Fair Use Week 2018: Day Four With Guest Expert Brandon Butler

How Is an App Like a Player Piano? And Does That Help the Fair Use Case for Software Preservation?

by Brandon Butler

I’ve been working a lot with software preservation folks, lately, and trying to think about the kinds of challenges they face due to copyright. I’m hopeful the community can find fair use solutions to at least some of those challenges, but in the meantime I’ve been struck by one unique aspect of software from a copyright perspective: in many ways it’s more like a player piano than a piano roll. Courts have taken this functional aspect of software into account in many contexts, and I’m hopeful that this will make it a good candidate for fair use arguments in the preservation context.

Why am I talking about player pianos? Well, there’s a great case that is taught fairly early in most copyright courses, White-Smith v. Apollo, a 1908 case that deals with the copyright consequences of the then-new player piano technology. (New tech is often a challenge to copyright, which is in many important ways a regime of technology regulation, focused on copying technologies. Every time the law seems to have tamed a given technological paradigm, a shift comes along and unsettles things!) The question for the court was whether the piano rolls that allowed a player piano to play songs were “copies” of protected musical works for purposes of copyright law. If they were, the music publishing companies’ permission would be needed before manufacturing new rolls that encoded songs they control.

As the Supreme Court noted in its opinion, “the question involved in the use of such rolls is one of very considerable importance, involving large property interests, and closely touching the rights of composers and music publishers.” The publishers brought suit.

But the court rejected the publishers’ argument that “Music…is intended for the ear as writing is for the eye, and that it is the intention of the copyright act to prevent the multiplication of every means of reproducing the music of the composer to the ear.” Instead, the court sided with the piano roll companies—a “copy” of a musical work must be “a written or printed record of it in intelligible notation.” The copyright in a musical work is, the court says, just the right to reproduce musical notation in print. Since a piano roll looks like gibberish to the human eye, isn’t really “printed” at all, and only yields music when plugged into a compatible piano, it’s not a copy. The publishers were out of luck.

The court ends its opinion with a common judicial admonishment: if you don’t like our ruling, take it up with congress.

“It may be true that the use of these perforated rolls, in the absence of statutory protection, enables the manufacturers thereof to enjoy the use of musical compositions for which they pay no value. But such considerations properly address themselves to the legislative and not to the judicial branch of the Government.”

The music publishers took this advice to heart, and the results of their legislative advocacy are found in Section 101 of the Copyright Act of 1976, which defines “copies” as “material objects…in which a work is fixed by any method now known or later developed, and from which the work can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.

This seems intuitive to us, now—almost every “copy” we care about in the digital era requires “the aid of a machine” to be rendered perceptible. You can’t stare at a DVD as a way to watch the movie stored on it, nor can you hear the music stored on a hard drive by holding the drive up to your ear. In the analog era, a copy spoke directly to us, as long as we understood the language in which it was written (including musical notation); nowadays, the vast majority of copies are written in a language meant only for computers.

So far, so good. A piano roll is now a “copy” of a musical work, and the music publisher/songwriter should have a say in making, distributing, etc. of such copies. A copy that depends on a machine to be perceptible is still a copy. But what about the machine-the piano or the DVD player? Should copyright also apply to it?

In copyright parlance, the machine that makes a work perceptible should typically be considered a “useful object,” excluded from copyright protection (17 USC § 102). If you would like a legal monopoly on something useful, we have another kind of intellectual property for you—patent law. Design a new piano, get a patent, license others to make and sell it, go on Shark Tank and sell shares to Mark Cuban, etc. Patents can be expensive to get (especially software-related ones), and their term is much shorter than copyright (more than 130 years shorter, in fact), reflecting the public policy favoring wide public access to useful discoveries.

But it’s clear from our interviews with software preservation professionals that from their perspective, lots of software is in the same relationship to digital files as the player piano is to piano rolls. They call this “software dependency”—files created in a certain software environment depend on that software to be perceived. CAD files, word processing documents, spreadsheets, all look like gibberish, or do not reveal their full contents, unless rendered(PDF) with the appropriate software (and hardware, or emulator, etc. etc.).

