Author: Ernest Kwong

‘Oh Really?’ Hints of new law in ‘Inception’

In ‘Oh, Really?’ the Biederman Blog’s editors — voracious consumers of all matters pop culture — cast a curious, skeptical, fun and smart end-of-the-week eye on popular productions, sharing their keen observations about legal matters these raise. While complex interactions with the human brain such as those seen in the four-Oscar Award winning movie Inception are still far from scientific capability, the development of brain-computer interfaceshave become less science fiction and closer to reality. What potential legal issues could arise from interacting with the human brain on such a rich level, inputting and outputting from the deepest repositories of the brain? In Inception, Cobb (played by Leonard DiCaprio) can enter the dreaming mind of another person to steal his secrets. Are we capable of seeing what a brain is dreaming? Matthew Wilson at MIT used implants in a rat’s brain to see how neurons fire, revealing patterns as the rat is moving through the maze. Using the implant and an attached computer, Wilson recorded particular patterns corresponding to specific parts of the maze as the mouse ran the maze. Then Wilson recorded nearly identical patterns while the rat was sleeping. Apparently, the rat was dreaming about running the maze. This is a far cry from the what we saw in Inception. However, this relatively low resolution interface to the rat’s brain is likely just a preview of the interfaces...

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An industry scrum on public performance right

The White House recently offered its recommendations on copyright law, including the creation of a public performance right for sound recordings. This proposal has prompted an avalanche of complaints from various parties, especially radio broadcasters, record companies and performing artists. The tacit agreement between record companies, recording artists and radio broadcasters had been simple: free publicity in exchange for free music. This model worked well for many artists, who praise broadcast radio for vaulting them into stardom. Radio industry types, represented by the National Association of Broadcasters, object to this right as an “onerous, jobs-killing fee on America’s hometown radio stations.” This is an unusually strong condemnation from a powerful group that has been largely successful in lobbying Congress to prevent passage of legislation to create a performance right. The proposed Performance Rights Act (HR-848) was a congressional bill that failed in 2009. For sound recordings, the act would have created the exclusive right “to perform the copyrighted work publicly by means of an audio transmission” into section 106(6) of the Copyright Act of 1976. The lack of a public performance right also means that U.S. labels and artists cannot receive reciprocal payments from other countries. Record companies and recording artists (represented by the Recording Industry Association of America) would have the most to gain if this right were created, since they would start receiving royalties when stations play their recordings....

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White House offers its copyright vision

Victoria Espinel, the Obama administration’s “intellectual property and enforcement coordinator,” has released a White Paper with recommendations to Congress on intellectual property issues, such as sentencing guidelines for criminal infringers, streaming, infringement, circumvention, wiretapping and public performance right for sound recordings. In her position, created when President Bush signed the “Pro IP ACT” in 2008, Espinel has through her paper expressed particular concern over online piracy and counterfeiting. The administration advisory recommends increases in sentencing guidelines for “trademark and copyright offenses when infringing products are knowingly sold for use in critical infrastructure, national defense, national security or by law enforcement.”  Espinel also carefully notes that sales indirectly affecting national defense would not be swept in this provision. Other pertinent recommendations include three proposed legislative changes to give enforcement agencies tools they need to combat infringement. These clarify that infringement by streaming is a felony, expressly authorizing government communications with rights-holders on infringement and circumvention and allowing wiretapping in criminal copyright and criminal trademark investigations. Streaming a felony? The first recommendation clarifies that, in appropriate circumstances, infringement by streaming or by “other similar new technology,” is a felony. Some have criticized this recommendation as vague because they say its definitions of “appropriate circumstances” and “streaming” are unclear. Perhaps this recommendation sets the stage for more discussion by lawmakers on another version of the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA), which failed...

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Is the end near for PBS’ federal funding?

On March 4, 2011, Jim DeMint (R.-S.C.) and Tom Coburn (R.-Okla.) introduced a bill S.492 that would prohibit Federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting after fiscal year 2013. The bill is striking because it would essentially represent the end of government supported public broadcasting, and because Senator justifies the bill by stating that “Our nation is on the edge of bankruptcy…” Arguments supporting the end of Federal funding include high executive salaries and the assertion that public broadcasting is self-sustaining. Bill O’Reilly stated that compensation for the heads of NPR and Sesame Street was in excess of $1 million in recent years. Senator DeMint also submitted that Sesame Street’s revenue stream alone can carry PBS, since it made more than $211 million from three years of product sales. On the other hand, convincing arguments exist for the continued federal funding of public broadcasting. One editorial argues that public broadcasting serves an important function because it provides educational and news programming – a “common cultural touchstone” for the people of America. At least one online petition exists, and takes the argument further by asserting that “in many rural and less affluent communities, broadcasters rely on federal funding to provide the only available high-quality news and public affairs programming.” Additional controversy surrounding NPR executives have hit the headlines in recent days. Among the controversy are hidden-camera videos of NPR fund-raiser Ron...

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Why satellite firms will beam PBS in HD

Dish Network subscribers can now watch Elmo in High-Definition, in part due to a Ninth Circuit decision. In Dish Network Corporation, et al v. FCC, et al, the appellate judges upheld a District Court ruling from Nevada, denying Dish Network, LLC an order to enjoin Section 207 of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act of 2010.  Section 207 required direct broadcast satellite providers that carry local stations in hi-def to adhere, too, to a timetable to carry in HD non-commercial educational stations like the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), the home of Elmo of Sesame Street fame. Dish Network, with 14.1 million or so subscribers, and DirectTV, with roughly 18.5 million subscribers, are the only two U.S. direct satellite operators. They beam from satellites in space signals across the country, even to rural areas that traditional broadcast may not be able to reach. Such operations never would have been possible without Congress’ creation of the Satellite Home Viewer Improvement Act of 1999, which provided an exception to copyright law by allowing satellite operators to retransmit a local broadcast station signal without first winning permission from individual copyright holders.  But that legislation also established conditions, including the “must carry” rules for other signals of broadcast TV stations in the same local market and equal treatment of all local television stations for picture quality. Because it licenses their radio frequency space and helps to...

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