Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Ai Weiwei’s Attorney Arrested for “Subversion,” Sentenced to 7 Years


Photo by Gao Yuan, 2010.

Photo by Gao Yuan, 2010.

Artist Ai Weiwei’s attorney, Zhou Shifeng, pleaded guilty and was convicted of “subverting state power” with a sentence of seven years in prison. According to a court statement; “Zhou has long been influenced by anti-China forces and gradually established ideas to overturn the country’s political system.”

The court found Zhou has initiated confrontation and used his firm as a front for his “subversive agenda,” “discrediting judicial organs, attacking the judicial systems and promoting anti-government sentiment by interfering in and exaggerating sensitive cases.” Thus, allegedly, Zhou subverted state power.

The BBC Bejing’s John Sudworth offers his analysis, explaining that the case against Zhou seems to rely on the allegation that he encouraged protesters’ support of his defendants, which Sudwoth explains is a “perhaps understandable strategy in a system in which 99.9% of cases end in a conviction.” 

The BBC also reports arrests of approximately 300 lawyers and activists since last year for speaking out against the government. 


Proposed Small Claims Copyright Act, Helpful or Hurtful to Artists?


The Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement (CASE) Act of 2016, H.R. 5757, proposes the creation of a small claims board to adjudicate copyright claims of minimal monetary value, capping damages at $15,000 per infringement, and $30,000 per single action. Recently presented to the House of Representatives, the amendment would “establish an alternative dispute resolution program for copyright small claims.”

While the act may be helpful in that independent artists have greater access to defend themselves against infringers stealing their work, ultimately it may simply ease the obstacles of large content companies going after those same artists. Fortunately, while federal litigation is very expensive, the small claims board would be much more affordable for independent artist claiming infringement or defending themselves and unlike federal court, the small claims board will allow actions on an unregistered work. This may ultimately be detrimental to artists if they chose to no longer worry about registration and are therefore limited to lesser damages and no access to federal court.
Concerns aside, the Authors Guild is a huge supporter of the legislation, stating: “The legislation will finally provide authors with a means of enforcing their rights. Federal court litigation is not affordable to most authors and other creators, and so they have been left with unenforceable rights.”

Are Students Killing their own First Amendment Rights?

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), headed by its President first amendment attorney Greg Lukianoff, is known for exposing and fighting the free speech stifling on college campuses. However, within the life of the organization there has been a major shift from protecting the words of students from administrative silencing, to the reverse. Many comedians, including Chris Rock, no longer perform at colleges due to the potential for over-sensitivity of students in response to certain jokes. FIRE’s film currently in theaters, “Can We Take a Joke?” documents and comments on a newfound intolerance of some subjects for humor.

The organization, according to Lukianoff, is fighting back on the movement in contemporary college campuses in which students want to rid the spaces of “certain words, idea, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense.” Lukianoff cites an incident at Harvard Law when law students asked their professor to not teach rape law, or use the term “violate” in any context, in order to prevent any potential discomfort and triggers. Many legal professionals equate this to allowing medical students to be afraid of blood.

Is the backlash of students against free speech disrupting education and growth on college campuses? Where do we draw the line for subjects we are willing to shield students from in the classroom?


Getty Images Responds to Billion Dollar Copyright Lawsuit

Documentary photographer, Carol Highsmith, is suing Getty Images for $1 billion claiming copyright infringement after the photo service sent her a $120 bill for using her own photo. The photo that was flagged was not only her photo, posted on her website, it had also been donated by her (along with tens of thousands of other images) to the Library of Congress for public use.

The request for $120 alerted Highsmith to Getty’s sale of over 18,000 of her photographs. The $1 billion lawsuit was calculated by; the 18,755 violations, multiplied by up to $25,000 in statutory damages per violation, multiplied by the three years in which the infringement occurred. Hyperallergic reports her complaint reads, “[They] are not only unlawfully charging licensing fees … but are falsely and fraudulently holding themselves out as the exclusive copyright owner,” that is, they are charging licensing fees for use of these images, many without credit to Highsmith, some with false watermarks.

Getty Images has responded to the incident in their online press room stating: “We are reviewing the complaint. We believe it is based on a number of misconceptions, which we hope to rectify with the plaintiff as soon as possible. If that is not possible, we will defend ourselves vigorously.”


Are Artists’ Works Effectively Available License-Free to Major Retailers?

Outrage broke out recently when it was uncovered that fashion retailer Zara made similar products as a number of independent artists’ works. The artists created a website to publicize numerous side-by-side images of their work next to Zara’s products. Supporters caught wind and circulated the comparisons on social media and, according to Refinery29, caused Zara to suspend sales of the items in response.

However, according to Vice Channel, Broadly, Zara’s lawyers were not so welcoming of the artists’ claims. According to one of the artists, Zara’s attorneys responded with: ”We reject your claims here for reasons similar to those stated above: the lack of distinctiveness of your client’s purported designs makes it very hard to see how a significant part of the population anywhere in the world would associate the signs with Tuesday Bassen [artist].”  Why Zara’s attorney’s believe that the number of viewers who see both works affects the question of whether or not there has been copyright infringement is unclear.

Unfortunately, this is probably not the last time we will see a battle between a major retailer and artists. And with excessive court and attorney costs, large companies know they have the upper hand in copyright disputes, often pressuring artists to settle for nominal amounts.


Influx of New Technology to Protect Artists’ Rights

Copyright infringement of photographs and other printable materials is an ongoing battle for artists and publishers. With the ability to simply screenshot anything on a computer or phone screen, people are readily saving, sharing, and printing an excess of copyrighted material with a click of a button.

A notorious example is of course Richard Prince, who has been on a copyright infringement rampage, printing other artist’s works from the internet, and using the prints in his own exhibitions.

IBM is fighting this problem with their new patent application titled Copyright Infringement Prevention. The technology would identify potential copyrighted materials and notify the computer. After running the image/text/material through a search system, the technology will determine if the file is printable.

This is among the latest technological innovations aimed at protecting art. Recently, eBay launched technology to detect copyright infringing materials in their auctions. Additionally, Police were able to use technology to track down art thieves after the thieves sent a photograph of the stolen work to the Art Loss Register in an inquiry. Police connected the image to the camera, and the camera to the owner.


Couple Copyrights Mansion to Prevent Neighbors from Building a Similar Home

A New York couple is fighting to keep their “unique dream house” truly unique by suing neighbors who are building a similar home. The couple designed and copyrighted the architectural plans of both the interior and exterior structure; allegedly the neighbors requested these plans from the Building Department before beginning their own construction project.

The lawyers for the two couples are left to argue if the architectural plans in question are special enough that they are covered under the Copyright Act. The construction of the second home has halted, for now.


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