Scott Pilutik

I am an attorney and consultant living and working in Manhattan, focusing primarily on church/state constitutional law. I'm a recognized expert on the Church of Scientology organization. I also have strong interests in intellectual property law where it intersects with emerging media, and free speech.

I support the efforts of the Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the National Lawyers Guild, the ACLU, Creative Commons, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. I am a member of the New York County Lawyers Association and the New York State Bar Association. I also enjoy (watching) hockey and (doing) photograhy.

Online I can be found on Facebook, Twitter. My resume can be viewed here. I can be reached by phone at 212.645.6241 or by e-mail at pilutik[at]

Narconon Finally Getting a Long Overdue Hammering

Narconon Finally Getting a Long Overdue Hammering

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Deaths at Scientology drug treatment program Narconon bring investigation – Tampa Bay Times
Deaths at a Narconon facility in Oklahoma prompt an investigation. Already shaken by a series of high-level defections, accounts of abuse among its staffers, and the high-profile breakup of Tom Cruise…

Good approach, though the writer doesn’t know much about Scientology.

Good approach, though the writer doesn't know much about Scientology.

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How Will the TomKat Divorce Affect Suri’s Religious Upbringing?
Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise have reached a settlement in their divorce, Holmes’ attorney revealed on Monday. Holmes filed for divorce fewer than two weeks ago, wrapping up a seven-year romance; the mo…

Revisting Google+ out of curiosity, Facebook-fatigue.

Revisting Google+ out of curiosity, Facebook-fatigue.

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Views on ‘Obamacare’ Unchanged Since Supreme Court Decision | Connecting the Dots, What Matters Today |
A new poll indicates that the Supreme Court decision is not a turning point in the American public’s view of the law.

Prayer Invocation at City Council Meetings

The other day, a good friend and ex-roommate from my yesteryear, now living in Virginia, e-mailed to tell me that a city’s council meeting she recently attended began with a prayer. Ellen, married with three children, is an educated woman who’s father and father-in law are both retired Lutheran ministers. Her kids go to “bible camp” and say grace before each meal. But Ellen also understands that just as her’s and her family’s religiosity are not matters for governmental intrusion, so too should municipal council meetings not be religious affairs. So she was genuinely baffled at how such an intrinsically governmental event could begin with a prayer without violating the Constitution, and asked my advice.

Since this topic arises all the time in every region of this country, I thought I’d discuss it here, and lay out both the law and my thoughts on it.

The law begins and mostly ends with the Marsh v. Chambers case [463 U.S. 783 (1983)], in which the Supreme Court found constitutional, by a 6-3 margin, the practice and funding of chaplains to lead legislative sessions in non-denominational prayer. The Court’s reasoning was explained thusly:

In light of the unambiguous and unbroken history of more than 200 years, there can be no doubt that the practice of opening legislative sessions with prayer has become part of the fabric of our society. To invoke Divine guidance on a public body entrusted with making the laws is not, in these circumstances, an “establishment” of religion or a step toward establishment; it is simply a tolerable acknowledgment of beliefs widely held among the people of this country. As Justice Douglas observed, “[w]e are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.” Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306, 313 (1952).

Chief Justice Burger’s decision can be summarized in short, “We’ve always done it this way.”

The idea that “heritage” or “tradition” are somehow innately virtuous terms is an appealing notion if you’re lucky enough to be on the right side of the particular bit of history being echoed. And obviously, given that we’re a nation which has discarded many “traditions” in deference to evolved outlooks on race and gender, and even Burger admits to needing something more:

Standing alone, historical patterns cannot justify contemporary violations of constitutional guarantees, but there is far more here than simply historical patterns.

Burger then goes on to bolster his tradition argument with a tautology, by asserting that the very fact that some people have been historically opposed to legislative prayer must mean that previous generations had seriously considered the issue and correctly concluded its constitutionality. Burger offers no evidence whether previous generations had in fact carefully pondered the constitutionality of legislative prayer, nor attempt to explain why consideration in and of itself should even matter in considering constitutional questions.

And there is good cause to suspect the constitutionality of legislative prayer.

The Constitution’s Bill of Rights is specifically intended to preserve the rights of minorities against the majority’s unconstitutional urges. “We” do not all presuppose a supreme being. I certainly don’t, and to this day flinch when I first walk into a courtroom and look up to see, above the judicial bench a plaque reading “In God We Trust.” That plaque, found in every courtroom I’ve ever walked into, is implicitly advising me that the Court shares a value system with a majority of Americans, but not me. And it’s only small comfort that any judicial decision which favored religious virtue over reason and precedent would be flatly unconstitutional; because then why else is there a need to assert so emphatically (but for those four words, courtrooms are otherwise bare) a principle which, by law, could not be cited by the court as a basis for its deciding any matter whatsoever?

I’ve never attended a municipal council meeting which began with a prayer, but I imagine I’d feel similarly excluded as when I enter a courtroom. A municipal council meeting comprised of adults considering policy questions affecting all local residents should not be exclusionary in any sense. Any prayer, by its nature, whether explicitly sectarian or non-denominational, excludes those who do not share the expressed sentiment, even if the stated purpose of the prayer is to “include.”

Moreover, I’ve always found the very concept of “non-denominational” prayer to be something of a fallacy, because the prayers which are most often fought over in court are by form and nature, largely Christian. And it is largely evangelical Christians who most fervently argue against the existence of a wall separating church and state, and who are most likely behind any introduction of prayer to municipal council meetings, in order to both push the establishment clause’s Maginot line, and in order to gain the state’s validation and endorsement (which constitutionally impermissible, see Lynch v. Donnelly) of their religious beliefs.

