Copyright Law and the Utility of Style

Christopher Buccafusco & Jeanne C. Fromer, Fashion’s Function in Intellectual Property Law, 93 Notre Dame L. Rev. (forthcoming 2017), available at SSRN.

Copyright is meant to protect artistic and literary works (books, paintings, sculptures, poems, songs, etc.) against copying. Copyright is not, however, meant to protect useful things – that is the job of patent law. A lot of useful things, however, are also pretty (and the other way around). Think about attractive kitchen appliances, or apparel, or furniture, or dining utensils, or indeed just about any artifact of industrial design. A well-designed ladies’ dress can keep its wearer warm, but most consumers probably value it primarily for its style. Does copyright protect the design of the dress? Or does the dress’s utility rule it out of copyright?

Christopher Buccafusco of Cardozo Law and Jeanne Fromer of the NYU School of Law have written a fascinating take on this question, titled Fashion’s Function in Intellectual Property Law, forthcoming in the Notre Dame Law Review, and available here. I liked the Buccafusco/Fromer article a lot, so much so that I wish the Supreme Court had paid more attention to it in its decision in Star Athletica, L.L.C. v. Varsity Brands, Inc., a recent case in which the Court established a test for determining whether particular pictorial, graphic, or sculptural (“PGS”) elements of useful articles are “separable” from the article’s useful function, and thus copyrightable. Buccafusco and Fromer presented the article’s arguments to the Court in a terrific amicus brief, which you can find here. Continue reading "Copyright Law and the Utility of Style"

Buddhism, Law and Comparative Law: the (Rebecca) French Connection 

Rebecca R. French, What is Buddhist Law? Opening Ideas, 64 Buffalo L. Rev. 833 (2015), available at SSRN.

Professor Rebecca Redwood French’s What is Buddhist Law? Opening Ideas is a major contribution to the nascent field of Buddhist legal studies and has the potential to advance our thinking about comparative law. In this review, I will highlight the article’s significance to these two areas of study.

Professor French notes that although there is significant writing on the legal dimensions of the Christian, Jewish, Islamic and Hindu religious traditions, little has been written on “legal concepts in the Buddhist tradition.” (P. 834.) Perhaps most significantly for readers of this blog, she points out that although some Buddhism scholars have written on “the Buddhist Law Code … very few have written on it from a legal vantage point.” (P. 834, note 3.) As the author of several important works in the field (including, On Buddhism and Natural Law  8 J. Comp. L. 141 (2013-2014)), as co-editor (with Professor Mark A. Nathan) of the collection entitled Buddhism and Law: An Introduction (2014) and as editor of the journal Buddhism, Law and Society, Professor French has done much to fill this gap. Continue reading "Buddhism, Law and Comparative Law: the (Rebecca) French Connection "

A Must-Read on Health Care Nudges

Nudging Health: Health Law and Behavioral Economics (I. Glenn Cohen, Holly Fernandez Lynch & Christopher T. Robertson eds., 2016).

Nudging Health: Health Law and Behavioral Economics is essential reading for anyone interesting in moving the health reform ball forward. The insights are especially important amid United States lawmakers’ persistent emphasis on individual responsibility and market-based solutions for health care. In their edited volume, esteemed authors I. Glenn Cohen, Holly Fernandez Lynch, and Christopher T. Robertson draw together canonical threads of legal theory, applying them to timely, essential health law and policy topics. The forty-five essays included in Nudging Health explore various ways that behavioral science may be applied to nudge health law and policy in the direction of better health and better health care spending. The book builds on a deep and provocative foundation of earlier scholars, including Kenneth Arrow, Cass Sunstein, and Richard Thaler.

Anyone who has spent even a little time around health law and policy is well aware that neoclassical economic models fail to accurately depict modern health care. Viewed through that lens, health care is a highly imperfect market, as Kenneth Arrow’s timeless 1963 essay, Uncertainty and the Welfare Economics of Medical Care, describes. Arrow accurately depicts a market characterized by, among other features: the uncertain nature of demand for health care; imperfect information and information asymmetries between buyers (patients) and sellers (health care providers); distorted trust, or fiduciary, relationships between health care providers and patients; barriers to entry and other supply limits on medical care; and third-party payment (insurance) leading to moral hazard and pooling of unequal risks. Continue reading "A Must-Read on Health Care Nudges"

Personal Narrative and Paternal Stereotypes 

On the first day of my Family Law class, when discussing my goals for the semester, I tell students that even if they do not practice in the area of family law, the class will be helpful for them because of how directly family law impacts everyday life. The impact of other areas of law is typically more attenuated, and of the legal fields that also operate directly upon individuals—tax and criminal law come to mind—family law is the topic that is both omnipresent and often joyfully applicable, as when a couple marries.

