Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Velvet Underground Sues Andy Warhol Foundation for Trademark Infringement

Issues of copyright and trademark ownership can become tricky when an artist makes a work for hire.  This is currently the case with The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and 60’s rock band The Velvet Underground.  Many people would recognize the Andy Warhol stylized print of a banana as the Velvet Underground’s unofficial logo.  Many of the same people would also know that the banana was created by Warhol, who often collaborated with the band.  But who owns the rights to the iconic print? 

The banana print was never properly trademarked through a trademark attorney, neither was the copyright.  The Velvet Underground recently filed a trademark infringement lawusit that claims that the print was taken from a newspaper ad that was part of the public domain.  The Andy Warhol Foundation currently owns most of Warhol’s copyrights, which are valued at over $120 million.  The foundation earns about $2.5 million a year by licensing these copyrights.  When the foundation decided to start using the banana print as part of its copyrighted repertoire, the band sued.  According to the lawsuit, the band wants a judicial declaration that the foundation has no copyright protection for the banana icon.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Yahoo Patent Infringement Dispute with Facebook

Yahoo vs. Facebook


As Facebook readies itself for an initial public offering this spring, tensions are running high in Silicon Valley.  A bit too high, perhaps.  Yahoo has just sued Facebook for patent infringement over 10 patents that involve methods to advertise online.  A similar suit occurred in 2004, when Yahoo sued Google just prior to its IPO.  Yahoo has recently come under the management of a new CEO, and it looks like he means business.  After initially becoming the internet’s main source of networking and online searching, Yahoo has fallen in recent years to Google and Facebook.  A Facebook spokesman recently told the L.A. Times “We’re disappointed that Yahoo, a longtime business partner of Facebook and a company that has substantially benefited from its association with Facebook, has decided to resort to litigation.”

Apparently this kind of lawsuit has been on the rise in recent months in Silicon Valley.  Most of these suits come from firms that buy technology patents to create large IP portfolios.  The Yahoo suit is more of a surprise, although the cozy business relationship implied by Facebook’s statement is probably a bit of an exaggeration.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Pinterest Walking a Copyright Infringement Tightrope


The content sharing mega-site “Pinterest” is rapidly gaining online momentum.  The site features a virtual “pinboard” where users can post photos they find online and arrange them into albums, sort of like scrap booking.  The site is hugely popular to women under the age of 35; Pinterest’s Facebook page is “liked” by 97% women.  This site has been rapidly hailed a demographic marketing super-success, and with good reason.  But the site has also drawn an increasing amount of criticism and scrutiny.  Pinterest is coming under intense legal pressure; the copyright infringement issues seem blaringly obvious.  Unlike Facebook, Youtube, and other very popular social networking sites, Pinterest’s content is not primarily user-generated.  Instead, users are pulling copyrighted works from all over the web and reproducing them, mostly without attribution. 

Most content sharing and social networking sites are protected from the infringing actions of their users by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).  But the DMCA specifies that sites must follow DMCA takedown procedures when they receive a proper takedown notice.  Pinterest has been lax in this regard, committing two key shortcomings in following DMCA.  First, they leave it up to their own discretion as to whether to remove the content or not, after receiving a DMCA takedown notice.  Secondly, there is no provision to ban repeat offenders.  Both of these flaws in their system fall short of DMCA guidelines.    And a quick stroll through the online galleries reveals that the vast majority of images are copyrighted works, by and large not attributed.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out, especially if Pinterest decides to start advertising on its pages.  Currently it does not, which may be why would-be DMCA enforcers are turning a blind eye.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Apple iTV Trademark Infringement

Apple has been cooking up a new TV-like product for a while, and it’s been coming closer and closer to fruition.  Steve Jobs announced “iTV” a while ago, although it has not been launched, only hinted at, and talked about internally.  No doubt, consumers will be eager to jump on the iTV bandwagon, as soon as it arrives, and it is rumored to be on schedule for a Christmas 2012 launch.  Last week the New York Post reported that Apple was in communications with cable content providers to provide Apple users with some kind of cable-like service.

The only issue is that a company called iTV Entertainment, LLC, based in San Francisco, owns a trademark for “iTV.”  Today, iTV Entertainment issued a press release preemptively warning Apple of trademark infringement issues that would be raised if they go ahead with iTV.  Apple has a patent (U.S. No. 2011/0154394) that includes drawings displaying an iTV symbol.  The patent describes a visual and audio entertainment system.  This could play out similarly to the current iPad China debacle, but Apple will probably be relieved that litigation would take place in a court here in the U.S.