A good test for just how “non-denominational” the prayer is to watch how the group factionalizes after someone protests the practice. If the prayers were truly non-denominational then the group should split along non-sectarian lines; but inevitably the loudest hue and cry from defenders is that banning the practice amounts to religious persecution. But wasn’t this about religious heritage? How can there explicitly be a non-denominational free exercise interest?

Another good test is to substitute “Allah” for “God” in the prayer and watch the fireworks–”Allah” has been specifically found by the courts to be a lingual, non-demoninational, non-sectarian reference to God, and thus constitutionally acceptable, unlike references to Jesus, which explicitly refers to the Christian deity.

If hair-splitting over whether Jesus and Allah are sectarian or non-denominational seem ridiculous, you’re certainly not alone. But the existence of such controversies are better viewed, in my mind, as evidence why the entire practice should be scrapped and viewed as unconstitutional. Legislative prayer is by nature divisive and exclusionary inasmuch as it drives a wedge, whether intended or not, between the participants, by classifying some as “us” and others as “them.”

An Assessment of Pinterest Users' Fair Use Defense

[Disclaimer: Because this article is intended to be both instructive to the general public but also legally relevant, in the course of my splitting the difference and trying to serve two audiences, the general public may find some of it legalistic and dense, while lawyers may find some of it pedantic. Apologies in advance to whichever camp you find yourself in, and feel free to contact me [scott.pilutik[AT]] if you have any questions.]

I’ve been following with some interest the upstart social network Pinterest, at first merely to gain some insight into its out-of-the-blue popularity. This wasn’t easy because I sit manifestly outside Pinterest’s demographic as a 43-year old man with an interest in news, politics, sports, and the law. The default Pinterest landing page appeals to none of those things. Rather, it’s an online scrapbook curated by women aged 25-45 who evidently read Crate & Barrel and J. Crew catalogs along with Martha Stewart magazines.

Pinterest provides a simple interface to collect and share home decor, craft projects, fashion ideas, and the like. Users can categorize their “pins” onto boards–e.g., “Great Food,” “Fashion,” and “My Style.” Under the hood, though, Pinterest is content–and gender–neutral and operates rather simply. One “pins” by pasting a URL (which can be a web page or an image file, but there must be an image on the page), typing a description, and selecting, or creating, a category. That’s it.

Finally struck by this epiphany that Pinterest was merely a well-designed organizational tool, I unfollowed nearly all my Facebook friends and family (naturally, mostly women) whose pins dominated my feed and began using Pinterest to bookmark articles about what interested me most about Pinterest–its many-faceted Copyright Problem.

The copyright problem is easy to spot if you’re an intellectual property attorney (on my Facebook page I called Pinterest an “infringement farm” ten minutes after my first visit), but especially glaring if you’re an attorney who is also a photographer. Like myself, Kirsten Kowalski qualifies as both, and on February 24, 2012, expressed her concerns in a lengthy blog post titled Why I Tearfully Deleted My Pinterest Inspiration Boards.

Pinterest Terms of Service and Your Liability

Kowalski plunges into both Pinterest’s legalese and federal law to reconcile the disconnect she saw between Pinterest’s implicit encouragement to propagate third parties’ copyrighted works and its terms of service, where it requires each user to “represent and warrant” that they possess (either as owner or licensee) the republishing rights of the works they Pin; and that their use on Pinterest violates no other third party’s intellectual property rights.

There is nothing especially atypical about Pinterest’s terms of service in this regard: “Online Service Providers” (OSPs, defined by US copyright law), such as Pinterest, only initially assume liability for the content users post to their sites. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) contains a safe harbor mechanism permitting Pinterest to effectively indemnify itself from copyright infringement lawsuits by timely removing alleged infringements upon notification. The process then permits users to “counternotify” after which time the OSP (Pinterest) will restore the image without fear of lawsuit, which risk is now solely borne by the user in their personal capacity.

In other words, the terms of service language about which Kowalski is most concerned isn’t especially different than most other sites’ terms of service, which, in turn, mostly restate the law with respect to assumption of liability for infringing conduct. [Note: As I was writing this post Pinterest removed from its terms of service some of its more egregious provisions, such as the right to sell your work, and a perpetual, irrevocable sublicense to your work. These and other changes made as of March 24, 2012, do little to alter the issue with which this post is chiefly concerned, namely liability for copyright infringements.]

Kowalski’s concerns aren’t unwarranted, though, because the manner in which Pinterest is commonly used by its users makes it inevitable that thousands of copyright infringements will be committed each day. But Kowalski’s fear of an infringement lawsuit has less to do with Pinterest’s terms of service, which merely reflect existing law, than with Pinterest’s business model, which relies on its users republishing unlicensed third party content. Pinterest’s terms of service and its business model are at odds, and may even serve to confuse its users, though it seems unlikely that such conflict would shift liability for infringements from Pinterest’s users back to Pinterest.

If Pinterest’s users do indeed risk an infringement lawsuit with each pin, it is worth examining first the likelihood of that risk, and then such a lawsuit’s chances of success, while also considering the possible defenses available to a Pinterest user sued for a typical infringement.

Pinterest Users — Legal vs. Real Risk

Kowalski doesn’t tackle the risk question, except to briefly allude to the fear that Pinterest is the next Napster. There are good reasons, though, both real-world and legal, why a hypothetical Pinterest user/defendant is distinguishable from the Napster defendants. The subject matter of a Pinterest-related “infringement” is an image, not a music or video file, and there are no photography rights-holding trade organizations on the scale of the RIAA and MPAA, who both can allocate significant resources to policing infringement [though many relatively small photo trade organizations exist; see here].

