Star Trek Copyright Suit Could Impact Software Developers

A copyright battle over of a 2014 short film’s use of Star Trek themes and Klingon – the language spoken by fictional humanoids – could impact legal disputes over programming languages. The Language Creation Society recently sided with the creators of Prelude to Axanar in an amicus brief, saying that if the language is copyrighted, then all ideas subsequently expressed in it could be too. Quartz explains how the lawsuit could impact software developers’ ability to copy codes and also outlines other cases where symbol copyrights are being debated. 

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Redskins Seek Supreme Court Hearing in Trademark Case

The Washington Redskins filed a petition yesterday asking the U.S. supreme Court to to hear its case over its controversial trademark. The NFL team is asking for its case to be heard alongside The Slants, an Asian-American band, who wants to trademark their name. A federal appeals court ruled in favor of the band’s trademark attempt, but the government has asked the Supreme Court to overturn that ruling. The case challenges the same piece of U.S. law that the Redskins’ case does, CNN Money reports.  

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Entertainment and Sports Forum Set for May 19

The TBA’s annual Entertainment & Sports Forum is planned for May 19, 12:30 – 4:45 p.m., at Belmont University College of Law, Baskin Center, 1900 Belmont Blvd. in Nashville. This year’s forum, titled “Nashville: The Intersection of Television, Fashion and Music,” is approved for four CLE credits. Topics include an inside perspective on the intellectual property issues for the TV show "Nashville,” and a discussion of the ethical challenges when using social media and online platforms to market your practice. Register by May 15 to avoid a late fee. 

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Register Today for the 135th Annual TBA Convention

Join us on June 15-18 in Nashville for the 135th Annual Convention! Registration for the 2016 TBA Convention includes:

  • free access to all TBA CLE programming;
  • the Opening Reception;
  • the Bench Bar Programming and Luncheon;
  • Law School and general breakfasts;
  • the Lawyers Luncheon;
  • the Thursday evening Joint (TBA/TLAW/TABL) Reception;
  • the Thursday night dinner and entertainment at the George Jones Museum;
  • and the Friday night Dance Party.

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Memphis Inventor Sues Carrier for 'Stealing His Ideas'

Steve Olita, a Memphis-area inventor, is suing Carrier Corp. for allegedly using his ideas in its Collierville factory without paying licensing fees, The Commercial Appeal reports. He says the air conditioner manufacturer worked with one of his former employees to copy his ideas to avoid paying. Olita also filed a separate lawsuit against former employees and other companies.

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Mentors in Intellectual Property Needed

The TBA Mentoring Program is looking for volunteer mentors who practice intellectual property law in the Davidson County or Williamson County areas. Mentoring is the most effective way to pass along skills, knowledge and wisdom and it is critical to a new lawyer’s success. There are many new attorneys signed up for this program, but there is a shortage of mentors to match them with. 

To qualify as a mentor, you must have a minimum of eight years of experience with no formal BPR investigation pending or disciplinary action imposed in the last 10 years. For more information on the program, visit

If you’re interested in signing up, please contact Kate Prince at 615-277-3202.

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Fastcase Will Face No Defense in Suit to Access State Laws

Casemaker agrees with Fastcase: state law is not copyrightable. Fastcase filed a federal suit against Casemaker after its parent company Lawriter demanded Fastcase take down Georgia Administrative Rules and Regulations from its platform. Lawriter has a contact with the state to publish the laws, but Casemaker CEO says the company will not defend the Fastcase suit. Read more from the ABA Journal.

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Does monkey have standing to assert copyright in selfie photos? Judge is skeptical

Originally published in ABA Journal - January 7, 2016

By Debra Cassens Weiss

A federal judge in San Francisco hearing arguments on Wednesday appeared unlikely to find standing in a copyright suit filed on a behalf of a monkey who shot selfies published in a wildlife book.

U.S. District Judge William Orrick said during the hearing there was no indication the federal copyright law gave animals the right to sue, report the Recorder (sub. req.), Ars Technica and the Associated Press.

“While Congress and the president can extend the protection of law to animals as well as humans,” Orrick said during the hearing, “there is no indication that they did so in the Copyright Act.”

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) had sued on behalf of the crested macaque named Naruto, the monkey believed to have snapped selfies with a photographer’s unattended camera. The photographer, David Slater, obtained a British copyright and published the photos in a book by his company Blurb.

