A DISCUSSION OF LAW AND JOURNALISM

Tag: copyright

When Cultural Inspiration Crosses The Line

Victoria's Secret Native American Headdress

By Nicole Rowlands

In late October, the Fashion Institute at Fordham Law School sponsored an event that addressed the issue of cultural appropriation (or rather, misappropriation) in the fashion industry. More specifically, the event advertisement asked the following: “When it comes to culture, the world’s closets are filled with borrowed and reimagined finery – but when does inspiration shade into cultural appropriation?  And at what point should counsel comment?” The discussion was held at the De Buck Gallery in Chelsea, which showcased exhibitions of Zevs, a popular street artist similar to the infamous Banksy.

The gallery was cozy, so capacity was limited. Only New York’s best dressed “fashion attorneys” and a few lucky law students attended. The reception welcomed the small crowd with an assortment of sweets and a spot of bubbly champagne.

After some chit-chat and a drink (or two), everyone sat down to listen to the speakers – Professor Susan Scafidi, Academic Director of the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham; Katrin Zimmermann, designer of Ex Ovo jewelry; and Katherine E. Lewis, Attorney Advisor for the Smithsonian Institute.

First to speak was Ms. Zimmermann who described her jewelry line as, “modern high-end ‘bridge’ jewelry sold in museums of modern art in the U.S. and worldwide.”  Ms. Zimmermann discussed the cultural inspiration she uses in her jewelry making. Perhaps most enticing was Ms. Zimmermann’s answer to the question, “When searching the world for inspiration, where do you draw the line?” She responded, “There shouldn’t be a line,” and clarified that there was a stark difference between “inspiration and misappropriation.”

Next up was Professor Scafidi, who examined the controversy surrounding cultural inspiration and the fashion industry, and offered examples of the extreme cultural misappropriation that we often see on runways and product lines. For instance, Matthew Williamson’s Summer 2008 Collection included two Ethiopian dresses that were so similar to Ethiopia’s traditional national dress that the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs took to investigating the matter.  But nothing came of the case after Mr. Williamson issued a formal apology and an explanation that the appropriation came from a deep “admiration… for the traditional dress of the Ethiopian people.”

In November 2012, the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show featured one of its models in a Native American-style headdress, leopard print underwear, and high heels. After the outfit was condemned by many as a display of ignorance toward tribal culture and history, Victoria’s Secret publicly apologized and assured the public that it would not include the outfit in the show’s television broadcast or in any marketing materials.

It wasn’t even a year earlier that Urban Outfitters was in the soup over the same kind of transgression. But that time, a public apology was not enough to save the company from harsh criticism — and even a lawsuit.

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Woody Allen, William Faulkner, Sharknado

Sharknado

By LASIS Staff 

Last November, LASIS wrote about the lawsuit brought by the Faulkner estate against Sony Pictures Classics alleging copyright infringement because of a sentence or two in Woody Allen’s romcom “Midnight in Paris.” As then NYLS Professor said to our reporter, “The intellectual property rights asserted in this case are, in fact (brain) dead.”

Chief Judge Michael P. Mills of United States District Court in Mississippi apparently felt similarly, and earlier this week, dismissed the case.

So as to be sure to make a wise decision, Judge Mills saw  “Midnight in Paris” and read (Faulkner’s) “Requiem for a Nun.” He is, he writes, “thankful that the parties did not ask the court to compare ‘The Sound and the Fury’ with ‘Sharknado.’”

Nice pop culture savvy, Judge Mills.  And in tossing the case out of court, good legal savvy, too.

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You Don’t Own E-nything

Kindle

By Ryan Morrison

With news breaking last month that Amazon has a patent to resell e-books, consumers smiled and authors worriedly reviewed the contents of their savings accounts. Earlier this month, attorney and bestselling author Scott Turow wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times stating that the practice of reselling such an item will most likely be “ruled illegal.”

I share his optimism.  But only because our laws are so far behind Europe’s.

If a realm existed more poorly regulated and filled with bad law than the internet, I’d love to see it. We have reactionary legislation from people who don’t know how to turn on their computer, case law decided by judges perplexed by futuristic terms like “modem,” and an army of users content to make up their own interpretations of the law and let it spread like wildfire. This misinterpretation of the law is then repeated on various online forums until it is recited with more bravado than Gaston, mocking any who dare to disagree, even when the dissenters are correct.  Well, get on your chuckle boots, internet, because you’re about to be educated.

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(Brain) Dead Intellectual Property Rights

Midnight in Paris

By Jonathan Eggers

Strong box office.  A critical darling. Nominated in 2012 for the Academy Awards for Best Picture; winner of the Best Original Screenplay. By any measure, Woody Allen’s 2011 film Midnight in Paris would be considered a cinematic success.

That is, until the film found itself in the center of some legal sound and fury.

The movie transports its hero, a struggling author played with panache by Owen Wilson, to the artistic mecca that was Paris in the early 20th century.

Pablo Picasso, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway all have memorable moments in the film. And in one scene, Mr. Wilson’s character says, in true Woody Allen-neurotic style: “The past is not dead! Actually, it’s not even past. You know who said that? Faulkner. And he was right. And I met him, too. I ran into him at a dinner party.”

The literati in the audience surely recognized the quote, and laughed. It’s a riff on a line from William. Faulkner’s “Requiem for a Nun”: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

Other people who recognized the quote? Mr. Faulkner’s estate.

Faulkner Literary Rights, LLC (Faulkner LLC) has filed a copyright infringement lawsuit in federal district court against production studio Sony Pictures Classics.

Does the law protect use of quotes only ten words long? Or does it dismiss these types of actions as frivolous and use of such material as protected by fair use? Does it matter that the movie clearly attributes the quote to the original author? Or was it more damaging to have associated Faulkner with the film than not? The media didn’t say. LASIS investigates.

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Fighting Megaupload Piracy With…Piracy?

Pirate

By Asher Hawkins

Last week, the Obama Administration criticized SOPA and PIPA for their associated risk of fostering censorship. At the same time, the Administration stated it would combat online piracy perpetrated by foreign websites.

Looks like the promise to crack down on piracy was more than mere saber-rattling.

Yesterday, less than 24 hours after the conclusion of the Stop-SOPA Blackout, the U.S. Department of Justice announced a sweeping indictment targeting the leaders of Megaupload.com, a popular Hong Kong-based file-sharing site that, according to the feds, allows users to access pirated copies of movies, music and other copyright-protected works.

Megaupload’s top seven honchos – none of them U.S. citizens, and four of them arrested Thursday by local New Zealand law enforcement upon a request from American authorities – are accused of heading up an organized criminal enterprise whose main goal was criminal copyright infringement.

But the feds’ actions may just be outside the scope of existing U.S. statutory law. The whole idea behind the Stop Online Piracy Act (the House of Representatives version of the controversial legislative initiative) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (the Senate version) is that our existing laws don’t give the feds the legal weaponry needed to protect works under U.S. copyright from the scourge of foreign online piracy.

Does U.S. law apply to wrongdoing committed (or primarily committed) overseas? It’s a complicated issue that our judicial system has increasingly grappled with in recent years. Thursday’s news reports about the shutdown of Megaupload – here’s a run-of-the-mill mainstream-media report from ABC News, and here’s a more in-depth piece from Wired – didn’t address this “extraterritoriality” issue.

So we decided to do just that.   (more…)

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