Beyond the direct interventions in our relationships, however, family law sends implicit messages about society’s expectations for familial relationships. These messages can be difficult to uncover and even more complex to address. Holning Lau’s article Shaping Expectations About Dads as Caregivers: Toward an Ecological Approach is a refreshingly clear contribution, drawing upon his experiences as a new father as a springboard for legal reform. Continue reading "Personal Narrative and Paternal Stereotypes "

Jotwell 2017 Summer Break

Jotwell is taking a short summer break. Posting will resume on Monday, September 4. However, even while we’re on break, we’ll be accepting submissions, editing them, and doing a lot of work under the hood. We have tentatively scheduled a major server move for next week. If that happens on schedule, it is likely that this page, and each section, will be offline during a transitional period somewhere between an hour and a day. We will post warning notices before the transition. The new server should make the site much faster, and also reduce downtime. Unfortunately it is also expensive, so this is good time to ask you to please help support Jotwell; give enough and we may not have to have a fundraiser later in the year.

[Update: If you are reading this, then you’ve found the new server. Things may be a bit odd, however, until the transition is complete.]

If you like Jotwell, share — help us find more readers. Tell a friend about Jotwell. And if you are an academic reader, please consider recommending Jotwell to your students. We have a Jotwell_Flyer for students that you can print out and post, or perhaps even hand out at Orientation.

Jotwell_Flyer-Students_2016

Click for full-size printable version

See you in two weeks, when we start the new academic year. Continue reading "Jotwell 2017 Summer Break"

The Real World

My very first law professor, Bob Ellickson, once said to my Torts class: “You know how law professors do empirical research? They sit in a room and think very hard.”

That was in 1984. A lot has changed since then, partly because of pioneering work by Ellickson himself.1 Since 2012, more than 500 law review articles have included the word “empirical” in their titles, and probably hundreds more – including every item in the most recent issue of the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies – report or analyze empirical data without titular advertisement. Many of these papers feature linear regressions or other complex statistical analyses aiming to tease out relationships between variables. Yet there remains much value in research that simply but rigorously informs us of what actually happens in the real world. Understanding environmental law, like understanding the environment, begins with observing. This Jot acknowledges the contributions of two recent articles that help us see. Continue reading "The Real World"

Democracy Unchained

K. Sabeel Rahman, Private Power, Public Values: Regulating Social Infrastructure in a Changing Economy, 39 Cardozo L. Rev. 5 (forthcoming, 2017), available at SSRN.

In the mid-2000s, digital activists spearheaded the net neutrality movement to ensure fair treatment of the customers of Internet Service Providers (ISPs), as well as to protect the companies trying to reach them. Net neutrality rules limit or ban preferential treatment; for example, they might prevent an ISP like Comcast from offering exclusive access to Facebook and its partner sites on a “Free Basics” plan. Such rules have a sad and tortuous history in the US: rebuffed under Bush, long delayed and finally adopted by Obama’s FCC, and now in mortal peril thanks to Donald Trump’s elevation of Ajit Pai to be chairman of the Commission. But net neutrality as a popular principle has had more success, animating mass protests and even comedy shows. It has also given long-suffering cable customers a way of politicizing their personal struggles with haughty monopolies.

But net neutrality activists missed two key opportunities. They often failed to explain how far the neutrality principle should extend, as digital behemoths like Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon wielded extraordinary power over key nodes of the net. Some commentators derided calls for “search neutrality” or “app store neutrality;” others saw such measures as logical next steps for a digital New Deal. Moreover, they did not adequately address key economic arguments. Neoliberal commentators insisted that the US would only see rapid advances in speed and quality of service if ISPs could recoup investment by better monetizing traffic. Progressives argued that “something is better than nothing;” a program like “Free Basics” probably benefits the disadvantaged more than no access at all.

In his Private Power, Public Values: Regulating Social Infrastructure in a Changing Economy, K. Sabeel Rahman offers a theoretical framework to address these concerns. He offers a “definition of infrastructural goods and services” and a “toolkit of public utility-inspired regulatory strategies” that is a way to “diagnose and respond to new forms of private power in a changing economy,” including powerful internet platforms. He also gives a clear sense of why the public interest in regulating large internet firms should trump investors’ arguments for untrammeled rights to profits—and demands “public options” for those unable to afford access to privately controlled infrastructure. Continue reading "Democracy Unchained"

The Discreet Charm of Conveyancing on the Blockchain

Jeanne L. Schroeder, Bitcoin and the Uniform Commercial Code, 24 U. Miami Bus. L. Rev. 1 (2016).

