Hollywood wouldn’t exist without copyright law. So when the Supreme Court tackled what was called the “copyright case of the century” – the multi-billion dollar fight between Google and Oracle – Hollywood business groups rushed to the barricades.
The Motion Picture Association has joined with other pro-copyright organizations in backing Oracle, which accused Google of tearing up thousands of lines of Java code for its Android operating system. In an amicus brief, the MPA warned that if the court accepts Google’s “fair use” defense and applies it to Hollywood, it could “potentially gut” the studios’ ability to make spinoffs and sequels for their films. .
In other words, if Google could steal Java code, then maybe anyone could make an “Avengers” movie. Disney would then have no reason to invest billions in the development of the franchise.
Others also warned of dire consequences. The Copyright Alliance – which represents studios, music labels and publishers – has warned that a victory for Google could hamper the ability of copyright owners to profit from their work, and even give the green light to the music piracy.
Google won. In a 6-2 decision released Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that Google had not infringed Oracle’s copyright on the Java platform.
But the entertainment industry, far from denouncing the decision, has been almost silent in response.
The MPA issued a simple one-line statement: “The Supreme Court has made it clear that it does not intend today’s ruling to affect existing law as it is applied out of context. computer software. “
The Copyright Alliance also noted that the decision was limited to software – and a particular type of software – and said the decision would have little impact on the media.
“While we believe the Supreme Court’s ruling was in error, we are encouraged that the court has made it clear that its ruling is not just limited to software – and therefore should not apply to software. other types of copyrighted works, ”said Keith Kupferschmid, CEO. said in a statement. “As such, the ruling here should have very limited applicability to other fair use cases that may arise in the future.”
CreativeFuture – another organization that represents entertainment companies, and which previously denounced Google’s “blatant copying” of Oracle code – has not released a statement at all. Neither did the Recording Industry Association of America, which had submitted an amicus brief in support of Oracle.
Some of these elements can be attributed to a rotation – either by playing on the prejudices before the decision, or by minimizing them after, or both. But it is also true that Judge Stephen Breyer went out of his way to say that he was only concerned with computer code and that he was not trying to broaden the general definition of “fair dealing” in the Code. copyright.
“We do not cancel or modify our prior cases involving fair use – cases, for example, that involve ‘knockoff’ products, journalistic writing and parodies,” Breyer wrote.
Some of the entertainment groups were clearly hoping that the court would deal with fair dealing more generally and take the opportunity to limit it. The last major court decision on the subject came in 1994, in Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc., in which she found that a song parody was fair use. The RIAA and the Copyright Alliance have each argued that the ruling led lower courts to conclude that a wide range of infringing uses are permitted because they are “transformative.”
“The time for clarity has come,” the Copyright Alliance wrote in its brief. “This Court should make it clear that the fair use defense must be applied judiciously.”
The court didn’t do that, so in that sense it was a missed opportunity for Hollywood. But no one seems to expect the ruling to lead to a frenzy of copyright infringement under the guise of fair use.
“I don’t think everyone should be running around panicking that the sky is falling, because I don’t think they are,” said J. Michael Keyes, intellectual property attorney at Dorsey & Whitney LLP. “It was pretty circumspect and pretty tightly drawn.”
Nonetheless, he noted that the notice contains passages that may be of concern to copyright owners. In particular, he noted that the court gave little weight to Oracle’s claim that it had lost billions in licensing revenue due to Google’s use of Java code. The court found that the potential harm was outweighed by the societal benefits of the Android system.
“I could see this fear striking in the hearts of some content owners,” Keyes said. “This raises the question, in my mind at least, of how much the societal benefit outweighs the copyright owner’s interest in protecting this market. This is where I think the battle lines are going to be drawn in future cases. “
James Sammataro, co-chair of media and entertainment practice at Pryor Cashman, also noted that the court’s discussion of market effects was a matter of concern.
“In particular, the Court’s discussion of the plaintiff’s economic prejudice versus the public benefits of copying has a life beyond software coding and can be used in support of a pro-fair use defense. documentary filmmaker and pro-parody, ”Sammataro said via email.
In his statement, Kupferschmid argued that the ruling had the “potential to unduly broaden the doctrine of fair use”. But he also suggested that this would only happen if the ruling was “misinterpreted by lower courts”.
“We hope and are optimistic that the district courts and the courts of appeal will heed the words of the Supreme Court that this case” does not nullify or modify its previous cases involving fair use “and will therefore interpret the decision of the Supreme Court. the Supreme Court closely in accordance with a well-established precedent. ,” he said.
All of this to say that the Avengers are safe – for now.
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