For the last twenty years, the music industry has been in a pitched battle to combat unauthorized downloading of music. Initially, the industry focused on filing lawsuits to shut down services that offered peer-to-peer or similar platforms, such as Napster, Aimster and Grokster. For a time, the industry started filing claims against individual infringers to dissuade others from engaging in similar conduct. Recently, the industry has shifted gears and has begun to focus on Internet Service Providers (ISPs), which provide Internet connectivity to their users.

The industry’s opening salvo against ISPs was launched in 2014 when BMG sued Cox Communications, an ISP with over three million subscribers. BMG’s allegations were relatively straightforward. BMG alleged that Cox’s subscribers are engaged in rampant unauthorized copying of musical works using Cox’s internet service, and Cox did not do enough to stop it. While the DMCA provides safe harbors if an ISP takes appropriate action against “repeat infringers,” BMG alleged that Cox could not avail itself of this safe harbor based on its failure to police its subscribers.
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As regular readers of Socially Aware already know, there are many potential traps for companies that use photographs or other content without authorization from the copyright owners. For example, companies have faced copyright infringement claims based on use of photos pulled from Twitter. Claims have even arisen from the common practice of embedding tweets on blogs and websites, and we have seen a flurry of stories recently about photographers suing celebrities for posting photos of themselves.

Now there is another potential source of liability: the appearance of murals in the background of photographs used in advertisements. In at least two recent cases, automotive companies have faced claims of copyright infringement from the creators of murals painted on buildings that appear in the backgrounds of ads.

Most recently, in a federal district court in the Eastern District of Michigan, Mercedes Benz sought a declaratory judgment that its photographs, taken in Detroit (with permits from the city) and later posted on Instagram, did not infringe the copyrights of three defendants whose murals appeared in the backgrounds of those photographs.
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It is likely no surprise to regular readers of Socially Aware that posting content to social media can, in some cases, generate significant income. But those who make their living on social media may find their livelihood threatened if they fail to comply with the law and with the relevant platform’s terms of use.

For example, we often see trouble arise when social media users fail to follow the Federal Trade Commission’s disclosure rules in connection with receiving compensation in exchange for a promotional post, or when users purchase followers—a practice that violates most social media platforms’ terms of use, and might be illegal. As we have noted previously, the social media platform and not the user sets the rules. If your business model is built on a social media platform, you have play by the platform’s rules.

Earning an honest living is what Instagram user “Ben” (the pseudonym assigned to him by MarketWatch) claims to have been doing when he was taking in approximately $4,000 per month by operating and curating several accounts containing memes originally created by third parties. (For those who have somehow managed to avoid this ubiquitous Internet phenomenon, Wikipedia describes a meme as a “piece of media that spreads, often . . . for humorous purposes, from person to person via the Internet.” The article at this link contains some examples.)
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A federal district court dismissed a case against supermodel Gigi Hadid for posting to Instagram a photo of herself that was taken by a paparazzo. The reason for the court’s decision was simple: The party claiming copyright ownership of the photo failed to get it registered with the U.S. Copyright Office, a prerequisite to filing

In March, Socially Aware reported on a lawsuit involving several prominent news outlets’ publication of a photo of NFL quarterback Tom Brady on Twitter. The case had the potential to upend a copyright and Internet-law rule that, in the words of a Forbes columnist, “media companies had viewed as settled law for over a

The Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market (Directive) was finally approved by all EU legislative bodies on April 15, 2019. Introducing “modernizing EU copyright rules for European culture to flourish and circulate” was a key initiative of the European Commission’s Digital Single Market (DSM), which, according to the Commission’s President Jean-Claude Juncker, has now been completed by the Directive as “the missing piece of the puzzle.” The Directive was approved, just in time for the elections to the EU Parliament taking place in May 2019. Within a period of 24 months, the Member States are required to implement the Directive’s provisions into national law.

Various Member States have issued, along with their approval of the Directive, statements regarding their interpretation of the Directive and voicing quite different views about the upcoming implementation process. While Germany strongly opposes the notion of upload filters, it appears that France is in favor of a copyright protection mechanism that includes upload filters. At the same time, it remains a pressing question whether currently available algorithm-based filters would even be able to sufficiently differentiate between infringing and non-infringing content.
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A new law in Australia makes a social media company’s failure to remove “abhorrent violent material” from its platform punishable by significant fines. The law also states that the executives at social media companies who fail to remove the content could be sentenced to jail time.

