Do you allow the posting of content created by third parties on your website (e.g. videos, audio files, or even written comments)?  Do you run any on-line service where you collect information provided by third parties (whether that be a dating service, auction site or other classified service)?  If you do, you probably know that you are safe from copyright claims for infringing content that is posted by those who are not your employees or agents if you follow certain steps.  We have written about these steps to give you the "safe harbor" from copyright liability for "user-generated content" before.  The steps include requirements that you not encourage or profit from the infringing content, that you have terms of use for your service that forbid users from posting infringing content, and that you take down infringing content when you receive notice from copyright holders that it has been uploaded to your site or service by a third party.  To take advantage of this safe harbor from liability, services are required to register with the Copyright Office the name of someone in their company who can be served with "take-down notices" from copyright owners.  The process of registration is now proposed to be changed in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking just issued by the Copyright Office.  Comments on this notice can be filed through November 28. Replies are due by December 27.

The safe harbor was created by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, adopted in 1998.  Since that time, the registration of agents to receive take-down notices has been governed by interim rules.  Services register by sending a paper form and a filing fee to the Copyright Office, and that information is manually entered by the Copyright Office into a list that is available on the Copyright Office website.  From experience, the time from the filing of such a registration to its appearance on the Copyright Office’s website can take several weeks or more.  The Copyright Office, in its Notice, states that it has done some informal checks on the information in its database of registered agents, and found that the list contains duplicate registrations, registrations for companies or sites that are no longer in operation (services are supposed to tell the Office when they stop their operations), and many outdated addresses (services are supposed to update their agents as employees change, but apparently they sometimes forget).  The NPRM proposes to move to an electronic registration system, which will automatically request a verification of the registered information on a regular basis.  In making this proposal, the Copyright Office asks for public comment on a number of issues.

Continue Reading Claiming Safe Harbor Protection for User Generated Content – Copyright Office Proposes Changes to Registration of Agent for Service of Take Down Notices

ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) has approved the use of .xxx as a domain (like .com) for the adult entertainment industry. In September, broadcasters and others with registered marks will have an opportunity to reserve their marks defensively in the .xxx domain.   

While adult-oriented website operators may be interested in reserving spots in the .xxx top level domain (TLD), broadcasters may be just as eager to prevent their call signs and other marks from being used in that TLD where they may be associated with adult content. The ICM Registry, which will operate the .xxx domain, will allow those who own registered trademarks to reserve .xxx domain names to prevent others from using their marks in that domain.

Continue Reading Protect Your Call Signs and Other Marks in the .xxx Domain

Like "Super Bowl," "Olympics" and "NASCAR," "March Madness" is also a term that is protected by trademark law, and its unauthorized use in commercials could result in legal liability.  But the development of March Madness is a bit more interesting, and you can probably thank Brent Musburger for that.  The Illinois High School Association (IHSA) has been using the term "March Madness" to describe its state high school basketball tournament since the early 1940’s.  Broadcaster Brent Musburger went to journalism school in Chicago, then worked for both a Chicago newspaper and television station, where he almost certainly covered that basketball tournament and was well aware of the term "March Madness."  When he later began covering the NCAA basketball tournament for CBS in 1982, he naturally began referring to that tournament as "March Madness" as well.

As you know, the term caught on.  It ultimately led to a trademark infringement suit in 1996, and that led to a joint venture between IHSA and NCAA, called the March Madness Athletic Association (MMAA) which now holds all trademark rights to the term "March Madness."  In fact, they own 15 federal registrations containing that term, covering everything from the actual tournaments to broadcasting and webcasting the tournaments to mugs, T-shirts, towels, and even carbonated soft drinks.

Continue Reading Is it Madness to Say “March Madness” On the Air? – The Trademark Issue

The Copyright Office today announced an extension of time for the fling of comments in its inquiry into the possibe extension of Federal Copyright protection to pre-1972 sound recordings.  We provided a details of that proceeding here.  Internet radio operators and other digital music services that play significant numbers of pre-1972 sound recordings (particularly

Many station owners think they can adopt any name, positioning statement or slogan for their station so long as no one else in the market is using the exact same name or slogan.  That thinking is often incorrect, and can be very costly if a name is adopted and has to be changed later because it infringes on someone else’s intellectual property rights.  Nicknames and slogans used in station advertising or promotion are controlled by trademark law.  Even a station’s call sign, which must be approved by the FCC, cannot be too similar to an in-market competitor’s call sign without running afoul of trademark law.  You may have read about recent litigation concerning the station nicknames "Bob" and "Bob FM."  In that case, there is apparent contour overlap between two separately owned stations using the same name.  But trademark law can come into play even when stations are not in the same market and do not have overlapping contours.

Trademark rights can be established in one of two ways.  The first station to use a name or slogan can establish priority within that station’s geographic market or contour.  Alternatively, one can file an application for registration of a station name or slogan at the US Patent and Trademark Office (the "PTO"), and thereby obtain nationwide rights in that name or slogan, if no one else had prior use or a prior application.  Since trademark applications can be filed on an intent-to-use basis, a station can establish priority for a mark it is not yet using.  This is why a trademark search is so important prior to using a mark. 

