The Pandemic License

The Pandemic License is a temporary license designed to allow educators to “read an author’s works via video and audio over the internet while students are learning from home during the COVID-19 crisis.”

The rights to do this do not last forever – this is something that teachers can do for as long as the COVID-19 pandemic is happening.

Well, I guess a temporary license from major corporations to . . . check’s notes read aloud is better than no permission to read aloud . . .

If you think The Pandemic License is a great idea, you might also be interested in The Pirate Bay License.

YouTube Allowed Copyright Strike Against Video That Didn’t Even Exist

At the place I work, we pay a third party to host all of the videos that our employees and customers have created. Occasionally, I’ve had people ask “why don’t we just use YouTube to host videos and save money.” This nonsense is why.

Can you receive a copyright strike on YouTube for content that doesn’t even exist?

You can and I would know because it happened to me.

You see, I host a political podcast, DOOMED with Matt Binder, which I also stream live on YouTube. The left-leaning show covers everything from the far right to tech policy, from internet conspiracy theories to the Democratic primary race. Which brings me to Tuesday, Jan. 14, the night of the CNN Democratic primary debate in Iowa.

Earlier in the evening, I’d scheduled a YouTube livestream, as I always do the night of a debate, in order to discuss the event with progressive activist Jordan Uhl after CNN’s broadcast wrapped up. I’d even labeled it as a “post-Democratic debate” show featuring Uhl’s name directly in the scheduled stream title. These post-debate shows consist entirely of webcam feeds of my guest and myself, split-screen style, breaking down the night’s events.

Shortly after setting up the stream, which wasn’t scheduled to start for hours, I received an email from YouTube:

“[Copyright takedown notice] Your video has been taken down from YouTube.”

It gets worse because this wasn’t some automated bot. Warner Bros. had apparently contracted with someone to pre-emptively take down YouTube streams that it thought might be rebroadcasting the Democratic debate.

To contest a copyright strike, YouTube allows users to submit a counter-claim, giving the claimant 10 days to respond. My first claim was actually denied, effectively saying it was unclear whether I had a valid reason to file a counter notification. So, that’s when I reached out to YouTube to let the company know I was going to do a story on this. 

Apparently, bad PR is all it takes to set the wheels of justice in motion.

According to YouTube, it appeared that Warner Bros.’ representative searched for content involving the debates and manually issued the claim based on the title of the scheduled livestream. YouTube then subsequently removed the copyright claim, the strike, and restored livestreaming abilities to my YouTube channel.

This is outrageous behavior on the part of Warner Bros. and YouTube–outrageous behavior that is enabled and encouraged by the equally outrageous Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Uploads of the Mueller Report Are Being Flagged By Copyright Bots

Under United States law, government reports such as the Mueller Report are public domain and cannot be copyrighted. Under the current online copyright regimen, however, numerous people who have attempted to upload the Mueller Report to services like Scribd have been hit with copyright infringement notices.

According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation,

Scribd is a service that allows users to upload documents for easy embedding. It’s commonly used by journalists to attach things like legal complaints or court records to articles based on those records. It is therefore not at all surprising that a number of people and news outlets uploaded the Mueller report to Scribd.

Scribd has an automated filter that searches uploads to check for alleged copyright infringement called BookID. BookID, like YouTube’s Content ID, has a propensity for false positives. This apparently happens so often that Scribd’s own page on the system has a whole section devoted to “false positives,” explaining:

The BookID database may contain reference samples from educational textbooks and other works that contain long excerpts of classic literature, religious texts, legal documents, and government publications that are typically in the public domain. This can occasionally result in the removal of uncopyrighted, authorized, or public domain material from Scribd.

False positives also happen enough that Scribd sent a letter—obtained by Quartz—to people whose uploads of the Mueller report were taken down, to lower people’s expectations. The letter explains that a) all automated systems will flag legitimate content b) the volume of content on Scribd means no one checks on the matches before the alleged infringing content is taken down and c) sometimes legitimate uploads are taken down just for being duplicates.

Meanwhile, regulators around the world look to these sort of broken filters automatically take down everything from threats of violence to pornography to copyright violations.

Jack Valenti: “The VCR is to the American film producer . . . as the Boston Strangler is to the woman home alone”

I just uploaded the complete text of Jack Valenti’s infamous 1982 testimony to the House Subcommittee on Courts, Civil liberties, and the Administration of Justice.

This originally came from Cryptome based on a hardcopy version. There appear to be a number of obvious errors in the transcription, but still interesting to see in detail just how wrong Hollywood gets technology.

