Plagiarism Today https://www.plagiarismtoday.com Content Theft, Plagiarism, Copyright Infringement Wed, 02 Dec 2020 19:19:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.5.3 https://www.plagiarismtoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/cropped-ptlogosquare512-32x32.png Plagiarism Today https://www.plagiarismtoday.com 32 32 Why the Spinrilla Case Matters https://www.plagiarismtoday.com/2020/12/02/why-the-spinrilla-case-matters/ Wed, 02 Dec 2020 19:19:47 +0000 https://www.plagiarismtoday.com/?p=34422 Disclosure: Through my consulting firm CopyByte I offer DMCA agent services, which are discussed in this article.

Why the Spinrilla Case Matters Image

On November 30th, a judge in the Northern District of Georgia handed down a significant ruling against the mixtape streaming company Spinrilla.

In the ruling, the judge granted summary judgment to the various record labels and found that Spinrilla was liable for copyright infringement for some 4,082 songs listed in the lawsuit.

The judgment did not determine damages, setting that up to be an issue to be decided either at trial or mediation. However, even at the minimum damages, which is $750 per infringement, it amounts to some $3,061,500 in damages. At the maximum of $150,000 per infringement that comes to $612.3 million.

Though any damages will likely be much closer to the former than the latter, it is still a significant loss for Spinrilla.

The case, more than anything, is a warning. It’s a warning about the hazards of creating streaming services, the importance of having a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) agent and about ensuring you comply with the law.

To understand why, we must dive into the case a bit.

The Basics of the Case and Ruling

Spinrilla is a hip-hop streaming service where users create mixtapes for others to listen to.

However, the service is far from a free-for-all. Of the 19 million registered users, only 14,000 have permission to upload. In December 2015, the company implemented Audible Magic to scan uploaded audio files and block infringing uploads. This was at the request of UMG Recordings.

According to their claims, they regularly took action when the received a DMCA takedown notice (this is disputed by the record labels) and tried to work to keep their service clean.

In February 2017, a group of record labels filed a lawsuit against Spinrilla, alleging that the site was committing both direct and secondary copyright infringement. Initially, they alleged some 21,000 songs that they considered to have been infringed but, as the case went on, only identified the 4,083 involved in the lawsuit.

To be clear, Spinrilla’s actions were not wholly innocent. Not only did founder Jeffery Copeland upload several mixtapes himself to help users, the record labels have long called into question their repeat infringer policy, especially as it existed before July 2017.

Perhaps worst of all was that Copeland offering help to users in circumventing their copyright protections, including telling one DJ to slow down a track to get past the software.

However, the ruling hinged on a separate issue: The fact Spinrilla did not have a registered DMCA agent. According to the lawsuit, the DMCA agent was not registered with the U.S. Copyright Office until July 2017, well after the lawsuit was filed.

As such, Spinrilla was unable to invoke DMCA safe harbor at all and, as such, was denied protection under the DMCA. Given that Spinrilla had created the streaming platform and none of their arguments addressed the issue of public performance, the judge ruled that Spinrilla was a direct infringer on all the tracks.

It is a major blow for Spinrilla, but it should also be a cautionary tale for anyone else that hosts content provided by users.

A Reminder: You Need a DMCA Agent

To be clear, we don’t know how the court would have ruled on the safe harbor issues if Spinrilla had maintained a DMCA agent registration for their entire run.

Their action in other areas certainly question whether safe harbor would have applied and that includes uploading tracks for users, advising on how to circumvention copyright protection and their lack of a repeat infringer policy.

It’s very likely that, even with a proper DMCA agent registration, they may have been held liable for at least some of the tracks at issue. That said, the issue was moot as, due to their lack of a registered agent, they had no safe harbor at all.

It’s also possible that this ruling could be altered or overturned on appeal. However, that seems unlikely as the ruling lists several other cases that back up this decision.

Last month, we discussed why you need a DMCA agent if your site hosts content uploaded by users. There, we focused on small copyright holders (mostly photographers) targeting hosts as part of an increasingly aggressive campaign against infringement.

This case puts an exclamation point on that article. It emphasizes with a much bigger lawsuit and a much larger damages amount.

While Spinrilla certainly isn’t innocent in its other actions, it doesn’t even get to argue them due to the lack of a DMCA agent. Though we will likely never know how the court or a jury would have decided with a proper registration, it’s clear Spinrilla would be in a better position if it had registered one on day one.

Bottom Line

Yes, Spinrilla should have had a registered DMCA agent from day one. However, they are FAR from alone in overlooking that detail.

If you go to the U.S. Copyright Office website right now, the process takes only a few minutes and costs just $6. Best of all, you can register unlimited sites and services under one company. There is no excuse.

If you don’t want your personal information in the database, then you can either use secondary contact information or hire an outside DMCA agent. This is a service I provide at CopyByte.

No matter how you get this done, get it done. Otherwise, the next Spinrilla could be you.

