COPYRIGHT LAW MEMO ASSIGNMENTS – SPRING 2015

Each memo assignment for Copyright Law – Spring 2014 will be posted here approximately two weeks before the memo is due. Time in class will be set aside to discuss questions relating to each assignment.

For students who want to know more about the writing assignments for this course, this is a link to the memo assignments from Spring 2010. That link includes links to the best memos written in response to the first assignment from that version of the course.

You SHOULD also review this “How to Memo” document, which summarizes my advice for writing a great memo in my Trademark Law and Copyright Law courses.

The rubric used to mark the memos is available here.

Assignment Three

To: Junior Lawyer, Dewey, Cheatem & Howe
From: Senior Lawyer, Dewey, Cheatem & Howe
Date: April 13, 2015
Re: Chuckles Again

Our client Snark Entertainment has come to us yet again with a copyright problem associated with the Chuckles characters and films, and this time (because we’ve done such a great job of counseling Snark), Snark has also brought us related Chuckles issues affecting MegaPictures and Engulf & Devour. See my two earlier memos to you regarding Chuckles copyright issues. You’ll recall that on our advice, Snark took a license to the Chuckles works in order to release its parody of Chuckles without interference from Engulf & Devour, and also that Snark faced down MegaPictures over its threats based on The Dark Clown. MegaPictures never sued Snark, and the Chuckles adapations produced by MegaPictures and Snark are now both thriving on YouTube and elsewhere online.

The new problem involves Chuckles works produced by all three firms – namely, the original Chuckles movies and the two adaptations created by our clients – as well as other adaptations produced via Engulf & Devour’s “authorized adaptation” website. It seems that a fan who is obsessed with all Chuckles things – and all clown media – has created a “wiki” website and he is encouraging other fans to upload Chuckles related material there. As a result of the obsessed fan’s activities, excerpts of Chuckles works are being excerpted, and posted to the wiki, without permission of our clients, the copyright owners. In some cases, straight excerpts of the original films are being posted; in other cases, excerpts of the original films are being “re-mixed” before being posted; in still other cases, excerpts and re-mixes of the adaptations are being posted. I don’t know the contents of all of the “re-mixed” versions. It also appears that this fan encourages others to post clips from other films and TV shows that feature clown characters, though so far only Chuckles-related material has appeared at the site.

The Chuckles wiki is online at http://chuckles.wikia.com; in style and format, it appears to resemble other fan-created wikis, such as the Breaking Bad wiki (http://breakingbad.wikia.com/wiki/Breaking_Bad_Wiki). In some respects this may appear to be an innocent expression of fan support, but in other respects it is troubling to our clients. The fan who claims to be organizing the Chuckles wiki (whose name is Alan Alda, which by coincidence is also the name of a famous actor) includes text on the home wiki page that says, “Come one, come all! Give and get all of your clown media here! Chuckles the Clown content especially welcome!” And, of course, there is both an “Upload” button right next to that text, and a list of links to previously posted clown media. Several of the titles featured prominently on the site include the name “Chuckles” and take the visitor to unauthorized excerpts of our clients’ works that are hosted at the wiki. Because two of our clients are hosting authorized copies of their films on YouTube, and making money from associated advertising, of course they worry about lost revenues. Engulf & Devour, as a large Hollywood studio, wants to ensure that adaptations and re-mixes of its films are processed through its own website (see my first memo to you). Some of the other small companies that have downloaded the Chuckles content through E&D’s website and created their own adaptations have threatened to sue E&D because E&D appears to be allowing the wiki to produce and host competing adaptations.

Needless to say, all three of our clients want to put a stop to Alan Alda’s activities and have asked us for an immediate review and recommendation regarding their options.

Based on the above and your knowledge of copyright law, work up a short memo – 4 pages, maximum – that reviews the matter and develops relevant questions and recommendations for further action. Our clients are eager to see quick action. Is that possible? What are the obstacles? Where and how can we get quick results?

Rules and Guidelines for Assignment Three

The rules and guidelines below are identical to the Rules and Guidelines for Assignment One.

To the extent that these rules may appear to conflict with general advice regarding memos that appears in course-related webpages, these rules take precedence.

This is an “open” problem, meaning that there are no limits on the resources that you may bring to bear on your work. Among other things, you may consult with your classmates and other human beings. If you discuss the merits of the assignment with anyone, however, you must disclose that person’s identity on or in your memo. Write the names of any of these “consultants” at the top of the first page of the memo.

Use your own name in the “From” field. The memos are not anonymous.

Format

Memos must be typed or printed using a computer. Each memo, including any attachments, must be not longer than four [4] typewritten or printed pages, double-spaced, with 1″ minimum margins on all sides. (“To,” “From,” “Re,” and “Date” headings may be single spaced.) You do not need to include a comprehensive statement of the facts; instead, you may refer to the factual background in my memo to you. A factual summary may be helpful, however, in framing and presenting the analysis of the memo. No footnotes are permitted. The following font must be used: Twelve [12] point Times New Roman.

