Essay: What Remains of Fair Use for Software after Oracle v. Google?

Essay: What Remains of Fair Use for Software after Oracle v. Google?

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Simon J. Frankel and Ethan Forrest*

Two recent decisions from the Federal Circuit in the long-running litigation between Oracle and Google have upended the scope of copyright protection afforded to software. In both decisions, the court weighed in heavily on the side of strong copyright protection, even protecting the relatively functional code comprising application programming interfaces (APIs). In its most recent decision, the court found that Google’s use in its Android software of certain APIs from Java was not fair use as a matter of law—notwithstanding a jury verdict of fair use. This essay focuses on how the Federal Circuit treated the four statutory fair use factors and suggests that the court’s analysis, if applied by other courts, will make it very difficult for any use of software to qualify as a fair use. This is because, at every turn, the court’s application of the fair use factors favors the copyright owner, creating copyright risk for any borrowing of copyright code in a new program. It remains to be seen if this approach will impact how software developers build on preexisting programs.

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I “Think,” Therefore I Create: Claiming Copyright in the Outputs of Algorithms

I “Think,” Therefore I Create: Claiming Copyright in the Outputs of Algorithms

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Samantha Fink Hedrick*

Artificial intelligence (AI) has often been viewed as either an ally or an adversary—a powerful analytical system to be harnessed or a source of risk to be managed. In copyright law, AI has been treated much the same way, with academic debates focused primarily on whether AI-generated works should be owned by the AI itself, the human programmer who created the AI, or the end user. However, little attention has been paid to how the use of AI in the creative process can affect the validity of ownership claims asserted by any of these human actors in computer-generated works—a question that may have a far greater impact on creative industries.

In this article, I examine whether the use of AI as a tool of creation interferes with a human’s ability to claim copyright in the resulting works. First, I identify the various human actors who could plausibly own the copyright in the creative outputs of AI and evaluate the relative merits of their claims. Second, I analyze the doctrine of authorship to determine whether the use of AI presents a barrier to any human claiming authorship in these outputs, rather than which human should own the copyright in a computer-generated work. Finally, I explain how AI operates in the creative process and the various mechanisms of control available to humans to modify these outputs.

Ultimately, I argue that the humans who create and use AI retain sufficient control over the AI’s “decisions,” and that the use of AI therefore does not constitute a barrier to human ownership of copyrightable computer-generated works. The “original intellectual conceptions” represented in computer-generated works are still those of the humans creating and controlling the algorithms used in the creative process, not those of the AI itself. Like a camera, AI functions merely as a tool of creation, not as a sentient “author.”

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Speaking About Politics, A Fireable Offense? The Legality of Employee Speech Restrictions in the Entertainment Industry

Speaking  About Politics, A Fireable Offense? The Legality of Employee Speech Restrictions in the  Entertainment Industry

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Chloe L. Kaufman*

Despite the commonly shared belief that Americans have an undeniable right to freedom of speech, private-sector employees receive no constitutional protection for employer regulations of or reactions to their speech and federal and state statutes provide extremely limited protections. Consequently, on-air professionals in the entertainment industry, including Curt Schilling, Kathy Griffin, Colin Kaepernick, Jemele Hill and Tomi Lahren have been terminated, suspended or otherwise retaliated against after making expressions of political speech deemed controversial by the public and their respective employers.

Tomi Lahren’s dispute against her employer demonstrates the severity of a private employer’s ability to restrict political speech under U.S. law. By analyzing Lahren’s complaint and the existing legal framework, this Note highlights how private employers’ unrestricted power disproportionately affects employees in the entertainment industry, risks a chilling effect on private employee speech across industries, and consequently cuts against the foundational values of American democracy.

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Trademark Law in the Virtual Realism Landscape

Trademark Law in the Virtual Realism Landscape

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James Yang*

The recent rise of virtual reality, augmented reality, and other related technologies has created vast amounts of virtual space. Within this space, novel forms of trademark infringement and expressive use may arise. This note categorizes the above-mentioned technologies under the umbrella term of “ virtual realism” and examines trademark infringement in relation to such virtual realism technologies. In particular, the usage of physical-goods marks in virtual realism platforms is examined in relation to the usage of such marks in more traditional virtual platforms. This note argues that virtual realism platforms are less defendant-friendly in the trademark context than are traditional virtual platforms.