Magic Tricks and Intellectual Property Laws

The BBC has an examination of the intersection of magic tricks and intellectual property laws.

Magic has a long history of magicians both protecting their methods and ripping off the illusions and methods they can figure out.

There have been some pretty brazen examples in the past – perhaps none more so than the case involving the world-famous US magician Harry Kellar at the end of the 19th Century. He was so keen to work out how British magician John Nevil Maskelyne was doing his levitations, that he went to the show several times – armed with binoculars.

When that failed, he marched right up to stage at the key moment to take a peek. He still couldn’t work it out, and ended up bribing another magician at the theatre to provide him with sketches. Kellar performed this particular act around the world for years afterwards.

The article notes that for a number of reasons, magic tricks fall outside of most intellectual property laws. The obvious possibility is that how an illusion is created is a sort of trade secret, but in most countries it is incumbent about a company or individual to prevent a trade secret from becoming widely known which, the BBC notes, is a bit difficult for magicians giving regular public performances.

Magicians could seek–and a few have obtained–patents on their inventions, but of course the problem there is that the mechanism of the invention has to be published with the patent. The BBC cites on magician who did patent an illusion only to find that the legal costs for protecting the patent from infringers was too high to make this an effective strategy.

According to the BBC article, a Netherlands court found that while magic tricks themselves were not protected, the particulars of a given magician’s stage show potentially were.

In the United States, there is currently a pending lawsuit filed by Raymond Teller, of Penn and Teller, against magician Gerard Dogge. According to a Hollywood Reporter story on the lawsuit,

Teller accuses Dutch entertainer Gerard Dogge of ripping off his copyrighted magic piece called Shadows, putting it on YouTube as an illusion entitled The Rose & Her Shadow, and offering to reveal the secrets for $3,050. The litigation promised to help determine the level of protection that magicians have over their tricks, and to prevail, Teller would need to show that his trick is eligible for copyright protection and that Dogge’s piece is substantially similar. To do that, he’ll first need to perform the hard chore of showing that Shadows is “fixed in a tangible medium of expression from which the work can be performed,” as the U.S. Copyright Office requires.

Unfortunately, it looks unlikely that Dogge will actually show up for the civil trial, meaning the court won’t likely get to rule on the underlying copyright claims.

Don’t Click *This* Link If You Live Between *These* Imaginary Lines

In 1920, H.G. Wells published The Outline of History — Wells’ take on the unfolding of human civilization that was especially harsh on religion and superstition. In response, Hilaire Belloc, a devout Roman Catholic, wrote a series of articles attacking The Outline of History which he compiled into 1926’s  A Companion to Mr. Wells’s “Outline of History”. Wells responded in the same year with a book-length rant, Mr. Belloc Objects to “The Outline of History”. Both books are apparently mostly invective that shed little light on the issues actually being discussed.

I wanted to read Wells’ response to Belloc, and it turns out the book can be for free legally on the Internet. But there’s a slight problem —  I live between the series of imaginary lines that constitutes the United States. As the University of Pennsylvania’s website explains,

The title you have selected (Mr. Belloc Objects to “The Outline of History”) is a post-1922 publication by an author who died more than 50 years ago. Such titles are in the public domain in many countries, particularly those outside the US and Europe. However, this title most likely remains copyrighted under United States law, where works copyrighted in 1923 or later can remain under copyright for up to 95 years after publication. It may also be copyrighted in European Union countries and other countries where copyrights can last longer than 50 years past the author’s death. (Europe, for instance, uses a life plus 70 years term.) Follow this link for more details on copyright laws of various countries. Below, we provide author death dates and other edition information, so that you can check this information against the terms of your country’s copyright law.

Do NOT download or read this book online if you or your system are in the United States, or in another country where copyrights for authors with the dates shown below have not expired. The author’s estate and publishers still retain rights to control distribution and use of the work in those countries.

Since the maintainer of this index resides in the United States, he cannot fully check these links for validity. Please inform [email protected] if any of the links do not work. You may also be interested in the more than 1 million books listed on The Online Books Page that can be legally read online or downloaded in the US.

I love the last paragraph — that the University of Pennsylvania can’t legally check to see if the link works or not. I have to confess, I went ahead and broke international copyright law and clicked on through to the link (I did think about those Foster’s beer commercials first, though, so its almost like I was in Australia anyway.)

So do you, dear reader, dare to follow my scofflaw ways? If so, H.G. Wells awaits.