So that the memos can be uploaded to the TWEN system in Westlaw (see below), and graded electronically, you must use Microsoft WORD for the final version of the memo.

Grading

Memoranda will be graded based on form, format, and writing quality as well as on content. The assignments are designed so as not to have any single correct or even best solution. Each problem may present a range of issues that the memorandum should identify, analyze, and solve in a creative way.

Due date

One copy of the work product prepared for this assignment must be turned in not later than Wednesday, May 6, 2015, at 12 noon.

Memos must be turned in via the course TWEN page (on Westlaw), by depositing an electronic copy in the TWEN “Drop Box” for Assignment Three for this course. Electronic (e-mailed) copies are not acceptable. Memos slipped under anyone’s door are not acceptable.

There were be no extensions or exceptions to this deadline. Memoranda that do not conform to the format instructions above, or that are turned in late, are subject to grade reductions.

Assignment Two

To: Junior Lawyer, Dewey, Cheatem & Howe
From: Senior Lawyer, Dewey, Cheatem & Howe
Date: March 20, 2015
Re: More Chuckles Problems

You will remember our earlier copyright conflict involving the Chuckles movies, reflected in the memo to us from Snark Entertainment of January 30, 2015 and your response. Based in part on your advice, Snark decided to contact Engulf & Devour Pictures and obtain that company’s permission to release “Chuckles Comes Next.” Part of that negotiation included the agreement by Engulf & Devour that our client could retain the copyright in “Chuckles Comes Next.” That short film has been made available on YouTube, and both commercial and critical reaction has been positive. Our client is not making a lot of money with the project, but it is happy with the results.

However, a new copyright issue has arisen.

Our client has received a letter from a company identifying itself as “MegaPictures.” In that letter, MegaPictures asserts that “Chuckles Comes Next” infringes a copyright that MegaPictures owns in a short film titled “The Dark Clown.” According to the letter, “The Dark Clown” (which I have not seen) adapts the characters and plots of the Chuckles movies into a horror film, which addresses and builds on “coulrophobia,” or a fear of clowns. The result is a parody of the Chuckles movies, poking fun at the “action clown” (or action comic book figure) genre in general and Chuckles in particular by critiquing the reluctance to take Hollywood’s comic book violence to its logical, horrific extreme.

The letter goes on to say that both “The Dark Clown” and “Chuckles Comes Next” use all of the characters from the original Chuckles movies except one – Ted – and that several specific plot points appear in both films: clever workplace dialogue between the characters known as Mary and Lou; sexual innuendo in the dialogue spoken by the character known as Sue Ann; Mary’s recurrent efforts to build a stable relationship with a man; and the climactic confrontation between Chuckles (the action clown) and the villain, known in both movies as Peter Peanut. The letter is wrong on that point at least; in “Chuckles Begins,” the character is named “Peter the Peanut.” (In the Chuckles movies, the climatic confrontation takes place between Chuckles and a circus performer wearing a peanut costume.) Finally, the letter confirms that “The Dark Clown” was produced and released on YouTube with the express permission of Engulf & Devour, and that it was released six months before “Chuckles Comes Next” was released.

I had a preliminary conversation with Grant, the president of Snark Entertainment, who admits that he is a fan of all clown-based entertainment and a devout consumer of YouTube films but who denies having seen The Dark Clown. He wants to fire back an angry response to the letter from MegaPictures and to be prepared to fight the case if MegaPictures decides to file one. As Snark’s outside copyright counsel, I need to prepare Grant both with great arguments but also with a realistic sense of where concerns and risks might pop up.

Based on the above and your knowledge of copyright law, work up a short memo – 4 pages, maximum – that sets out the key elements of how we should strategize the factual and legal basis of a defense. What do we need to know, and why? Where are our strengths likely to lie? Where might the case have weaknesses? I’ll use your memo as the basis for my next briefing, when I meet with Grant.

Rules and Guidelines for Assignment Two

The rules and guidelines below are identical to the Rules and Guidelines for Assignment One.

To the extent that these rules may appear to conflict with general advice regarding memos that appears in course-related webpages, these rules take precedence.

This is an “open” problem, meaning that there are no limits on the resources that you may bring to bear on your work. Among other things, you may consult with your classmates and other human beings. If you discuss the merits of the assignment with anyone, however, you must disclose that person’s identity on or in your memo. Write the names of any of these “consultants” at the top of the first page of the memo.

Use your own name in the “From” field. The memos are not anonymous.

Format

Memos must be typed or printed using a computer. Each memo, including any attachments, must be not longer than four [4] typewritten or printed pages, double-spaced, with 1″ minimum margins on all sides. (“To,” “From,” “Re,” and “Date” headings may be single spaced.) You do not need to include a comprehensive statement of the facts; instead, you may refer to the factual background in my memo to you. A factual summary may be helpful, however, in framing and presenting the analysis of the memo. No footnotes are permitted. The following font must be used: Twelve [12] point Times New Roman.

So that the memos can be uploaded to the TWEN system in Westlaw (see below), and graded electronically, you must use Microsoft WORD for the final version of the memo.