PETA says proceeds from the photo should benefit Naruto. The photos have also been published by Wikimedia, which contends works from nonhuman sources aren’t covered by copyright unless a human makes substantial changes.

Orrick said he didn’t believe PETA could establish standing to sue, but he would likely give PETA a chance to file an amended complaint, according to the coverage by the Recorder.

One of the monkey's selfies from Wikimedia Commons.

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Tennessee Fashion Law: Protecting Brands and More

The TBA will offer a first-of-its-kind Tennessee Fashion Law CLE on March 31 at the Tennessee Bar Center in Nashville. Topics include protecting fashion brands through copyright, regulations that govern merchandize labeling and disclosure, and employment issues unique to fashion law. The course, scheduled from 1 to 4:15 p.m., is approved for three CLE credits.

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City of Rocky Top Settles with Copyright Holders

The city of Rocky Top settled its lawsuit with House of Bryant Publications, the copyright holders of the popular bluegrass tune with the same name. The company sued the city in 2013 in an effort to prevent the name change. The city is now allowed to sell trademarked items, as long as money raised goes to the city. The Associated Press reports a separate settlement with the development group that proposed the tourist complex, Rocky Top Tennessee Marketing and Manufacturing, is still under negotiation.

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Court Ruling Could Help Redskins in Trademark Case

A U.S. Court of Appeals ruling that says the government cannot reject trademarks it deems offensive to others could help the Washington Redskins defend the team's own trademark protections. The Federal Circuit court’s ruling comes in a case involving an American-Asian band, The Slants, whose application to trademark its name was rejected by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The court said banning offensive trademarks violates the First Amendment. The Redskins are currently appealing the government’s pending withdrawal of its trademark protection. Read more from The Washington Post.

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Rutherford Clerk's Office Owes More Than $175k in Penalties

A state audit revealed the Rutherford County Circuit Court Clerk’s office faces $175,135 in penalties and interest because of software problems, the Daily News Journal reports. Circuit Court Clerk Melissa Harrell blamed the penalties on former Circuit Court Clerk Laura Bohling. "Prior to my election to the position of Circuit Court Clerk in August 2014, the previous court clerk had been working for close to two years to implement a new software system that, in the end, cost the taxpayers of Rutherford County close to $1 million in equipment, labor and overhead costs," Harrell said. The audit also noted  "discrepancies in operations at the Rutherford County Sheriff's Department are currently being investigated."

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Nashville Artist Fights Beside Attorneys for Higher Royalty Rates

George Johnson, a Nashville singer-songwriter and non-attorney, has gained attention for standing toe-to-toe with attorneys in a case that will determine new royalty rates for record labels, artists and popular internet music services. Artists and record labels are asking the Copyright Royalty Board to set the rate for non-interactive music at $.0025 cents per stream, compared to rate proposals from the service providers starting at $.0005 per stream. Johnson, the only artist representing in the rate-setting hearing, says artists and labels should be paid a licensing fee of between 10 cents and $1 for each song. Read more from The Tennessean.

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Consumers More Vulnerable to Cybercrime, Norton Says

A new report released by Norton, a cybersecurity company, reveals in the 12 months to September, more than 348 million identities were exposed as a result of data breaches. Norton says consumers globally spent $150 billion in the past year dealing with the issues related to cybercrime. Read more from the Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog.

New State Logo Gets Trademark Approval

Gov. Bill Haslam’s new state logo, which has received criticism for its simple design and high cost, has received approval from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Humphrey on the Hill reports. The patent office originally denied the trademark application on the basis that it was primarily a geographic description. The Haslam administration changed the name of the application to the executive branch of Tennessee state government, which satisfied the examiners.

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Songwriter's Family Wins Right to Popular Christmas Tune

The Wall Street Journal reports that a Second U.S. Ciricut Court of Appeals panel has ruled that the family of the man who wrote the popular Christmas tune “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” will resume the rights to the song at the end of this year. The rights to the holiday melody are currently controlled by EMI Feist Catalog Inc., a Sony subsidiary. The song is the most frequently performed holiday song, according to the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.