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3 Count: Unspunrilla https://www.plagiarismtoday.com/2020/12/02/3-count-unspunrilla/ Wed, 02 Dec 2020 16:54:51 +0000 https://www.plagiarismtoday.com/?p=34413
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1: Hip-Hop Streaming Platform Spinrilla Found Liable for Users’ Copyright Infringement

First off today, Ashley Cullins at The Hollywood Reporter Esquire reports that the major record labels have secured a significant victory in their ongoing legal battle with mixtape service Spinrilla as a judge has granted summary judgment in their favor.

Spinrilla is a service which allows users to create and stream their own mixtapes. However, the site has regularly butted heads with the record labels. This came to a head in 2017 when the labels sued Spinrilla for alleged copyright infringement. However, Spinrilla argued that they complied with takedown requests, operated Audible Magic to help filter infringing uploads and were not liable for their customer’s infringement.

However, the court decided otherwise, granting summary judgment on the issue of both direct infringement and DMCA protection. On the former, the court ruled that none of Spinrilla’s arguments dealt with cases involving public performance of music and that streaming is a direct infringement even if it occurs at the request of a user. On the latter, the court ruled that Spinrilla did not qualify for DMCA safe harbor protection since it didn’t register an agent until after the lawsuit began. As such, the court found them liable for the infringement of some 4,082 songs and that has set the stage for a trial on damages.

2: Hellraiser Movie Rights Return To Franchise Creator Clive Barker

Next up today, Rick Stevenson at ScreenRant reports that author Clive Barker has won a legal dispute to reclaim the film rights his novella The Hellbound Heart, which was the basis for the original Hellraiser film.

Hellraiser was first released in 1987 after Barker signed over the film rights to Park Avenue Entertainment. However, under the Copyright Act of 1976, original creators can reclaim any signed over rights after a period of 35 years. With that time coming up soon, Barker sought to reclaim the rights, but the case wound up in court.

However, the two sides have reached a settlement and the rights to the story will revert to Barker in December 2021. The case mirrors an ongoing one involving the story of Friday the 13th. There, the court ruled in favor of the author, but the matter is on appeal.

3: Spotify Just Invented AI Technology that Will Police Songwriter Plagiarism

Finally today, Murray Stasen at Music Business Worldwide reports that Spotify has filed a European patent on a new system, powered by artificial intelligence, which aims to help songwriters determine if their song copies elements of other compositions.

According to the filing, the system would take the song’s lead sheet and feed it through a “plagiarism detector” that would compare it against other such sheets and would seek out any plagiarism, unintentional or otherwise, in the work.

According to Spotify’s filing, this would take place in near-real time and it would make it easy for the songwriter can quickly listen to the potentially plagiarized work.

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A Heartfelt Plagiarism https://www.plagiarismtoday.com/2020/12/01/a-heartfelt-plagiarism/ Tue, 01 Dec 2020 18:56:38 +0000 https://plagiarismtoday.com/?p=34400
A Heartfelt Plagiarism Image

Michael Muñoz is the current superintendent of the Rochester Public School District in Rochester, Minnesota. Having led the school district through a challenging spring semester, the school board recently voted 6-1 to extend his contract through June 30, 2022.

Though that extension was not without controversy, especially among candidates for the school board, he seems to be generally well-supported and liked during his nine-year tenure.

However, Muñoz found himself at the center of controversy earlier this week when Sean Baker at Med City Beat reported that an email Muñoz sent to the staff Rochester Public Schools turned out to be heavily plagiarized.

The email, sent the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, was meant to express his gratitude to the faculty, staff and parents of the school district for their demanding work in keeping the school district going during these challenging times.

Unfortunately, the 500-word email turned out to be almost entirely plagiarized from outside sources. Recipients were suspicious almost immediately after realizing that the email was much longer than what Muñoz normally writes and that it contained multiple font sizes and typefaces.

Ultimately, more than half of it came from a combination of two sources: A thank you letter sent to the Hernando School District staff in Hernando, Florida and a similar letter sent to the staff at the City School District of Albany in Albany, NY.

This prompted a swift apology from Muñoz who took responsibility for the plagiarism. He called it a “bad choice” and did not offer an explanation saying it would, “just come across as making excuses.”

But all of this asks one serious question: Why? Why did he plagiarize this email? Why commit such a serious academic offense on an email that wasn’t even necessary?

That, unfortunately, is a bit more difficult to answer.

Not-So Difficult Letters

A Heartfelt Plagiarism Image

Back in October, we looked at a variety of cases where school officials were caught plagiarizing difficult letters. Whether it was a student union CEO plagiarizing a letter about racial injustice, a school dealing with deep cuts to athletics programs or a school being forced to justify reopening amidst the pandemic.

These are all difficult letters that are both necessary and challenging. While it’s difficult to ever truly justify plagiarism, it’s easy to see why school officials both felt they had to write these letters and struggled with them.

