Wednesday, October 15, 2014


This article originally appeared in the 10.16.14 issue of Metroland.


            Six years or so ago the talented-but-phony street artist Shepard Fairey came up with the Obama Hope poster.  It was everywhere, there were even websites where you could “hope-i-fy” your own image, and most of us did. 

            Then there was a crazy rush to figure out what Obama photograph Fairey used as a template for the poster, because he wasn’t sayin’.  This became an online obsession, and particularly weird because Obama was perhaps the world’s most photographed human.  Numerous candidate photos were floated, then shot down.  Finally, after months of this nonsense, somebody found a several-year-old picture of Obama seated next to George Clooney that looked like a perfect match.

            But, uh-oh, the Associated Press claimed that it owned the copyright to the photo, and it was stomping its feet demanding that Fairey pay up.  So Fairey sued the AP, seeking a court declaration that he wasn’t infringing.  Us copyright lawyers were really excited about this, as it looked like an important case, and one that might add much-needed definition to the doctrine of fair use—when it’s OK for someone to use somebody else’s copyrighted stuff without permission.  This case would have far-reaching effects for all kinds of artists and most anyone who creates “content” from cutting and pasting and mashing-up.  Like all of us.  Both sides had ace lawyers and the case was venued in New York federal court, where a lot of really smart judges sit.

            But a couple months in, it was discovered that Fairey had lied to the court, lied to his lawyers, and destroyed evidence.  For no good reason.  His lawyers quit, the court sanctioned Fairey, he quietly settled with AP, game over.  No decision, no nothin’.

            What we got instead, several years later, was an appellate decision in the Richard Prince / Patrick Cariou case involving Prince’s use of Cariou’s photographs of Rastafarians.  The decision was muddled, saying that fair use occurred when there was a transformation of an original work by changes in expression, meaning, or message.  Without a whole lot of analysis, the court decided that most of Prince’s “treatments” were fair use, and a couple were maybes that the court punted back to the district court.  The case then quickly settled.  Not much in the way of guidance, other than that this idea of “transformation” was a pretty big deal.

            Then a couple of weeks ago, a federal appeals court in Chicago issued a major fair use decision with facts identical to those in the Fairey case.  A t-shirt company took a photo of the mayor of Madison, Wisconsin and put a hope-i-fied version on t-shirts.  The photographer sued.

            The court found for the t-shirt company, but said a whole bunch of things that again throws the fair use doctrine to the wind.  The court ruled that it was fair use.  But court also said that because the photograph had been altered so much that what was on the t-shirt wasn’t anything the photographer had the right to protect.  The background was gone, coloring was gone, detail was gone, all that was left, like with the Obama Hope poster, was an outline of a head.  The court said  “what [was] left, behind a hint of [the mayor's] smile, is the outline of his face, which can't be copyrighted.”

            OK, good enough, but if the shirt doesn’t use any of the photographer’s copyright, why keep talking?  It’s not infringement, period, so why then go into a tortured fair use analysis?

            But analyze they did.  They said the most important factor in a fair use analysis was the financial harm to the copyright holder, but since the photographer didn’t say the t-shirt cut into his licensing money they couldn’t address that factor.  They seemed to be troubled that the t-shirt company used a copyrighted image when there just had to be plenty of similar “snapshots” floating around that were in the public domain.  They talked judicial smack about “lazy appropriators”.  Finally, they tore into the Prince/Cariou court’s primary reliance on “transformation”, ignoring the fact that the Supreme Court endorsed this approach twenty years ago.  The court was concerned that over-reliance on transformative uses would wipe out a copyright holder’s right to control derivative works.  Then after all this, the court declared the t-shirts were protected by fair use.

            So here we are, with a whole bunch of troubling language that’s gonna be trotted out by copyright maximalists whenever they feel their precious content has been nicked.  I think the court was right that a too-broad interpretation of “transformative” would wipe out a copyright holder’s derivative works.  But that’s not a reason to discard transformation altogether. 

            The good news, I suppose, is that now we have a very sharp split between two of the most influential circuit courts in the country, which means that maybe a juicy fair use case will get to the Supreme Court where we’ll get, for better or for worse, the final word.

Paul C. Rapp is an intellectual property attorney who also knows his way around a kitchen, a log splitter, a cocktail shaker, and a set of drums.


This article originally appeared in the 10.16.14 issue of Metroland.



OCTOBER 11, 2014

            Part of my deal here at Metroland is a requirement that I check in with Richard Thompson every couple of years to see how he’s doing.  I’m pleased to report that Richard Thompson continues to be doing very well.

            He’s touring in support of his new album Acoustic Classics, basically a greatest hits package performed solo.  Which isn’t nearly as cheesy as it sounds; Thompson’s acoustic reinventions of his material, originally recorded with more-or-less standard rock-band formats, and developed over years of solo touring, are themselves wonderful things to behold.

            Thompson’s acoustic guitar technique is staggering, playing bass and rhythm lines with a pick while his middle, ring, and pinky fingers play melodic and solo lines.  I swear he was playing 3 against 2 at times, fingers against fingers.  Which is just stupid.  Anyway, it’s hard to fathom that one guy with a guitar can make such an ornate, dynamic, beautiful racket.

