“YODA law” would ensure devices can be resold free of copyright

Cue the “pass this law, we must” jokes. On Wednesday, lawmakers reintroduced the “You Own Devices Act” (YODA) to make sure that manufacturers can’t use copyright mind tricks to prevent consumers from selling or giving away the connected devices they own.

The need for YODA comes about because of the fact that we typically don’t own software. Instead, we simply license it pursuant to terms handed down by a company via the internet — that’s why many people are surprised to learn they don’t actually own the iTunes songs or Kindle books they buy, but are instead using them at the pleasure of Apple and Amazon.

While this licensing quirk often doesn’t matter for practical purposes, it does when you die and can’t pass on your books or music collection.

But more importantly, the potential scope for companies to make mischief is getting much bigger as many more devices come with software inside: cars, coffee makers and even clothes are getting connected to the internet, which provides that many more opportunities for abusive licensing.

Consider, for instance, the connected bra that detects cancer. In the (admittedly unlikely) event that its owner chose to sell or give it away, the bra maker could claim that doing so violated their resale right in the copyrighted code inside it, and sue the bra’s original owner for copyright infringement.

That’s why Representatives Blake Farenthold (R-Tx) and Jared Polis (D-Co) are pushing the YODA bill as a way to put such worries to rest. What the bill would do is amend the Copyright Act, by adding a provision that includes the text:

if a computer program enables any part of a machine or other product to operate, the owner of the machine or other product is entitled to transfer an authorized copy of the computer program, or the right to obtain such copy, when the owner sells, leases, or otherwise transfers the machine

Though there’s no word if this bill is going anywhere (last year’s version died quietly), the underlying idea is a good one, and one that other politicians can embrace as a way to show they understand the connected world.

For more on the bill and the underlying IP issues, Professor Dennis Crouch had a good rundown in September on PatentlyO.

Katy Perry’s lawyers demand takedown of 3D printable Left Shark

While the nation identifies with the Super Bowl’s insta-star Left Shark, Katy Perry’s lawyers are apparently more the Right Shark type. They issued a cease and desist letter (see below) to on-demand 3D printing service Shapeways on Tuesday, demanding a 3D model depicting Left Shark be taken down.

Shapeways complied, and Fernando Sosa, the designer behind the model, has now posted it on Thingiverse. Unlike on Shapeways, Thingiverse models are free and must be 3D printed by the downloader.

Left Shark, as it appeared Thursday on Thingiverse.

Left Shark, as it appeared Thursday on Thingiverse.

Shapeways confirmed the letter and takedown, stating:

It’s a shame because we love our community and always want to be able to support their designs. That’s part of the reason why our work with Hasbro is so fun! It’s allowing fans to create products truly inspired by the things they personally enjoy. We know these things can happen when you have a lot of user-generated content, but hopefully more brands (and celebrities!) will take note and want to work together with fans to create amazing products!

NYU law professor Christopher Sprigman tweeted that he believes Left Shark is not copyrightable because it qualifies as a “useful article,” which would mean it is not protected the same way as an artistic work.

Both Thingiverse and Shapeways are home to scores of ostensibly copyrighted models, including memes. While it’s hard to say who has the rights to sad Keanu or doge, Pokemon figurines are a little more black and white. Both sites have received takedown requests in the past, but designs tend to stay up until a letter arrives.

The Joseph Ducreux, AKA "Disregard females, acquire currency", meme, 3D printed by Shapeways.

The Joseph Ducreux, AKA “Disregard females, acquire currency”, meme, 3D printed by Shapeways.

IP law finds itself in an unchartered space with the rise of 3D printing, though new models are beginning to emerge. Shapeways has entered into partnerships with a few companies like Hasbro that allow anyone to model their characters, and then funnel some of the sale proceeds back to the copyright holder.

If you absolutely must get your hands on a 3D printed Left Shark, Sosa is urging people to download it from Thingiverse before the site receives a similar letter.

Left Shark rose to fame during the Super Bowl halftime show Sunday. Katy Perry sang “Teenage Dream” among dancing beach balls, trees and two sharks. While Right Shark had the dance down, Left Shark had to improvise a bit. But that didn’t stop him from dancing with everything his little shark heart had to give.

3D print like lawyers aren’t watching, dance like Left Shark.

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This story was updated at 2:15 p.m. PT with more details on copyright and Left Shark.

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