That is not the case with Muñoz.

While he was certainly talking about challenging things, this was a letter he could have opted not to send. No one, it seems, was expecting such an email from him and the letter drew suspicion for being longer than his usual fare.

There was no expectation of this letter and, while giving thanks to those working hard for the district is a good thing to do, it’s not necessary. Muñoz had the option to stay quiet, but instead chose to plagiarize.

To make matters worse, he plagiarized in a very inept way. He not only used a voice that was not like his own, but didn’t even mask the different fonts. It’s the type of plagiarism that wouldn’t pass even the most cursory examination in the classroom.

While his apology does help things some by taking full responsibility and not making excuses, it also doesn’t explain why or how it happened.

Though certainly better than many plagiarism apologies, it leaves a lot of big questions unanswered.

Bottom Line

What happens next is up to the Rochester School Board and the employees of Rochester Public Schools. Though Muñoz says that he is “committed to rebuild your confidence and trust in me every single day” they are the ones that decide if that confidence and trust can be rebuilt at all.

An inept and lazy plagiarism in an unnecessary letter that was meant to be a heartfelt expression of personal gratitude is a lot to take in. Students have long taught us that, when faced with difficult and important assignments, plagiarism becomes a temptation. However, for Muñoz, there was no assignment, and the letter should not have been that difficult.

Muñoz’ mistake wasn’t that of a school administrator that was overwhelmed by the task at hand, but of one that wanted to write a thank you letter and opted to plagiarize it rather than taking the time to write it himself or having a staff member do it.

The school district has a tough choice and it’s one made more difficult by outside circumstances. Not only was his contract recently extended, but the ongoing pandemic makes any change more difficult. Furthermore, in spite of his poor choices here, he seems to be a well-liked and respected superintendent.

So yes, the school board has a difficult choice. However, it’s a choice wouldn’t have been necessary at all if Muñoz had simply made the easy choice of not plagiarizing in the first place.

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3 Count: Student Labor https://www.plagiarismtoday.com/2020/12/01/3-count-student-labor/ Tue, 01 Dec 2020 16:19:45 +0000 https://plagiarismtoday.com/?p=34394
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1: “Copyright Troll” Richard Liebowitz Suspended (on Interim Basis) from S.D.N.Y. Bar

First off today, Eugene Volokh at Reason.com reports that controversial copyright attorney Richard Liebowitz has been suspended, on an interim basis, from the Southern District of New York. That is the district where he has filed most of his cases.

Liebowitz has earned a reputation as a “copyright troll” for aggressively filing lawsuits on behalf of photographers whose work, he alleges, was misused by commercial outlets. Though his tactics were already divisive, he has since racked up a series of sanctions for his handling of many of those cases.

The matter before the Committee on Grievances in the district is ongoing. As such, the nature of the investigation is confidential and there are no details in the suspension order. However, it is noted that the committee found the evidence against Liebowitz compelling enough to suspend his right to file cases in the district pending the completion of the investigation.

2: UCR Professor Named in Lawsuit Alleging Fraud, Copyright Infringement and Emotional Distress

Next up today, Laura Anaya-Morga at The Highlander reports that an alumni from the University of California Riverside (UCR) has filed a lawsuit against the school alleging that a professor at the school misused her student labor and infringed the copyright on work she produced for a class there.

According to the lawsuit, Ashanti McMillon was a student at the school in 2013 when she was enrolled in Professor Setsu Shigetmatsu’s class, MCS 190 Special Studies. There, she and other students worked to help the development of the Guardian Press Alliance, an educational media company that has published several books. Two of those books list McMillon as the primary author.

However, McMillon alleges that she was promised royalties and positions at the organizations, promises that were not fulfilled. Instead, she accuses the professor of using their free labor for her personal gain. As such, she is suing for copyright infringement, fraud and emotional distress. The case is scheduled for a hearing on Friday to address a motion to dismiss filed by the school.

3: European Commission IP report talks piracy and AI

Finally today, Chris Cooke at Complete Music Update reports that the European Commission has published a paper looking at a wide range of intellectual property issues including everything from illegal IPTV services all the way to issues with AI.

Broadly, the report calls for a greater effort both at the EU and the national level to fight piracy. The report also expressed concern over new forms of IP infringements including cyber theft of trade secrets and illegal IPTV services. The report also tackled the issue of IP and artificial intelligence saying that, according to them, an AI system should not be treated as an author or an inventor.

The report comes as the block implements changes to its copyright laws including the requirement that large hosts filter out infringing content before it is uploaded to the service.

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5 Public Domain Christmas Movies https://www.plagiarismtoday.com/2020/11/30/5-public-domain-christmas-movies/ Mon, 30 Nov 2020 19:05:01 +0000 https://plagiarismtoday.com/?p=34376
5 Public Domain Christmas Movies Image

Back in 2011, I penned an article about 5 public domain Christmas songs (and 5 that aren’t) and, every year at this time, it becomes easily the most popular post on the site.

