SUMMARY
  • On June 7, 2019, the highly controversial EU Copyright Directive (“Directive”) came into force, requiring EU Member States to transpose its provisions into national law by June 7, 2021.
  • To recap, the most relevant provisions of the Directive require the implementation of the following rules into national law:
    • Online content-sharing service providers’ liability for copyright-infringing content, Article 17
      Online content-sharing services are subject to direct liability for copyright-infringing content uploaded by their users if they fail to prove that they made “best efforts” to obtain the rights-holder’s authorization or fail to evidence that they made “best efforts” to ensure the unavailability of such content. They are also liable if they fail to act expeditiously to take down uploads of work for which they have received a takedown notice.
    • Exceptions and limitations to copyright protection
      The Directive introduces exceptions and limitations (e.g., for text and data mining (incl. in favor of commercial enterprises)); provisions regarding collective licensing; and recalltransparency, and fair remuneration rights for authors.
    • Ancillary copyright for press publishers, Article 15
      Press publishers are granted an ancillary copyright for press publications, covering the reproduction and making available of such content by information society service providers (excluding only hyperlinks accompanied by “individual words or very short extracts”).
  • The German Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection’s latest draft act (Referentenentwurf) for the national implementation of the Directive was leaked in September 2020 (“German Draft Act”).  In summary, the current German Draft Act proposes to implement Article 17 as follows, deviating in part from the EU Copyright Directive:
    • De minimis use: In contrast to the EU Copyright Directive as well in contract to the German Copyright Act, the German Draft Act additionally provides for a de minimis copyright exemption for non-commercial minor uses such as 20 seconds (against a statutory license fee to be paid to collecting societies). This is the most criticized provision of the German Draft Act and makes it very likely that this draft will be revised again by the German legislature shortly.
    • Flagging: Furthermore, without any legal basis in the Directive, as to avoid the risk of over-blocking, based on the German Draft Act, users shall be technically enabled to flag their content as (i) contractually authorized or as (ii) authorized based on copyright exemptions, if such content is identified to them as blocked content. If content is flagged, the provider is not obligated to block or remove content unless the flagging is obviously incorrect.
    • Online content-sharing service providers’ liability for copyright-infringing content: The German Draft Act follows the provisions of the Directive on the scope of liability for online content-sharing service providers.
    • Licensing: Going beyond the Directive, the Draft Act imposes a unilateral obligation on online service providers to contract with representative rights-holders. Effectively, online service providers will have to accept licenses available through a collecting society or a major rights-holder under certain conditions such as the appropriateness of the requested remuneration.
    • Blocking and Removing: If a rights-holder has provided corresponding information to an online service provider, online service providers are obligated to block non-authorized uses of rights-holder’s work (“stay down”). Similarly, following a rights-holder’s request after a work has already been uploaded without authorization, online service providers are obligated to remove such work (“take down”) and to block the work in the future (“stay down”). Factually, the German Draft Act thereby embraces the use of upload filters.
    • Copyright Exemptions: The Draft Act expressly determines copyright exemptions under the German Copyright Act (e.g., caricature, parody, pastiche) as being applicable.


Continue Reading EU Copyright Directive – Quo Vadis: First Steps Towards its German Implementation

A federal district court judge in Brooklyn, N.Y., dismissed the complaint in a case filed by Genius, a platform that lets users share and annotate lyrics, holding that the plaintiff’s claims were preempted by copyright law. The suit alleged that Google had stolen from Genius transcriptions of song lyrics, and included those song lyrics

A federal district court in New York held that a photographer failed to state a claim against digital-media website Mashable for copyright infringement of a photo that Mashable embedded on its website by using Instagram’s application programming interface (API). The decision turned on Instagram’s terms of use.

Mashable initially sought a license from the plaintiff, a professional photographer named Stephanie Sinclair, to display a photograph in connection with an article the company planned to post on its website, mashable.com. The plaintiff refused Mashable’s offer, but Mashable, nevertheless, embedded the photograph on its website through the use of Instagram’s API.

Instagram’s terms of use state that users grant Instagram a sublicensable license to the content posted on Instagram, subject to Instagram’s privacy policy. Instagram’s privacy policy expressly states that content posted to “public” Instagram accounts is searchable by the public and available for others to use through the Instagram API.
Continue Reading S.D.N.Y.: Public Display of Embedded Instagram Photo Does Not Infringe Copyright

A federal district court in Illinois allowed claims for vicarious and direct copyright infringement to proceed against an employee of the Chicago Cubs Baseball Club for retweeting a third-party tweet containing the plaintiff’s copyrighted material. Read the opinion.

Thinking of backing Biden in November? Would his unequivocal opinion on Section 230 of the Communications

Every day, social media users upload millions of images to their accounts; each day 350 million photos are uploaded to Facebook alone. Many social media websites make users’ information and images available to anyone with a web browser. The wealth of public information available on social media is immensely valuable, and the practice of webscraping—third parties using bots to scrape public information from websites to monetize the information—is increasingly common.

The photographs on social media sites raise thorny issues because they feature individuals’ biometric data—a type of data that is essentially immutable and highly personal. Because of the heighted privacy concerns, collecting, analyzing and selling biometric data was long considered taboo by tech companies — at least until Clearview AI launched its facial recognition software.

Clearview AI’s Facial Recognition Database

In 2016, a developer named Hoan Ton-That began creating a facial recognition algorithm. In 2017, after refining the algorithm, Ton-That, along with his business partner Richard Schwartz (former advisor to Rudy Giuliani) founded Clearview AI and began marketing its facial recognition software to law enforcement agencies. Clearview AI reportedly populates its photo database with publicly available images scraped from social media sites, including Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Venmo, and many others. The New York Times reported that the database has amassed more than three billion images.
Continue Reading Clearview AI and the Legal Challenges Facing Facial Recognition Databases

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.
Continue Reading Will the Music Industry Continue To Win Its Copyright Battle Against ISPs?

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.
Continue Reading Insta-Mural Infringement: Public Art in Instagram Ad Leads to Copyright Claim

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.)
Continue Reading The Meme Generation: Social Media Platforms Address Content Curation

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