GossIP: Blockchain, Copyright and Technology

22 November 2016

GossIP is a brief summary of a few recent legal developments in the IP, Technology and Media space:

Blockchain revolution – it’s not just Bitcoin

It’s long been foreshadowed that distributed ledger technology such as blockchain will revolutionise the legal and financial industries – but the revolution is coming much sooner than you might think.

At the core of the blockchain concept is a distributed digital ledger which is shared across a network of participants. Each user holds a copy of the ledger, which is updated simultaneously with any new information. A blockchain can be used to record ownership of almost anything -such as shares and other securities, physical assets, contractual rights and intellectual property. Most importantly, it’s incredibly secure, accurate and reliable.

The regulators are across it – in September, the ASX has already concluded its trials of blockchain technology to replace the CHESS settlement and clearing system, and anticipates committing to its implementation by the end of 2017. In the US, Nasdaq has already used blockchain to transfer shares for the first time.

The potential applications of blockchain are almost limitless – for instance, self-executing smart contracts comprised of terms embedded in computer programs; recording digital assets such as land titles and frequent flyer miles; verifiable records of any file, data or business process; and even recording every single individual’s identity on a blockchain in order to combat human trafficking.

Written by Ritam Mitra, Solicitor (HWL Ebsworth Lawyers).


Copyright claims against Justin Bieber – do you ‘beliebe’ it?

In May 2013 a $10 million copyright claim was filed by musician Devlin Copeland alleging that Justin Bieber and Usher’s song “Somebody to Love” was intrinsically similar to Copeland’s song of the same name.

In March 2014 U.S. District Judge Arenda Wright Allen dismissed the lawsuit, saying that no reasonable jury could reach a finding of copyright infringement. Following an appeal, in June 2015 the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that the claim should be reinstated, finding that the Virginia District Court had incorrectly dismissed the lawsuit. According to the Court of Appeals, the choruses of Copeland’s and Usher’s and Bieber’s songs are “similar enough” and that a “reasonable jury could find the songs intrinsically similar”.

On 14 November 2016 Magistrate Miller of the Virginia District Court released his report recommending that the District Court Judge dismiss the plaintiff’s claim. He stated that there was no evidence to suggest that the defendants had access to the plaintiff’s music (in order to copy it) and that the songs are only related by a few words in the lyric of the chorus. He added that the words are generic and commonly used and therefore not subject to copyright protection.

In May 2016 another lawsuit was filed against Justin Bieber by Casey Dienel alleging that Bieber’s 2015 hit “Sorry” copied a loop from her 2014 song “Ring the Bell”. The matter is yet to be heard.

Similar copyright laws exist in Australia. There have been a number of copyright claims for songs being filed in Australian courts.


Risks of new technology – the Telsa example

Advances in technology are leading to creative new ideas, with the automotive industry utilising software in vehicles to automate various functions.

Tesla is a leading electric car manufacturer and recently updated its software after researchers in China demonstrated how they could remotely turn on the windshield wipers, open the car boot and apply the brakes in brand-new Model S sedans. The researchers sent their findings to Tesla before releasing them to the public. Tesla maintains that the risk to customers is low.

This example followed a vehicle hack of a 2014 Jeep Cherokee where the brakes were remotely triggered whilst travelling on a California highway. The automotive industry will be under scrutiny to ensure that vehicle software is tested and deemed secure.

The Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1989 controls the safety, environmental and anti-theft performance of all vehicles entering the Australian market for the first time—both new and used. The Australian Design Rules (ADRs) are national standards for vehicle safety, anti-theft and emissions. The ADRs cover issues such as occupant protection, structures, lighting, noise, engine exhaust emissions, braking and a range of miscellaneous items. The ADRs are administered under the Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1989.

Australian laws will need to constantly be reviewed to keep up with emerging technologies.

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