When Adam Levitin and I taught The Law of Money seminar a year ago, not one student chose to write about bitcoin. We congratulated ourselves on drawing young people hip enough to ignore the hype emanating from googly-eyed technophiles and smug pundits, and beefed up the readings on silver in 18th century China. The rude awakening came last spring, when bitcoin gobbled up half the class and forced me to wrestle with the problem of legal writing about financial innovation. Jeanne Schroeder’s lovely Bitcoin and the Uniform Commercial Code saved the day. The article reads at first like an old-fashioned doctrinal piece of the sort that have become rare. That would be valuable enough, but the bigger payoff for me was seeing a patient sifting of bitcoin through the UCC illuminate the work of legal institutions at the intersection of finance and technology.

Most students said that they wanted to write about fintech-y stuff because it was new and hot and law firms were all over it. However, defining “it” became a problem, especially for bitcoin. At a high level of generality, bitcoin is a protocol designed to extract, represent, and circulate value using a decentralized system for recording transfers (blockchain).1 Putting transfer verification in the hands of the public at large makes the blockchain hard to manipulate, and makes transfers faster and cheaper. Continue reading "The Discreet Charm of Conveyancing on the Blockchain"

What Abbasi Should Have Said

It is a common rhetorical trope among far too many federal judges (including Supreme Court Justices) that legal scholarship is of diminishing utility to them and their work, at least in part because scholars have turned their gaze to topics too far removed from those relevant to the deliberations of contemporary jurists. Most famously, Chief Justice Roberts (who does and should know better) echoed this lament at the 2011 Fourth Circuit conference: “Pick up a copy of any law review that you see and the first article is likely to be . . . the influence of Immanuel Kant on evidentiary approaches in 18th-century Bulgaria, or something, which I’m sure was of great interest to the academic that wrote it, but isn’t of much help to the bar.” The Chief Justice’s ill-informed quip may have gotten the most attention, but he is hardly alone.

There is a lot to say about this general claim. In the specific case of the Chief Justice, much of it has already been said by Orin Kerr.

But the juxtaposition of Jim Pfander’s erudite and magisterial new monograph, Constitutional Torts and the War on Terror, and the Supreme Court’s June 19 decision in Ziglar v. Abbasi, suggests a different (and more alarming) possibility: The problem is not that law professors are failing to produce scholarship of utility to contemporary judges; the problem is that the scholarship that is out there just is not getting read. How else to explain both the result and the reasoning in Abbasi—a decision deeply hostile to judge-made damages remedies for constitutional violations by federal officers, and one that is shamelessly indifferent and stunningly oblivious to the rich history and tradition of such remedies that has been well- and long-documented in the academic literature, most powerfully in Pfander’s book. Continue reading "What Abbasi Should Have Said"

Saving Harlem from Drugs: A Hobson’s Choice

Dr. Michael Javen Fortner’s book, Black Silent Majority: The Rockefeller Drug Laws and the Politics of Punishment, has ignited critical conversations in the academy and in public discourse. Among other things, the book describes a sort of “politics of respectability” within the black community and its impact on drug enforcement policy. The politics of respectability is a term coined twenty-five years ago by Professor Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham in Righteous Discontent to describe the social pressures by elite memb ers of the black community to ensure that other blacks were behaving respectably rather than affirming assumptions and stereotypes that the white community might have of blacks. Fortner’s book compels us to question the implications when, as is often the case in the African-American community, unelected social or religious leaders are assumed to represent the larger group. This is an important question for policy makers in the era of Black Lives Matter, a movement with a new model of diffused or unconventional leadership. Who should speak for whom? Black Silent Majority is a historical account of the role that a sub-group of African-American played in one of the most important socio-legal phenomena of the last half-century: the mass incarceration. In particular, Fortner explores how a privileged “silent majority” of black New Yorkers (preachers, politicians, businesspeople, the so-called “talented tenth,” and others) paved the way for the institution of draconian drug sentences.

To understand the ramifications of his argument, we must remember the cultural vibrancy of New York between 1920 and 1950. Harlem became a mecca of artistic, cultural and intellectual engagement during this period. This was the time of Langston Hughes, Duke Ellington, Zora Neale Hurston, and Josephine Baker. This renaissance was seeded by the great migration—the explosion of more than 6 million people to the North from the South in Harlem. Harlem – in this place and in this time – was as close to a capital of Black America as there could be. Continue reading "Saving Harlem from Drugs: A Hobson’s Choice"