Because there are significant disincentives for photographers to sue for web infringements–e.g., the expense of bringing an infringement suit; obtaining personal jurisdiction over out-of-state and possibly judgment-proof defendants; nominal infringements can mean nominal damages– the cost of bringing such a suit easily can and most often is offset by the potential return. And without the luxury of RIAA/MPAA-sized resources, these cost-based risks fall on the photographer/plaintiff.

A Pinterest-based infringement is also distinguishable from Napster legally, largely because there is little room to lodge a fair-use defense for audio and video file-sharing infringements, as each audio/video file most often represents the entire infringed-upon work, untransformed in any way, and which is usually available for sale online.

So while an infringement suit against you as a Pinterest user is unlikely, a suit against some Pinterest user seems inevitable, and its outcome may serve to shape the future of Pinterest and other scrapbooking social media sites.

The Fair Use Defense — Introduction

For the unlucky Pinterest user who finds him or herself a defendant, what is their recourse? Presuming such lawsuit is adequately pled with respect to matters like jurisdiction, a defendant would argue that their use was fair, pursuant to Section 107 of the Copyright Act. Fair use can broadly be described as copyright law’s acknowledgment that certain per se infringements should nevertheless be permitted in the interest of fairness, education, and economy (not to mention in the interest the promotion of the progress of science and art, pursuant to Art. 1, Sec. 8 of the U.S. Constitution, which is a too-broad discussion for the moment).

Analytically, whether use of a work is fair is tough to determine and predict. Per Section 107, a nonexclusive four-factor test considers each of the following: the (1) purpose and character of your use; (2) nature of the copyrighted work; (3) amount and substantiality of the portion taken, and (4) effect of the use upon the potential market. I’ll refer back to these factors by their number later in this post.

No one factor is necessarily determinative, and the myriad fair use cases are of limited help, as different courts can fixate on different factual distinctions, together with the potential uniqueness of each scenario underscoring the lawsuit. These difficulties are compounded by the difficulty both attorneys and courts have had applying old copyright law to new technologies, which are often misunderstood by these new technologies.

Fair Use First Factor — Nature of Use

That disclaimer aside, some fair use cases are possibly on point. Kowalski raises an obvious one, the well-known Kelly v. Arriba Soft Corp., 336 F.3d 811(9th Cir. 2003) case, in which a photographer sued an image search engine (prior in time but similar to Google’s image search) for republishing thumbnail versions of the photographer’s images, the larger version which the photographer had himself hosted.

The Ninth Circuit analyzed each of the above-mentioned four factors in turn, concluding that Factor 2 weighed in favor of the photographer (reasoning that creative works merit stronger protection than non-creative works, but already-published works merited weaker protection); Factor 3 weighed in favor of neither party, the court reasoning that even though each copyrighted work was copied in its entirety, the search engine only rendered as much as necessary (if this sounds tautological to you, you’re not alone); and Factor 4 weighed in favor of the search engine, because far from harming the market for the images, the search engine aided the market by pushing traffic back to the photographer’s site.

The court discussed Factor 1 in significantly greater depth than Factors 2, 3, and 4, finding in favor of the search engine that the nature of the use was “transformative” inasmuch as the purpose of the use differed entirely from the plaintiff photographer’s use. A search engine republishing thumbnail images involves “more than the retransmission of the images [into] a different medium.” A necessary recontextualization takes place in which the altered image not only serves a new purpose which provides a public benefit (by way of a private benefit to Arriba Soft, of course). The court also remarked on the thumbnail image’s lack of further utility, because enlargement could not occur without sacrificing clarity.

As Kowalski rightly points out, the Arriba Soft case does not literally stand for the proposition that thumbnail images are uniformly fair use exceptions, because no one fair use factor is determinative. But the reality is that image search engines such as Arriba Soft (now and Google Images would not exist if there were any legal uncertainty as to whether thumbnail images of existing copyrighted works qualified as fair use. They do, period.

A few years after deciding Arriba Soft, the Ninth Circuit found similarly in an almost identical case, Perfect 10 v. Google [captioned as Perfect 10, Inc. v., Inc., 487 F.3d 701 (9th Cir. 2007)]. Perfect 10 sued Google for “in-line linking” to its copyrighted images and rendering those images as thumbnails on its search engine. The Court followed the same fair use analysis as in Arriba Soft, and was further unpersuaded that the technical distinctions between Google’s and Arriba Soft’s search engines changed the outcome (unlike Arriba Soft’s, Google’s search engine presents a thumbnail of the actual copyrighted work within its own frame).

Applying Arriba Soft & Perfect 10’s First Factor Analysis to Pinterest

Presuming a hypothetical case against a Pinterest user (I’ll discuss Pinterest’s liability as a secondary infringer separately) is brought in court under the Ninth Circuit, it is likely that Factors 2, 3, and 4 would be analyzed similarly. Arriba Soft and Perfect 10 are only persuasive authority within the Ninth Circuit, though both have been cited widely and favorably by other federal courts.

However, Factor 1, the purpose and character of the use, could be a different story. In Arriba Soft and Perfect 10, the court was only confronted with search engines having rendered copyrighted works as thumbnails. Pinterest generates at least two, and likely more, copies of each image associated with every user pin, and at least one of those images is much larger than a thumbnail.

The first is a thumbnail approximately 192 pixels wide, which is comparable in size to the thumbnails generated by Google and Arriba Soft [now Ditto], and are the most common image viewed by Pinterest users, appearing on the user’s main feed showing the activity of the users they follow.

Typical Pinterest Landing Page

From this thumbnail-filled landing page, users can click on theirs and their followers’ thumbnails, which takes the user to a page containing a larger image of the same thumbnail, the description for the image and user comments, if any. This image can be at least 550 pixels wide (per my rough, unscientific survey). Clicking on this large image takes the user off site to the source URL the user inputted when creating the pin, which, again, can either be an image file or a web page containing an image.

