Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Selling a Jayne Cobb hat? Keep selling!

The short-lived Fox series "Firefly" has developed a cult following that has given life to any number of t-shirts, character statues, and other fan tributes.  Among them are a certain silly knit cap worn by the character Jayne Cobb (supposedly knit for him by his mother).  Fans have been able to buy "Jayne Cobb" hats from Etsy sellers and others for years.

(This is an official "Jayne Cobb" hat, available via ThinkGeek.  Attractive, no?) 

Until now. Apparently, Fox has been threatening these independent producers of lookalike hats with all manner of perdition.  But here's the problem - unless the sellers are calling them "Jayne Cobb" or "Firefly" or "Serenity" (the name of the ship and a follow-on feature film) hats, Fox really has little legal basis to stop third parties from making and selling these hats.

That's because hats are "useful articles" under US Copyright Law - and so can't be protected by copyright.  This peculiarity of copyright law has bedeviled fashion designers for years, and while there has been some chipping away of the concept (costumes, for example, can be protected), in general an article of clothing can't be.

So if you've received a cease-and-desist letter because you are selling "Jayne Cobb" hats, give me a call.  I'm a big "Firefly" fan and will be happy to review your situation and give you some idea of where you stand.   Browncoats do need to stick together, after all.  Especially when the Alliance comes a calling.  

(Update: The folks at ThinkGeek have decided to donate profits from the sales of officially-licensed Jayne Cobb hats to the Firefly-inspired "Can't Stop the Serenity" charity.  Well-played, Geeks, well-played!)

Monday, April 08, 2013

Bittorrent Subpoena Notice? Check the Case Status!

These pesky bittorrent lawsuits continue to propagate themselves throughout the court system.  Content owners -- which frankly may have a legitimate beef with having their films distributed for free -- persist in using them as tools to issue subpoenas seeking the identity of alleged file sharers.  If you receive a notice from your ISP that it has received a subpoena and that your personal information will be disclosed to the plaintiff unless you take steps to stop that from happening, don't despair.

One of the first things you should do is check the status of the lawsuit.  Many of these cases are getting dismissed by judges who are increasingly skeptical of both the methods used by the plaintiffs, and the quality of the rights they claim to hold.  If your case has recently been dismissed, then you may have a great argument that the subpoena is no longer valid.  Even the most compliant of ISPs will be nervous about disclosing customer information in response to a subpoena that has no legal force.

Those of us who handle these cases can quickly let you know what the status of the underlying lawsuit is.  Make sure you double check that before deciding how to respond to the ISP notice.


Saturday, October 06, 2012

NBC, Get with the Program

NBC has recently asked the Obama campaign to stop using footage of one of its talking heads reporting on what a think tank thinks of Romney's tax plan.  And yes, perhaps NBC has something of a copyright claim, and yes, perhaps NBC wants to avoid the impression that it is taking sides in the election.

But if you are a broadcast network built on the backs of licenses granted by the Federal Government allowing exclusive use of defined portions of the broadcast frequency spectrum in return for providing a minuscule bit of public service programming, then you need to expect that a political campaign for president is going to use footage of one of your reporters reporting on an issue of interest.  And then just shut up about it.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Are You Being Watched?

This Wired post reveals the extent to which warrantless spying by the Justice Department has exploded over the past decade.  I'm not sure it matters who you're voting for this election; but it's clear things have accelerated in the past four years.

With the explosion of surveillance comes an explosion of banal jobs consisting of sifting through the vast amounts of nonsense that most of us generate in the course of our everyday Internet lives.  I pity the poor fool who is charged with reviewing my latest Facebook bon mot, and only hope that I'm able to entertain him or her in the way I hope to entertain both of my Facebook 'friends.'

Sunday, September 16, 2012

This is Why I do What I do

When a major NYC law firm manages to run up $3.1 million in fees while "helping" a client recover a $4.68 million down payment on a condo, whilst billing more than 5500 billable hours - well, you know that the system is broken.  Read it and weep here.

Here's a clue: lawyers should be in business to help their clients achieve sensible results to their real-world problems.  When clients are spending stupid amounts of money to achieve these results, we have an obligation to let them know they may be wasting their funds.

This looks like one of those cases where the lawyers may have told the client "Don't worry; our fees are recoverable."  As the court found in its opinion:

"[I]t appears that Sponsor has not actually paid any legal fees to [the firm] on this matter. Astonishingly, [the firm's] attorneys, paralegals, and staff amassed 5536.4 billable hours on this matter, employing four partners, three special counsel, ten associates, eight paralegals, and a summer associate. (See Declaration of [nameless lawyer], dated Aug. 23, 2012 . . . . . Partners billed their time at rates ranging from $6801hour to $1025Ihour; associates at rates ranging from $440/hour to $745/hour; paralegals at rates ranging from $250/hour to $295/hour; and, last but not least, a summer associate at $335/hour. [The firm's] total bill for legal fees is a breathtaking $3,164,828.00."

As Judge Pauley put it, "This Court doubts that Sponsor - or any other client-would pay over $3.3 million in fees and expenses for the mere possibility of securing a $4.68 million down payment."

Don't get me wrong - the firm involved here is a well-known, high-quality, top-tier firm that is capable of providing great legal work for its clients.  But at some point the Rule of Reason needs to intervene.  And what this means from a practical perspective is that the Big Name Law Firm is not always your best choice for a good result at a good price.  

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


What has 9/11 wrought?  Did it bring us closer together as a nation?  Briefly.  Then it became an excuse - for warrantless searches and surveillance; for intrusive, meaningless security theater in our transportation systems; for questionable military actions that have killed many times more than perished on that terrible day; for the outsourcing of torture under the guise of 'rendition,' and for our own acts of torture and indefinite detention.

Of course we should never forget those who perished and those who risked and lost their lives to save them.  But we should also question the country we have become in the years after.  

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Dr. Seuss in Advertising

In the early days, pre-Cat, pre-Sneetches
Dr. Seuss was not living life on the beaches,
A mad-man was he, pitching that, pitching this,
To generate cash, and familial bliss. 

(Click each logo you see on the website below
and to the Dr. Seuss ads for that company you'll go!)

Official Web site of the University of California, San Diego
A UCSD Libraries Website
Part of the Dr. Seuss Collection
Presented by the Mandeville Special Collections Library