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Posted on August 25, 2008 in copyright, Mickey Mouse, Public Domain by Brian RoweComments Off

Until recently I was under the impression Mikey was still in copyright. There has been some scholarship that shows that the original copyright notice of Mickey Mouse with regards to Steam Boat Willie is defective and thus early versions of Mickey Mouse are in the public domain!

Even small flaws in formalities can equate to a lose of copyright under the 1909 act. Here is the basic argument from the LA Times:

Brown (a litigant against Disney) went searching for flawed formalities — and found one. It was on the title card at the beginning of a “Steamboat Willie” cartoon (pictured above) that had just been rereleased on a 1993 LaserDisc honoring Mickey’s 65th birthday. It said in full:

“Disney Cartoons


A Mickey Mouse

Sound Cartoon

Steamboat Willie

A Walt Disney Comic

By Ub Iwerks

Recorded by Cinephone Powers System

Copyright MCMXXIX.”

The key was location of the word “copyright” in relation to the name “Walt Disney.” There were two other names listed in between — Cinephone and Disney’s top studio artist, Ub Iwerks. Arguably, any one of the three could have claimed ownership, thereby nullifying anyone’s claim under arcane rules of the Copyright Act of 1909.

Brown leapt on the ambiguity, asking the court to reconsider its ruling against him on grounds that Mickey Mouse was out of copyright. But he was too late. Without ruling on the merits of Brown’s arguments, the judge tossed it aside as untimely.

It was not the end. Debate over Mickey’s copyright status simply changed settings.

Arizona State University professor Dennis Karjala, a Brown acquaintance, suggested that one of his law school students look into the claim as a class project. Lauren Vanpelt took up the challenge and produced a paper agreeing with Brown. She posted her project on the Internet in 1999.

Here is Lauren Vanpelt’s Conclusion:

Disney first created Mickey Mouse on a sketch pad while traveling from New York to LA in 1928. Those sketches, which were protected under a common law copyright, were the basis for the Mickey Mouse motion pictures. They also provided the basis for the images printed on the Mickey Mouse Club materials sold to theaters. Disney published its common law protected expression without the proper copyright notice attached to the films and on the club materials. The statute of limitations to rectify that omission has long since elapsed, as has the statute of limitations for Disney to file any infringement claims based on that omission. As a result of its omissions and inaction, Disney forfeited its copyright claims to Mickey Mouse. Mickey has fallen into the public domain where all are free to copy and enjoy him.

I recomend readings Lauren’s full article. It makes me want to remix some Mickey Mouse music videos with CC licensed music.
Link to full LA times article

Posted on November 15, 2007 in CC, EFF, open access, open access law,, Public Domain by Brian RoweComments Off

“Public.Resource.Org and Fastcase have reached an agreement for the release of a totally unencumbered repository of 1.8 million pages of federal case law, including Courts of Appeals decisions back to 1950.” Carl Malamud

This is a huge win for open access law. For too long case law, which is in the public domain, have been locked away by Westlaw and Lexis (Wexis).

Last Summer when we (Sarah and I) visited CC this was one of our major topics we discussed with Jon Phillips. I am ecstatic to see CC and EFF involved in the process of liberating case law. Although I do find it a bit odd that the press release lists a “brand-new Creative Commons mark—CC-Ø—which will allow us to affirmatively certify that this information is public domain.” It is more accurate to say they are resurrecting an old CC mark with possibly an new look. The upper left hand of Freedom for IP has been sporting a CC PD mark for the last 2 years.

To illustrate how important it is that this case law is in the public domain one can look to CC description of what can be done with materials in the public domain the case law “may be freely reproduced, distributed, transmitted, used, modified, built upon, or otherwise exploited by anyone for any purpose, commercial or non-commercial, and in any way, including by methods that have not yet been invented or conceived.”

The next major challenge for the public and the legal community it to find the best way to make these 1.8 million pages usable. Having all the case law in the world online is only a start, the one thing that Wexis has done well is make case law usable with internal links, head notes summaries and cross references.

Here is my first thoughts on how make the case law usable:
1. XML it – Mark it up in a open format that allows other to repurpose it easily
2. Wiki it in a way the preserves the text- Wiki style case summaries
3. Tag it for current precedence – create a tagging system marking which cases are still good law and allow users to comment and change these tags as new decisions are made.
4. Cross reference it – add internal links or a way to easily move from one case to another within the documents
5. Add a uniform index of issues.
6. Add an index of facts.

The players best suited to do these things are the old guard of Wexis, the new juggernauts of Wikimedia and Wikipedia, and the new academically supported Altlaw. I am curious who will step up to the plate and how. There is so much ground to cover in making this case law usable that several groups could work together. Wexis can probably get 5-10 more years out of the locked system, but if one of them wants to open there systems they could dominate a new open market place based on alternative revenue. Ultimately I think the usability solutions will come from whoever is able to harness the power of law students, public interest lawyers and the general public in one collaborative forum.

Past articles on these issues:
FindlawWestlaw kills FindLaw, Remove your links
Altlaw = public domain law database

External press coverage:
Boing Boing
Official Press Release

Posted on August 30, 2007 in access, altlaw, IP, Public Domain by Brian RoweComments Off

AltLaw is a free, open public, searchable database of federal cases. This is a huge step towards making justice and the legal system open to the public. Case law is currently monopolized by the Lexis and Westlaw locking the public away from the law. Case law creates the law and need to be open to everyone. Altlaw is a great step in the right direction, my favorite part of the site is that it is under a CC Public Domain License. This allow other to use the information and build on it.

I look forward to an external site adding comments on case or head notes creating public collection of shared knowlege about these case.