Pinterest Single Pin Page
As the above makes clear, Pinterest automatically generates both a thumbnail and a large copy of each source image, which it automatically republishes and presents. The size of this larger copy may even identical to the source image size, if the source image size is within Pinterest’s approximately 550 pixel wide layout constraint.

To see how little a source image can be transformed from source to Pinterest, start with the following Pin of a young boy seated on the lap of an older man waring a cowboy hat.

Clicking on the Pin takes the user to a web page which contains the same image displayed at the Pin:

The image file seen at the page is 439 px wide & 290 px tall, as seen here:

The copy of the above image generated by Pinterest is 439 px wide & 290 px tall, identical to the source image in every sense, as seen here:

That thumbnail images can easily be distinguished from exact copies is not necessarily an outcome-determinative distinction, though. As indicated above, the four fair use factors are applied in a highly unscientific “totality of circumstances” manner, making it difficult for parties to rely on factual similarities and distinctions between decided cases and your own. But to the extent that Arriba Soft and Perfect 10 have come to stand for the proposition that “thumbmail images are fair use,” it is difficult to argue their applicability to Pinterest, whose users create both thumbnail and exact copies of hundreds of thousands of images, the overwhelming majority of which are posted without their rights ever having been negotiated.

A fair argument, however, can nevertheless be made that the purpose and character of the use (Factor One) is substantially transformed even if the use includes the republishing of an exact copy. As can be seen in the above screenshot, the copied image, when placed within Pinterest’s environment, is completely recontextualized. The user’s name who pinned the image/site is identified above the image, along with the time he/she posted it. Below the image is the user-provided caption, and a form field to enter comments, above any comments that might already have been left. Below the comments are relevant meta-data, such as the identity of the user who originally pinned the image/site, the name of board (user-determined category) onto which it was pinned, the technological mechanism by which it was pinned (e.g., a bookmarklet, web), etc.

Accordingly, it may be argued that like Arriba Soft and Google, the purpose and character of each image’s use is functionally distinct from the rights holder’s purpose and character of use. A Pinterest user effectively curates collections of imagery organized and defined by his/her own parameters, so not only is the appropriated image surrounded by a new description and new meta-data, but it is further recontextualized by how the user categorizes it–what other images it’s surrounded by. Further, the more commentary that is added (including by the user’s followers), the more the image is additionally recontextualized, and the more fair the use, or so goes the contention.

This is, in essence, the argument recently put forward by intellectual property attorney Itai Maytal, who was quoted by Business Insider asserting that Pinterest’s requirement that users add a caption to each Pin lends itself to a favorable fair use defense because the caption is “commentary, and commentary and parody are some of the types of uses that the law encourages[.]” Maytal concedes that the fair use inquiry would not end there, but even so disclaimed, the argument is problematic.

It has never been held, to the extent I can find, that an exact, unaltered, uncropped copy of an image can be sufficiently transformed, for the purpose of a fair use defense, merely by recaptioning, or adding a caption to it. It’s hard to imagine, for example, the New York Post republishing an image it copied from the New York Times website and then suggesting it had every right to do so because it ran a caption whereas the Times did not (or ran a different caption). An apt parallel media comparison might be a broadcaster attempting to argue that its disc jockeys’ talking before and after songs sufficiently transforms the songs so as to moot the need to pay royalties. If only effecting transformative use upon copyrighted works was as easy as sprinkling a few words around its edges, it would be too easy to circumvent and abuse of such a lazy standard.

There are scenarios in which captioning/recaptioning an otherwise uncropped, non-thumbnail image might tend to qualify as fair use, such as in the context of an academic paper, where the image itself were the subject of scholarly analysis, or was the subject of a parody. By contrast, Pinterest users are typically not republishing images to parodic or scholarly ends, but rather to assert those images place within the user’s particular taste spectrum. Users are essentially rogue curators, republishing unlicensed images as a personal, exhibitionistic exercise, proclaiming to their followers, “These images are me.” The amount of creativity that goes into a scholarly or parodic work of the sort held out as typical fair use examples, and a Pinterest caption is stark indeed.

Fair Use Factor Four  - Marketplace Harm: Law & Economics

Though, as I observe above, Pinterest’s users appear vulnerable with respect to the first Fair Use factor, the fourth (again, non determinable) Factor, which disfavors uses harmful to the copyrighted work’s potential market, holds some promise. Pinterest’s users typically do not seek to profit from republishing unlicensed works, and, more important, rights holders typically do not suffer from Pinterest’s users’ republication of their works. Indeed, because Pinterest requires each Pin to link back to its source material, Pinterest is, if anything, improving the potential market of unlicensed works by exposing its users to them.

Law professor Dave Fagundes, writing at PrawfsBlawg, makes the argument that a plaintiff suing a Pinterest user would face an uphill climb trying to prove that the republication of their image harmed its marketability. This is because in order to argue that the potential market is being harmed, a rights holder must show both that a real market exists and that the works’ republication on Pinterest consequently deprives that market.

As an ex-commercial photographer I’m at least nominally qualified to speculate on the types of markets that unfettered infringements by Pinterest users conceivably might harm. With regard to photographic prints, it might be argued that online copies can never serve as an adequate market substitute for physical copies unless such copies are of a high enough resolution to enable the printing of art-quality versions. But Pinterest’s largest version easily fits within the four borders of any typical computer screen and pose no threat to become repurposed as works of art, print or magazine advertisements, or to useful beyond the digital web-only environment.

