03-02 at 12.34.07 AM

If you’ve ever stepped into a tattoo parlor and have art permanently etched into your skin, this may be an interesting topic for you to consider: who owns the rights to the tattoo that has become a permanent part of your body?

Copyright law requires that an artistic expression be original and fixed in a tangible medium.  If a copyright is an original work that has been fixed in a tangible medium, does that make a tattoo copyrightable subject matter?  In 2011, Federal Court Judge Catherine D. Perry stated, “Of course tattoos can be copyrighted.” Is it really that simple?

There are numerous celebrity tattoo artists who have reached fame and fortune by creating tattoo art. Some tattoo artists (such as Ed Hardy and Kat Von D) have actually licensed the use of their tattoo designs to clothing companies or have developed their own lines of merchandise. So I’m sure that many of these people would agree that tattoos are art worthy of copyright protection.

But what does the Constitution say? 

The US Constitution Art. I, §8, Cl 8 grants exclusive rights to artists for a limited time.  Those  exclusive rights include the following: 1) the right to reproduce a work, 2) the right to make derivative works, 3) the right to distribute the work to the public, 4) the right to perform the work in pubic, and 5) the right to display the work in public.  If we allow tattoos to be copyrightable, the artist would be presumed to have these exclusive rights.

In the 2011 court battle between Mike Tyson’s tattoo artist, Victor Whitmill, and producers of the Hangover movies, Warner Bros. Entertainment, Whitmill claimed that Mike Tyson signed a release granting Whitmill authorship and ownership of the tattoo and that he registered a copyright for the design.  Whitmill accused Warner Bros. of using the design without permission.  This case settled out of court, suggesting that the court would have likely ruled in Whitmill’s favor.

So, who owns your body art?

There is a difference between authorship and ownership.  The original author of a work may not be the one who has ownership of the work.  There are three possible answers to the question of ownership.  First, the author can retain the ownership rights to the art if they are the sole author.  The author has those exclusive rights that I mentioned above.

Second, the tattoo could be considered a “Work for hire,” which means that the tattoo artist is being paid to produce the art, thus the person who commissions the work would retain ownership of the work.  The person receiving the tattoo could make this argument, because the tattoo would have been prepared by the employee at the tattoo parlor and it would have been created within the scope of employment.

Last, the tattoo could be considered a joint work, such that the tattoo artist and the person getting the tattoo both retain joint ownership rights of the tattoo.  With a joint work, there needs to be intent to merge contributions into a single work and there must be intent to share authorship.  Unless the person wanting a tattoo has contributed to the design, it is unlikely that there would be a joint work argument.

Screen Shot 2014-03-02 at 12.34.19 AMAnother case arose in 2012 when MMA fighter Carlos Condit’s tattoo was used in the games UFC Undisputed 2012 and Undisputed 3.  Condit has a tattoo of a lion over his ribs and the fighter’s likeness was used in the video games along with a depiction of that tattoo.  The tattoo’s artist, Chris Escobedo, sued video game publisher THQ.  So then it becomes an issue of IP v. Privacy.  If a person is able to become identified by their tattoo, then the copyrightable art merges with their personhood and than you may have a right to publicity.

But you don’t really have to worry about your tattoo artist suing you for copyright infringement.  It’s the same concept as purchasing a painting.  If an artist sells you a painting, you have property rights of ownership.  But, if you make copies of your tattoo and sell it, you’re asking for the tattoo artist to come after you for copyright infringement.  Also, be aware that some tattoo artists have you sign contracts when obtaining a tattoo.  This may be an attempt to discourage distribution or replication of the tattoo.

Until the Supreme Court weighs in on this debate, we’re left with a few unanswered questions.  Whose celebrity tattoo will be the next one to be involved in a copyright infringement case?  In the future, we may see more and more tattoo artists asserting their artistic rights over the designs they permanently affix to a person’s body.  Ultimately, we’re left with the question of who owns a tattoo design once it has been permanently affixed into a person’s skin?  And really, we won’t know until it’s challenged and the Supreme Court can give us a more definitive answer.

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Copyright in the Spotlight

For those of us interested in ‘soft’ Intellectual Property, and by that I mean the literary folks, the musicians, and the filmmakers, an exciting time is on the horizon. The House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet heard testimony on January 14, 2014 regarding potential amendments to the existing body of copyright law. The stars among the witnesses testifying before the subcommittee included renowned copyright expert Professor David Nimmer (bow your heads in reverence), and Tulane University Professor Glynn Lunney, Jr. The two scholars offered divergent points of view regarding whether copyright law needs to acknowledge that authors possess a “making available” right, and, if so, the potential affects such an amendment might have on existing law.

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Okay SCOTUS, It’s 2014 Now

Technology is everywhere in 2014. As a society, it permeates our communication, our entertainment, our organization, and even our daily work output. So, it was certainly surprising when Justice Elena Kagan, a Justice on the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), admitted last year that “[t]he justices are not necessarily the most technologically sophisticated people” in revealing that the Supreme Court did not communicate via email. While it certainly would be humorous to review emails between Justices Scalia and Ginsburg with “The Commerce Clause” in the subject line, or to examine Justice Thomas’ three word emails, the real issue becomes whether Justices with such little knowledge of technology should be making decisions in cases that stem directly from its use.

Justice Elena Kagan

Justice Elena Kagan

Before criticizing the Justices’ lack of technological prowess, it is important to note that the Court has made good-faith attempts to modernize. For example, the Court often communicates through its staff, who are apparently well-versed in the use of email and social media. Additionally, Justice Kagan revealed that some of the Justices partook in the violent video games at issue in Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Ass’n. Although it’s difficult to imagine Chief Justice Roberts stealing virtual cars on Grand Theft Auto, it does give citizens assurance that the Court does attempt to learn about subject matter before making a ruling. Both of these accomplishments are impressive for a Court with an average age of 67. Perhaps the same efforts would be made if the Court were to consider a case involving the use of email. Continue reading

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