Important Copyright Tips For Businesses
Copyrights are very powerful rights but often are not fully understood or protected by business owners. Here are some important tips about copyrights with which all businesses should be familiar:
- Register: Businesses should identify and register their copyrights within 90 days of the publication of the copyrighted work.
- Notice: Even though not required, we strongly recommend that businesses place an appropriate copyright notice on all copyrighted works to discourage infringement and cut off the “innocent infringer” defense.
- Rights: All businesses must make sure that they have the right (documented in writing) to use any copyrighted materials created by others. Copyright issues sometimes can be hard to spot so we strongly recommend that businesses retain an experienced intellectual property attorney to conduct a periodic intellectual property audit.
- Agreements: All businesses must make sure they have appropriate written agreements in place with employees and other creative personnel regarding ownership and use of copyrighted materials (including, most particularly, materials created by employees and contractors) as well as agreements establishing the right to use copyrighted materials owned by others.
- Insurance: Businesses involved in any way in areas that involve the creation and use of copyrighted materials should explore obtaining insurance for infringement claims. Please note that most commercial general liability policies do not cover intellectual property claims – the purchase of separate coverage usually is required.
- Infringement: Businesses should take seriously any infringement of its copyrighted materials as well as claims of infringement asserted by third parties. In both situations, the business should promptly consult with an experienced copyright lawyer to determine an appropriate and cost-effective course of action.
Supreme Court to Hear Fight Over Cheerleader Uniforms
On September 30, 2015, we posted about a recent case that addressed whether decorative aspects of cheerleader uniforms could be the subject of copyright protection. Our September 30 post can be found here: https://affinitylaw.wordpress.com/2015/09/30/three-cheers-for-the-wood-flooring-recent-cases-confirm-copyright-protection-for-cheerleader-uniforms-and-wood-flooring-pattern/
The United States Supreme Court recently decided to review the case. More information can be found in this recent article in The Hollywood Reporter: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr-esq/supreme-court-hear-fight-cheerleader-889321
As the article notes, while the case nominally is about cheerleader uniforms, the Supreme Court’s decision could have far-reaching implications for Hollywood and could set boundaries on the copyright protection afforded to costumes. Stay tuned to this space for updates.
A Brief History Of Copyright Litigation About Popular Songs
Many of our readers may have read with interest the recent media about the copyright litigation concerning Led Zeppelin’s iconic “Stairway to Heaven” where the owners of the rights to a song entitled “Taurus” put out by the 60s band Spirit have sued Led Zeppelin for copyright infringement by the song “Stairway to Heaven.” This is just the latest in a long line of lawsuits involving alleged infringement and plagiarism of the rights to popular songs. Accusations of musical plagiarism are a recurring phenomenon, but only rarely end up being heard in formal legal proceedings. Many readers will remember the 2015 case where a jury awarded damages of $7.2 million against Robin Thicke and Pharrel Williams for infringing the copyright in Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up.” These artists settled out of court because their songs too closely resembled songs by other artists:
Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” (1969) – Willie Dixon’s “You Need Love” (1962).
George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” (1970) – The Chiffons’ “He’s So Fine” (1962).
Rod Stewart’s “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” (1978) – Jorge Ben’s “Taj Mahal” (1972).
Steely Dan’s “Gaucho” (1980) – Keith Jarrett’s “Long As You Know You’re Living Yours” (1974).
Ray Parker Jr.’s “Ghostbusters” (1984) – Huey Lewis & The News’ “I Want a New Drug” (1984).
Hootie & The Blowfish’s “Tangled Up in Blue” (1995) – Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue” (1975).
Janet Jackson’s “Got ‘Til It’s Gone” (1997) – Des’ree’s “Feels So High” (1991).
The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony” (1998) – The Rolling Stones’ “The Last Time” (1965).
Avril Lavigne’s “Girlfriend” (2007) – The Rubinoos’ “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” (1979).
Here are some sound-alike songs where copying has been rumored but have not resulted in formal legal cases:
Led Zeppelin’s “Since I’ve Been Loving You” (1970) – Moby Grape’s “Never” (1968)
Steely Dan’s “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” (1974) – Horace Silver’s “Song for My Father” (1964)
Steve Miller Band’s “Rock n’ Me” (1976) – Free’s “Alright Now” (1970)
The Eagles’ “Hotel California” (1976) – Jethro Tull’s “We Used to Know” (1969)
Robbie Dupree’s “Steal Away” (1980) – The Doobie Brothers’ “What a Fool Believes” (1979)
Belinda Carlisle’s “Heaven Is a Place on Earth” (1987) – Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name” (1986)
R.E.M.’s “Hope” (1998) – Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne” (1968)
Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Dani California” (2006) – Tom Petty “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” (1993)
Bruce Springsteen’s “Radio Nowhere” (2007) – Tommy Tutone’s “867-5309/Jenny” (1982)
Prince’s “Guitar” (2007) – U2’s “I Will Follow” (1980)
Given the enduring popularity of “Stairway to Heaven,” the potential infringement damages could be massive – it will be interesting to see if Led Zeppelin chooses to litigate or settle out of court. Stay tuned.