Photographers who derive revenue from stock photography agencies could potentially be adversely affected by users’ republishing their unwatermarked images on Pinterest. Stock images are generally sold as hi-resolution files, far greater in size than Pinterest’s largest rendered size, but not all purchasers of stock imagery need the highest-resolution file–for web use, the Pinterest-published version of an unlicensed stock image may serve as a market substitute. It’s not even clear to me whether the republishing of stock imagery is pandemic, but many of the images posted on Pinterest are at least of similar quality to stock.

Flickr, one of the largest photography sites on the web, has already taken umbrage at Pinterest users’ unlicensed raiding of its members images, applying an “opt-out” code to those images account holders had set tighter sharing restrictions upon, and provided its account holders with a mechanism to prevent the use of their images on Pinterest. But Flickr, which is owned by Yahoo!, does not offer for sale any images of its account holders, who are largely hobbyists. Most Flickr account holders would thus have a difficult time showing market harm, unless they also proffered evidence that the images were generating revenue outside of Flickr. To the extent web traffic plays any part in the economic calculus, it is more likely that Pinterest would be found to have driven up traffic for Flickr’s account holders, and created for them more economic opportunities, as opposed to inflicting market harm.

Pinterest users also tend to post editorial photographs of the sort that regularly appear in fashion, craft, and home decor magazines. In many of these instances the question of ownership isn’t always clear–even if the photographer retained the rights, the magazine may enjoy a period of exclusivity including the right to sue. A lawsuit by rights-holding publications also seems unlikely, given how Pinterest drives traffic to the magazine and catalog sites, though such entities are better financially leveraged to engage in costly litigation than are photographers.

To the extent the photographer holds the rights or the rights revert back to him/her, the calculus switches–the photographer is less likely to benefit from the link back to the magazine or catalog, and consequently has a greater incentive to enforce the copyright, though individual photographers have fewer resources with which to litigate. Perhaps a trade association will emerge to fill this void; many exist but none on the scale of the RIAA or MPAA and none thus far who are visibly working to unite photography rights holders against Pinterest.

Despite Fagundes’s point that it essentially is the plaintiff’s burden to show market harm, defendants have thus far been able to show that their market improvement of an unlicensed work is favorably determinative.

This “market improvement” argument was primed to be fully tested after Google announced its extensive Library project in late 2004, in which Google would copy, republish, and either present or partially present more than one million books without first negotiating the rights of each one. Google would also provide a link to enable each books’ purchase and would remove the book from its library upon the complaint of any rights holder.

Not only are the public benefits to Google’s project clearly manifest, but the copyright holders also stood to benefit. [For a much deeper look into the copyright implications of the project, notably how it relates to the market harm, read Elisabeth Hanratty’s excellent student note here.] Google never explained, however, how the project could be squared with existing copyright law–Google was making full reproductions and displaying part, if not all, of the work without first even attempting to contact the rights holders. Even though it was a Win / Win / Win (Google / rights holders / public), it was also infringement.

Consequently, The Author’s Guild, a writers’ advocacy group, and then McGraw Hill, noted publisher, both sued Google, for infringement, seeking damages and injunctive relief. [Most relevant documents regarding the lawsuits can be found here]. Rather than test the uncertain waters of fair use, Google settled for approximately $125 million. [The complex, 323-page settlement [pdf here] established a fund from which authors whose works appear on Google would be compensated.]

Google’s decision to forego litigation is instructive here, because its Library model is analogous to Pinterest’s. Like Google, Pinterest is republishing works for which rights have not been negotiated, largely to the rights holders’ boon, and offering those rights holders who do not wish their works to be included, the ability to “opt out.”  Unlike Google, however, Pinterest has not negotiated a nine-figure settlement with the rights holders. Pinterest faces continued uncertainty so long as its model persists and copyright law remains unchanged.


Despite my pessimism of Pinterest’s model with regard to how courts will view users’ infringements, I’m sympathetic to those users. Copyright law’s difficulty in adjusting to the sea changes brought on by the Internet is notorious, and each new tool that comes along seems to ratchet up the challenge. On Facebook, Internet users have been trained to become collectors and curators of various pieces of the internet–stories, videos, images–to reassemble those pieces on their “walls.” Pinterest leverages Facebook users’ intuitive training to a slightly different end; whereas Facebook users engage in discussions about this link and that video, which all serve to enhance a fair use argument, Pinterest users silently collect and curate, Pinning images of someone else’s butterfly, in the process stretching how we need to think about fair use.

My above analysis is far from exhaustive as to the copyright issues raised by Pinterest. I didn’t even discuss, for example, the huge issue of Pinterest’s potential liability as a secondary infringer–are they infringement inducers like Grokster? I’ll try to tackle that problem next. But I also didn’t factor in one very interesting realpolitik factor noted by reporter Anthony Wing Kosner in his Forbes Magazine article. Kosner points out that not only is Pinterest demographically skewed to women, it skews to slightly well-to-do, educated women living in the Midwest. [Kosner cites a demographic study by Ignite] In other words, the prototypical Pinterest user is the opposite of the less sympathetic most-commonly imagined Napster user. Both parties are infringers, but it’s harder to sell the idea of Pinterest users as thieves. Time will most likely tell because Pinterest’s popularity is increasing while copyright law stubbornly remains the same.

Notes & Links | 1-25-12

I’ll bet there are a few posts I’ve made where I promise to post more but this time, no, THIS time, I’m really going to commit myself. This commitment will be a daily fight where I dissuade myself of the notion that my thoughts on a story aren’t original enough to merit inflicting on the world. I’m not self-indulgent by nature, which is why Twitter is tortuous (I mainly read it for breaking news, hockey trade rumors, and Canadian political news from my friend Kady), but people do email me to ask my opinion on this or that, so I’ll try to post more frequently on both legal stuff and other crap that interests me.