Grading

Memoranda will be graded based on form, format, and writing quality as well as on content. The assignments are designed so as not to have any single correct or even best solution. Each problem may present a range of issues that the memorandum should identify, analyze, and solve in a creative way.

Due date

One copy of the work product prepared for this assignment must be turned in not later than Friday, April 3, 2015, at 3 pm.

Memos must be turned in via the course TWEN page (on Westlaw), by depositing an electronic copy in the TWEN “Drop Box” for Assignment Two for this course. Electronic (e-mailed) copies are not acceptable. Memos slipped under anyone’s door are not acceptable.

There were be no extensions or exceptions to this deadline. Memoranda that do not conform to the format instructions above, or that are turned in late, are subject to grade reductions.

Assignment One

To: Outside Counsel
From: Chief Creative Officer, Snark Entertainment
Date: January 30, 2015
Re: Chuckles Parody

We need your expert copyright assistance in connection with Snark Entertainment’s latest project. As you probably know, Engulf & Devour Pictures, a major Hollywood movie studio, owns the copyrights associated with the blockbuster series of three live action films known generally as “the Chuckles movies.” (The titles are “Chuckles Begins,” “Chuckles,” and “Chuckles Rises.”) The main character, Chuckles, is an “action clown,” a sort of cousin of the comic book heroes in The Avengers movies. Chuckles is surrounded by a cast of regular characters named Mary, Ted, Lou, Murray, Sue Ann, and Rhoda.

Fan response to the Chuckles movies has been overwhelmingly positive, but Chuckles and the associated characters have come in for some friendly criticism in popular culture. Ted, in particular, is believed to be a useless blowhard, and many fans think that the movies would be better without Ted in them.

Snark Entertainment has tried to fill this popular demand, by making a short film that copies and re-edits clips from each of the Chuckles movies into a new story, one that uses all of the Chuckles characters except Ted, who all Chuckles fans seem to hate. We have edited this short film for comic effect, instead of using the dark, dramatic tone that characterizes the original movies. What we’ve done, in short, is make a parody. It is titled “Chuckles Comes Next.”

We have not yet released the film in any format (we’d like to distribute it via YouTube, and collect advertising dollars), because of the following circumstance. While we were producing “Chuckles Comes Next,” Engulf & Devour posted all 3 Chuckles movies on a website (www.usechuckles.com), with text indicating that anyone who wishes to download the Chuckles movies and remix them (or parts of them) into a new film has Engulf & Devour’s permission to do so! The thing is that when you download the movies, you have to click on a “terms and conditions” screen in which you agree that you will pay to Engulf & Devour half of all revenues associated with distributing any Chuckles remix that you make.

Snark Entertainment didn’t download the Chuckles movies from the website; we just bought DVDs and ripped them, then edited the files using ordinary commercial software. So we didn’t agree to the “terms and conditions” screen. We think that we’re engaging in fair use under the copyright law, but we’re worried that if we distribute “Chuckles Comes Next” on YouTube, Engulf & Devour will come after us for copyright infringement anyway, and we’re worried that Engulf & Devour might have a good case.

Do they? Where do we stand, legally speaking, under copyright law? I’d appreciate your analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of our fair use argument, and telling us what you think we should do from this point forward.

Rules and Guidelines for Assignment One

To the extent that these rules may appear to conflict with general advice regarding memos that appears in course-related webpages, these rules take precedence.

This is an “open” problem, meaning that there are no limits on the resources that you may bring to bear on your work. Among other things, you may consult with your classmates and other human beings. If you discuss the merits of the assignment with anyone, however, you must disclose that person’s identity on or in your memo. Write the names of any of these “consultants” at the top of the first page of the memo.

Use your own name in the “From” field. The memos are not anonymous.

Format

Memos must be typed or printed using a computer. Each memo, including any attachments, must be not longer than four [4] typewritten or printed pages, double-spaced, with 1″ minimum margins on all sides. (“To,” “From,” “Re,” and “Date” headings may be single spaced.) You do not need to include a comprehensive statement of the facts; instead, you may refer to the factual background in my memo to you. A factual summary may be helpful, however, in framing and presenting the analysis of the memo. No footnotes are permitted. The following font must be used: Twelve [12] point Times New Roman.

So that the memos can be uploaded to the TWEN system in Westlaw (see below), and graded electronically, you must use Microsoft WORD for the final version of the memo.

Grading

Memoranda will be graded based on form, format, and writing quality as well as on content. The assignments are designed so as not to have any single correct or even best solution. Each problem may present a range of issues that the memorandum should identify, analyze, and solve in a creative way.

Due date

One copy of the work product prepared for this assignment must be turned in not later than Friday, February 13, 2015, at 3 pm.

Memos must be turned in via the course TWEN page (on Westlaw), by depositing an electronic copy in the TWEN “Drop Box” for Assignment One for this course. Electronic (e-mailed) copies are not acceptable. Memos slipped under anyone’s door are not acceptable.

There were be no extensions or exceptions to this deadline. Memoranda that do not conform to the format instructions above, or that are turned in late, are subject to grade reductions.