Political Campaigns and Copyrighted Music

At a recent political rally, the Trump campaign played Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down”. When the singer’s family found out, a cease-and-desist letter was sent, claiming that neither the singer, while still alive, nor his family, endorse the President and his political stances, and therefore don’t want Petty’s music associated with the campaign.

But despite copyrights on Petty’s music, there isn’t as much legal ground as the family might hope for ordering the campaign not to use the song.

Why is that? If they own the copyright to the song, then shouldn’t they be able to stop someone from using it?

When someone wants to use a copyrighted song, permission must be sought. But it is practicably impossible for a venue that plays a lot of music to reach out to every artist and ask permission for each song. Enter broad licenses issued by performance rights organizations like ASCAP and BMI. These licenses allow public venues to play a broad catalog of songs for a fee, without the risk of infringement. Usage under these broad licenses means that it is much more difficult to stop individuals from using specific songs.

Over recent years however, various artists have objected to their music being used for political campaigns. To address that, efforts have been made by ASCAP and BMI for artists to withdraw permission in these instances, by creating licenses for political entities that allow them to exclude individual songs.

But one proven way around that is the venues, arenas and stadiums, where the rallies take place have their own licenses, and those venues aren’t under the political entity rules.

If politicians can’t be stopped from using songs under copyright laws, the best recourse may simply be a public statement from the artist stating his views on the candidate. If the harm of using a song for a campaign rally boils down to people thinking the artist endorses the candidate, and the artist comes out with a vocal disavowal of the candidate and his campaign, it may even cause the campaign to look elsewhere for music, than from an artist vocally in opposition.

IP Deadlines Extended around the World Due to COVID-19

Patent offices all around the world have been finding ways to adjust to the COVID-19 situation by extending deadlines. In Australia, the IP office gave free extensions to customers until July 31. In China, the CNIPA has not extended any deadlines but has instead allowed applications abandoned due to the pandemic to be restored for free. Similarly, in Japan, the JPO did not extend any deadlines but does allow you to request an extension, but the JPO is generally strict in granting extensions. In Europe, the EPO extended their deadlines to June 2, but didn’t extend it further than that. They did, though, reduce the renewal fee by 50% until August 31. In South Korea, the KIPO extended their deadlines to June 1, but hasn’t extended it past that. Furthermore, only trademark opposition briefs, Office Action responses, and responses to notices for correction by KIPO has been extended, while other deadlines have not.

Australia (IP Australia):

  • Extended deadlines until July 31

Europe (EPO):

  • Extended deadlines until June 2

  • Renewal fee reduced by 50% until August 31

China (CNIPA):

  • No extended deadlines

  • Abandoned applications can be restored for free

Japan (JPO):                    

  • No extended deadlines

  • You can request an extension, but not many are given out

South Korea (KIPO):

  • Extended deadlines until June 1, but only for:

    • Trademark opposition briefs

    • Office Action responses

    • Responses to notices for correction by KIPO

Jennifer Lopez is Sued for Copyright Infringement… again

Jennifer Lopez posted a picture on Instagram taken by photographer Steve Sands, and was sued for over $150,000 because Sands was the author (i.e., the one who took the picture) and Lopez used it without his permission. This isn’t the first time she’s made this mistake.  She was sued for the same thing back in 2017 and 2019. 

Can you infringe street art?

LMNPOPI, a nationally known street artist, sued XYZ Films for copyright infringement for using LMNPOPI’s street art in their movie, Bushwick, without her permission. The District Court for the Eastern District of New York ruled that this was not copyright infringement, though, because the use of the art was so minimal that its use was considered “fair use”.  If this art had been used in a less public area, however, the artist might well have prevailed.

Can Artificial Intelligence have its inventions patented?

With recent advancements in artificial intelligence (AI), it has become possible for an AI system to create inventions, but the question is whether or not those inventions could be protected under US patent law.  So far, the answer is “no”.  The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) says that AI systems aren’t classified as “inventors” because only people can be inventors, and for this reason, AI generated inventions cannot be protected by a patent.

USPTO Helps Battle COVID-19

The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) now has an “IP Marketplace” web platform where they publish patents that claim technologies that could help fight COVID-19. That platform goes further to identify whether licensing is available.  The listed patents span numerous fields, including prevention, treatment, helpful equipment, and even include inventions created for other diseases that might help battle COVID-19. 

Willfulness Not Needed for Trademark Infringement Action

In Romag Fasteners, Inc. v. Fossil Group, Inc., fka Fossil, Inc., No. 18-1233 (Argued Jan. 14, 2020, Decided April 23, 2020), the Supreme Court ruled that in a trademark infringement action, the heightened standard of “willfulness” is not needed to obtain damages against a defendant. This makes it much easier for manufacturers to secure profits for infringement from unauthorized online resellers, which is especially significant as ever greater numbers of sales are conducted online.