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JIPEL Vol. 8, No. 1 – Fall 2018

The NYU Journal of Intellectual Property and Entertainment Law is proud to present Volume 8 Issue 1 of the Journal. While PDFs of the individual articles may be found accompanying their respective posts, you may view and download a PDF of the complete issue here

Is the Copyright Act Inconsistent with the Law of Employee Invention Assignment Contracts?

Is the Copyright Act Inconsistent with the Law of Employee  Invention Assignment Contracts?

Charles Tait Graves*

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There is a latent conflict between the law of employee invention assignment contracts and the Copyright Act’s work for hire doctrine. Countless employees sign contracts specifying that, in most cases, the employer will own trade secrets and patentable inventions, as well as copyrightable works. When employees create in the workplace, these rules are largely uncontroversial. But when employees create something outside the workplace for a new venture, there can be a conflict between these two areas of intellectual property law. The work for hire doctrine is more favorable to employee-ownership than the law of invention assignment contracts. As a perhaps surprising result, where an employee’s outside-the-workplace creation might constitute both a trade secret and a copyrightable work, these two ownership tests can point in opposite directions. Further, when an employee prevails as to copyright ownership, there are good reasons why that result precludes an employer’s conflicting claim to trade secret ownership in the same work. This friction on the boundaries of two areas of intellectual property law has important policy ramifications for employees who create intellectual property on the side, while planning for their next job. **

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Analyzing Aalmuhammed v. Lee in the Context of Entertainment Industry Employment

Analyzing <i>Aalmuhammed v. Lee </i>in the Context of Entertainment Industry Employment

By: Jennifer Yamin*

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In Aalmuhammed v. Lee, the Ninth Circuit established a test for determining whether an individual contributor to a work may qualify as a joint author. The test identified three main factors: 1) the author must superintend the work by exercising control; 2) the putative co-authors must make objective manifestations of a shared intent to be co-authors; and 3) the audience appeal of the work must turn on both contributions and the share of each in its success cannot be appraised. Applying these factors, the court concluded that authorship rights could not be granted to a film consultant hired to assist in the creation of the film Malcolm X despite his sizable contributions to the final product.


By analyzing the unique interplay between intellectual property rights and entertainment industry employment law, this Note explores the harmful effects of the Aalmuhammed test on employment and unions across all types of entertainment works. The Note argues that the Ninth Circuit’s test hinders, rather than furthers Congress’s explicit constitutional duty to promote the growth of the arts. In doing so, the test establishes a dangerous precedent that is incompatible with the modern operation of the entertainment industry and paradoxically is detrimental to the very people it intends to protect: creators. The Note concludes that the Aalmuhammed test should no longer serve as the standard courts rely on to determine authorship rights and offers various proposals for reform.


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“Prime Health” and the Regulation of Hybrid Healthcare*

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By: Nicolas P. Terry**

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This article examines the possible constructs behind the announcement that Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMorgan Chase & Co. are jointly building a new healthcare entity for their employees. In this article, I provide context by discussing and comparing the healthcare ambitions of the three largest information technology companies before arguing that various forms of hybrid entities will increase their footprint in healthcare data and delivery. The core of this discussion is a thought experiment about the nature of what I term “Prime Health.” That analysis is based initially on observations about Amazon’s existing culture and business model of Amazon. Thereafter I examine both what Prime Health could and should be. I argue that it will likely go beyond the pedestrian model of a very large self-funded group insurance plan; will disintermediate traditional healthcare insurers; and attempt to bring consumers and healthcare providers together into some type of online marketplace—an updated, privatized version of managed competition. In the final parts of the article I delve into the regulatory environment that hybrid healthcare generally, and Prime Health in particular, will face. This analysis includes federal device and data protection laws, a few idiosyncratic state laws, and a brief discussion of the problems inherent in the limited regulation of hybrid healthcare entities.

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