For archives and special collections containing born-digital documents (which of course more and more of our documents will be over the next several decades), access to our collections will increasingly require access to legacy software. Trying to read a manuscript, an email, a digital sketch, or financial data from the files alone makes about as much sense as holding a piano roll up to your ear. It turns out, software is very useful, even necessary, for preservation and long-term access to digital materials. This is one reason for the sense of urgency in the software preservation community around collective action and shared resources—no archive can hope to assemble and maintain every piece of software they might need to read the diverse file formats in their collections.

I’m hardly the first person to observe that software is useful, and that this makes copyright an awkward fit as a legal regime for regulating its use (See, e.g., Stephen Breyer, The Uneasy Case for Copyright: A Study of Copyright in Books, Photocopies, and Computer Programs, 84 HARV. L. REV. 281, 344–46 (1970)). Congress recognized this fact in Section 102(b) of the Copyright Act of 1976, which declares that copyright protection does not extend to any “idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery” embodied in a protected work. Courts have been sensitive to this fact, as well. They have only granted copyright protection for aspects of software not dictated by function or interoperability (Comput. Assocs. Int’l, Inc. v. Altai, Inc., 982 F.2d 693, 703– 05 (2d Cir. 1992)), and they’ve applied fair use in cases where copying and reverse engineering of protected software was necessary for interoperability (Sony Computer Entm’t, Inc. v. Connectix Corp., 203 F.3d 596, 602–03 (9th Cir. 2000); Sega v. Accolade, 977 F.2d 1510, 1524–27 (9th Cir. 1992)). The policy arguments favoring narrow protection and broader availability of software under fair use in light of its useful character should apply with equal strength to uses of software for archival access and preservation.

Brandon Butler is Director of Information Policy at University of Virginia.  There he works on implementing programs to guide the University Library on issues of intellectual property, copyright, and rights management for scholarly materials. He is also Practitioner-in-Residence at the Glushko-Samuelson Intellectual Property Law Clinic at American University’s Washington College of Law. Before that, Brandon was Director of Public Policy Initiatives at ARL from 2009 to 2013.

Fair Use Week 2016: Day Two With Guest Expert Krista Cox

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Thankful for Fair Use

by Krista Cox

Fair use is a critical right in U.S. copyright law, permitting the use of copyrighted material without permission from the rightholder under certain circumstances. It has been called the “safety valve” of U.S. copyright law, responsive to change and able to accommodate new technologies and developments. Amending copyright law is not an easy task; the 1976 Copyright Act took twenty years to enact (and was where the fair use doctrine was officially codified, though it was certainly not a new doctrine). Fair use, as a broad and flexible doctrine, therefore allows copyright law to adapt to the changing environment and technologies and preserve the important balance in the law without requiring constant legislative attention.

 

Here are just some of the ways we rely on fair use each day in ways that were inconceivable when the doctrine was codified by the 1976 act, much less in 1841 when Folsom v. March (which forms the basis of the fair use doctrine) was decided:

  • Checking e-mails.
  • Forwarding e-mails and attachments.
  • Watching and sharing news clips online
  • Using social media, such as Facebook and Twitter.FUW.Infographic2
  • Recording shows with a DVR to watch later.
  • Sending a show from a DVR to a mobile device to watch.
  • Using a web search engine like Google or Bing.
  • Using Shazam or other sound search.
  • Reading a book on an iPhone.

We rely on fair use each day because of the prevalence of technology. For example, temporary copies are constantly being made when we access webpages or open e-mails and attachments. These copies could be unauthorized reproductions, but thanks to fair use, copyright law accommodates these advances in technology without requiring legislative changes. Without fair use, the growth of the Internet and technology as we know it today would not be possible. Flexibility in the fair use doctrine has already led to these new innovations and can continue to promote the progress of science and the useful arts for technology that we may are not even able to conceive of today.