Birther Rebirth. I’ve been loosely following [on Fogbow] a developing situation in a Georgia state court, where Orly Taitz, who is equal parts incompetent and persistent, appears to have broken through the ties that conspire to prevent her myriad lawsuits challenging Obama’s citizenship from making their way through the courts. This particular suit challenges Obama’s name appearing on the 2012 Georgia ballot. An administrative law judge issued a subpoena for Obama to appear tomorrow morning, at Taitz’s request, and denied a motion by Obama’s attorney to quash it. Obama’s attorney wrote to the [politically suicidal] Georgia Sec’y of State to suggest the entire circus be shut down, but the Sec’y just refused. Game on!

Tennessee Is Also Crazy. State legislators have proposed that the public school textbooks adopt a criteria by which “No portrayal of minority experience in the history which actually occurred shall obscure the experience or contributions of the Founding Fathers, or the majority of citizens, including those who reached positions of leadership.” In other words, the Constitution’s authors can’t be superheroes if they also slaves, because such a powerful hypocrisy might dawn on our children.

Tinkering. A seriously in-depth look at the hidden clues and meanings in the masterfully done Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

Finally, Community Star Wars. Hundreds of “directors” filmed Star Wars in fifteen-second segments, which was then sewn together to match the full-length feature:

great stuff here.

great stuff here.

Reshared post from +Alireza Yavari

Most Creative & Beloved Street Art Photos – Source:

In album Most Creative & Beloved Street Art Photos – Source:

+Erik Kristensen, you’ll enjoy this especially

+Erik Kristensen, you'll enjoy this especially. But so will everyone else.

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What Did This Irishman Have To Say About Wall Street?
Warning: Not suitable for work or kids!

Eviction Night for #OWS

In the earliest hours of November 15, 2011, I finally drifted off to sleep after the NHL Network had looped for perhaps a third time. The mumbling TV probably caused me to miss my phone’s space-agey text message notification, even though it lay inches from my head. It wasn’t until a half hour later that I awoke and noticed the flashing. The message was from a fellow NLG observer: cops raiding occupy right now. 1:25 am.

A month earlier I had reluctantly willed myself from bed at a similarly ungodly hour and trudged down to Zuccotti Park (a little over a mile south from my apartment in the West Village) to witness—to legally observe—the planned eviction of the Occupy Wall Street protesters, announced for 6:00 am, October 14. I arrived a half hour early. The massive police presence I expected was nowhere in sight. If something was going to happen at 6:00 am, it would have to step on the gas because the fifty or so police sprinkled randomly throughout the park were ill-equipped to dislodge hundreds of civilly disobedient protesters. And those police didn’t seem to be on edge.

But also lined up Cedar Street, the park’s southern boundary, were at least eight media trucks. Inside the park media weren’t hard to miss either; it was still dim enough at that hour that interviewees faced both cameras and harsh lighting. An AP reporter struggled to establish a connection between her phone and laptop, which was sitting on a garbage can, while ten feet away a handful of protesters patiently waited in line to stand on a masking-taped X, and speechify into a livestreaming laptop suspended at eye-level.

I found out that the eviction had been canceled by overhearing the AP reporter on her phone. Judging from the approving roar at the east end of the park seconds later, the General Assembly must have relayed the good news via human mic only seconds later.

I contemplated going home, being likewise reprieved, but recognized some people and went over to discuss the about-face. We all speculated what was next; there were rumors that the eviction would happen later that day. We next speculated as to why it was called off—I suggested that they failed to calculate the presence of the media, who would collectively broadcast all day Friday hundreds of civil disobedience arrests, some which surely would be messy. I suggested they’d evict sometime in the wee hours over the weekend, without advance warning, when the media would be nowhere in sight.

ONE MONTH LATER, not that weekend, my premonition became reality. I reread the text message and then consulted Twitter, debating whether to go downtown. Could I even get there? As Twitter relayed the situation on the ground, the genius of police commissioner Ray Kelly became (again) apparent. Downtown was inaccessible by subway, the inbound Brooklyn Bridge was closed (I think it regularly is these days though), and most importantly, a moat of inaccessibility was created effectively isolating Zuccotti Park—rendering it near impossible to get there. There was also a rumor that the NYPD prohibited news helicopters from covering the eviction from above. I traveled light; shorts, sneakers, hooded sweatshirt, and camera. I’d regret not grabbing my sunglasses later—who leaves the apartment with sunglasses at 2 am?

I walked down Greenwich instead of the West Side Highway, trying get there—wherever there was going to be—as soon as I could. At Murray Street I saw a convoy of eight garbage trucks cross West Broadway, undoubtedly on their way to Zuccotti Park. Church and Cortlandt was the end of the line, evidently—three cops stood behind metal barricades. I asked whether I could go down, showing my legal observer credentials. No. So you’re not permitting press or legal observers down there? No. What’s your name? Sergeant Kelly. Which wasn’t true, I’d seen his badge already. Zuccotti Park from Broadway & CortlandtThe three cops chuckled to themselves as I walked away, over Cortlandt to the corner of Broadway, where I would spend the next few hours.

Others had gathered at Cortlandt and Broadway because it was as near as you could get to Zuccotti Park, from the north at least. Most were protesters who’d been forced from the park, the ones who hadn’t affixed themselves to trees with kryptonite locks around their necks. Others were gawkers and sympathizers who’d been somehow woken, kind of like me, only without the fluorescent green hat the NLG provides to us. And of course, on other side of the barricades stood at least one riot-gear-clad cop for every remaining protester; in numerous scenarios I’ve witnessed a similar 1 to 1 protester/police ratio, which of course is more source of than salve to the problem.

