In the most entertaining legal battle to develop out of Super Bowl XLIX, Katy Perry has famously attempted to copyright Left Shark, the much-celebrated Internet phenomenon of the month. In a more recent development, Perry has made further moves to bolster her intellectual property rights—this time with a trademark claim.
The origins of Left Shark are by now a familiar subject: two “sharks” served as backup dancers in Perry’s beach-themed halftime performance; one of them unexpectedly stole the show by bumbling his way through the choreography. The less-than-perfect performance did not escape the internet’s attention and collective amusement, and so Left Shark was born.
Before long, Fernando Sosa (of figurine company Shapeways) began recreating the shark for sale in miniature, and Perry’s lawyers responded with a cease-and-desist letter, claiming that Sosa’s product “infringes [Perry’s] exclusive rights in numerous ways.” Represented by NYU law professor Chris Sprigman, Sosa struck back by rejecting Perry’s ownership of copyright. Sprigman cited Perry’s own quotes, which indicated that she was not the “boss” of her halftime show, including, presumably, the production decisions leading to the creation of Left Shark. (more…)
No one from Earth has been to the moon since 1972, but Google’s Lunar XPRIZE has sparked an interest in returning. The Lunar XPRIZE is a race to the moon in which competitors must land a robot safely on the moon and send back “HDTV Mooncasts for everyone to enjoy.” The deadline is next year and it has created a growing interest in moon activity. One company, Bigelow Aerospace, has even developed inflatable habitats to set up in space. The program, known as BEAM, has been developed as an attachment to the International Space Station, but Bigelow would also like to launch these habitats to the Moon. Even though the 1967 Outer Space Treaty bans sovereign ownership rights to the moon, Bigelow may one day soon be allowed to place its habitats on the Moon.
As was outlined in a recent WJLTA blog article on Asteroid Mining, the Outer Space Treaty and the Moon Agreement currently govern space law. Though no sovereign can claim ownership in space, the Outer Space Treaty has potentially left open a loophole that could allow for nongovernmental, private entities to have ownership rights in space. Additionally, the 1979 Moon Treaty, which governs lunar activity was never signed by the U.S., leaving open another potential loophole for private American entities. (more…)
Every day, Automatic License Plate Readers (ALPR) capture millions of license plate images, which are stored in third-party databases. ALPRs have been used by law enforcement and state agencies to recover stolen vehicles and as a method of electronic toll collection on roads. Privacy activists, however, are concerned that state law enforcement may use ALPRs as a surveillance tool to track drivers’ locations and store images of drivers and their passengers. They argue that ALPRs may be used to collect information about individuals engaging in lawful activity, such as attending a peaceful gathering, or who pose no security threat.
For example, the Virginia State Police used ALPRs to record not only the license plates of vehicles attending President Obama’s inauguration, but entire campaign rallies for President Obama and former Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin as well. And in San Leadro, California, police used ALPRs to monitor Mr. Mike Katz-Lacabe’s Toyota Tercel, even though he had not been charged with a crime. When Katz-Lacabe submitted a public records request, he obtained 112 photos of his vehicles dating back two years. He was surprised to learn that he could identify people in the photos. Indeed, he was able to identify himself wearing one of his Berkeley shirts. (more…)
By Max Burke
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Sunday released proposed rules for small commercial unmanned aircraft systems (UAS)—also known as drones or unmanned aircraft vehicles. The rules would apply to non-recreational UAS under 55 pounds and would, among other things, limit flights to daylight hours and altitudes of less than 500 feet. A drone operator, with the help of visual observers, would need to maintain visual line of sight of the drone. And an operator would also “have to be at least 17 years old, pass an aeronautical knowledge test and obtain an FAA UAS operator certificate.” (See a summary of the proposed requirements here and the full proposal here.)
Currently, the FAA effectively bans commercial use of drones. Pursuant to section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (FMRA), the FAA authorizes such use only on a case-by-case basis; a limited number of companies have been given authorization since September 2014. The proposed rules—which were made pursuant to the FMRA—are supposed to be the next phase in expanding commercial drone use. The FAA lists a number of UAS activities that would be allowed under the proposed framework, including crop monitoring, research and development, power-line inspections, aerial photography, and aiding certain rescue operations. Anyone can submit comments on the proposed rules to the FAA for up to 60 days after the rules are published in the Federal Register. Unfortunately, promulgation of permanent rules is not expected until 2017, nearly two years after the deadline mandated by Congress in the FMRA. (more…)
On February 3, 2015, the UK House of Commons voted to authorize a fertility technique known as mitochondrial donation. The babies that result from such a technique would have three genetic parents: one father and two mothers. The process shows promise in preventing the passing on of serious mitochondrial diseases from mother to infant. Perhaps belying the controversy surrounding a novel reproductive technology, the vote in the House of Commons was fairly one-sided; there were 382 members in approval and 128 against. Approval by the House of Lords is necessary, but if it is forthcoming, babies conceived by this process could be born in 2016.
The process involves the manipulation of embryos from two women. The nuclear DNA of a woman who will pass on a mitochondrial disease is transplanted into the de-nucleated embryo of a donor. The resulting embryo has sets of nuclear and mitochondrial DNA from two different women, and the process of in vitro fertilization is then used to carry out the pregnancy. The infant born of this process would have the genetic material of three people, but would also hopefully be free of the diseases resulting from the defective mitochondrial DNA. Mitochondrial diseases are untreatable, and those afflicted by them often do not live into adulthood. This new fertility process is the result of lengthy scientific research, and heralded as a medical breakthrough. Proponents of the process say that it provides women who would otherwise pass on these debilitating diseases with the opportunity to have healthy genetic offspring. (more…)
On February 4, 2015, Tom Wheeler, Chairman of the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) announced, through a Wired op-ed piece, his plan to circulate a new proposal that would allow the FCC to use its authority under Title II of the Communications Act to protect consumer broadband internet and provide stronger “open Internet” protections. The proposal will be subject to a vote by the full commission on February 26, 2015.
