“No published works have entered our public domain since 1998.” Why the drought? “Works from 1923 were set to go into the public domain in 1999, after a 75-year copyright term. But in 1998 Congress hit a two-decade pause button and extended their copyright term for 20 years, giving works published between 1923 and 1977 an expanded term of 95 years.” Works from 1923 that became publicly available this week include (silent) films Safety Last, The Ten Commandments, and Our Hospitality, various novels by P.G. Wodehouse, Agatha Christie, Aldous Huxley, and Virginia Woolf, musical compositions Who’s Sorry Now, Charleston, and Yes, We Have No Bananas, and Robert Frost’s poem “Stopping By Woods On a Snowy Evening.” [Center for the Study of the Public Domain, Duke Law] “And assuming Congress doesn’t interfere, more works will fall into the public domain each January from now on.” Among those in the next few years: Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. [Timothy Lee, ArsTechnica; link fixed now] Earlier here, here, and here; given shifts in public opinion, trade associations for rights holders did not attempt to pass another extension this time.
Jameela Jamil (“The Good Place”) wants to ban airbrushing in magazines and advertisements, warning BBC readers that, “If you buy the products airbrushing is used to advertise, you won’t look like the person in the photograph.”
“If this comes as a surprise to you, please exercise caution before stepping out of doors or in front of a mirror,” I reply in my new op-ed in southern California newspapers. “Here in the land of liberty, fortunately, we recognize that to ban display of someone’s airbrushed image even if they’re fine with the idea would constitute a trifecta of coercion, stomping on personal autonomy, freedom to contract with others, and freedom of the press.” Read it here.
Citing the importance of the famed Strand used bookstore as a literary hub for Gotham writers over much of the past century, New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission is considering a proposal to slap landmark status on the structure, along with some other nearby buildings in its neighborhood south of Union Square. But “Nancy Bass Wyden, who owns the Strand and its building at 826 Broadway, said landmarking could deal a death blow to the business her family has owned for 91 years, one of the largest book stores in the world.” Landmark status in New York seriously constricts owners’ discretion to renovate, maintain and change space. [Corey Kilgannon, New York Times; Joe Setyon, Reason]
The right of publicity, or right to control the commercial use of one’s identity, has developed as judge-made law and in state statutes; it also figures in many other nations’ law, often under the heading of “personality rights.” Together with the convention of treating it as a form of property rather than a personal right it leads to some practically dubious consequences, discussed by guest blogger Jennifer Rothman in a series of Volokh Conspiracy posts based on a new book. Among them are legal risks for reporting on and depictions of both living and deceased persons, including biographies and discussion of public figures; proposals for transferability and alienability of the right would also mean that persons can in some circumstances lose control over their identities while alive.
Writer Faleena Hopkins recently registered a trademark in the word “cocky” in connection with her series of romance novels. Next step: cease and desist letters to other authors using the word “cocky” in their book titles. Now legal disputes (“#cockygate”) are proliferating. [Tim Cushing, TechDirt]
- “Crash survivor sues publisher, claims he was exploited by book’s false claim of visit to heaven” [Debra Cassens Weiss, ABA Journal on William Alexander “Alex” Malarkey claim against Tyndale House Publishers] More: Lowering the Bar;
- Attorney-client privilege and the raid on Trump lawyer Michael Cohen: my Saturday chat with Yuripzy Morgan of Baltimore’s WBAL radio [listen] On the same general subject, Clark Neily chats with Caleb Brown for the Cato Daily Podcast, and Ken at Popehat has a Stormy Daniels/Michael Cohen civil litigation lawsplainer;
- “While there were many problems with the $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill, one thing the Republican-led Congress got absolutely right was defunding Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing” [Robert Romano, Daily Torch, earlier on AFFH]
- “The nearest Macy’s department store is several thousand miles away” but a small hair salon in Scotland will need to change its similar name or face lawyers’ wrath [Timothy Geigner, TechDirt]
- Facebook sued for allegedly allowing housing discrimination by way of ad targeting [autoplays] [Seth Fiegerman, CNN Money]
- Beverage equivalent of clear backpacks: South Carolina bill would make it a crime to let teenagers consume energy drinks [Jacob Sullum]
Recommended: Attorney Elizabeth McNamara of Davis Wright Tremaine, a law firm known for its media defense practice, wrote this three-page letter on behalf of publisher Henry Holt and author Michael Wolff responding to Donald Trump’s letter demanding that it not publish Wolff’s book Fire and Fury (“My clients do not intend to cease publication, no such retraction will occur, and no apology is warranted.”). How strong are the President’s claims based on contractual non-disclosure and non-disparagement clauses? David Post has a few things to say about that [Volokh Conspiracy] As for Mr. Trump’s possible defamation claims, American courts will not ordinarily enjoin a defamatory publication unless the fact of defamation has been proven at trial, so any remedy he may have will need to be after-the-fact in any case. “The suggestion that Donald Trump would actually follow through on this latest of his many legal threats, much less win…. is the hootworthy part.” [Lowering the Bar]
Addressing a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, the President once again called for changing libel laws to make it easier for plaintiffs to win, although libel is a matter of state rather than federal law [Gregory Korte and David Jackson, USA Today] Irony watch, from last month: “Trump’s statements ‘too vague, subjective, and lacking in precise meaning’ to be libelous,” in suit by political strategist who was the target of future President’s tweets in February 2016 [Eugene Volokh] “Trump has been filing and threatening lawsuits to shut up critics and adversaries over the whole course of his career,” I noted in this space last year. “Mr. Trump’s supporters should also keep in mind that one day they too will want to criticize a public official without being punished for doing so.” [John Samples, Cato]
Allen & Unwin, the publisher, says it does not plan to publish a book by Charles Sturt University academic Clive Hamilton called Silent Invasion, on the influence of the Chinese government in high places in Australia. Hamilton says the publisher has privately communicated to him that it is afraid of facing defamation lawsuits should it go forward. [Andrew Greene, Australian Broadcasting Corporation]
Legally penalizing the circulation of “fake news,” misinformation and faulty rumor, newly popular in Europe especially as regards social media, is not a new idea at all. It’s a very old one, which again and again results in governments’ enshrining their particular version of orthodoxy as truth [Jacob Mchangama, Quillette]
Author signings are an important source of traffic for many small community bookstores, but the new California law discussed in this space last year could make them impractical. The bill requires that retailers provide witnessed certificates of authenticity for signed items of value, which must record extensive information on matters such as the size of the edition and price paid, all on pain of steep penalties. They must also retain the resulting paperwork for seven years and will be subject to bounty-hunting suits by “private attorney general” attorneys. The bill’s sponsor apparently did not realize it would apply to signed books. Now Pacific Legal Foundation is challenging the statute in a lawsuit on behalf of San Francisco’s Book Passage store, co-owned by lawyer Bill Petrocelli. [Anastasia Boden, PLF Blog]