Opinion

Alison Frankel

Google friends swamp 9th Circuit in ‘Innocence of Muslims’ case

Alison Frankel
Apr 15, 2014 23:06 UTC

Is there anyone who doesn’t sympathize with the actor Cindy Lee Garcia, who was baldly deceived into appearing in the abhorrent anti-Islam film “Innocence of Muslims”?

The filmmaker, a shadowy character who goes by three different names, told Garcia she’d be appearing in “Desert Warrior,” an adventure movie set in the Middle East. Instead, he overdubbed her lines to make it appear as though the actress was accusing the prophet Mohammed of pedophilia, and included her brief scene in a screed so incendiary that it inspired riots in Egypt and elsewhere in the Muslim world.

Targeted by death threats, Garcia eventually sued Google to force its YouTube unit to block the video. In February, she won a ruling from a divided three-judge panel at the 9th U.S. Court of Appeals, ordering Google to take down the film because Garcia was likely to prevail on her claim that ‘Innocence’ infringes her copyright on her individual performance.

The 9th Circuit opinion, written by Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, set off a furor of its own in the film industry, in which hundreds of individuals contribute to a single finished product. Could any one of them – actors, set designers, makeup artists – block distribution of a movie by crying infringement? In March, when Google’s lawyers at Hogan Lovells petitioned for a rehearing before the entire 9th Circuit, they pointed out that the panel’s ruling was at odds with the U.S. Copyright Office’s policy – and with the Copyright Office’s brand-new determination that Garcia is not entitled to a copyright on the performance that showed up in “Innocence.”

This week was the deadline for amicus briefs on Google’s petition. And if Garcia felt alone and exposed before, she must feel even more so now.

First Amendment protects Internet search results: N.Y. judge

Alison Frankel
Mar 28, 2014 17:34 UTC

U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman of Manhattan grabbed the chance Thursday to set precedent on a question that has received surprisingly little attention in the courts: Does the First Amendment’s protection of free speech extend to the results of Internet searches? Furman was clearly captivated by the issue as an intellectual challenge, delving into the vigorous academic discussion of the First Amendment and Internet search even deeper than the two sides in the case, the Chinese search engine Baidu and the activists who sued the site for supposedly violating their civil rights by blocking their pro-democracy works from appearing in search results. In a supersmart opinion that Furman seems to have written to be widely read, the judge concluded that when search engines exercise editorial judgment – even if that judgment is just algorithms that determine how results will be listed – they are entitled to free speech protection.

That protection, he said, is quite broad in scope. “There is a strong argument to be made that the First Amendment fully immunizes search-engine results from most, if not all, kinds of civil liability and government regulation,” Furman wrote. “The central purpose of a search engine is to retrieve relevant information from the vast universe of data on the Internet and to organize it in a way that would be most helpful to the searcher. In doing so, search engines inevitably make editorial judgments about what information (or kinds of information) to include in the results and how and where to display that information (for example, on the first page of the search results or later).”

The judge said U.S. Supreme Court precedent on the First Amendment “all but compels” his conclusion. The plaintiffs in the Baidu case are New York residents accusing the search engine of suppressing their political speech at the behest of the Chinese government. Those allegations, Furman wrote, necessarily imply that Baidu is exercising editorial judgment. So the search engine, he said, is no different from a newspaper editor deciding what stories to run, a guidebook writer picking which events to highlight or Matt Drudge making judgments “about which stories to link and how prominently to feature them.” And though it might seem counterintuitive that the right of free speech would protect editorial judgments to squelch free speech, Furman said that’s the point of the First Amendment.

How Apple botched its fair rate case against Motorola

Alison Frankel
Nov 6, 2012 23:50 UTC

I know Apple is a brilliantly managed company represented by brilliant outside counsel. But I cannot for the life of me figure out Apple’s endgame strategy in its breach-of-contract case against Motorola in federal court in Madison, Wisconsin.

Apple had a chance to mitigate Google’s leverage from Motorola’s standard-essential patents in the smartphone wars. Instead, it squandered more than 18 months of litigation, refusing on the eve of trial to agree to abide by the court’s determination of a fair and reasonable royalty rate for Motorola’s IP unless U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb set a rate of no more than $1 per iPhone. As a result, Crabb dismissed Apple’s case Monday, on the day she was to have begun a bench trial on Apple’s breach-of-contract claim. Her ruling means Apple may not be able to bring similar claims against Motorola in any other U.S. court, which robs the iPhone maker of powerful leverage in the global smart device war.