I’ve long desired to do a follow up on that piece looking at public domain Christmas movies but that has always proved challenging. The reason is simple, where Christmas music (or at least its compositions) are often hundreds of years old, movies are a more modern invention.

Where many Christmas songs lapsed into the public domain due to time, that is only true for a handful of movies. Also, films are inherently more complex. As we saw with It’s a Wonderful Life, a film that was previously seen as being in the public domain, might have that status change due to new court rulings.

That said, there are still several Christmas films that, according to my best research, have lapsed into the public domain and may be of interest. However, the usual caveats apply. We are only looking at within the United States and bear in mind that, while it is widely believed these films are public domain that status can change.

Also, don’t expect too many Christmas classics on this list (especially since It’s a Wonderful Life doesn’t qualify anymore). Instead, most of these films are obscure will likely be more familiar to the Mystery Science Theater 3000 crowd than your average Christmas filmgoer.

1: Miracle on 34th Street (1955)

5 Public Domain Christmas Movies Image

When most people think of Miracle on 34th they think of the 1947 film starring Maureen O’Hara and John Payne. This is not that film.

Instead, this is a one-hour TV adaptation of the story that cuts the runtime in half but still manages to accurately tell the story. Upon re-airing it was renamed Meet Mr. Kringle.

While not the classic that was the original film, it was made by 20th Century Fox, the same production company. Still, the film features an all-new cast and omits a lot of what made the original a classic either due to time or content restrictions.

Also, this one may have the most dubious public domain distinction. Since the original film is still very much protected by copyright, that means the original story likely is as well and this is based upon it. Nonetheless, this version appears in many public domain archives and, given its relative obscurity, doesn’t seem like anyone is clamoring to reclaim the rights.

2: Santa Claus (Versus the Devil) (1959)

5 Public Domain Christmas Movies Image

In another case of “Not that movie” this is neither the 1985 Santa Claus: The Movie nor is it the 1994 Tim Allen movie The Santa Clause.

This is a 1959 Mexican film that features Santa Claus doing battle with a devil-creature named Pitch as he tries to coax children into doing evil things and sabotage Santa’s deliveries.

Also making an appearance is Merlin the Wizard as Santa Claus’ trusted sidekick.

It’s a bizarre film that’s best known for its appearance on Mystery Science Theater 3000. In an interesting bit of trivia, that episode of MST3K was where the phrase “nightmare fuel” was first uttered.

The film is dubbed into English but be aware that neither the dubbing nor the film itself are exactly classics. That said, according to Wikipedia, the film is considered a financial success. It received multiple theatrical releases and was even considered a Christmas tradition for some time.

However, it’s also worth noting that section has no citations…

3: Scrooge (1935)

5 Public Domain Christmas Movies Image

If you would rather have a film that is more broadly acclaimed, Scrooge may be just what you are looking for. Filmed in Britain during the great depression, the film is a retelling of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens with an expressionistic style, good acting and great camera work.

The story holds mostly true to the original, with miserly Ebeneezer Scrooge learning to change his ways after visits from a series of ghosts. This 78-minute version is a solid retelling of the story we’re all familiar with.

Released in 1935, it came out not long after Hollywood made the transition from silent to talking films, making this one of the earliest talkie adaptations of the story.

According to Wikimedia, the film lapsed into the public domain because the film’s producer, Julius Hagen, died in 1940. This means that the life +70 term for the copyright has expired.

All in all, it’s a great film and probably the best pure movie in this list.

4: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)

5 Public Domain Christmas Movies Image

At the other end of the spectrum, you have another Mystery Science Theater 3000 classic Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, a U.S. film that is widely considered to be one of the worst movies ever made.

Best known for its goofy premise, cheap sets, cheaper special effects and campy acting, this was a film that was ripe for riffing. The premise of the movie is that the Martians are determined to kidnap Santa Claus so he can bring his bring toys and joy to Martian children.

However, as the title indicates, Santa manages to foil the Martian plans (aided by some earth children that were kidnapped with him) and he makes it back to earth.

The film represents two debuts. The first was singer and actress Pia Zadora, who plays Girmar (Girl Martian) in the film. The second was the character Mrs. Claus who made her first appearance in film. Though already a household name in song and poem, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians beat out Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer by three weeks for her film debut.

The film is only public domain in the United States. In other countries, STUDIOCANAL holds the copyright to the work and continues to enforce those rights. However, if you’re in the U.S., you can stream this to your heart’s content (though I recommend viewing the MST3K version if you can).

5: The Great Rupert (1950)

5 Public Domain Christmas Movies Image

One of the lesser-known films on this list, The Great Rupert is sometimes referred to as A Christmas Wish.

