Law, Technology & Arts Blog

“You belong with me,” said Spotify to Taylor…

Posted in Arts, Intellectual Property by LTA-Editor on November 28, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 3.11.13 PMBy Amy Wang

Taylor Swift recently announced her highly publicized breakup with Spotify, the popular music-streaming platform. Not only has Swift denied Spotify streaming access to her new album, 1989, but she has also removed all her past albums from Spotify’s catalogue as well, leaving a Blank Space on over 19 million Spotify playlists. The reason?

Swift justified her actions by explaining that she doesn’t feel Spotify “fairly compensates the writers, producers, artists and creators of this music.” To that point, Spotify agrees that artists deserve recognition of their hard work. The company claims that it paid out $2 million to Swift in royalties for the past year and projects that Swift, as one of the most popular musicians in the world today, could earn over $6 million from Spotify alone. On the contrary, Scott Borchetta, CEO of Swift’s label Big Machine, claims that Swift earned less than $500,000 from Spotify streams in the U.S. for the past year. (more…)

New “Serial” Podcast Promotes Public Knowledge of Failing Criminal Justice System

Posted in University of Washington School of Law by LTA-Editor on November 25, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-11-25 at 5.04.08 PMBy Rachael Wallace

With download of This American Life’s spinoff podcast “Serial” hitting 5 million downloads this week, an old murder case is being cast in a new light—at least to those uninvolved with the criminal justice system. Podcasts have never been a particularly effective source of journalism, and many have expressed surprise over the popularity of “Serial.” Some have speculated that the murder mystery draws people in the same way fictional television shows do — with endings that leave those listening yearning for more. Though Serial may be good news for the podcast industry and investigative journalism, it may be even better for the criminal justice system.

Serial follows the murder of Hae Min Lee, the timeline and relationships between those involved, and the legal proceedings against her ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed. But unlike many popular crime dramas, Hae Min Lee’s story is real. And while millions of listeners are enthralled by her story and the complicated legal details of Adnan Syed’s conviction, the reality remains that Serial follows what prosecutors, police, or defense attorneys would consider a completely ordinary, perfectly typical criminal case in the United States. Essentially, Serial presents both a disturbing picture of the criminal justice system and an opportunity for the public—those not affiliated with the legal system in a professional capacity—to learn about substantive and procedural obstacles that people face when entered into the criminal justice system. (more…)

AT&T Stops Using Controversial Tracking Codes but Smartphone Carriers Aren’t Done Yet

Posted in Privacy by LTA-Editor on November 21, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-11-21 at 9.39.40 AMBy Julie Liu

Several weeks ago, researchers made the disturbing discovery that smartphone carriers AT&T and Verizon have been using hidden codes to track users’ network activity. AT&T has since put this practice on hold, but Verizon does not apparently plan to follow suit.

Use of tracking technology is not itself a new phenomenon. Location tracking, which allows law enforcement agencies to collect information about individuals, has been around for a while. Similarly, Facebook, Google, and other large web companies that compile and sell user data to advertisers have long since adopted the practice of monitoring online activity. Verizon reportedly undertook the tracking program at issue in 2012, but it was not until late last month that this type of tracking activity by carriers received widespread attention.

As a means of collecting user data to offer to advertisers, AT&T and Verizon insert unique tracking codes into users’ Internet activity. The codes, which can be thought of as “supercookies,” operate as temporary IDs which are sent to every unencrypted website that a user visits from his or her mobile device. In this fashion, AT&T and Verizon can monitor each person’s app usage and site visits, which allows advertisers to better tailor ads to individuals. The practice essentially creates a permanent and highly personalized profile for each user. (more…)

#transparency: Twitter Sues U.S. Government Over Secret Surveillance

Posted in Government and Regulation, Litigation by LTA-Editor on November 20, 2014
Image credit:

Image credit:

By Craig Henson

On October 7, 2014, social media heavyweight Twitter filed a lawsuit against the federal government seeking the right to publicly disclose data related to secret government surveillance of its users. The company filed the complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, naming as defendants U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, the Department of Justice, the FBI, and FBI director James Comey. In the complaint, Twitter alleged that the government impermissibly infringes on Twitter’s First Amendment rights by prohibiting Twitter from disclosing information about the number and type of surveillance requests and orders received, even if that number is zero.