I contemplated circumnavigating the barricaded moat to approach from the south, perhaps, or east, but nixed the idea, figuring that a perimeter is a perimeter and if Ray Kelly was going so far to keep news copters from hovering over, I wasn’t going to get any closer than where I already stood. Occupiers decide what's nextNo one was going to bear witness to this eviction except the police executing it. Besides, if police/protester interaction was going to happen, it was going to happen here, and I was the only legal observer present, so far as I could tell, at that point. I did run into a few over the next few hours, though.

There were some minor flare-ups there on the corner, some resulting in arrests. Some people were pissed and vocal, but there wasn’t much cohesion. Mic checks prompted everyone to go here or there, but not much came of it. The most interesting moment occurred around 5:30 am, as the skies slowly lightened and commuters began to trickle in: a man wearing an expensive gray suit purposefully strode past me on Broadway, and as he approached the corner to go right, instead of walking around a few seated near the corner, viciously kicked a young woman in her side, then walked fast down Cortlandt. Police blocking sidewalkA number of people angrily confronted this asshole engaging in his own private counter-protest, before police settled things down and, to their credit, arrested him.

There was also a tense standoff with twenty-plus riot police who’d blocked the entire width of sidewalk on Broadway between Cortlandt and Fulton, effectively trapping myself and others between its line and barricades behind us. It was an odd and intimidating and thankfully only lasted perhaps ten minutes before they filed into the street permitting us the freedom to walk back to the corner of Cortlandt.

Gradually the police outnumbered the dissipating crowd, so I walked north (not far) to Foley Square, which Twitter suggested had become the de facto rendezvous point. It was almost fully light by the time I arrived and there was a sizeable number there. There were also a number of other NLG observers, some whom I knew, so I brought myself, and them, up to speed, comparing notes of all that had happened. It was here I found out that the NLG was trying to obtain an injunction to enable the protesters’ return to Zuccotti Park.Foley Square regrouping

Another strong rumor was that at 7:00 am there was a planned rendezvous at Sixth Avenue and Canal Street, at an odd, triangular stretch of empty lot space owned by Trinity Church, whose venerable, beautiful church bookends Wall Street’s west end. The church also owns a ton of Manhattan property, much of it downtown. I suspect that the protesters thought that this lot—which I only found out that day was called Duarte Square—was similar to Zuccottti Park for its private/public character. Apparently no one bothered to ask Trinity what it thought about this idea because hours after the protesters marched there (I marched with, arriving at), I heard it reported that Trinity wanted them all gone.

Before Trinity could throw the anti-moneychangers out from their empty lot of a temple, though, another interesting thing happened: the injunction was granted, we found out. Copies of it were distributed to NLG observers, and news of it was human mic’d to the now sizable crowd—besides those who marched from Foley Square, others had marched from other locations. The triumphant but wary protesters made a decision to split up; some would stay there and a smaller contingent would march back to Zuccotti Park. Trinity Church's Duarte ParkIt was decided that I and a few other NLG observers would march back to Zuccotti, about a mile away, with this group.

I was pretty shot by this point, but also curious to see what would happen upon the protesters’ return to Zuccotti, so I walked in the front of the pack. An older officer with a bullhorn—a short, stout, burr-headed Ralph Steadman caricature—angrily screamed at the marchers to stay on the sidewalk, which has become standard operating procedure for all marches. I tried to engage him but he wasn’t having it. Did the Officer SimonettiNYPD plan on honoring the injunction when we all got to the Park? He responded with an even angrier look (to the sky, not me, eye contact is studiously avoided by most police) and went back on script: Get on the sidewalk!

A protester asked whether I would address the legal issues with the other protesters upon our arrival—there as to be a hearing at 11:30 and everything could change depending on that hearing’s outcome. I said sure. A few blocks later, walking south on Church, past Century 21, we could see Zuccotti ahead of us. There was plenty of media tagging along at the front but they scrambled ahead to anchor themselves to get a shot of the protesters reentering the park. It was only when we were feet away from the media gaggle that I realized that behind them were barricades. Simonetti, the bullhorn cop, directed us left into a narrow barricaded corridor running up Pine Street, Zuccotti’s northern border. A barricaded dead end. The kids call this “kettling.”

I walked left and looked for police captains, or higher. Spotting a few (they were all inside Zuccotti Park), I made my case: “You do know you’re violating an injunction, right?” Stone-faced silence. I made the argument to some media, pointing out the operative language of the injunction, which couldn’t have been clearer. Behind me the protesters chanted “WE. HAVE. A COURT. ORDER.” I spoke to other police—didn’t they realize denying the protesters reentry amounted to contempt?

Some police responded that there was a hearing at 11:30 and that the injunction was meaningless until that was decided, which of course was exactly wrong—the injunction was explicitly drafted to return the protesters to the pre-eviction status quo, and it was signed by a Justice of the Supreme Court of New York State. There’s a plausible argument that the injunction should have held off allowing protesters to return to the park pending the hearing’s outcome, but it didn’t do that: it allowed them to return—with tents even—and a hearing would then decide whether they would be allowed to continue to stay.

I eventually gave up trying to convince everyone and became more concerned for my safety, as it was becoming clear that the group that had marched down was larger than this barricade corridor reserved for it. I was also tired—it was 10 am and I’d been up and out walking all over downtown for eight hours. But I was also disgusted. The city, or rather Bloomberg, had obviously made the imperious decision that a judicial order didn’t apply to him.

A core running theme of the Occupy protests is that politics is rigged to favor the money. There have been so many instances where this dynamic has played out, where the symbolic overtones are no longer parable but reality. The double-barricaded Wall Street Bull, for example, is guarded by two officers at all times. Police arrest bank customers audacious enough to cancel their accounts. Now it was the police who occupied Zuccotti Park, safely barricaded in after their methodic, disgracefully secret, eviction, despite that I held in my hand a lawful court order requiring precisely the opposite. The protesters played by the rules and still lost even when the scoreboard supposedly registered a win.