It features the tale of a down-on-their-luck family whose Christmas is saved when an animated vaudeville squirrel begins raining money down on them. That money, however, was stashed in their walls by their wealthy landlord.

This is a more traditional Christmas film, despite the presence of an animated squirrel, and follows the formula of films from around that time. While it may not be the classic It’s a Wonderful Life has since become, it was only release four years after and has much of the same feel.

The film has since lapsed into the public domain due to a lack of copyright renewal. This, as with others on this list, mean that it is only definitely public domain in the United States. There was also a colorized version of the film released in 2003.

Bottom Line

To be clear, this isn’t the entirety of public domain Christmas films. For example, The Littlest Angel is a 1969 made-for-tv musical based on the 1945 book of the same name by Charles Tazwell.

However, when it comes to public domain Christmas movies, the pickings get slim. The reason is simple: The most common way for a film to lapse in the public domain (at least in the United States) is for it to have been made before 1978 and to not have had its copyright registration renewed.

However, Christmas films have a great deal of longevity and are often marketed year after year. As such, it’s much rarer for their rightsholders to let their copyright lapse than other kinds of films.

That said, we are seeing more films enter the public domain each January 1st. So, keep an eye on films that lapse every year as this list will grow with time, especially as more films from the 30s enter the public domain naturally over the coming decade.

In the meantime, there’s still more than a few good public domain Christmas films for you to enjoy… as well as a few stinkers…

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3 Count: French Deal https://www.plagiarismtoday.com/2020/11/30/3-count-french-deal/ Mon, 30 Nov 2020 15:46:06 +0000 https://plagiarismtoday.com/?p=34370
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1: Google signs copyright agreements with six French newspapers

First off today, Reuters reports that Google has signed a deal with six French newspapers and magazines to allow the search giant to continue using their content as part of their search results.

The move comes as new EU regulations come into effect that require search engines to pay fees to news organizations for the use of their snippets, thumbnails and headlines. Google had originally resisted such efforts to compel them to pay, even shutting down Google News in Spain.

However, with the new EU law, Google has shown a willingness to work with local news organizations and the latest deal is just the most recent example. The current deal includes major national daily newspapers Le Monde and Le Figaro but Google says they are in negotiations with other publications all over the country.

2: What Happens When a Virtual Streamer Doesn’t Own Her Body?

Next up today, Jacob Kastrenakes at The Verge reports that Twitch Streamer Projekt Melody is in the middle of a copyright dispute over an unexpected part of her stream: Her body.

Melody is what is known as a Vtuber or V streamer. Instead of featuring on camera herself, she is represented by a 3D model. However, the creator of that 3D model recently filed a series of copyright complaints with Twitch, resulting in her account briefly being banned and her losing her partner status indefinitely.

Melody doesn’t deny that the filer created the model but showed evidence, including receipts, that she purchased the 3D model she used. However, there seems to be a huge disagreement about exactly what rights to the work Melody acquired. Neither side commented on the report with both indicating that they were trying to work things out.

3: A Bot Made Frank Sinatra Cover Britney Spears. YouTube Removed It Over Copyright Claims

Finally today, Dan Robitzski at Futurism reports that the music duo DADABOTS faced a copyright takedown on an AI-created song that featured a fake Fran Sinatra covering Toxic by Britney Spears.

The notice was filed by an anti-piracy firm named GrayZone Inc. However, DADABOTS filed a counternotice against the removal, with the aid of two pro-bono attorneys, arguing that the song was transformative enough to be a fair use.

However, though YouTube did restore the track they determined that the song is a Britney Spears cover, meaning that they would have to share revenue with her publisher (not label as indicated in the article). The case comes amidst a series of other copyright controversies involving AI on YouTube including battles over deepfakes of Jay-Z and an AI-created Pink Floyd fan album.

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3 Count: Triller Night https://www.plagiarismtoday.com/2020/11/19/3-count-triller-night/ Thu, 19 Nov 2020 15:39:21 +0000 https://plagiarismtoday.com/?p=34335
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1: Wixen Sues Triller for Copyright Infringement

First off today, Chris Cooke at Complete Music Update reports that the music publisher Wixen has filed a lawsuit against TikTok competitor Triller claiming that the viral video site is not paying songwriters for the use of their music and, instead, is focusing on deals with “social influencers”.

The service has been around for several years but has recently begun to expand amidst both external investment and various political issues befalling its main rival. It’s reached deals with many music companies, including all the major record labels, but Wixen argues that it has not completely covered its bases when dealing with the music publisher side of things and that many of the compositions it uses are unlicensed at this time.

According to the lawsuit, the company had many opportunities to reach out and negotiate a license with Wixen and other publishers. Instead, they claim that the company has sought out deals with large “influencers” in a bid to poach them from TikTok and other platforms. Wixen is seeking statutory damages for all of the Wixen-licensed music that appears on the platform.