Of course, fair use is not limited to new technologies or to those listed above. ARL’s “Fair Use in a Day in the Life of a College Student” infographic, released as part of the Fair Use Week 2016 celebration, for example, demonstrates how often a college student encounters fair use on a daily basis, often without even realizing that she is relying on this critical doctrine.

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From checking her e-mail, forwarding messages, doing research, writing papers, sharing information over social media, watching recordings of popular shows, taking selfies and more, the average student relies on fair use constantly. Fair uses are all around and we should be thankful that the broad, flexible fair use doctrine accommodates new ways of communicating, sharing, learning, researching, enjoying entertainment and more.

Krista L. Cox is the Director of Public Policy Initiatives for the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), in Washington D.C.  Prior to joining ARL, Cox was the staff attorney/legal counsel at Knowledge Ecology International, a nonprofit organization that searches for better outcomes, including new solutions, to the management of knowledge resources. She may be reached at krista@arl.org or on Twitter: @ARLpolicy

Fair Use Week 2015: Day Two with guest expert Kevin Smith

For our second entry this week, we are excited to feature Kevin Smith, Director of Copyright and Scholarly Communication in the Office of Copyright and Scholarly Communication at Duke University.

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What Does Fair Use Taste Like?

 

Will Cross, a colleague from the NCSU Libraries who teaches a graduate course on legal issues with me, frequently refers to the analogy for fair use that he learned as a law student at the University of North Carolina from the legendary Laura Gasaway – fair use is like soup. It sounds strange, doesn’t it? How could such an abstract and contested legal concept be anything like a warm and comforting bowl of soup? But there is real brilliance in this analogy.

One of the difficult things about explaining fair use is convincing people that it is a balancing test. It is not a checklist, where each factor must add up on the same side of the ledger to either confirm or exclude fair use. It is perhaps the least mechanical, the least “bright line” rule found in our law. And yet it works. And it works because it is like soup.

When an experienced chef is making soup, there are certainly things she has learned that do not change – 5 cups of broth for a pound of meat, sauté the onion first, add a small handful of oregano. But a lot of the process of putting those ingredients together is instinctual, if you will, or learned from experience. Add the salt and taste. Too much? A little more broth will balance it out. In short, making soup means taking the known ingredients, blending them together, and seeing if it tastes right.

With fair use we have a statutory list of four factors. They really tell us what the important facts are: where we should look, when evaluating a particular use, for the ingredients that go into the fair use soup. When we have gathered our ingredients – all the circumstances that describe the purpose of the use, the nature of the original, the amount used, and the impact on the market for the original – we are to look at the whole picture and decide if it looks fair. According to the Supreme Court in Campbell v. Acuff Rose, the factors are “explored and weighed together, in light of copyright’s purpose.” Does the soup taste right? If not, there are adjustments the user can make – a little less on the amount, a bit more of transformation (i.e. critical commentary). The goal is to get to the place where all the ingredients (the specific circumstances) blend together and the soup tastes like fair use. If this sounds subjective and uncertain, it is. But the analogy reminds us that we deal with uncertain judgments all the time, and experience teaches us to exercise good judgment, when we cook and when we assess fair use.

I have belabored this analogy because I find it so useful when thinking about fair use decisions. Consider the decision from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeal in Kienitz v. Sconnie Nation. That case involved a pretty straightforward transformative fair use issue, but it just did not taste right to the judge who wrote the ruling. The crux of the matter was that the mayor of Madison, Wisconsin wanted to stop a famous and irreverent block party that has been going on for years, and at which the mayor himself was apparently a reveler when he was a UW student. A local printing company printed t-shirts that lampooned the mayor for his change of heart, using a photograph of the mayor taken by Mr. Kienitz with the motto “Sorry for Partying” superimposed. The photo (it was, of course, the photographer who sued) was substantially altered for the image on the t-shirt, although the printer readily acknowledge that he had used the picture.