I stuck around for another hour, pled my case to more deaf police ears, and finally gave up and went home. I would find out later that afternoon that the city argued to remove the judge who had signed the injunction—she had been an ACLU attorney prior to becoming a judge, as if that should have even mattered. Until U.S. Supreme Court justices begin recusing themselves for real reasons, such as financial self-interest or prior involvement in the instant case, it’s difficult to take seriously more tenuous connections, such as supposed ideological biases, especially when the only ideological bases seen as disqualifying are on the left. Ex-Federalist Society member judges aren’t asked to recuse themselves from tort cases.

Justice Billings was replaced (I’m still unclear whether she recused herself or whether an administrative judge/panel removed her) by Justice Michael Stallman, who heard both sides of the freedom of assembly versus reasonable time/manner/place restrictions and ruled, without offering a reasoned basis, for the city. The city’s blatant contempt of Billings’ order went unmentioned in the written decision and was barely discussed in the press. The only lawlessness that can’t be excused, as any Occupy protester will tell you, is the lawlessness committed by the poor. For everyone else, it’s Calvinball over and over and over again.

[The above photos from the eviction night are included in my larger album of #ows photos here]

The Ownership of Occupy Wall St.

I’m going to post something more generally about Occupy Wall Street [hereinafter #ows] soon but in the meantime, I want to comment on a tangentially related issue that arose after one protester at Zuccotti Park took it upon himself to file a trademark application for the term “Occupy Wall St.” [Original Smoking Gun story here; Daily News story here] … and the subsequent negative fallout from amateur foray into intellectual property law [Village Voice story where Maresca denies being a “jerk” here].

Maresca claims to have visited Zuccotti Park at least a half-dozen times, where he would hand out t-shirts he made with magic markers bearing the phrase “We Are the 99%” … with “You Matter” on the back. He first attempted to trademark the term “We Are the 99%” but noticed that someone had beaten him to it [per the PTO, that dubious honor goes to Brooklynite Ian McLaughlin, who seeks to use the mark in connection with the sale of clothing, bags, and bumper stickers]. Maresca then looked up the second most popular #ows protester chant–”Occupy Wall St.”–and plunked down $975, registering the mark in his wife’s name.

It’s not hard to figure out why Maresca was immediately reviled by those sympathetic to the protesters. The act of trademarking a term which grew organically to describe not just the protests at Zuccotti Park, but indeed the country, and indeed the world, is prima facie evidence of crass commercialism. How dare a single person try and co-opt the identity of a leaderless army!

But before we crucify Robert Maresca to that huge red sculpture at the southeast corner of Zuccotti Park, let’s take him at his word and take those words in the most favorable light, because (a) his intentions may have been less crass than at first appears; and (b) he’s clearly confused as to how intellectual property works and that may only be partly his fault.

First, let’s step back and be clear as to what Maresca’s $975 would buy him (assuming the application is granted). A trademark registrant owns what amounts to a limited government-backed monopoly on a word, phrase, image, and even a scent. In order to exercise this monopoly, the registrant must use the mark “in commerce.” But it’s more than a use it or lose it policy–you must also protect the mark by actively preventing others from using it. This way, not only is your investment in the good will symbolized by the mark protected, the public is likewise protected by the elimination of consumer confusion of the source of goods and services.

But, again, taking him at his words, Maresca doesn’t appear to have filed for the mark for crass commercial purposes:

“When I checked, it was available for anyone to trademark. And if I didn’t file, who’s to say who else might have grabbed it? Everybody had a right to it, and it’s important to keep it away from people who would try to use it for negative[.]“


He said the trademark “isn’t about me getting rich. If it turns into a big moneymaker, I would like some of it to go back to the group.”

[both quotes from Daily News story]

The existence of the public domain apparently never occurred to Maresca before he spent nearly a thousand dollars to own a term that has come to define and defend the public domain as belonging to people and not corporations. Likewise, Ian McLaughlin’s attempt to own “We Are the 99%” is similarly ironic in a forehead-smacking way–how can Mr. McLaughlin, who comprises perhaps .000000003% of the US population, own 99%?

In an interview with the Village Voice (responding to the negative publicity surrounding his application), Maresca responded to the notion that the term Occupy Wall St. may be in the public domain.

“I just wanted to protect myself,” he says. “I didn’t know that once something has been used enough like that it enters the public domain. I think that’s great. That’s how it should be.”

It’s great that Maresca thinks it’s great that the term entered the public domain, but what he perhaps doesn’t yet realize is that the public domain is incompatible with his profiting from the mark. It’s one or the other–he wouldn’t get to restrict what he considers “negative” uses while granting him permission to distribute free perpetual licenses for uses he agrees with. That’s not how monopolies work. I would expect the PTO to reject the application and render my speculation moot but you never know.

Maresca’s instinct to buy up “Occupy Wall St.” (“defensively” or not) may be less his fault than the fault of our brand-saturated society. After all, how much of what surrounds us isn’t already owned and exploited? How many similar popular phrases or terms can you name that didn’t get there via an identifiable owner? How often are terms organically propelled into the national discourse? Trademark law and the public domain rarely intersect as a matter of law (though perhaps they should more)–and when they do intersect it’s more often with respect to an individual’s fair use rights of particularly famous marks, whose ubiquity leaves it vulnerable to popular culture uses, unlike here where a mark simply sprouted from the earth for all, on behalf of all.

Then again, a search of the US Patent & Trademark Office search system for “Tea Party” returned 176 records.