Selma and the Intellectual Property involving Dr. King’s famed speeches.
Best Picture Oscar Nominee, Selma is a a cinematic portrayal of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legendary march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in support of the Voter Right’s Act of 1965. Despite the film’s many accolades, history buffs have been quick to raise criticism for its technically inaccurate portrayals of King’s famous speeches. In an effort to avoid violating the copyrights held by King’s estate – which have been reportedly licensed to DreamWorks and Warner Bros. for use in an upcoming film – director Ava DuVernay chose instead to paraphrase Dr. King’s works. The commentary surrounding this decision has run the gamut from enthusiastically supporting the King estate’s exercise of its rights, to decrying the copyright system for failing to make such socially important content available for free dissemination. It is easy to be swept up by the emotion displayed on both sides of the spectrum, especially when King’s work has had such a profound effect in shaping the social and political climate we face today. Still, it is important to put the copyrights at issue into perspective.
Frustrating though it may be to lack unfettered access to King’s speeches, the court of public opinion is not be the body that determines which art and which technology should be protected by the law. Indeed, the copyright and patent laws that govern such things have been put in place precisely in order to ensure that the often artful and intangible objects of our creation are indiscriminately provided with some manner of protection in the same way that our personal property is.
The issue here is not resolved by arguing that King’s speeches are so important that performing them verbatim should fall within the realm of allowable, license-free “fair use.” Indeed, had DuVernay proposed using King’s speeches for the purpose of criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research, using the his words without a license would arguably be allowable. Instead, DuVernay would have used the work to draw a profit for herself and her associates through a wildly successful feature film. And it is precisely this unlicensed commercialization of his copyrighted works that King’s estate has consistently fought against with support from the courts.
The famous literary detective Sherlock Holmes experienced a renaissance when new breath was given to him by Robert Downey, Dr. in the Guy Richie films and, more recently, in the television shows Sherlock and Elementary. Since then, the copyright status of Detective Holmes has become a subject of much debate and, inearly 2013, scholar Leslie Klinger brought suit a to determine who indeed owned
In a suit brought against the estate of the detectives creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Klinger asked the courts to rule that the characters and other elements featured in 46 short stories and 4 novels (published from 1887 through 1922) are now in the public domain. A ruling in his favor would leave him, and others, free to sell their own adaptations of the Sherlock universe without any need to seek licenses from the Doyle estate.
The Supreme Court laid the issue to rest once and for all and Klinger got just what he wanted. On November 3, 2014, the Supreme Court did so by refusing to
because their features had been changed in later stories. Accordingly, any copyrights covering the elements of the Sherlock Holmes stories written prior to 1923 are now expired.
grant an appeal by the Doyle estate and by upholding a decision by the 7th Circuit. This decision held copyright protection in Conan Doyle’s characters, many of which are now more than 125 years old, could not be extended simply.
We’re curious to know which Sherlock stories would you like to reimagine?
The Beastie Boys are threatening to take legal action over a video set to their 1986 song “Girls.” This video depicts children building a Rube Goldberg-type machine and replaces lyrics such as “Girls — to do the dishes/ Girls — to clean up my room/” with the less offensive “Girls – to build the spaceship/ Girls — to code the new app.”
The video’s creator is claiming protection under the copyright doctrine of parody which is a form of fair use while attorney’s for the Beastie Boys assert the video is a “big problem” that has a “very significant impact.”
Share your views on this David and Goliath type copyright battle below.
Patent trolling has long been on the minds of law makers seeking to put an end to this practice. Reform seems closer today than ever before as the House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte released a discussion draft aimed at preventing abusive patent troll litigation.The Chair has indicated he will hold a hearing and committee vote on this new piece of legislation very soon. The new law sets its sites on adding more hurdles before patent trolls to shield inventors from unscrupulous tactics that may stifle innovation.
Google has made it even easier for pro se inventors to conduct their own patent searches. The search giant has released information about their expanded database of patents beyond the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Now users can research patents in agencies including China, Germany, Canada, and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). This resource can be accessed at patents.google.com. This a good place for inventors to start learning about what patent applications look like before seeking the advice of a patent professional.