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Kansas City Intellectual Property Blog

The ins and outs of songwriter credits

The concept of songwriting has evolved. From communal folk songs that evolved over millennia in the public domain to the sampling of other artists’ recordings, ownership has gone from irrelevant to essential revenue streams for the songwriter or the company that owns the song. It also gets more complicated if ownership percentages are determined when there was more than one songwriter.

Tips on protecting your songs

Combinations of existing items can create something patentable

A recent patent application from Tesla not only provided a sneak peek at a feature the electric carmaker may incorporate into future models, it served as a reminder that inventions that already exist may be patented if they are combined in a nonobvious manner.

Tesla’s patent application is for an “advanced sunroof lighting system.” Essentially, it is a traditional sunroof (a piece of glass) equipped with technology that can limit the amount of light that enters as well as generate its own light when natural light is not available. Andrew Krok, who writes about the auto industry for CNET, says, the industry already has both separate systems in cars, but this is the first sunroof that includes both of these innovations in a single piece of glass.

It’s Cards vs. Crabs in a Game of Cards

Many are familiar with Cards Against Humanity. The premise of this popular party game is for one player to draw a black card with a question or a “fill-in-the-blank” prompt, and the fellow players then respond using answers provided on white cards in their hand. The player needing a response then picks the funniest response and awards a point.

Vampire Squid applied to register a stylized mark for Crabs Adjust Humidity, but Cards Against Humanity opposed the application on the grounds of brand confusion, dilution and a false sense of connection.

AAA Battles GM in Court over GIG

General Motors (GM) and the American Automobile Association (AAA) usually are not at odds. However, the two organizations have found themselves in federal court over the use of new car-sharing service that both have rolled out. 

AAA launched GIG in April 2017.  GIG is a car service in Northern California with the tagline “Get in. Go.” The company grew from 250 cars to 500 within a year, operating in the Eastern Bay Area, with plans to move into Sacramento in 2019.

The Brand Is the Band

These days artists and bands, old and new, can make good money licensing their music to ads, movies, and video games. But the real cash cow is touring and playing live. This is particularly the case for older bands whose fans are used to spending money on music and have the money to do so. This has led to the phenomena where bands reunite to play shows and make more money than they did in their heyday.

Reunion tours without a reunion

Coffee growers seek to protect the Kona name

The laidback lifestyle in Hawaii makes it a wonderful place to visit. However, like other unique places on the planet, local residents and business take great care in protecting what makes the place special, especially when they see non-natives using the culture or names for financial gain. Hawaiians have moved to take action against a Hawaiian beer brewed on the mainland, a Chicago-based poke chain with the trademarked name of “Aloha,” and Hawaiian potato chips made on the mainland.

Now three coffee farmers located in the Kona region of the so-called “Big Island” are taking steps to protect the world-famous coffee beans produced there. They have filed a federal suit against suppliers and retailers (such as Walmart, Amazon, CostCo, and others) who claim to sell premium Kona coffee beans, which typically sell for well over $50 a pound, and allege that the supplier and retailers know that the coffee was not produced in Kona.

Allegation of infringement pattern defeats motion to dismiss

On January 4, a federal judge in the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of California refused to dismiss claims of copyright infringement because he found that the plaintiff photographer had sufficiently alleged a pattern of copyright infringement. The opinion illustrates the kinds of allegations of copyright infringement a court will credit with enough weight to survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim.

In Menzel v. Scholastic, Inc., Peter Menzel, a photographer, alleged that publisher Scholastic infringed on his copyrights in 40 photographs. While the parties had entered into licensing agreements for Scholastic to use the photos, Menzel alleged that the publisher infringed because it used the images in ways not covered by the agreements such as after a license had expired, more publications of an image than the license allowed or in a digital medium when the license only covered print.

NCAA puts full-court press on unauthorized use of Final Four trademarks

If you’re planning a Final Four viewing party, you may want to refer to the event on your invitations as the “College Hoops Basketball Championship” or something even more generic, lest you have lawyers from the NCAA knocking on your door threatening to sue for trademark infringement.

That’s only a slight exaggeration regarding the fervor with which the National Collegiate Athletic Association protects its trademark for “March Madness” and more than two dozen other terms associated with the annual college basketball tournament. The NCAA actively monitors the use of its trademarked terms, such as “March Madness,” “Final Four” or “Elite Eight,” by restaurants and bars, souvenir vendors and other businesses looking to profit off of the event without paying licensing fees.

The internet is not the wild, wild West of copyright law

Let’s say you’re a small-business owner with a website to provide customers information about your product or service. Your site speaks to trends, news items or important developments in your industry. You see on another website that an industry leader posts an informative article or a useful video clip from a tradeshow. Can you reprint or repost that content on your blog?

The safe strategy is to link to the other website, but you hate to send your customers and prospects away from your site. What’s within your legal rights in terms of sharing another website’s content? Simply put, tread carefully.

Carlton’s dance lawsuits come to an end

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air actor Alfonso Ribeiro has been in the news a lot since attempting to copyright his “Carlton” dance. At the beginning of this year, we wrote about how the actor took issue with the video game creators of Fortnite, who used a likeness of the actor’s signature dance from the show done as the character Carlton. The actor and his legal team also had launched a suit against Take-Two Interactive, which created the video game NBA2K16.

Suits hobbled by Copyright Office ruling


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