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Enabling Life

Eileen M. Woo

Many biotechnology products are living organisms that are essentially “made” by a trial and error process of directing evolution in a laboratory. Decades ago, the Supreme Court in Chakrabarty settled the threshold question of patent eligibility for life forms, stating clearly that living things are patentable. Nevertheless, the fact that nature assists inventors so heavily in the process of inventing a useful new organism raises the question of whether such organisms meet patent law’s enablement requirement—that a patent application must teach a person of ordinary skill in the art how to make and use the invention without undue experimentation. This Note argues that the enablement requirement has been overlooked for patents to genetically engineered organisms, and proposes solutions for updating this requirement to properly incentivize the creation of socially beneficial living things, without allowing inventors to bar access to products of nature.

The Copy Process

Joseph P. Fishman

There’s more than one way to copy. The process of copying can be laborious or easy, expensive or cheap, educative or unenriching. But the two intellectual property regimes that make copying an element of liability, copyright and trade secrecy, approach these distinctions differently. Copyright conflates them. Infringement doctrine considers all copying processes equally suspect, asking only whether the resulting product is substantially similar to the protected work. By contrast, trade secrecy asks not only whether but also how the defendant copied. It limits liability to those who appropriate information through means that the law deems improper. This Article argues that copyright doctrine should borrow a page from trade secrecy by factoring the defendant’s copying process into the infringement analysis. To a wide range of actors within the copyright ecosystem, differences in process matter. Innovators face less risk from competitors if imitation is costly than if it is cheap. Consumers may value a work remade from scratch more than they do a digital reproduction. Beginners can learn more technical skills from deliberately tracing an expert’s creative steps than from simply clicking cut and paste. The consequences of copying, in short, often depend on how the copies are made. Fortunately, getting courts to consider process in copyright cases may not be as far-fetched as the doctrine suggests. Black-letter law notwithstanding, courts sometimes subtly invoke the defendant’s process when ostensibly assessing the propriety of the defendant’s product. While these decisions are on the right track, it’s time to bring process out into the open. Copyright doctrine could be both more descriptively transparent and more normatively attractive by expressly looking beyond the face of a copy and asking how it got there.

Assessing the Future IP Landscape of Music’s Cash Cow: What Happens When the Live Concert Goes Virtual

Charles H. Low

If piracy has been the bane of the music industry, and live performances are a financial buoy, what happens when live performances are ported to a virtual medium that all of a sudden may be subject to piracy again? This Note examines the various intellectual property frameworks through which one can look at the protectable elements of a live show or concert and what happens to the protectability of those elements once the show is ported to virtual reality. Given that technology to date has had a much larger impact on recorded music than on live performances, the introduction of virtual reality technology has serious disruptive potential. This Note argues that one can use existing intellectual property law to weave a complex web of protected elements around less traditional targets of IP like stage, set, and lighting design, background visuals, live performers, and props. This web of intellectual property protection will encourage strong contracting and yield more avenues for resisting piracy in the virtual reality world.

The Scope of Strong Marks: Should Trademark Law Protect the Strong More than the Weak?

Barton Beebe, C. Scott Hemphill

At the core of trademark law has long been the blackletter principle that the stronger a trademark is, the greater the likelihood that consumers will confuse similar marks with it and thus the wider the scope of protection the mark should receive. The relation between trademark strength and trademark scope is always positive. The strongest marks receive the widest scope of protection.

In this article, we challenge this conventional wisdom. We argue that as a mark achieves very high levels of strength, the relation between strength and confusion turns negative. The very strength of such a superstrong mark operates to ensure that consumers will not mistake other marks for it. Thus, the scope of protection for such marks ought to be narrower compared to merely strong marks. If we are correct, then numerous trademark disputes involving the best-known marks should be resolved differently—in favor of defendants. Our approach draws support from case law of the Federal Circuit—developed but then suppressed by that court—and numerous foreign jurisdictions.

As we show, some courts justify the conventional wisdom on the alternative ground that, whatever the likelihood of confusion, defendants with similar marks should not reap where they have not sown. This misplaced concern with free riding suffers from multiple analytical flaws and is contrary to trademark policy. These flaws are compounded where the mark owner sues a competitor, claiming expansive scope over similar but non-confusing marks. The fundamental change in trademark doctrine that we propose not only conforms to the empirical realities of consumer perception, but also advances the overarching policy goal of trademark law, which is not to enable the strongest to grow even stronger, but rather to promote effective competition.

The Teach Act: Copyright Law and Online Education

Kristine H. Hutchinson

In response to an increase in the use of the Internet to distribute distance education courses and resultant concerns that copyright law related to distance education activities had become outdated, Congress passed the Technology Education and Copyright Harmonization Act (TEACH Act) in November, 2002. Through this enactment, Congress sought to align educators’ rights to use copyrighted materials in online courses with their rights to use such materials in traditional, classroom-based courses. In this Note, Kristine Hutchinson argues that they did not achieve this result. Rather, she suggests, the Act is fraught with requirements and vague terminology, which have caused confusion amongst educational institutions and have resulted in the failure to take advantage of the Act. In the end, despite the Act’s shortcomings, Hutchinson concludes that the TEACH Act is viable legislation, and offers suggestions to aid educational institutions in making use of the expanded rights to use copyrighted materials in online courses enabled by the TEACH Act.

Textualism and the Equity of the Copyright Act: Reflections Inspired by American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. v. Aereo, Inc.

Andrew Tutt

On April 22, 2014 the Supreme Court will hear argument in American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. v. Aereo, Inc., a case involving such technological boondogglery, such Rube Goldbergian skullduggery, such naked and unapologetic circumvention of the perceived purposes and aims of the Copyright Act and its enactors, that it will strike textualism at its very core. In doing so, however, Aereo offers an occasion for deeper reflection on how we should understand the Copyright Act. Is there space for equity in the Copyright Act? The answer is an emphatic yes. But that equity is not to be found in judicially fashioned equities, spun from abstract incantations of the Act’s purposes or values. The answer is in its text.