Google, Publishers Settle Book-Scanning Dispute
Google and U.S. publishers have settled a longstanding dispute over Google's book-scanning project. A lawsuit filed by authors remains, though, leaving the project in question.
The Association of American Publishers and Google announced their settlement on Thursday to end a lawsuit filed by five publishers in October 2005.
Google already has scanned more than 20 million books. Publishers and authors sued, saying the project violated their copyrights. Authors' and publishers' groups had settled with Google before, but a federal judge tossed the deal following objections. One point of contention was the fact that books were included unless Google was informed that an author or publisher objected.
Google and the publishers say the new settlement won't require court approval because it involves only parties to the litigation. Publishers will get to choose which books are included.
"We are pleased that this settlement addresses the issues that led to the litigation," said Tom Allen, president and CEO of the publishers group. "It shows that digital services can provide innovative means to discover content while still respecting the rights of copyright-holders."
Michael J. Boni, a lawyer for The Authors Guild, said he was "cautiously optimistic" about the prospects to make progress in the rest of the case now that the publishers have settled.
"We're delighted that Google and the publishers forged an agreement," Boni said. "We see that as a sign of Google's willingness (to be open) to the concept of settlement. And we hope we can get to the bargaining table as soon as we can.
Boni said authors and publishers have been working separately with Google after the court rejected the first settlement.
U.S. District Judge Denny Chin in Manhattan in March 2011 rejected a $125 million settlement between Google and authors and publishers after hundreds of objections to the deal were made by Google rivals, consumer watchdogs, academic experts, literary agents and even foreign governments.
The judge criticized the access Google would have to so-called orphan works — out-of-print books whose writers could not be located — saying the deal gave the company "a de facto monopoly over unclaimed works."
The Department of Justice had highlighted the issue in 2009 when it concluded that the agreement probably violated antitrust law and could decrease competition among U.S. publishers and drive up prices for consumers.
The court case was brought after Google in 2004 announced it had agreed with several major research libraries to digitally copy books and other writings in their collections. The authors and publishers sought financial damages and a court order to block the copying when they sued Google in 2005 after Google failed to obtain copyright permission to scan the books.
A deal was first reached to settle the claims in 2008 and was tentatively approved by the judge in November 2009.
The U.S. Supreme Court Limits Class Action Lawsuits Landing a Blow to the Little Guy in Concepcion v. AT&T LLC et ux.
There’s been a lot of analysis of the disastrous impact of the Supreme Court’s 5 to 4 Concepcion v. AT&T decision yesterday (here is the 39-page opinion and here is Scotusblog), which allows corporations to ban class actions via what are now industry-wide, anti-consumer mandatory arbitration clauses. The Court ruled that the Federal Arbitration Act barred states from protecting their own residents from these horrendous arbitration clauses. Andrew Cohen at The Atlantic put it this way:
Suffice it to say that the Court's decision completely defies the very federalism principles which are so often articulated by the very conservative members who agreed Wednesday to strike down a state's effort to level the consumer playing field for millions of its residents. This is as big a pro-business, pro-corporate ruling as we've ever seen from the Roberts' Court -- and it will take explicit Congressional action to overturn it.
That is just way too depressing, so we decided to search around for some good news in all of this. First, we found a quote from corporate lawyer Sonya Winner at Covington & Burling, the law firm which used to funnel tobacco money into the "tort reform" movement and now houses the similarly anti-civil justice spokesperson, partner Phil Howard. Yes, she says,
She spent the morning thinking about new strategies, including bringing arbitration back into matters where it was off the table. She estimated that about 80 percent of the matters she's worked on this week are affected by the new rule. She doesn't expect this to be the end of class actions, though. ‘I didn't call the business committee to say I need a new practice area,’ she said with a laugh.”
Oh ha ha. The class action defense lawyers think they still have jobs! But that’s something, right?
Then, there is Congress. Once again, it’s their job to fix some terribly misguided thing that the Supreme Court did. Unfortunately, Congress doesn’t have a great track record on that score. They still haven’t fixed the Medtronic decision, where the Court immunized the medical device industry for implanting dangerous devices that kill or injure people. But that effort didn’t have what this one does – Sen. Al Franken!
Luckily, Senator Franken, who actually has a great track record persuading Congress to outlaw unfair arbitration agreements, is taking the lead on this one, too. Responding to yesterday's decision, “U.S. Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) said today they plan to introduce legislation next week that would restore consumers' rights to seek justice in the courts. Their bill, called the Arbitration Fairness Act, would eliminate forced arbitration clauses in employment, consumer, and civil rights cases, and would allow consumers and workers to choose arbitration after a dispute occurred.”
And there’s even more good news! Daniel Fischer for Forbes wrote this:
Contained within the sprawling law regulating the financial industry is Section 1028 ordering the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to study such arbitration agreements with an eye toward banning provisions it deems “anti-consumer.” Given acting CFPB Chair Elizabeth Warren’s views on the ability of consumers to understand complex financial agreements, it’s a safe bet the new agency won’t think highly of class-action waivers or binding arbitration agreements at all.
World Intellectual Property Day's PSA on Combating Copyright Infringement
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has taken a much more active role in combating piracy both online and in the real world. The agency began seizing domains that link to pirated content last autumn and has shown no signs its tough new enforcement regime will subside.