Continue Reading Looking for a New Positioning Statement, Slogan or Name for Your Station? – Consult a Trademark Attorney First

The Copyright Office has just released a Notice of Inquiry asking whether Federal protection should be extended to sound recordings recorded prior to 1972.  A sound recording is a song as recorded by a particular artist.  Sound recordings were first protected under Federal law in 1972.  Prior to that, unauthorized recordings or reproductions of an artist’s recoding were policed under various state criminal and civil law.  While the Copyright Act has provided for the protection of pre-1972 sound recordings first registered in other countries, US sound recordings recorded prior to 1972, have not received Federal copyright protections.  Many have assumed that this also exempts pre-1972 sound recordings from royalty requirements under Section 114 of the Copyright Act – i.e. the royalties paid by Internet and satellite radio and other digital music providers under the statutory license.  How would a change in the law affect Internet radio operators?

That is one of the questions that is asked by the Notice of Inquiry.  Many Internet radio operators have not excluded pre-1972 recordings from royalty payments based on any exception that may exist for pre-1972 sound recordings, as the possibility has not been widely publicized.  Moreover, some copyright holders have suggested that the digitization of older songs may somehow bring pre-1972 recordings under the coverage of the Copyright Act, or that there may be state remedies that are somehow the equivalent of the Federal public performance right.  Others may just not want to go to the trouble of determining which copyrighted songs are subject to the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (making the non-US pre-1972 sound recordings subject to US Federal law).  The Copyright Office’s Notice of Inquiry asks what impact the inclusion of pre-1972 sound recordings would have on many undertakings – including the archiving and restoration of sound recordings, and on the current benefits that copyright holders and others enjoy under state laws.  In addition, it asks about the benefits and issues that would arise under Section 114 of the Copyright Act – the section that sets out the statutory license under which most Internet radio companies operate.

Continue Reading Copyright Office Asks if Federal Protection Should be Extended to Pre-1972 Sound Recordings – What’s the Impact on Internet Radio?

Dave Oxenford this week conducted a seminar on legal issues facing broadcasters in their digital media efforts.  The seminar was organized by the Michigan Association of Broadcasters, and originated before a group of broadcasters in Lansing, but was webcast live to broadcasters in ten other states.  Dave addressed a variety of legal issues for broadcasters in connection with their website operations and other digital media platforms.  These issues included a discussion of service marks and copyrights, employment matters, music on websites, the use of social media, privacy, and sponsorship disclosure.  The slides used in the Lansing presentation are available here.    During the seminar, Dave also mentioned that stations with websites featuring user-generated content, to help insulate themselves from copyright infringement that might occur in the content posted to their website by their audience, should take advantage of the registration with the Copyright Office that may provide safe harbor protection if a station follows the rules and takes down offending content when identified by a copyright holder.  The Copyright Office instructions for registration can be found here.   

One of the most common issues that arise with radio station websites is the streaming of their programming.  In August, Dave gave a presentation to the Texas Association of Broadcasters providing  a step-by-step guide to streaming issues, with a summary of the royalty rates paid by different types of streaming companies.  That summary to Internet Radio issues is available here.  Additional information about use of music on the Internet can be found in Davis Wright Tremaine’s Guide to The Basics of Music Licensing in a Digital Age.   Dave also presented this seminar at the Connecticut Broadcasters Association’s Annual Convention in Hartford on October 14.

Continue Reading David Oxenford Conducts Webinar for State Broadcast Associations on Legal Issues in the Digital Media World – Including a Discussion of Ephemeral Copies of Sound Recordings

Last week, the Department of Commerce’s Internet Policy Task Force asked for comments on the relationship between the protection of copyrighted content on the Internet and the effect of such protections on technology innovation and the expectations of consumers.  The purpose of the inquiry is to develop a report to be circulated among the various government departments that have power over the enforcement of copyrights and the development of rules and regulations that deal with copyrighted materials – to essentially develop government policy in this area.  While the request for comments dwell on the concerns about copyright infringement that are raised by many Internet applications, the proceeding will obviously be controversial among media companies.  Many of these companies are concerned about the unauthorized use of their content on various websites, while other media companies (or divisions of the same media companies who are concerned about the unauthorized use of content) are concerned about too tight restrictions on the use of copyrighted content and how that will impact various websites, especially those that feature user-generated content.

As we have written before, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act allows Internet companies to allow users to post material on their websites, without fear of liability, if they take certain precautions – including adopting terms of use warning users that they need to observe the intellectual property rights of others, not otherwise encouraging infringing uses, registering with the Copyright Office to provide a contact person at the website operator that a copyright owner can contact if they believe that their content is being used improperly, and taking steps to take down improper content if the website operator is notified of the infringing use.    This Commerce Department’s notice asks if this "safe harbor" provision has served the public interest, or if adjustments to this regime should be made.  Obviously, many websites that have grown businesses based on user generated content (e.g. many of the social networking and video-sharing sites) and will be very concerned with a proposal to alter their safe harbor and require them to take on a greater burden of reviewing content for potential copyright violations, while many content owners, who have complained about the inability to monitor all of these sites, may be looking for these reforms.   Obviously, there will be conflicting views on these proposals.

Continue Reading Department of Commerce Seeks Comments on The Relationship of Protecting Copyrighted Content and Innovation in the Internet Economy