The European Parliament voted to approve the Copyright Directive,

As consumers increasingly communicate and interact through social media platforms, courts have had to grapple with how to apply existing laws to new ways of communicating, as well as disseminating and using content. Sometimes, however, traditional legal standards apply to these new platforms in a straightforward manner. At least, that is what the court found in Dancel v. Groupon, Inc., a putative class action against Groupon, Inc., alleging that Groupon’s use of images originally posted on the social media site Instagram violated users’ rights under the Illinois Right of Publicity Act (IRPA).

Groupon, a website that offers consumers deals on goods and services, built a widget intended to provide its users a window into businesses for which Groupon offered deals. The widget used Instagram’s API to find photos that Instagram users had taken at particular locations, and then displayed those images under the deals offered on Groupon’s own website.  When a visitor to the Groupon page hovered his or her mouse over the Instagram images, the Groupon user could see the username of the person who posted the photo on Instagram and an associated caption, if there was one.

Dancel, who maintains an Instagram account with the username “meowchristine,” took a selfie of herself and her boyfriend in front of a restaurant and posted it on Instagram with a tag noting the name of the restaurant. Groupon later displayed this photograph, among others, in connection with its deal for the same restaurant.
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In 2019, the European Court of Justice (CJEU) is expected to clarify one of the key open issues in EU copyright law: the extent to which online platforms such as YouTube can be liable for copyright infringement caused by user-generated content—content uploaded on to the Internet by users such as music, videos, literature, photos, or the streaming of live events such as concerts. The CJEU decisions are eagerly awaited by both media and copyright owners and by online platform operators—and will mark yet another stage in the on-going battle of the creative industries against copyright infringements in the online world.

SUMMARY

In September 2018, the German Federal Court of Justice (Bundesgerichtshof, BGH) suspended proceedings in a widely-publicized case concerning YouTube’s liability for copyright infringing user-uploaded content and referred a series of questions regarding the interpretation of several EU copyright provisions to the CJEU for a preliminary ruling. A few days later, the BGH also suspended proceedings in five other high-profile cases concerning the liability of the file hosting service uploaded.net for user files containing copyright infringing content and submitted the same questions again to the CJEU.

Previous rulings by the CJEU have addressed both the application of the safe harbor principle set out in EU E-Commerce Directive 2000/31/EC, which shields hosting providers from liability for hosted unlawful third-party content (see, for example, eBay/L’Oreal; Netlog/SABAM; and Scarlet/SABAMof which they have no actual knowledge and, separately, the extent of infringement of copyright by hosting of, or linking to, copyright infringing third-party content under the EU Copyright Directive (See GS Media/Sanoma; Filmspeler; and The Pirate Bay). But it is still unclear under which conditions the providers of the various online platforms that store and make available user-generated content, can rely on the safe harbor privilege applying to hosting providers to avoid liability, or whether they must not only take down the infringing content when they obtain knowledge of such content but also compensate the rights holders of such content for damages for copyright infringement.

The questions that the BGH submitted to the CJEU aim to clarify these uncertainties by bringing together the different requirements established by the previous CJEU rulings for (i) affirming a direct copyright infringement by the online platform providers under the EU Copyright Directive and (ii) denying the application of the safe harbor privilege as well as the legal consequences of such a denial (such as the extent of liability for damages). The CJEU will have to consider the differences between the YouTube and uploaded.net business models. The CJEU will hopefully provide much clearer guidelines on key issues such as:

  • to what extent can providers of online services engage with the user content hosted by them;
  • which activities will trigger a liability for copyright infringement irrespective of actual knowledge of a specific infringement;
  • whether they must actively monitor the content uploaded by users for copyright infringements (e.g., by using state-of-the-art efficient filter technologies) to avoid damage claims by rights holders.

In addition, we expect these cases to have an effect on the interpretation of the new Art. 13 of the revision of the EU Copyright Directive that will likely be adopted by the EU legislative institutions in the second quarter of 2019. The current trilogue negotiations among the EU institutions indicate that, under such new Art.13, providers of online content sharing services will be directly liable for copyright infringements by content uploaded to the platform by their users and will not be granted safe harbor under the EU E-Commerce Directive. The providers would then have to ensure that content for which the providers have not obtained a license from the respective rights holders for use on their platforms cannot be displayed on their platform. This means that the providers would have to monitor all content files when uploaded to their platform, making filter technology mandatory for the majority of the platforms (see our previous Client Alert on the draft amendment to the EU Copyright Directive).


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An advertising executive who lost his job after being named on an anonymous Instagram account is suing the now-defunct account for defamation. The suit names as defendants not only the account—Diet Madison Avenue, which was intended to root out harassment and discrimination at ad agencies—but also (as “Jane Doe 1,” “Jane Doe 2,” et cetera)