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Episode 053: RBG & The Supreme Court on Copyright Law

Unspoken Terms

Release Date: 12/10/2020

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Casey is an entertainment and digital media law attorney who helps influencers and creative entrepreneurs who struggle with navigating the legal side of their businesses and brands, specifically as it relates to contracts. She prides herself on helping creatives negotiate fair deals with Fortune 500 companies and leading entertainment brands, all while helping them build legally sound businesses that are built for generational wealth and impact. Here on the podcast, she normally does that through sharing the stories of successful entrepreneurs and influencers to help you learn from their mistakes. But occasionally, like today, switches things up and highlights popular culture. 

 

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Key Takeaways

 

  • Politics matter to everyone, including entrepreneurs. You may think that things like the supreme court justices have nothing to do with your business, but the Supreme court’s rulings set the precedent for the lower courts, so it matters who sits in that highest seat of justice. So, vote.

 

  • Copyrights matter! If huge, long standing, companies like Google and Oracle can have disputes over copyrights, then no one is safe, and everyone is on the same level when it comes to copyright protections and laws. So, be wise about your intellectual property. It can be the difference between losing a ton of cash and being able to protect your business even when dealing with big brands.

 

  • Educate yourself. You’re doing that now by listening to this podcast. The truth is that the legal landscape is always evolving as new cases are heard and new precedents are set by the rulings. That information is vital when navigating the legal side of business even when you are just starting out. The more you educate yourself on industry standards, practices, and laws, the better equipped you’ll be to do business and scale without fear of losing everything over common mistakes that can be avoided.

 

Show Notes

   

[1:50] – Why we talk about Copyright Law.

 

[10:00] – A brief background of RBG and the Supreme Court on Copyright Law:

 

  • The story of the "Notorious R.B.G.," the Supreme Court's second female justice, has been told repeatedly in media, books, and films including RBG and On the Basis of Sex. From being an architect of the women's rights movement in the 1970s to spending her later years on the high court fighting for the rights of the less advantaged (see for example her concurring opinion just months ago in Comcast v. NAAAOM), her lifetime of service will deservedly be lionized. But there was a less noticed aspect of Ginsburg — and her untimely loss will influence the course of industry.

 

  • Ginsburg gravitated to intellectual property disputes almost from the moment the Brooklyn, NY-born attorney was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Bill Clinton in 1993. More often than not, when a big ruling on the subject was on the table, it was she who carried the big pen.

 

  • Ginsburg was certainly hawkish when it came to copyright. And her view can be most sharply contrasted with those of Justice Stephen Breyer, demonstrating that there's more to judicial philosophy than a conservative-liberal divide.

 

Related article: https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr-esq/a-supreme-court-without-rbg-may-impact-hollywoods-grip-on-intellectual-property

 

[6:42] – Background of the dispute:

 

  • When Google implemented its Android Operating System (Android OS), it wrote its own programming language based on Java, which is owned by Oracle. To facilitate developers writing their own programs for Android OS, Google’s version used the same names, organization, and functionality as Java's Application Programming Interfaces (APIs).

 

  • Oracle sued Google for copyright infringement, but the federal district judge held that APIs are not subject to copyright because permitting a private entity to own the copyright to a programming language would stifle innovation and collaboration, contrary to the goals of copyright.

 

  • Upon remand to the district court, a jury found that Google's use of the Java API was fair use. Oracle appealed, and the Federal Circuit again reversed the lower court. The Federal Circuit held that Google's use was not fair as a matter of law.

 

Related Article: 

https://www.oyez.org/cases/2020/18-956

 

[14:22] – Applications

 

  • The absence of RBG may also impact which future copyright cases the Supreme Court decides to take up. Currently, for example, the Supreme Court is currently being asked to review a 9th Circuit win for Led Zeppelin over "Stairway to Heaven," alleged to be an infringement of Spirit's "Taurus." Skidmore v. Led Zeppelin looked to be a quintessential Ginsburg case. It's a dispute that not only tackles the scope of copyright but also social inequities in the system, making it within her zone on double grounds. Her departure likely dampens the prospects of high court review.

 

  • The same is probably true of Steinbeck v. Kaffaga, which concerns movie rights to the works of Nobel Prize-winning author John Steinbeck and a subject (copyright termination) that has been the focus of increasing litigation over the years.

 

[15:38] – Key Takeaways

 

  • Politics matter to everyone, including entrepreneurs.
  • Copyrights matter!
  • Educate yourself.

 

Resources mentioned during this episode:

Protect Your Assets: A Legal Guide for Online Entrepreneurs

 

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