2: Nintendo Asks Court to Put an End to ‘Domain Hopping’ Piracy Hack Stores

Next up today, Ernesto Van der Sar at Torrentfreak writes that Nintendo is asking a U.S. court to take additional action against online stores selling mod chips after GoDaddy declined to transfer a domain that wasn’t explicitly mentioned in an injunction.

The case relates to Team-Xecuter, which has released a series of hacks and modchips for the Nintendo Switch console. Among other things, these hacks enable the Switch to play pirated games. Those hacks and modchips have appeared on a variety of online stores, including Txswitch which was briefly shuttered after it’s domain was seized by Nintendo as part of a court order.

However, the site did not disappear for long, simply reappearing on a domain name nearly identical to the previous but with two letters transposed. Nintendo demanded that the new domain be transferred as well but GoDaddy declined as it wasn’t in the original court order. Nintendo is now going back to court asking for the new domain to be seized and for a clarification on the original court order that would give it more power to seize future domains the site uses.

3: Twitch Streamer Goes Viral for Creative Way of Dodging DMCA Claims

Finally today, Luke Shaw at NME reports that Twitch streamer PlayWithJambo has found a creative way to avoid copyright claims on her videos. She follows Twitch’s advice of muting the game’s audio and, instead, has begun filling in the audio herself to comical effect.

The move comes after Twitch drew controversy for its handling of an onslaught of Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown requests due to unlicensed music appearing in users’ videos. Twitch has advised streamers to mute in-game audio to avoid such copyright notices and that has led to a slew of parody videos, including streamers playing silent Guitar Hero on the service.

However, PlayWithJambo took things to the next level by muting her audio while playing Skyrim and doing all the sound effects herself as she was streaming. Others have followed suit and are playing other games while providing all of the in-game audio themselves.

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The Dangers of “Copyright-Free” Music https://www.plagiarismtoday.com/2020/11/17/the-dangers-of-copyright-free-music/ Tue, 17 Nov 2020 19:01:31 +0000 https://plagiarismtoday.com/?p=34326
The Dangers of "Copyright-Free" Music Image

Recently, musician T-Pain announced the launch his Pizzle Pack collection. It’s a collection of some 162 tracks being offered both for free and royalty-free to streamers.

The announcement comes after the streaming service Twitch has faced backlash for its handling of an onslaught of music related Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) notices. In short, the music industry has been calling on Twitch to license the audio used by streamers and, until such a deal is reached, has been sending thousands of takedown notices for clips and streams.

The coverage of the release has been very kind to T-Pain, with various headlines saying that he has released “copyright-free” music for streaming.

However, that is not the case. Not only is T-Pain’s music still very much protected by copyright, there are many reasons why streamers may want to avoid using them for the intended purpose.

To understand why, we have to look at the exact terms T-Pain has licensed the tracks under and see why, as generous as this offer is, it is far from “copyright-free.”

Why Copyright-Free isn’t Copyright-Free

To understand what is going on, users need to look to T-Pain’s own legal disclaimer, which highlights just how limited the license to use the songs actually is:

I expressly reserve all rights to my music. I give you a limited revocable license to use my music in the background of your videos but you can’t record to my music, change it, or use it anywhere else. If you do, you’re violating my copyrights and that’s gonna get your ass sued.

T-Pain’s Legal Disclaimer

The disclaimer makes it pretty clear that there are plenty of ways to violate his copyright with these tracks. The truth is that he is ONLY making the tracks available as background music for videos. You cannot make videos featuring the music prominently, release covers of the tracks, sell CDs of the tracks, distribute the songs on streaming services and so forth.

In short, the only thing that is allowed is using them as background music in videos.

However, even that permission is limited due to one key word: Revocable.

Revocable, in this context, means that T-Pain can, unilaterally and at any time, rescind this deal. While I don’t believe that T-Pain would do that, the fact remains that he could.

Given that many of the recent DMCA notices have been on videos that are many years old, what happens if T-Pain changes his mind down the road? What happens if the rights to the songs are acquired by another company or are transferred to another party? There’s no guarantee this license will still be available.

Streamers and YouTubers alike could find themselves building their brand and image around these tracks only to have the rug pulled out from under them later.

To be clear, none of this is to say that you shouldn’t use these tracks in your work. However, it’s important that you are aware of all of the limitations of the license. You may feel these are risks and limitations that are worthwhile, but it is important to be aware of them.

To further clarify, the problem isn’t T-Pain and what he did or said. He was extremely clear about the terms of his license and is making a very generous gesture to help streamers and YouTubers. The problem is that much of the coverage of this release can give some false impressions to those that don’t read the fine print.

However, this problem is nothing new.

The Difference Between “Copyright Free” and “Royalty Free”

Copyright Free

Back in June, we discussed the difference between “Copyright Free” and “Royalty Free” content.

However, for the purpose of this article, it’s adequate to say that “Copyright Free” means public domain content or content with no copyright restrictions. Royalty free simply means that it’s licensed in a way that a user doesn’t have to pay ongoing royalties to continue using the content.