Section 2709 of the Stored Communications Act (SCA) permits the FBI to issue national security letters (NSLs) that require a wire or electronic communication service provider to supply the government with subscriber information, toll billing records information, or electronic communication transactional records. The SCA prohibits NSL recipients from disclosing that the FBI either sought or obtained the requested information or records. Similarly, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) permits the government to obtain a court order authorizing real-time surveillance or disclosure of stored records from an electronic communication service provider. Numerous authorities prohibit a FISA order recipient from disclosing information about that order, including 50 U.S.C. § 1805 of FISA as well as court-imposed nondisclosure requirements in the FISA orders themselves. (more…)

Comic Book Conundrum: Who Owns the Copyrights to the World’s Most Valuable Entertainment?

Posted in Intellectual Property by LTA-Editor on November 17, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 4.03.04 PMBy Chris Ferrell

Comic book characters are more famous now (and more valuable) than they have ever been. For example, Marvel Studio’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” grossed over $714 million worldwide. When Marvel launched its “Phase 3” platform of movies (extending “Marvel Universe” through 2020), the Internet exploded with social media craze. Just mentioning Marvel Studio’s slate of movies isn’t enough: this infographic shows every announced comic book movie for all major movie studios through 2020. Some of the comic characters in these billion-dollar movie ideas were originally created over seventy-five years ago and for an entirely different medium: comic strips. When these characters were first created, no one had any idea that they would one day gross billions of dollars, causing legal battles to rage for the copyrights of these characters.

One of the most important copyright legal battles has raged for nearly six decades over one of the most iconic characters of all time: Superman. Around 1938, the creators, Joseph Shuster and Jerry Siegel, sold their rights to the Superman storyline to DC Comics for $130.00 and additional, annual “work for hire” payments for supplying material to DC Comics. Once the character became widely popular, the creators tried to get their rights back. While the creators have since passed on, their estates have found a new means to attack the copyrights of the work: the 1976 Copyright Act’s termination provisions. (more…)

Obama Gives His Support for Net Neutrality and for the Classification of ISPs as Common Carriers

Posted in Government and Regulation by LTA-Editor on November 14, 2014

By Max Burke

This past Monday, President Obama formally addressed the ongoing dispute over whether the Internet should be “open” and “neutral.” In a written statement and an accompanying video, the President asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to “ implement the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality.”

In case you haven’t seen or read any technology-related news this past year, here’s a quick primer on what Neil Irwin of The New York Times described as “one of the most important policy disputes that will determine the future of the Internet.” Net neutrality, or open Internet, is the idea that Internet service providers (ISPs) “should treat all Internet traffic equally” and should not be able control what websites users can or can’t access. This is essentially the system we have been living under since the dawn of the Internet. But ISPs, including Comcast and Verizon, want to be able to manage some of that access by collecting fees from certain content providers (e.g. Netflix) “in exchange for special access to Internet users.” As Irwin noted, this type of paid prioritization is essentially the business model of cable television providers (many of whom are also ISPs). And like the “boom in content for cable television customers,” ISPs believe there would be a similar “explosion of creativity on the Internet” if they were able to prioritize websites and applications. (more…)

Let’s Get It On: Judge Allows Lawsuit to Proceed Against Robin Thicke

Posted in Case Comment by LTA-Editor on November 12, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-11-12 at 3.32.18 PMBy Jeffrey Echert

The ongoing saga of Robin Thicke, one marked by bizarre admissions, inconsistent statements, and general incredulity, continues. On October 30, Judge John Kronstadt, sitting in the Central District of California, denied Thicke’s motion for summary judgment in a highly publicized case against the heirs of Marvin Gaye.

We first reported on the suit nearly a year ago–-the Gaye family claims that two songs by Robin Thicke, “Blurred Lines” and “Love After War,” infringe on the copyrights of two Gaye compositions, “Got to Give It Up” and “After the Dance,” respectively. Both sides submitted their dueling musicologists, and the conclusion is this: the possibility of substantial similarity between the songs is high enough to go to trial. Given that direct evidence of copying is exceedingly rare in copyright cases, courts allow plaintiffs to show copyright infringement by (1) showing that the defendant had access to the work purportedly copied, and (2) that substantial similarity exists between the works at issue. The first point, access, wasn’t contested, but the dispute over the second, with Kronstadt’s ruling, warrants trial. (more…)

Apple Inc. Pushes the Supreme Court to Move on Patent Claim Construction Review

Posted in University of Washington School of Law by LTA-Editor on November 10, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 2.12.07 PMBy Miriam Swedlow

Apple Inc. recently filed a writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court requesting that the Court review the Federal Circuit’s ruling in Ancora Tech., Inc. v. Apple, Inc. in light of recent and pending decisions from the high court. The case underscores the need for clarification of the standard of review for patent construction in light of complex technology.