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Microsoft, Google End Patent War

Microsoft and Google are giving up on a spate of patent lawsuits they have been fighting for years, the Memphis Business Journal reports. The two companies announced yesterday they would dismiss as many as 20 lawsuits between them over the use of various patents for mobile phones, gaming consoles and more. In a joint statement, they indicated an agreement "to collaborate on certain patent matters and anticipate working together in other areas in the future." The five-year patent war started when Microsoft claimed Google’s Android operating system used the Redmond company’s technology without paying royalties.

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'Happy Birthday' Public Domain Question Continues

Fast Company reports that a federal judge’s decision last week regarding Warner Chappell Music’s rights to “Happy Birthday” may not have forced the song into public domain. The lyrics may still have outstanding legal protection almost 125 years after they were assumed to be created. "It would be terrible if the effect of this decision were to put 'Happy Birthday' in limbo, and now nobody uses it, because they can't find anybody who would license them, and yet there was no declaration as to the public domain, either," George Washington University Law School professor Robert Brauneis says.

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Vanderbilt Law Grad to Lead Firm's New Anti-Counterfeiting Practice

Kristina Montanaro Schrader joined the Nashville office of Adams and Reese to lead the firm’s new Anti-Counterfeiting Practice team that will serve clients in combating counterfeiting, piracy and other Intellectual Property infringements. “Many business owners don’t realize that counterfeiters do not distinguish between major brands and fledgling start-ups,” Schrader said. “In today’s economy, businesses must be mindful of protecting their IP from day one.”

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Legislators Travel to Nashville to Discuss Copyright Laws

Do current copyright laws still work in today’s digital age? That question will be before a Congressional listening session tomorrow in Nashville, chaired by U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia. “In the coming weeks the House Judiciary Committee will conduct several roundtable discussions to hear directly from the creators and innovators about the challenges they face in their creative field and what changes are needed to ensure U.S. copyright law keeps pace with technological advances,” Goodlatte and U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Michigan, said in a joint statement. The Tennessean has more

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Apple to Appeal Ebook Ruling to Supreme Court

Apple said it will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a lower court’s ruling that the company conspired to fix prices of ebooks when it launched its original iPad and iBook store in 2010, Fortune reports. “Dynamic, disruptive entry into new or stagnant markets — the lifeblood of American economic growth — often requires the very type of conduct that Apple engaged in,” the company argued in papers filed Wednesday.

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State's New Business Court, Design Patent Law Featured

The new issue of the Tennessee Bar Journal is out today, featuring everything you need to know about Tennessee’s new Business Court. Chief Justice Sharon Lee and Justin Seamon give you the details. Also, get up to speed on the design patent awards under "Apple v. Samsung” in an article by Nashville lawyers James M. Starling, Seth R. Ogden and Ryan D. Levy. Find out what else is in the September issue.

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Lawyers Hindered Women Getting Vote 95 Years Ago

Celebrate the 95th anniversary of women earning the right to vote by learning more about the details of the struggle that took place in Tennessee. Knoxville lawyer Wanda Sobieski looks at Suffragists’ fight and how the lawyers of the state did more to thwart than help the effort for much of the time. In his article, Nashville lawyer Timothy Warnock answers the question “is revenue from concerts recoverable in copyright-infringement cases?” President Bill Harbison analyzes some of the differences between new lawyers and those who have been practicing a long time. Read these and other articles in the August Tennessee Bar Journal.

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Facebook Lacks Standing to Challenge Subpoenas, Appeals Court Says

A New York appeals court has sided with prosecutors, finding that Facebook lacked standing to challenge subpoenas requiring the social media company to turn over all information in the accounts of 381 people. Only the individuals in question can challenge the subpoenas, but reportedly none have done so in the New York City disability-fraud case that resulted. It focused on more than 130 police officers and other public workers in New York City whose disability claims allegedly conflicted with information about life activities on their Facebook accounts, the ABA Journal reports.

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Lawyers Say New Proof Will Show ‘Happy Birthday’ Not Protected by Copyright

Lawyers who claim the Happy Birthday song is in the public domain say, in a motion filed Monday, that newly disclosed evidence contains the “proverbial smoking gun” that proves the lyrics are no longer protected by copyright, the ABA Journal reports. The cited proof: A 1922 song book that included the Happy Birthday song without a copyright notice. The motion seeks a summary judgment ruling that the lyrics have been in the public domain since at least 1922, and copyright protects only specific piano arrangements of the song. The lawyers represent a documentary filmmaker who filed a class action lawsuit over a $1,500 Happy Birthday licensing fee. 

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