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Monthly Archives: October 2012

Naming “Best of” subjects Yelp to lawsuit from Village Voice

Helping people discover great places to visit and eat has grown into a popular business. Websites and apps enjoy promoting the “Best of” a specific location. Village Voice holds trademarks on “Best of San Francisco”, “Best of Seattle", and several other best of cities and has chosen to sue competitor Yelp for using Best of language on its website.

Last year, the Village Voice sued Time Out New York for using “Best of NYC”. Time Out counter-sued claiming “Best of” is generic and should not be able to be trademarked. In April 2012, Village Voice and Time Out reached an undisclosed settlement (registration required).

More and more we are seeing companies and individuals bullying others from using basic language and ideas, both of which defenders of intellectual property will claim can’t be limited by intellectual property.  “Best of” is completely generic and has been used in books and magazines for decades. Village Voice, in fact, only registered its trademark “Best of NYC” in 2007.  This is a trademark that should never have been approved.  And Time Out not fighting the case just goes to show how easy it is to bully even sizeable companies with frivolous IP lawsuits. It will almost always be cheaper to settle than to fight in court.  Even if Time Out or Yelp were willing to fight to get the trademark invalidated, its unlikely they could recoup legal fees.  Why spend millions just to prevent the company from suing another competitor? If Yelp decides to settle, that just leaves Village Voice armed to sue more magazines, books, and websites. The “Best of” the web, all vulnerable to a company scared of some competition.


Midnight in Paris film sued over line from Faulkner novel – Updated

Woody Allen film Midnight in Paris has been sued for copyright infringement over a single line in the movie. Faulkner Literary Rights, the company that owns the copyright to author William Faulkner’s writings, including novel The Sound and the Fury, says the line from Requiem For a Nun was used without permission and is seeking unspecified damages.

In the film, the line said is: "The past is not dead! Actually, it’s not even past. You know who said that? Faulkner. And he was right. And I met him, too. I ran into him at a dinner party." The only appropriation from the book is  ten words: "The past is never dead! Actually, it’s not even past.”

This is certainly a case of fair use.  The line, which is cited to Faulkner in the script (even though that is not a requirement for fair use), is few words from a 286 page novel, far from threating the commercial value of the book. Rather, Allen citing the line can increase the commercial value of the book, introducing people to a new Faulkner book.

Unfortunately, fair use is a defense that must be made in court. This means significant court costs for Sony Picture Classics, the studio behind Midnight in Paris, just to prove they did nothing wrong.  Faulkner Literary Rights, further, does not need to prove their commercial value has been hurt. Simply the act of copyright infringement, even if it was to the holder’s benefit, can cost hundred of thousands of dollars in damages.  The result, most likely, is Sony will settle, paying a settlement in order to save on court costs.  All over ten words.

Updated 10-26-12 1:01pm – Clarified that the quote in the film was actually slightly different from the book, changing never to not.  It’s not necessarily a transformative change, but still, shows how silly this lawsuit is.

Italian scientists guilty of manslaughter for not predicting earthquake

Six Italian scientists and one former government official will spend six years in prison for failing to predict a 2009 earthquake that killed 309 people. 

Prosecutors claim the scientists made incorrectly reassuring statements. The scientists, rightfully, defended that earthquakes are still near impossible to predict. More than 5,000 scientists  wrote an open letter to Italian President Giorgio Napolitano defending the lack of predictability for earthquakes.

This ruling is tremendously anti-science and potentially stifles scientific research.  While it’s likely to be appealed, researchers of any kind may find themselves wary of Italy.  For a country already struggling with economic recession, railroading scientists and smart people seems to be a flawed strategy.

Malcolm Sperrin, the Royal Berkshire Hospital’s director of medical physics told the BBC:

If the scientific community is to be penalized for making predictions that turn out to be incorrect, or for not accurately predicting an event that subsequently occurs, then scientific endeavor will be restricted to certainties only and the benefits that are associated with findings from medicine to physics will be stalled.