In finding that this was a fair use – a result dictated by lots of precedents – Judge Frank Easterbrook takes an odd approach. The key ingredient in this case, one would think, would be transformation. But Judge Easterbrook apparently dislikes transformation in the fair use soup (I feel the same way about okra). So although he acknowledges that the Supreme Court “mentions” the role of transformation, he dismisses it as a question for the case before him. In the process he also questions the well-known Bill Graham Archive v. Dorling Kindersley case from the 2nd Circuit, even though both cases seem right on point for Kienitz. Judge Easterbrook is just determined to not have transformation in his fair use soup, no matter how much the facts force that ingredient on him. Instead he hangs the bulk of his finding on two of the fair use factors – amount used and impact on the market – and dismisses the other two – purpose of the use and nature of the original – because they “don’t do much in this case.” This is a remarkable statement, since purpose of the use is often considered the most important factor (within the analysis of transformation), and the nature of the original (a portrait photograph) really is relevant in this controversy. But they are not ingredients that Judge Easterbrook can stomach, so he leaves them out of his soup.

The reason I find this case remarkable is, first, because Judge Easterbrook gets to the right result through very poor reasoning (see reactions to the decision here and here). But also because it illustrates the soup-like flexibility of fair use. If one ingredient in the analysis in not to the taste of a judge, he or she can try something different. There are lots of ways to find fair use, and lots of paths open to those who would practice it. That is the beauty of a balancing test, whether tasting the soup to see if it is good or balancing the factors to see if a use is fair. When users are contemplating a use, they can adjust the facts – the ingredients – until the balance seems right.

Of course, in many cases fair use claims are unquestionably palatable. The late Judge Baer, in his decision in Authors Guild v. HathiTrust, clearly enjoyed the taste of Hathi’s fair use claim when he wrote “I cannot imagine a definition of fair use that would not encompass the transformative uses made by Defendants…” That decision was largely upheld by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, the same Circuit whose taste in fair use Judge Easterbrook questions in his Kienitz decision.

All this raises a troubling question. Is fair use really just a matter of taste? Is a balancing test really as subjective as the soup analogy suggests? I think the answer is that it is not. For one thing, it is worth noting that Judge Easterbrook does not really jettison the question of transformativeness, in spite of the language of his opinion. Rather, he slips transformation into his soup in an unusual way, through the fourth fair use factor. When he finds that the t-shirts are “no substitute for the original photograph,” he is really saying that the original has been transformed in a way that serves a new purpose and creates a new meaning. He may not like the taste of the transformation analysis, but he cannot, and does not, wholly exclude it from his recipe. I think this illustrates an important general point about fair use. The factors are pointers that direct us to examine specific facts related to the proposed use. So we know what the ingredients are. And we balance those ingredients to achieve a specific “taste” – a use that serves rather than undermines the constitutionally-stated purpose of copyright. So we know the list of ingredients that go into fair use, and we know the overall “flavor” we are seeking. With those parameters in mind, we all have the opportunity to cook up a tasty batch of fair use soup.

Kevin Smith is Director of the Office of Copyright and Scholarly Communications and is both a librarian and an attorney experienced in copyright and technology law. He also serves as a nationally recognized resource on local and national policy in order to help the Duke community stay informed and involved with the changing landscape of scholarly publication. You can read his regular blog here.  His latest book is Owning and Using Scholarship: An IP Handbook for Teachers and Researchers (2014).

FAIR USE WEEK 2015: DAY ONE WITH GUEST EXPERT KENNETH D. CREWS

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Welcome to the 2nd Annual Fair Use Week hosted by the Harvard Library Office for Scholarly Communication!  This entire week we will be celebrating Fair Use through expert posts, videos, “Fair Use Stories,” and a live panel on Thursday, February 26th.

We are delighted to kick off this year’s celebration with a post by Kenneth D. Crews.  Crews is an internationally recognized expert on copyright, libraries, and fair use.  

 

“Copyright, Fair Use, and a Touch of Aristotle”

 

Ponder this overlooked principle of copyright:  Fair use abhors a vacuum.

Commentary and events about fair use justly abound, but fair use does not exist in isolation.  It is not compressed into one celebrated week.  It never stands alone.  And it is integral to the functioning of copyright law.  Fair use responds to changing demands, and by its nature fair use is pulled into the deep uncertainty brought on by expanding innovation.