Royalty free content is very much protected by copyright and is covered under a license. That license might require a fee to use the work, just not ongoing royalties after that fee is paid.

That said, what T-Pain is offering is royalty-free music that is also free to start using (for the limited purposes permitted). It is also a license that can be revoked at any time by T-Pain or any other rightsholder in those tracks.

This is in stark contrast to what musician and parodist Tom Lehrer did back in October, where he placed his music into the public domain (or as close as he could). His music is, functionally, completely copyright-free and can be used for any purpose (at least his compositions and lyrics).

T-Pain is doing something vastly different from Tom Lehrer and it’s important to understand that difference if you plan to use the tracks. However, this is the danger of misrepresenting “Royalty Free” tracks as “Copyright Free” as it can lead people to think they have a more broad license than they do.

And, as T-Pain himself said, “that’s gonna get your ass sued.”

Bottom Line

Music licensing is very complicated. It’s the product of over a hundred years of technological and legal changes that have seen us move from printing compositions to be played in person an incredible library of recorded music available via streaming services.

In short, music licensing is difficult but modern expressions and lingo aren’t helping to clear the air. Many, many YouTubers and streamers are moving forward with projects genuinely believing they have rights in a work that they do not.

Some of that confusion, to be frank, is sheer stupidity. Much of it, however, is understandable.

If you are a streamer or YouTuber, the best thing you can do right now is to start getting savvy about copyrights broadly. Get up to speed on music licensing, understand the truths about fair use, study how the YouTube and Twitch copyright systems work.

If you don’t get savvy now, you may well get a crash course after your channels are deleted.

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3 Count: Pandemic Trial https://www.plagiarismtoday.com/2020/11/17/3-count-pandemic-trial/ Tue, 17 Nov 2020 16:21:41 +0000 https://plagiarismtoday.com/?p=34321
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Have any suggestions for the 3 Count? Let me know via Twitter @plagiarismtoday.

1: No Encore for Music Publishers Who Say COVID-19 Wrecked Copyright Trial

First off today, Eriq Gardner at The Hollywood Reporter Esquire reports that music publishers will not be able to gain a second trail against William Sagan despite the jury’s indication that they rushed their verdict due to COVID-19.

Sagan operated Wolfgang’s Vault, which was an online collection of concert recordings and rock memorabilia. However, music publishers claimed that Sagan never obtained the rights to the compositions shared on the site and had infringed the copyright in some 197 works. The case made it to a trial in March but, on March 12, a juror expressed concern that that the case was taking too long and was exposing them to danger. The jury came back shortly thereafter awarding only $189,500 in damages, which is less than $1,000 per work.

Publishers expected to much higher damages and have asked the judge for a retrial on the grounds that the conclusion of the case was rushed due to the pandemic. However, the judge has denied that request since the case was already in the jurors’ hands when the question was raised. The judge also trimmed an award for legal fees taking the plaintiffs’ request for $6 million in fees down to $2.4 million.

2: GitHub Defies RIAA Takedown Notice, Restoring YouTube-dl and Starting $1M Defense Fund

Next up today, Devin Coldewey at TechCrunch reports that code hosting site GitHub has restored the YouTube-dl project, an application that allows users to download YouTube videos, despite a DMCA notice filed by the RIAA demanding its removal.

Back in October, the RIAA sent the GitHub a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) notice demanding the removal of the project, saying that it was being used to violate copyrights that they own. Specifically, they claim that the software is used to circumvent digital rights management tools that are used to protect authorized videos on YouTube.

However, GitHub claims that the notice was mistaken saying that YouTube-dl does not violate any encryption or protection and merely “watches” the video and then saves it. As such, they have restored the YouTube-dl project and has launched a $1 million developer defense fund to fight false takedowns as well as made promises to continue its lobbying efforts.

3: City Selects New Bayfront Site for Unconditional Surrender

Finally today, David Conway at YourObserver.com reports that, in Sarasota, Floriday, the city commission has agreed to keep a public sculpture despite some citizen’s concern about the copyright in the piece.

The sculpture in question is Unconditional Surrender, a sculpted version of the famous photo of a Navy sailor kissing a woman on V-J Day in Times Square. Since 2009 the sculpture has been a part of the city’s bayfront area though many have questioned the inclusion of the sculpture due both to its representation of a nonconsensual kiss and the fact the original rightsholder has not given permission for the sculpture.

The city did opt to move the sculpture but only a short distance away but is keeping it in the general area. The city felt that their efforts to reach out to the rightsholder in 2006 meant that the statute of limitations had expired on case and that most residents wanted it displayed.

