The Walt Disney Company has filed multiple lawsuits in the hopes of retaining the copyright to some of their most popular Marvel superheroes, including the likes of blockbuster characters such as Spider-Man and Thor. While Marvel Entertainment, a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company, has been in multiple long-term licensing deals to maintain the rights to these characters for many years, some of those are approaching a potential expiration date as the original artists and illustrators of these characters seek to reclaim their creative rights.
Everyone seems to be talking about the controversial “Satan shoes” released by famous rapper Lil Nas X (“Nas”) in collaboration with MSCHF Product Studio, Inc. (“MSCHF”). The shoes are controversial for many reasons, including their Satanic imagery, allegedly containing a drop of human blood in the sole, their perceived endorsement by Nike, and the music video and hit rap song that Nas released in tandem. Though the song, video, and shoes have sparked a moral and ethical debate worldwide, attorneys are intrigued by the legal debate that arises regarding the various trademark claims that Nike brought against MSCHF in a lawsuit filed on March 29, 2021.
On September 12, 2018, the European Parliament approved amendments to the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market, commonly known as the EU Copyright Directive (the “Directive”). The amendments primarily cover copyright protection over internet resources. There are two parts of the Directive that have caused concern: Articles 11 and 13. Article 11, also referred to as the “link tax,” provides publishers with a method to collect revenue from news content shared online. Article 13, also referred to as the “upload filter,” holds Internet platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, liable for copyright infringement committed by users. Together, large and small platform providers that would have to comply with these new regulations have declared that the enactment of these articles places a heavier burden on service providers. Critics of these amendments also say the requirements are likely to lead to increased taxation and more lawsuits. The final vote on the directive is scheduled for January 2019.
The Internet has given millions of people the capability to share information with each other with just the click of a button. People have grown accustomed to learning about current events, researching, and gathering information all through digital news sources. Unfortunately, the ease of the Internet has also created complications with regulating how users share that information. As technology rapidly advances, the legal limitations concerning intellectual property rights have become blurred, resulting in different interpretations of the Copyright Act of 1976. This has complicated user compliance and created difficult questions for the courts to answer based largely on law that was created before many of the capabilities of the Internet existed. There is a need for consistency and balance in this area of the law so that copyright owners are afforded adequate protection and the Internet can continue to serve as an information gathering, content sharing platform without fostering infringement.
Over the years, the Internet has become a vast space for people to create and view content shared by millions of Internet users. The abundance of content makes it nearly impossible to regulate everything that is posted. This has created a problem for authors, songwriters, and artists whose work is protected by copyright laws, because it has become increasingly easy for anyone to use, copy, and share copyrighted works that they do not have the right to use. Copyright law exists to “promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.” While the Copyright Act clearly grants artists certain exclusive rights to their work, claims of infringement often cause courts to engage in subjective analyses that leave some areas of copyright protection unclear. This has been especially problematic with fanfiction. In Fanfiction, fans of existing books, movies and television shows used different elements of those works to write their own stories, which are often then posted on websites such as, fanfiction.net. Fanfiction raises questions of copyright infringement and whether online forums should be more strictly regulated to monitor compliance with copyright laws.
Starting on January 1, 2013, Section 203 of the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976 became a tool for songwriters and musicians to recapture control of their work that was registered with the United States Copyright Office on or after January 1, 1978. Who are they recapturing control from? Record companies. Songwriters own the copyrights in their work, but in making a deal with a record company to publish and promote the work, writers transfer those rights or license the work (only granting certain rights) to the company. Section 203 came into effect in 1977 and specifically concerns music created after 1978. (Music created prior to 1978 is governed by Section 304 of the Copyright Act.) Due to the limitations of Section 203, January 1, 2013, was the first opportunity for artists to terminate ownership of their songs and/or recordings from the record companies that previously owned them. Putting that into perspective, in 2017, artists that created the major hits of the 80’s (think AC/DC, Michael Jackson, and Journey) can file a notice of termination with record labels that were previously granted ownership rights at the time the music was created in an attempt to regain all control of their work. Issues with termination rights have caused quite the battle between record companies and musicians both publicly and privately. Those battles can become more complicated in cases with multiple writers, vague copyright agreements, and the death of musicians. As artists seek to exercise their termination rights, it will be interesting to see if and how the music industry will change.
It is no secret that streaming services have been a highly controversial issue in the entertainment industry in recent years. Artists from all over the world have been affected by the rise of music streaming; many believe it is no different than piracy. Nevertheless, Spotify is in fifty-eight countries, and the user base consists of over fifty million subscribers globally, with twelve and a half million paying subscribers. As Spotify has grown, questions have risen surrounding the rights that artists, producers, and writers have to their music that the public has access to through ‘streaming’. As technology advances, the music industry will continue to change. The recently filed lawsuits against Spotify show that this is an underdeveloped area of the law that needs to be explored. The decisions regarding Spotify’s streaming service and compliance with copyright laws will have major implications for not just Spotify, but the entire music industry.