French Court fines Jeff Koons for Copyright Infringement, VPN Provider sued for Privacy Violation, US Copyright Office issues New Group Registration notice, English High Court orders ISPs to block Music Piracy Sites, Supreme Court suggests screening Online Content.
French Court fines Jeff Koons for Copyright Infringement
In 2015, a lawsuit was filed against Jeff Koons and the Centre Pompidou for copying a photographer’s photo for an ad campaign for the clothing line Naf Naf. The disputed photograph shows a female model lying in snow in a similar position with a pig (which is the Naf Naf mascot) wearing a small barrel around his neck, while Jeff’s sculpture, which present at the Centre Pompidou, also depicts a woman lying in snow next to a pig wearing a ring of roses and a barrel around its neck. The only difference is that the former does not feature penguins and its model is wearing a jacket, as opposed to a short top as in the sculpture. At first, Jeff Koons sought the defense of parody under French Intellectual Property Code to counter the infringement claim.
The Court refused to admit the same, and reasoned that the sculpture lacked sufficient notorious element. Consequently, in 2018, the Paris court found Jeff guilty of infringement and ordered the artist and the museum to pay the photographer an amount to the tune of 135,000 Euros. He refused to accept the order, and went on to appeal on the grounds of freedom of expression and fair use. This defense was also scrapped since the US case laws referred to by Jeff Koons were noted to be different in substance, and therefore inapplicable. The artist and the museum are now liable to jointly pay 190,000 Euros.
VPN Provider sued for Privacy Violation
An interesting issue of whether a Virtual Private Network (VPN) provider be held liable when its users illegally stream films and TV series has been raised in the Southern District Court of Florida. The plaintiffs, Voltage Holdings, Millennium Funding and Hunter Killer productions, in addition to suing the infringers, who are a group of unnamed BitTorrent users who illegally uploaded or downloaded the films, are also suing ‘1707 Management’ and its owner for contributory and vicarious copyright infringement. The latter are being served on account of encouraging piracy by soliciting Anonymous Streaming. The LiquidVPN allegedly engages in the practice of assignment of anonymous IP addresses and marketing, thereby encouraging and simplifying piracy. They have allegedly been particularly active in movie piracy and have been called out for infringing the movies of the plaintiffs, namely, I Feel Pretty, Shock and Awe, Automata, Survivor and Hunter Killer. The complaint filed, states that the website in fact includes a statement that their VPN service is the ‘Best VPN for Torrenting and P2P Filesharing today’. In response, the plaintiffs sent notices of infringement that were allegedly received by the defendant, but no response has been made available. The plaintiffs have submitted that such practices cannot be entitled to receive protection under the safe harbor provision under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, as it does not make any attempt to terminate the services for repeat infringers.
US Copyright Office issues New Group Registration notice
In May 2019, the US Copyright Office issued a notice whereby a proposal to create a new group registration option for musical works, sound recordings, and certain other works contained on an album was made. Post receipt of public comments on the same, which were open till July 19, 2019, the copyright office issued the final rule vide Issue No. 880, in February 2021. This will allow applicants to register either a group of up to twenty musical works or a group of up to twenty sound recordings and associated literary, pictorial, or graphic works contained on an album of music. The rule expands the registration options currently available to register multiple musical works or sound recordings and will permit the registration of multiple works distributed together using a single electronic application, regardless of whether such distribution occurs via physical or digital media.
While the original proposed rule required concerned applicants to make claims and submissions via the standard application, the final rule introduces a new application which is specifically designed for such claims. This change was brought about on account of public comments and to smoothen the process, the U.S. Copyright Office would also hold a tutorial and upload other guidance documents as to the access, completion and submission process under the new system. This rule is set to take effect from March 26, 2021.
Bhaktivedanta Trust seeks injunction from Delhi HC
The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust India had the object of being the owner of copyrights and publication rights and allied rights to carry out various processes with the texts for the purpose of publishing the writings, deriving income and for utilizing the income derived from such publication to reprint the books published by the Trust all over the world. It possessed such rights as a consequence of Srila Prabhupada, the author of the books, having handed over the copyrights and publication rights to the Trustees of The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. Upon scrutiny on the internet, it was found in December 2020, that that the website www.friendwithbooks.co. contained several unauthorized copies of its books in electronic format which can be downloaded and shared with the public.
The Trust sought an injunction against said website by approaching the Delhi High Court and requesting the court to restrain the website from such unauthorized use. They sought restraint against the reproduction, communication and issuance of the copies of the books as well as various artworks that were under the Trust’s copyright. The Court held that the Trust has made out a prima facie case in its favour, with the balance of convenience also being in its favour, and thus granted an exparte ad interim injunction against the website.
English High Court orders ISPs to block Music Piracy Sites
The British Phonographic Industry (BPI) and Phonographic Performance Ltd (PPL), which coordinated the cases on behalf of major and independent labels, had filed a case seeking relief relating to the music stream-ripping sites and a related cyber-locker services that were being freely offered. They drew attention to damage major music piracy websites have on the legal music streaming business, and consequent earnings of the platforms as well as artists. In addition to the filed suit, the BPI also went on to call the government to do more to help in reducing music piracy and grow the value of the legal music streaming market. BPI also sought the formulation and introduction of a ‘duty of care’ for online music platforms, which would prevent platforms from misusing ‘safe harbor’ provisions in order to underpay for music that they use and provide.
Moreover, it suggested that a statutory damages regime must be initiated, which would deter illegal sites in faster and more affordable ways. In respect of the suit, the Court was in agreement to the fact that such websites and operators infringe copyright in multiple ways and should be blocked in the UK. The ruling implies that major sites, including Flyto, 2Conv, Fly2mp3 and H2 Converter, will be blocked. With respect to BPI’s plea of government intervention in introducing a more efficient policy, the Parliamentary Select Committee has launched an inquiry into the impact music piracy has on music streaming economics in October 2020.
Supreme Court suggests screening Online Content
In the recent past, various US streaming platforms have faced complaints from lawmakers belonging to the Hindu nationalist party and others, that some of the shows on such online platform are of the nature that they are promoting obscenity or offending religious beliefs. This concern was raised in the apex court on account of the hearings related to Amazon’s head of India content for Prime Video, for protection against arrest in a case involving a controversial political drama “Tandav”, which is a Hindi word for “fury”. It was noted as part of this conversation that web series are becoming more and more common since traditional film viewing in India, which is considered home to the thriving Bollywood industry, has changed as fewer people are not going to the cinema halls.
Though currently the content on these platforms is not subject to vetting, the government has ordered that such platforms classify their content into five categories based on the age groups it would be suitable for viewing purposes. Simultaneously, the major international platform, Amazon, also issued a public apology for “Tandav”, and stated that those scenes which were found objectionable had been edited or removed. Currently, the apex court, implied that it is in favor of some type of screening of such online content.
Authored and compiled by Neharika Vhatkar (Associate, BananaIP Counsels) and Manvee Saidha (Legal Intern)
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