The proposal is considered a big win for net neutrality advocates because it could allow the FCC to stop Internet service providers from charging content providers more money for reliable Internet access. The proposal comes as a direct response to President Obama’s speech in November 2014 where he asked the FCC to reclassify the Internet as a public utility and suggested a four point plan for ensuring net neutrality.
Net neutrality, or open Internet, relates to the idea that ISPs and governments should treat Internet data equally in order to preserve its freedom and openness. This could be accomplished by prohibiting the owner of a network from discriminating against information by slowing or tampering with the transfer of any data. Currently, the FCC attempts to ensure net neutrality through the Open Internet Order, which established “high-level rules requiring transparency and prohibiting blocking and unreasonable discrimination to protect Internet openness.” (more…)
The recent outbreak of measles in some states has caused many to question our present vaccination polices. Vaccinations are old as far as medical technology is concerned. Scientists created the first smallpox vaccine over two centuries ago, and mandatory vaccination requirements started cropping up as the nineteenth century progressed. Today, all states have some form of vaccination policy with regard to measles. Some states, however, allow broad exception for personal or religious reasons. One New York Times contributor, KJ Dell’Antonia, recently argued that states should do away with these exceptions. She stated broadly that the Supreme Court had already ruled that mandatory vaccination polices are constitutional. However, whether states can do away with religious exceptions is more complicated. Last month the Second Circuit issued an opinion in Phillips v. City of New York, dealing with the New York vaccination requirement, which sheds some light on how courts today will treat this question.
The Supreme Court first dealt with a vaccination requirement in 1905 in Jacobson v. Massachusetts. Massachusetts had a policy requiring a small pox vaccination during an outbreak. Jacobson refused to take the vaccine. He claimed that he had taken the vaccine as a child and became seriously ill. The state fined him, pursuant to the statute, and he challenged the fine. The Supreme Court issued a very broad opinion stating that regulation of a public health concern of the state was well within the state’s police powers. However, the Court did not consider the issue under the First Amendment, because the Court did not apply the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause to the states until 1940. (more…)
The Internet of Things arguably makes our lives easier, but in doing so, does it compromise other values we hold dearly? The Internet of Things is a system whereby objects that are commonplace in a normal lifestyle can connect to the Internet, enabling them to send and receive data to optimize or otherwise increase their abilities and functionality. With such increases in functionality, however, comes the ever-present risk that frequently accompanies changes in technology: Will this have a negative impact on our privacy? This is the very question the FTC sought to address in its report on the Internet of Things distributed last week. (We previously reported on the FTC’s preliminary examination of the Internet of Things here.) The new report discusses general ideas regarding the Internet of Things and sets forth best practices for businesses to follow in order to retain adequate consumer confidence in the products and the distributing companies themselves.
The Internet of Things presents many potential benefits to consumers. Among other things, it can be used to encourage and optimize energy efficiency throughout a household through integration with various appliances. It can also protect drivers on the roadway by warning drivers of various dangers, aiding in the development of autonomous vehicles (a topic previously discussed on this blog here and here). Further, the Internet of Things can help patients with medical conditions better communicate with their physicians to better manage their conditions. However, with such benefits, the FTC has also identified several security risks created by integration of the Internet of Things, namely: (1) enabling potential unauthorized access to personal information, (2) facilitating attacks on other systems, and (3) creating risks to personal safety. (more…)
Thanks to William Shatner and the popular TV show and movie franchise Star Trek, many think of outer space as the final frontier. That sentiment has recently been fully adopted by some of the most powerful companies in the world that are interested in the nearly limitless potential that space offers. Given that most law in this area is based on international law principles, it remains unknown how U.S. courts will handle disputes in commercial space law. Issues range from colonizing Mars, to more common and immediate concerns, such as contractual disputes and telecommunications progress.
In 2014, SpaceX filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Air Force claiming that the Air Force improperly awarded a contract to the United Launch Alliance (“ULA”), a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing. The complaint alleges that the Air Force did not take competing bids from other private contractors such as SpaceX. The contract guaranteed the purchase of 36 rocket cores from ULA for national defense. Founder Elon Musk of SpaceX claims that if allowed to bid, SpaceX would save the government over one billion dollars. (SpaceX already has a 1.6 billion-dollar contract with NASA to deliver resupply materials to the international space station.) Recently, federal district court Judge Susan Bradon denied ULA’s motion that the lawsuit should be dismissed based on supposed congressional ratification of the contract. In two recent spending bills, Congress passed language stating that the money should be paid to ULA. The court was not persuaded by ULA’s argument because all of the court proceedings have been under seal, and therefore Congress could not have had knowledge of the specifics of the lawsuit and would not be in a position to ratify the contract. (more…)
Police can now ‘see’ through the walls of your home, even without a warrant. A company called L-3 Communications has developed the RANGE-R, a radar device with stepped frequency continuous wave technology. The RANGE-R can “detect and measure the distance to moving and near stationary personnel through the walls constructed of common building materials.” This means that the handheld radar can be placed outside of a house and can report a three-dimensional display of what is happening inside the house. It can even detect a person who is simply breathing.
The radar was designed to be used in the battlefield, specifically in Iraq and Afghanistan. But, L-3 Communications has been marketing the radar to police departments and other emergency response organizations in the United States. Over the last two years, at least 50 police agencies have obtained access to this radar. However, the use of this machine was kept under the radar until this past December when the Tenth Circuit in United States v. Denson revealed its use to the public. (more…)