"Intellectual property rights and the ability to enforce those rights encourage American companies to continue the tradition of American innovation and develop products, ideas and merchandise," ICE Director John Morton said in a statement.
Warner Bros. Settles Alan Ladd, Jr. Profits Lawsuit
Producer Alan Ladd, Jr.is ending his long-running legal war with Warner Bros. over profits from a string of hit films in the 1980s and ‘90s.
Terms of the settlement are not being made public. Sources say that attorneys are putting the final touches on a global deal, and a request to dismiss the case will be filed shortly with the court.
Ladd, the former studio executive (he famously greenlit Star Warsat Fox) turned successful producer, has been a thorn in Warners’ side since 2004, when he and Jay Kanter’s The Ladd Co. filed a bold lawsuit claiming the studio had underpaid it millions of dollars in profits from a slate of films including Blade Runner, Chariots of Fire and the lucrative Police Academy movies.
In 2007, a jury awarded Ladd $3.2 million in profits after Warners was found to have underallocated license fees for Ladd Co. movies by about $97 million when including them in large packages sold overseas and to TV outlets. The verdict was among the first to challenge the studio practice of "straight-lining," or allocating the same share of a blanket license fee to every movie in a package, regardless of whether the movie is an Oscar-winning hit or a stinker.
Warners appealed the case, arguing that Ladd had failed to prove a breach of contract and that the damages calculations weren't supported by the evidence or the testimony of Ladd's expert. But in December the court of appeals disagreed in a 25-page opinion.
"The record supports the jury's determination that Warner's straight-lining method of allocating license fees to profit participants breached the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing," the three judge panel ruled, also upholding the damages.
The appeals panel sent the case back to the lower court for a trial on certain issues, such as Ladd’s claim that his company’s screen credits on home video versions of Blade Runner, Chariots of Fire and Once Upon a Time in America had been deleted.
A trial on those issues was set to begin next month, giving the parties an incentive to settle the case.
A&E, Steven Seagal Resolve Multi-Million Dollar 'Lawman' Suit
A company called Idea Factory argued that Seagal had inked a deal with them to do his hit reality show.
A&E Networks and Steven Seagal have amicably resolved the multi-million dollar ide-theft lawsuit over the actor's hit reality show Steven Seagal: Lawman.
In the lawsuit against A&E and Seagal, Idea Factory (and its related companies Genuine Entertainment and Rebel Entertainment Partners) argued that Seagal inked a deal with Idea Factory to do the show and that A&E agreed to an implied contract for Idea Factory to produce any Seagal program (and get executive producer fees, production rental fees and participation in revenue from the show, etc).
Lawyers for A&E and Seagal tried to get the suit dismissed because they claimed there was no deal with Seagal to participate in the Idea Factory show and that Idea Factory's idea for a Seagal show wasn't novel. But in several rulings on summary judgment motions issued, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Gregory Alarcon refused to accept A&E's and Seagal's arguments.
City of Los Angeles Charging for Trash Pickup Residents Don't Use
Some residents may be owed thousands of dollars, NBC LA found
Thousands of residents may be paying for LA trash service they don’t use, and some could be owed refunds of thousands of dollars, city officials said.
In February, NBC LA reported that the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) is billing some residents of apartments and condos for city trash pickup, even though those same residents pay private companies to pick up their garbage.
In recent weeks the bureau has received many thousands of telephone calls from residents concerned that they are being charged for service they don't use, and LA City Controller Wendy Greuel has called on the agency to give a full explanation.
“This is why people don’t trust government,” Greuel said. “If the city has done something wrong, admit it and fix it.”
A spokeswoman for the bureau acknowledged that the inaccurate billing has been going on for years.
"We're not 100 percent perfect" when it comes to correctly billing residents, said Cora Jackson-Fossett, public information officer for the Bureau of Sanitation.
The DWP declined to comment further, saying it was a problem with the bureau and they are merely the billing agent.
That’s small consolation for April Rimer who owns a condominium in West Los Angeles. Rimer’s homeowner’s association pays for private trash pickup, but after reviewing years of DWP bills, she estimates that she's owed a $2,500 refund for city trash collection she never got.
“This whole thing got me really angry, when I saw your story,” Rimer said.
The overcharging stems from “human error” and a 30-year-old “antiquated” computer program, said Javier Polanco, acting manager of the solid resources support division at the Bureau of Sanitation. Staff sometimes enters incorrect information into the billing database, he said.
Officials initially suggested that the number of residents being over-billed might be "small." But Herlinda Rodarte, billing manager at the bureau, conceded that the DWP has no idea how many people might be affected by the billing errors, and that the number is probably in the thousands.
Some residents may have been paying the excess fee for more than a decade.
In a 1998 class action lawsuit, the Bureau of Sanitation was sued for the same billing errors. The suit said the city was “charging residents of apartments and condos for sanitation services even though they received trash pickup from private sources.” The city settled the suit in 2001, agreeing to pay “full refunds” to customers who’d been overbilled. But the overbilling continued.
To find out if you've been wrongly billed for city trash pickup, check your DWP bill to see if you're getting charged a "solid resources fee." If you live in an apartment or condo, you're probably paying for private pickup, and shouldn't get that charge on your utility bill.
The Hamideh Firm, P.C. and Marlin & Saltzman LLP have filed a class action lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court against the City of Los Angeles, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, and the Bureau of Sanitation to try and put a stop to these alleged unauthorized overcharges. The case number is BC459269.