            Add to this his remarkable catalog of songs, his consummately soulful singing, and his often hysterical between-song banter, and you’ve got some kind of show.  Exhausting, actually, as the sparks come flying so fast and from so many directions that the listener gets worn out just trying to process it all.

            Despite claiming to be getting over a cold, Thompson was in fine voice and spirits, and played a whole bunch of flag-wavers from his 45+ year career.  Everyone should witness him doing “52 Vincent Black Lightning” at least once in their life.  He also played a modern sea shanty about Scottish bands playing on cruise ships which incorporated a couplet rhyming ‘Bahamas” with “pajamas.”  He sang a ribald protest song against a current London land developer that was screamingly funny.  He played selections from his upcoming contribution to the 14-18 Now Project, a multi-disciplinary art remembrance of WWI.  Thompson’s piece involved putting bits of soldiers’ letters to music.  This was ethereal, beguiling, haunting.

            The opening act was the Texas husband-wife duo The Mastersons who sang big fearless songs with big fearless voices and were charming and talented and weird enough to grab and win over the crowd.  I’d go see them again tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


This article originally appeared in the 9.18.14 issue of Metroland.

This week let’s tear down without building up.

            Let’s talk about U2.

            For years, U2 has been at the forefront of the idiot chatter about the evils of the internet and downloading music.  The band and especially its manager, Paul McGuinness, would regularly sound off about how Google could easily stop “piracy” and how all this business about “free music” was an insult to musicians and was devaluing music, and that music is sacred and yada yada yada.  These pronouncements were some of the most stupid and tone-deaf music-biz drivel out there.  And they were rightfully ignored, because what they said really didn’t matter.

            And so how odd that last week, as part of Apple’s big unveiling of the iPhone 6 and the Apple Watch, here’s U2 playing a new song and then sharing a chummy onstage announcement with Tim Cook that Apple is giving away U2’s new album to everyone who has the iTunes program.  Which is most of us.   And as you are probably painfully aware, this isn’t a situation where you can go to some website and download the album, or buy a newspaper and get a free CD.  Nope, Apple instead dropped the album into everyone’s iTunes cloud account (which many people, including myself, didn’t realize they had), and depending on the settings for the cloud account you may not have known you had, the album typically loaded automatically into your computer or phone.  There.  You own the new U2 album, like it or not.

            The reactions were immediate and damning.  And for good reason.  Nobody wants stuff, any kind of stuff, rammed down their throats.  Nobody wants their music library messed with. That Apple thinks it can just stick stuff on your machine, and that U2, of all people, are cool with it, is just mind-bogglingly wrong.  As one commentator said: a gift on my doorstep is one thing. A gift that you left in my house, after letting yourself in, is something different.”  Apple’s notion of personal privacy appears to be different than ours.

            And we learn that a great many younger folk have no idea who U2 even is.  The website contains thousands of tweets from outraged teenagers around the world, asking who is U2 and why are they (or him, or it) on my phone?  It’s hysterically funny.  This is not how one builds a fan base. 

            U2’s reaction has been clueless.  The band’s new manager Guy Oseary (McGuiness retired last year, replaced with this young guy who used to work with Madonna, which ought to tell you something) said: “If you don’t like this gift, you should delete it.”  Duh, right.  Except apparently getting rid of the album isn’t that easy. Online how-to articles popped up with titles like How To Get That Awful U2 Album Off Your Computer; after a few days, Apple mercifully issued a one-step removal patch so folks could ditch the album from their phones and computers.

            Bono, ever prone to the misdirected faux-heroic statement, said this: "For the people out there who have no interest in checking us out, look at it this way: The blood, sweat and tears of some Irish guys are in your junk mail."  How very nice.  And to the allegation that all of this flies in the face of U2’s prior damning of free music?  Why, the album isn’t free, you see, because U2 got paid for it.  The latest estimate I’ve seen is that Apple paid U2 120 million dollars for the right to infect your devices with the U2 album.  That’s a whole lot of blood, sweat and tears, Bono.  And it’s still free music, dude.  To everybody but you.

            What a ridiculous, avoidable, bone-headed situation.  I suppose that it’s great that U2 got paid, although that’s an obscene amount of money for an album, especially these days.  Innovative ways of getting music into consumers’ hands is good, too.  But not like this.  From Apple’s perspective, what were they thinking?  They’re still trying to deal with the fall-out from the massive hack of photos from iCloud a couple of weeks ago and now they want to demonstrate how easy it really is?  And U2 is cool with having their precious, sacred music reduced in people’s eyes to a nasty computer virus?

            Don’t get me wrong.  I love Apple, I use their stuff and wouldn’t think of switching.  Not yet anyway.  And I generally like U2, have liked them since I saw their very first US appearance at the Ritz in NYC in 1980.  I don’t even mind Bono’s bloviating to world leaders about world hunger and stuff.  I do object, however, to those goofy glasses he wears, those plastic things that look like those big sun-glassy things old ladies wear over their glasses.  What’s up with those?

