Archive for the 'Practical Lawyering in Cyberspace' Category

Posted in cyberlaw, Practical Lawyering in Cyberspace on September 27th, 2007

Is the argument that Google seeks to make money (presented in both complaints for McGraw-Hill and Author’s Guild) effective considering the plaintiffs also seek to make money through exercising their copyrights or engaging in other deals? Generally, how should plaintiffs approach arguments in their complaints that may also undermine their own claims?

I’m not really sure how this would undermine their claims within the scope of copyright law. As owners of the copyright, plaintiffs are entitled to profit off of the works, and indeed the level of profit they may receive (or lose) strengthens their claim on fair use. (The fourth fact the courts look at is “effect on the works value”)The profit that Google stands to make likewise stregnthens plaintiffs’ case, as the “purpose and character” of their use is also looked at. In this mushy test, the more commercial a use, the less it looks like fair use.

I think that the question here is less one of weakening their own claims and more one of proper audience. Even though to the layperson the profit motive may appear to weaken McGraw-Hill’s case, this impact would not really be seen on a judge or a properly-instructed jury. Which brings us into the tangential issue of how much the court of public opinion matters.

In my view, public opinion is going to be dealt with through press releases and news stories. How many lay people (OK, excluding my husband) read court documents? I don’t think a perceived double-standard rises to the level required to be posted on the Smoking Gun. So, for the audience that really matters, this strategy seems sound.

Even so, the plaintiffs do emphasize the educational nature of their business, de-emphasizing their status as a for-profit corporation. In my opinion, this evidences the fact that overall impression matters even outside the legal issues themselves and the facts directly relevant to them. Judges and juries are still human, and psychology will always be a part of brief-writing.

Developing and Articulating a Core Theory of the Case

Posted in cyberlaw, Practical Lawyering in Cyberspace, The Law on September 27th, 2007

The Egilman Complaint leaves out many details of the story, which are then supplied by the Answer. Is plaintiff’s case assisted by noting only those facts favorable to his case, or does it give the defendant an edge by detracting from his credibility? If the latter, is this factor amplified by the way credibility itself plays into the substance of the story? (for example, do you believe the critical article was planted as a false story to test defendants?)In the McGraw-Hill case, does the plaintiffs’ emphasis on Google’s value and profit motive change the reader’s perception of the library project? Does Google’s titling of the project, and description of it in their answer alter this perception?

After reading the complaint, what is the impression one gets of the plaintiffs’ identities? Is the ordering of the parties to list the educational companies first a tactic? Does it play into their theory of the case, and the picture they are attempting to paint on both sides?

In its answer, Google states that the plaintiff has used “rhetoric and legal argument” disallowed by the FRCP, in response to the allegation that there is “no need” for the project. If this is a violation of the FRCP, do you think it was an accidental one, or a tactical decision? What are the likely repercussions of including legal argument instead of just factual allegations and legal conclusions? Might it be a good idea for lawyers to use this tactic if the risks are low?

In the Viacom complaint, the plaintiff makes use of the verb ‘perform’ to describe YouTube’s actions. Is this a necessary step towards disallowing Google use of the safe harbor provisions, or is it a rhetoric device to make Google seem like a more active participant? (Or is it both?) If the term sounds awkward and disingenuous, does that affect your view of Viacom’s case?

The introductions in the Viacom Complaint and Answer attempt to put the issues raised in the case into a global context, and take on less of a still legalese character. The McGraw-Hill briefs are more straight-forward and factual, and incorporate their theories later on in the complaint. Does this have an effect on the reader’s perception of the issues? Does making the case sound vitally important affect the decisionmaker’s perception of who has the stronger case?

Extraneous Information in Legal Briefs

Posted in Practical Lawyering in Cyberspace on September 22nd, 2007

“In its memo in support of motion for summary judgment, Google continuously stresses the bad faith inherent in Field’s actions, though it is not mentioned by the judge in his decision, nor is it an element of any defense Google raises. Strategically, who is this language aimed at and what was the purpose of its inclusion in the motion?”

This seems related to the analogy question Proshanto asks – what about elements of the brief that do not go directly to legal standards and the question presented, but will otherwise influence a decision maker?

Juries as well as judges are not objective machines; we cannot input the facts and legal standards and extract a decision clear of subconscious influence. Add to this the fact that law is not a science; in many cases there will be room within the doctrines to justify either decision. For example, the same SCOTUS judge may come down on different sides of the same legal issue depending on the ideological situation of the case.

The quote from Field’s self-proclaimed “talented and creative” writings might not be directly legally relevant, but it is not superfluous. The same goes for the mental image of a spy at one’s door. If it convinces the judge that one party is a shady character, that predisposition (or even prejudice?) is going to influence where she falls within the range of legally justafiable conclusions. Which means that, like it or not, fancy prose and creativity may indeed be part of a good lawyers arsenal. And just when I got accustomed to bland legalese, too.

Copyright Bullies?

Posted in cyberlaw, Intellectual Property, Practical Lawyering in Cyberspace, The Internet, The Law on September 12th, 2007

The first week in our Lawyering in Cyberspace Course dealt with Cease and Desist letters, including those sent by copyright holders to individuals.

In one instance, the NFL had YouTube remove a video that a law professor had posted, mostly consisting of their overreaching copyright notice. She purposefully included some footage of the game itself, and entitled the video “SuperBowl Highlights.” This layered the irony of the act; her point about the wild claims of copyrights within the SuperBowl would be made not just by its repetition, but by the act of removing that repetition under a copyright assertion.

My first reaction to the conflict was visceral, and sprung not by the removal but by the claims I saw in that video made by the NFL:

This telecast is copyrighted by the NFL for the private use of our audience. Any other use of this telecast or of any pictures, descriptions, or accounts of the game without the NFL’s consent, is prohibited.

What? Accounts? granted I have far to go in my understanding of copyright, but I believe you can only copyright expression, not facts. The NFL’s purported prohibition from talking about what happened in the game is therefore claiming more rights than they have. This reminds me of those little liability waivers in contracts of adhesion which parties have no hope of upholding in court, but nonetheless serve to discourage people from suing.

Furthermore, although fair use is a fuzzy doctrine, it looked pretty clear to me that this was well within the bounds of it. The purpose and character is non-commercial, and indeed political, the very essence of what is being protected. The NFL would seem to have no real property interest in the copyright notification itself (who is going to buy that?). The clip of the game itself is small and uninteresting, with no market in and of itself.

The initial takedown, prompted by NFL’s assertion of rights under the DCMA and complied with to keep YouTube within the Safe Harbor, appears to have been the result of mere carelessness. An assertion the NFL sloppily made of similarly-titled videos and/or those whose screen shot showed the game.

I’ll pause here, since this itself is problematic. Not all YouTube users are savvy law professors, who know they are in the right. Many would have no clue how to respond appropriately to get the video reinstated, a complicated procedure that requires specific claims and statements, and consent to jurisdiction they may fear making. The result will therefore be that many fair use videos will be removed, and free speech wrongfully silenced. Of course, the administrative hurdles to finding, watching, and evaluating every video present no clear alternative.

After the reinstatement, the NFL re-asserts its copyright, causing a second takedown. This is more focused, and individual. It is therefore more offensive, since they had a clearer indication that there were legitimate fair use claims here, perhaps even to the point of it being obvious there was no copyright violation. Since there was no harm to Viacom in showing the clip, as in taking away from their ownership in the game, why did they do it? At that point it becomes suspicious – they may be attacking her for the message itself.