Someone Else Owns Your Property Information: The Impact of MLS Copyright Protection

Posted by: Stephen Mostrom

April 18, 2015

Blog Post 3 - ImageIn the United States, the real estate industry is driven by brokers. A broker acts as a liaison between buyer and seller, collecting, on average, a 6% fee for selling a home. The seller is willing to pay this fee—more than 90% of residential home sellers do—because the broker provides a wealth of expertise on a particular market. But where does the broker get his information?

Increasingly, online databases are being used to gather and disseminate information, and the real estate industry is no exception. In the real estate industry, a prominent series of property databases—known as MLS or Multiple Listing Service—has created what it terms an open exchange of information between brokers, embodied by the principle: “Help me sell my inventory and I’ll help you sell yours.”

Yet, while MLS databases provide a free flow of information between brokers and the public, the companies behind these databases have used copyright law to claim ownership of the information. Brokers are free to add and withdrawal information, but they have no ownership stake in the database and are thus limited in their use.

This article will look at the copyright protections afforded online databases—specifically MLS—and how the companies behind MLS data have used this protection to limit the movement of data. Continue reading


Is Your Company’s Client List Really A Trade Secret? The Answer May Be No.

Posted by: Stepehn Mostrom

April 18, 2015

Blog Post 2 - ImageThe trade secret may be the most valuable, and most misunderstood, form of intellectual property available to a company today. Customer lists and other similar compilations of information are considered proprietary by many organizations, but are they afforded the protection of law? Some courts say no.

To complicate matters, a trade secret “is one of the most elusive and difficult concepts in the law to define.” Unlike patents and trademarks, which are grounded in filings with the USPTO and made public, trade secrets derive their value from secrecy and the maintaining of secrecy.

“[T]he subject of a trade secret must be secret, and must not be of public knowledge or of a general knowledge in the trade or business.”

Kewanee Oil Co. v. Bicron Corp. (1974)

Yet, as the Internet continues to expand the amount and availability of information—taking information that was once difficult to come by and putting it in the hands of millions of users—courts must grapple with what constitutes a viable secret, and whether there are some secrets that no longer deserve protection. Continue reading

A Game of Piracy and Licenses

Posted by: Bryan Zhao

April 19, 2015

DVDGame of Thrones is one of HBO’s most popular series and a significant driver of income for the company. Recently, the show released its fifth season to viewers, attracting over 8 million viewers. It should have been a resounding success, but that success was dampened by a leak of the four episodes, nearly half of the new season. While the leak will presumably affect its business, HBO likely has a greater interest on a different front: DVD sales and the secondary DVD sale market, which may be in jeopardy soon.


The first sale doctrine generally allows for consumers that purchase a copyrighted work to sell or dispose of the copyrighted work as they see fit. Prior to the increased reliance on digital media, the doctrine was simple to understand. If you buy a book, you’re free to either resell, loan, or give away that book at your own discretion. The first sale doctrine is essentially what allows libraries to loan out books, movies, and sometimes even games to its patrons, as well as the reason why it’s okay to buy used games, books, and CDs at garage sales or online auctions.

When you buy computer software, you may not actually be the owner of that software. Between 2005 and 2007, a man named Timothy Vernor sold several copies of Autodesk, Inc.’s “Release 14” software on eBay. After several disputes between Vernor and Autodesk, the sides turned to the courts to make a ruling on whether Vernor’s sales were permissible in Vernor v. Autodesk, Inc., 621 F.3d 1102 (9th Cir. 2010). Autodesk’s argument primarily relies on the idea of the purchaser of the software being a licensee to use the software rather than the owner of the software. An owner would be permitted to resell the product, but a licensee is only granted a nontransferable license. The court found that even though Vernor purchased a physical copy of the software and he never consented to the fact that he was only a licensee of the software, he still did not actually own the software and was therefore not permitted to resell it on eBay to a third party.

This result is very counterintuitive to the first sale doctrine; even if you physically purchase a box, CD, and product key with software, you may not necessarily be the owner of that particular copy. Continue reading

The Illegality of DDoS

Posted by: Bryan Zhao

April 19, 2015

Denial-of-service_attackHave you ever wondered why certain websites, despite being backed by companies with a seemingly endless budget, can slow to a halt or even seemingly disappear for hours, days, or even longer at a time? While sometimes the crash in access is caused by innocuous sources, such as maintenance, hardware malfunction, or errors, there are other occasions when the reason for the crash could be much more malicious action: DDoS. While many readers may have heard of the term or even know what a DDoS consists of as well as the fact that performing a DDoS attack may lead to criminal liability, they most likely have never researched why that is so. Additionally, they may not know Continue reading