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The Price of Political Plagiarism https://www.plagiarismtoday.com/2020/11/16/the-price-of-political-plagiarism/ Mon, 16 Nov 2020 19:26:54 +0000 https://plagiarismtoday.com/?p=34311
The Price of Political Plagiarism Image

On this site, we’ve talked a great deal about the epidemic of plagiarism in Russia and elsewhere in the region. Of particular note has been the political plagiarism scandals as various politicians in the country have been accused of plagiarizing significant portions of their PhD dissertations, which they then used to obtain higher positions within the government.

However, there’s always been one element of that story missing: What becomes of those politicians that cheat on their dissertations and go on to hold political power?

A new study aims to shed some light on exactly that question (paywalled). According to a report from the Times Higher Education (paywalled), researchers Anna Abalkina and Alexander Libman, both from the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich in Germany, have looked at governors that were found to have plagiarized their dissertations and compared their performance against governors of similar regions that did not.

The results are probably not surprising with the plagiarizing governors performing worse on average and failing to develop their regions as quickly as their counterparts. According to one of the paper’s co-authors, this is because “Plagiarism is a prediction of corrupt behavior and incompetence.”

While the results are hardly a shock, it’s the first time researchers have looked at the performance of such politicians and it highlights why it is important to take issues of plagiarism seriously. That said, it does come with some caveats that need to be understood before reading too much into the results.

The Background and the Study

The Price of Political Plagiarism Image

Following the breakup of the Soviet Union, politicians in the country began to seek ways to retain power amidst a rapidly-changing political climate. One of the more common tools that was used was obtaining a PhD. According to the authors of the study, a PhD in Russia has become a “status symbol” and a means to either obtain a more prominent role or maintain the one that you have.

However, many of those that sought the status symbol opted not to do so ethically. Instead, they either turned to diploma mill services that promised them quick and easy PhDs, turned to ghostwriters that would write their dissertation for them or simply copy and pasted their way to a paper and trust that, if detected, their professors would not care.

As a result, many who wanted a PhD but didn’t actually wish to put in the work still managed to obtain them. So much so that, according to the researchers, approximately half of the governors they looked at had known plagiarized dissertations.

To find such instances of plagiarism, the researchers looked through Dissernet, a crowd-sourced Russian wiki that works to fight plagiarism within the country. The service has published thousands of reports and identified many times that the number of plagiarists. Many of those caught are Russian political figures.

The researchers then simply looked at the governors that were known to have plagiarized their dissertations and compared them to those that did not. They used metrics such as housing construction and the proliferation of broadband internet to find objective measurements of performance.

To that end, they found that governors that plagiarized their PhDs fared worse than their non-plagiarizing colleagues. Their incompetency and lack of ethics was actively harming the people that live under their jurisdiction.

This, in truth, isn’t much of a surprise. We’ve long understood that plagiarism is a warning sign for poor ethical behavior. Those that willingly engage in plagiarism may well engage in other misdeeds. We’ve seen this in journalism with Benny Johnson, Ruth Shalit and Jonah Lehrer where plagiarism was simply a warning sign for other unethical acts.

The findings should shock no one. However, it’s important to take these results with a pinch of salt as there are some pretty significant limitations to consider.

Limitations and Considerations

As interesting as the study is, it’s important to put it in some context. Basically, it only looks at governors from one country. Specifically, it looked at governors from Russia who, on average, defended their PhDs in their early forties, far later than most students.

This means that we do not know how these findings apply to other regions of the world. We also don’t know how they apply to someone that is accused of plagiarism much earlier in life. It’s very possible that younger students may be caught plagiarizing but go on to reform and become both ethical and competent. We simply don’t know one way or another from this study.

It’s important to put this into focus and not draw conclusions outside of what data is presented.

Another issue is that we do not know for certain the non-plagiairizng governors aren’t also plagiarists. They may simply be better plagiarists that were able to avoid detection. This may speak to their competency in a very bizarre way, but it doesn’t speak to their ethics. As such, we can’t be certain how much of this is about the skill of not getting caught plagiarizing versus the ethics of plagiarism itself.

Finally, though the researchers sought objective standards to compare the governors on, obviously the performance of a politician is a very difficult thing to quantify. Not only do non-quantifiable factors play a huge role in perception, there are countless other variables that could impact how well a politician achieves certain goals.

So, while this study is an important milestone, it’s important to keep it in perspective. It’s important work but, like most academic research, should be paired with other research to gain a more clear picture of the relationship between politics and plagiarism.

Bottom Line

In the end, as limited as the study is in some ways, the results are more than logical. Anyone unethical enough to plagiarize a dissertation and incompetent or lazy enough to do it in a way that gets them caught would seemingly perform worse as a political leader.

To that end, this study is a warning: Citizens and governments ignore plagiarism at their own peril. This is especially true for plagiarism later in one’s career and on major academic, professional or personal achievements.

Clearly, more research is needed but this study should give people a moment’s pause when faced with a plagiarizing politician, especially those that plagiarized more recently.

Plagiarism is a warning sign of other issues. Journalists have known this for years and it’s now becoming better known in the political arena.

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