Start with copyright’s basic premise.  Copyright is fundamentally a system of legal rights, granted initially to authors, authorizing control of certain uses of creative works.  The basic legal rights are familiar.  Copyright owners have rights of reproduction and distribution of copies; rights to make derivatives or adaptions; and rights to make public displays and performances.  For some works, moral rights also apply.

The rights of copyright owners are far from absolute.  They are subject to a variety of conditions and limitations, starting with the fact that copyrights expire, allowing works to enter the public domain.  Copyrights may last for many decades, but the eventual expiration of copyrights is essential to the central purpose of the law: To encourage creativity.  By granting rights, the law encourages authors to create new works.  By assuring a public domain, the law boosts the next generation of creative ventures.

Copyrights are also limited by a long list of statutory exceptions.  The public domain is broad, but it can be far in the future.  By contrast, exceptions apply from the outset of the copyright, but they are of narrow scope.  Fair use is one such exception.  Fair use permits all of us to make uses of copyrighted works, but only within the framework of the four factors in the statute.  The meaning of the factors is wide open to debate, but they ultimately set parameters on the amount, purpose, and other conditions for proper use.

What about that vacuum, you ask?  Already we can see two ways that fair use and vacuums don’t jibe.  First, fair use does not live alone.  It is one of many statutory exceptions.  The U.S. Copyright Act has exceptions for teaching, libraries, services for the blind, music recordings, satellite transmissions, and more.  Indeed, a proper evaluation of fair use often means looking first for a specific statute that might meet your needs.

Fair use is also not in a vacuum for a more conceptual reason.  Fair use may be about public rights, but its significance derives from private rights.  The law grants private rights to authors for the benefit of private parties, but also for a public benefit.  All members of the public benefit if we are motivated to craft new artworks, formulate new software, compose new music, or roll out imaginative novels and movies.  At the same time, many of these new works build upon previous copyrights.  By allowing fair use of works that came before, and of our new works, the law is sanctioning the building block of further aesthetics, storytelling, computer innovations, and even parody.   Fair use is an essential complement to the rights of owners, and it completes the circle of creative incentives.

Finally, fair use abhors a vacuum as a byproduct of its inherent versatility.  Fair use is the go-to statute for creative exploits.  Congress deliberately devised a fair-use law that could apply to all media, all types of works, and all innovative pursuits.  It clearly establish limits on amount, purpose, and other conditions, but fair use at least allows some degree of use as we experiment with unanticipated technologies, formats, and objectives.

Only recently have courts told us that fair use allows low-resolution images in a study of music history, or permits storage of digital books for research indexing and access for the blind.  Courts have resolved that posting videos on YouTube for public criticism may be allowed.   Using a politician’s photograph for political commentary can be fair use, and so can the use of video clips from commercial broadcasters, especially when the selections are limited and the purpose is to facilitate political and social critiques.

As the media and substance of creativity expands, so does the reach of fair use.  The outer boundaries of technology are accelerating swiftly away from copyright’s familiar home.  As innovation open up vast areas of untested space, so will fair use be absorbed into the new realm.  The new technological ventures, like other creative pursuits, require fair use and other copyright limitations for experimentation and success.  Without fair use we would have no troves of digitized research collections from Universities, and we would be denied the biting insights that pour forth from South Park or The Daily Show.

The human drive for innovation will always grasp new opportunities that emerge with technological expansion.  Because fair use is flexible, it is able to be drawn into the vacuum of that new space.  Because fair use is integral to copyright in general, when it melds into the vastness of innovation it also helps protect rights, encourage authors, and promote the progress of public and private interests.

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Kenneth D. Crews is an attorney with Gipson Hoffman & Pancione in Los Angeles.  He founded the first copyright center at any university, based at Indiana University.  He also established the copyright center at Columbia University and continues to serve on the faculty of Columbia Law School and the Munich Intellectual Property Center.  He is the author of Copyright Law for Librarians & Educators: Creative Strategies & Practical Solutions (3rd ed., 2012).