Twitch and Copyright Liability

Posted by: Bryan Zhao

April 19, 2015 is a website that provides video gamers with a centralized location to share and stream their video game experiences with others. Another blog post about Twitch is available on this site here. In August of 2014, Twitch was purchased by Amazon for roughly $970 million in cash. Upon the change in ownership, it implemented a new audio recognition policy to automatically flag content that includes copyrighted music during broadcasts. While the broadcast is not immediately muted, Twitch records and saves streams as videos on demand (“VOD”s) and automatically mutes any flagged stream. The change in policy likely exists so that the site does not violate 17 U.S. Code § 512(a)(4), which is required to maintain safe harbor protection for acts of copyright infringement committed by broadcasters. While the change was unpopular, it was a necessary change to protect Twitch and indirectly Amazon from eventual legal action. However, Twitch may also need to do more to prevent other copyright infringement claims in the future. Continue reading

Exploring the Deep Web

Posted by Shemmyla Green

April 19, 2015


Deep WebWe are living in a menacing world today where our every move is tracked and our most personal and valuable information is copied and stored. Our phones track our locations. Our credit card transactions track our purchases. Our Internet searches track our interest and inquiries. Every technological device we own is storing data about us, not to mention all of the additional voluntary information we give up on social media. This information is available to those that are tech savvy enough to access it. Some groups have a vested interest in this information e.g., big business, terrorists and especially the Government. As cliché as it may sound, “Big Brother Is Watching You.” For this very reason, many people are taking to Deep Web to become anonymous in their Internet activities. But is the Deep Web truly anonymous? Continue reading

Cyberspace Crime, War Crime and ISIS

Posted by: Shemmyla Green

April 19, 2015


Cyber Caliphate – ISIS

The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) has been committing large-scale war crimes and crimes against humanity in the areas under its control, in Syria and Iraq. Now this group wants to add hacking to its “rule of terror” portfolio, which includes massacres, beheadings, sexual enslavement and forced pregnancy. Isis has been recruiting hackers for some time now. Some are virtual collaborators from a distance, but others have been recruited to emigrate to Syria,” said JM Berger, co-author of Isis: The State of Terror. Continue reading

Apps and Jurisdiction: Are apps automatically creating personal jurisdiction for app creators?

Posted by: David Medina

April 19, 2015


Iphone_2The law on internet jurisdiction has been complicated from day one. Prior to the internet, a company’s actions had to be fairly deliberate to cause them to be exposed to personal jurisdiction in a given state. The reason for such a relatively strict rule was that otherwise, a company that had a website could be exposed to personal jurisdiction in every state since the internet is accessible everywhere. So to make things fair, companies were only exposed to personal jurisdiction in states where they actively tried to conduct business or otherwise had a significant amount of interaction with people in that state. Smartphone apps threaten to upset that balance.

Interaction with customers in a given state is currently the prerequisite for personal jurisdiction, but almost by definition, smartphone apps are designed to create interaction between the app creator and the app user. The question I am presenting is: does the interaction apps seek to create automatically render app creators subject to personal jurisdiction in every state in which someone downloads the app? Continue reading

Periscope vs. HBO

Posted by: Marcus Beecher

April 19, 2015

HBO_LogoOn March 26, 2015, Twitter released Periscope. Periscope allows users to broadcast what they (or their devices) are seeing in real-time to their followers. The makers of Periscope intend the app to become “a way of discovering the world through someone else’s eyes,” or, in different words, a “visual pulse of what’s happening right now.” A Periscope user can open the app, push a button, and start filming. That user’s followers will be notified that the user is ‘live’ and can then view what the user is filming, as the user is filming it.

Anybody who follows cyberspace law probably read the last paragraph and thought: ‘an app that allows users to broadcast anything their phone is pointing at? Ya, that’s going to lead to some serious copyright infringement.’

Indeed. It would appear that quite a few Periscope users recently pointed their phones at their TV screens, and broadcasted Game of Thrones to their followers. HBO, of course, is not happy about this development. In fact, HBO is seemingly not happy about Periscope in general, calling it a potential tool for “mass copyright infringement.” Continue reading

Our Changing Perception of Privacy

Posted by: Vikram Amritraj

April 19, 2015

town-sign-83730_640 Today, we generally think about the concept of privacy as something of an inherent right. Just the thought of others having access to our intimate actions or thoughts invokes a sense of intrusion and unrest. However, this was not always the case, and the social notion of ‘privacy’ as we know it may be a relatively new development, a function of new technologies and a changing society. Given this context, is the current battle over privacy in cyberspace a reasonable one? I would argue that it is, mainly because privacy is a fluid, societal concept and we need to figure out what it means to us in today’s interconnected world. Continue reading