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This Week in Copyright

August 12, 2015 / No Comments / Tags: copyright


A couple of interesting copyright stories have emerged in the past few days:

First, from Mashable: In response to several DMCA takedown notices filed by anti-piracy firm Entura International (representing Columbia Pictures), Vimeo shuttered multiple videos said to be infringing on the copyright of the movie Pixels. The notices were meant to take down unauthorized versions of the Columbia Pictures film, but instead overzealously went after videos that featured no infringing content.

Among the videos that got unjustly caught under the copyright troll bridge were a music video for a band called “The Pixels”, a 2011 short film titled “Pantone Pixels”, and another short film which happened to have the same name as the 2015 Adam Sandler film. Vimeo did not restore the non-infringing videos until Entura withdrew the takedown notice several days later.

Stories like this point out significant flaws with the DMCA notice-and-takedown procedure as well as the “shoot first, ask questions later” attitude embraced by video sites even when receiving notices that are obviously bogus. Hopefully, policymakers can work out a way to prevent big media companies from bullying small-time content creators, and create real consequences for those who send frivolous notices.

Second, via Eriq Gardner of The Hollywood Reporter: A copyright claim involving the Jessie J hit “Price Tag” is likely on its way to trial after a federal judge’s ruling. The lawsuit, brought against “Price Tag” producer Dr. Luke, alleges that the 2011 song’s drum beat infringes on the 1975 song “Zimba Ku” by Black Heat.

Last week, Judge Ronnie Abrams of the Southern District of New York denied a summary judgment motion by Dr. Luke, holding that the famed producer was not entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the question of infringement. The court found the alleged infringement in this case was a “difficult question” that would have to be decided by a jury.

Listen for yourself: The two songs can be found here and here. When listening, keep in mind that the material at issue is not each song as a whole (as both songs are quite different overall), but just the similar “breakbeats” of the two works. If you can zone out the other instruments, it is easy to see that the two beats are quite similar. In fact, the court notes that  the two drum parts are “virtually identical” in terms of their musical notation.

Granted, there are some aspects of this case that favor Dr. Luke. For one thing, there’s no proof that Dr. Luke had access to or knowledge of “Zimba Ku” prior to creating “Price Tag” (this isn’t required to sustain an infringement claim, but it helps). Moreover, one could argue that the breakbeat in both songs is so common in music that it does not rise to the level of copyrightability. The court considered both of these points, but ultimately concluded that they were questions of fact for a jury to decide.

Keep an eye on this case. There is no way we have heard the last of it.


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