            But this was just about the dumbest thing either Apple or U2 have ever done.  And that’s saying something.  Nothing good will come of this, except that something like this will never happen again.  And both Apple and U2 got some ‘splainin to do.

Paul Rapp is a frisky local entertainment attorney who would swing baseball bats on TV whilst telling you how great he is if he thought it would do any good.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014


This article originally appeared in the 9.4.14 issue of Metroland.

Let’s talk about naked ladies on the internet!  You already know about the big “leak” of “personal” photographs of various (mostly) young actresses and you probably already have a strong opinion about it.  As usual, this has been misreported by Big Media and the critical issues largely overlooked or obfuscated because... well, because NAKED LADIES ON THE INTERNET.

            Now, it’s my solemn duty as an alternative media journalist to bring you the real story, the whole, unvarnished truth.  Therefore, I’ve taken it upon myself to thoroughly research this story.  To leave no stone unturned, to look down every side street, and to be very, very, very deliberate and contemplative with every shred of evidence that I find.  I do this so you don’t have to.  You’re so very welcome.

            OK.  So over the weekend it was reported that about 100 photographs of a dozen or so young actresses had been put up on the internet.  The photos range from naked selfies to faux-cheesecake to full-on raunchy.  The biggest name, the headline name, was Jennifer Lawrence, but there are also pics of Kate Upton, Kirsten Dunst (what’s she doing here?  She’s 32!) and a bunch of other attractive young women who are apparently famous for movies and TV shows or something. 

            It was first reported that these pics were released by “Anonymous” and 4Chan, who had “exploited a vulnerability” in Apple’s iCloud service.  There’s a lot wrong with this statement.  First, 4Chan is not a person, but a chat-room / posting board that caters largely to geeks and hackers.  Second, “Anonymous” is the name given to anyone posting on 4Chan who doesn’t want to use a handle, which is most of the people posting there.  There are a lot of Anonymouses on 4Chan.  Third, a number of the “victims” are shown taking selfies with non-Apple devices, so the idea that Apple was a only culprit here is a little problematic.

            As would be expected, all hell breaks loose.  Jennifer Lawrence’s publicist quickly announced that most of the photos were real, and bemoaned the egregious invasion of Lawrence’s privacy.  Others said that their photos were fakes, or were photos of someone else.  Some guy near Atlanta got named as the culprit and he immediately said that no, he had found the pics on an obscure posting site called AnonIB and reposted one of them on Reddit while trying to sell the rest.  Which makes him, if anything, creepier that the original poster.

            Then there were reports that the original poster had surfaced on AnonIB, saying that he had hundreds more photos and videos, that he had not acted alone, and that he was “changing locations.”  This, combined with reports that Jennifer Lawrence had asked the FBI to investigate translated to Big Media headlines that the hacker was on the run and the FBI was hot on his trail!   It’s like cops and robbers!

            The whack-a-mole game was in full force as the pics appeared and disappeared around the internet.  Twitter announced it would delete any reposts of the pics, which seems fine until you realize that someone at Twitter is apparently looking at every post you make.  The fact is that all of these photos are now all over the internet and will stay there forever.  That’s the way of the virtual world.

            Then Apple announced that what vulnerabilities might exist in iCloud weren’t exploited by the hackers, leaving it likely that the photos were obtained the old-fashioned way, by the hacker(s) figuring someone’s online account name, then figuring out the password, then picking through the library for the good stuff.

            And so the debate starts.  Some people likened it to rape, which it’s not.  Others blamed the “victims”, which is, for the most part, stupid.  Over at 4Chan (which is kind of like an on-line paint-peeling drunken frat party for young disaffected nerds) a similar debate rages: some posters were aghast and pledged to help find the hackers, others begged the hacker to post more photos.  There were several 4Chan posts claiming to be from media outlets asking for interviews (which may or not be real) and some purporting to be from unnamed actresses offering to pay for their pics not to be posted (which are almost certainly not real).

            What’s happening is no different then what’s been happening for as long as there have been means of taking pictures: the stuff gets out.  From passed-around blurry Super-8’s of Marilyn Monroe to Celebrity Skin to stolen video-cassettes of Pamela Sue Anderson and Paris Hilton to this, it’s varying combinations of innocence, sloppiness, bad luck (on the part of the “victims”), along with equal measures of sleaziness, greed, ingenuity and sometimes vengefulness on the part of the perpetrators.  It is as inevitable as it is disgusting and sad.

            To be sure, one way to make sure this doesn’t happen to you is to never have yourself recorded doing something “compromising.” Duh?  And if you do, then you have to be vigilant: most cloud services and storage devices allow encryption, multiple passwords, and other security features that would have made these latest hacks impossible.  And which will keep your naughty bits safe until the next level of hack-dom comes around.

Paul Rapp is a genteel entertainment lawyer who avoids naked mirror selfies, opting instead for naked selfie stick-figure drawings, which he is happy to share upon request.