Apple’s petition, filed on October 20, presents the following issues: (1) Whether review of Ancora should wait until after the Court’s ruling in Teva Pharm. USA, Inc. v. Sandoz, Inc., which will determine whether review of patent claim construction should be done de novo, because the Federal Circuit applied de novo review in rejecting the district court’s claim construction of a key term in the case; and (2) Whether the Court should grant, vacate, and remand Ancora for reconsideration after the Court’s June 2, 2014 rejection of the Federal Circuit’s patent indefiniteness standard in Nautilus, Inc. v. Biosig Instruments, Inc.

Ancora holds a patent on an anti-piracy process that checks software and determines whether it is operating within the scope of a license. Unlicensed software is prevented from operating. Ancora filed suit against Apple, alleging that Apple’s iOS mobile operating system infringes on this patent. A key issue in the case is the scope of the term “program” within the patent claim. The district court held that the claim construction of the term “program” described “a set of instructions for software application that can be executed by a computer.” Applying this definition, the district court dismissed the claim on summary judgment. Ancora appealed and the Federal Circuit applied de novo review of the claim construction. It rejected the district court’s construction of “program” as limited to application programs and ruled that Apple’s iOS program violates Ancora’s anti-piracy patent. (more…)

Mining in the Final Frontier

Posted in Government and Regulation by LTA-Editor on November 7, 2014
Image credit: NASA/JHUAPL

Image credit: NASA/JHUAPL

By Talia Loucks

It all began when aerospace consultant, Gregory Nemitz, claimed he owned an asteroid. In 2003, Nemitz sent NASA an invoice, demanding $0.20 a year for storage of a NASA probe on his asteroid. When NASA refused to pay, Nemitz filed suit against the United States, alleging it had taken his property without just compensation. A federal district court dismissed Nemitz’s suit, ruling that he had failed to prove he had any property rights. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal. The Supreme Court has yet to rule on whether a general right to own property exists in space, but this case makes one certain: A property in space right cannot come from simply creating a website and claiming ownership.

Move ahead 13 years and it is no longer solely NASA and other sovereign nations’ space programs parking their spacecraft outside of the earth’s atmosphere. There is a growing space economy being developed through private companies. This new economy includes tourism, exploration and now asteroid mining.

Asteroid mining, if successful, could be extremely lucrative. Valuable minerals such as platinum, palladium and gold could be mined. One of the most valuable resources believed to be available for mining from asteroids, however, is water. Additionally, asteroids may hold all of the components for life and could be a window into the history of the universe while helping to continue to advance science. (more…)

GPS Tracking and the Exclusionary Rule

Posted in Case Comment, Privacy by LTA-Editor on November 5, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-11-05 at 5.11.04 PMBy Nicholas Ulrich

A year ago, the Third Circuit in United States v. Katzin issued an opinion on GPS tracking, stating unequivocally and for the first time that a warrant is required before police can place a GPS tracking device on someone’s vehicle. Nine months ago, the Third Circuit agreed to rehear Katzin en banc. (We previously covered this case and discussed the uncertainty this rehearing created as to the warrant requirement.) About a month ago, the Third Circuit published its en banc decision. In contrast to the resounding endorsement of the warrant requirement by the panel, the en banc court focused on the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule. The court ultimately allowed the GPS tracking data to be admitted at the trial even though it was obtained without a warrant.

The uncertainty as to whether a warrant is required stems from the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Jones. In Jones, the Supreme Court for the first time stated that placing a GPS tracker on a vehicle is a “search” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. The Court, however, did not state specifically whether a warrant would be required for such searches in the future, or, in the alternative, whether some lesser standard such as reasonable suspicion would suffice. (Check out our blog post following the Jones decision.) (more…)

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