From my reading of Crabb’s orders and Apple’s responses in the week leading to Monday’s dismissal, Apple must have known it was at extreme risk of this outcome. The chain of events began with Crabb’s 57-page decision on Oct. 29, which outlined the scope of the trial that was scheduled to begin the following week. Apple’s lawyers at Covington & Burling and Tensegrity Law Group should have been happy with Crabb’s ruling, which held that Apple could, indeed, compel Motorola to offer Apple a license for its standard-essential IP on fair and reasonable terms. Specific performance, as that relief is known, is extraordinary in a breach-of-contract case, Crabb acknowledged, but she said that the circumstances of this dispute, in which the two sides are manifestly incapable of negotiation, justify it. Crabb went on to say (like U.S. District Judge James Robartof Seattle in Microsoft’s parallel breach-of-contract case against Motorola) that she would first have todetermine a fair licensing rate for Motorola’s patents and would then decide whether Motorola breached its obligation to license the IP to Apple on reasonable terms. If she found Motorola in breach, she said, she might order it to offer its IP to Apple on the terms she set.

More Apple antitrust woes: CEO, directors at hub of poaching case

Alison Frankel
Apr 19, 2012 22:36 UTC

It’s not easy for antitrust plaintiffs to get past a defense motion to dismiss. Before the U.S. Supreme Court raised the pleading standard for everyone in Ashcroft v. Iqbal in 2009, it imposed that tough burden on antitrust claimants in Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, a 2007 opinion that held it’s not enough just to argue that alleged conspirators engaged in parallel price-fixing. Under Twombly, antitrust complaints have to offer detailed and specific facts to support a plausible argument that defendants colluded to restrict competition.

On Wednesday evening, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh of San Francisco federal court ruled that software engineers in a putative class action against Apple, Google, Intel, Intuit, Lucasfilm, Adobe, and Pixar met that high standard. As the judge explained in her 29-page opinion, it certainly helped the plaintiffs that the defendants all entered consent decrees with the Justice Department in 2010, agreeing to end their practice of restricting cold calls to recruit one another’s engineers. But what really convinced the judge not to dismiss the engineers’ case was the “significant influence” of former Apple CEO Steve Jobs; Google chairman and Apple board member Eric Schmidt; and Apple and Google director Arthur Levinson.

At least one of those three men, Koh said, had a hand in each of the six bilateral anti-poaching agreements among the defendants. “Their overlapping board membership lends plausibility to plaintiffs’ allegations that each defendant entered into this conspiracy ‘with knowledge of the other defendants’ participation in the conspiracy, and with the intent of . . . reduc(ing) employee compensation and mobility through eliminating competition for skilled labor,’” the judge wrote.

Apple and Microsoft v. Google: patent war shifts to antitrust

Alison Frankel
Apr 4, 2012 19:27 UTC

In a really smart piece last month, my Reuters pal Dan Levine wrote that Steve Jobs’ promise to kill Google’s Android operating system has not been fulfilled. Instead, wrote Levine and co-author Poornima Gupta, Apple’s patent war against Android users Motorola, Samsung, and HTC had become “a costly global war of attrition.” Both sides have won skirmishes, but no battle has been decisive. The Reuters story quoted Judge Richard Posner of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, who is overseeing a Motorola case in U.S. District Court in Chicago. “You’re not going to shut down the smartphone,” Posner told Apple’s lawyer. “[And] they’re not going to shut down the iPhone.”

The exact same thing could be said of Microsoft’s patent war with Google and its Android acolytes. When the smartphone patent infringement cases launched in 2009 and 2010, maybe it was feasible that one or two of the big three could kill off another of them. But since then, with Apple and Microsoft teaming up to buy Nortel patents and Google countering with its purchase of Motorola Mobility, this war has become a standoff that can only be resolved with cross-licensing deals.

That’s why antitrust arguments — as opposed to patent infringement claims — have been creeping into the spotlight over the last few months. On Tuesday, the European Union announced that it has opened antitrust investigations of Motorola’s demands for licensing fees on standard-setting patents, following complaints by both Microsoft and Apple. (Google’s Android partners, of course, have lobbed similar allegations of patent extortion at Microsoft.) The goal of such claims is to drive down the cost of licensing one another’s patents. In other words, if you can’t beat ‘em, pay as little as possible to join ‘em.

Following Google, Microsoft tries to unring a bell

Alison Frankel
Nov 17, 2011 20:03 UTC

The big guns are rolling out on both sides of Microsoft’s patent infringement suit against Barnes & Noble at the U.S. International Trade Commission. Microsoft has no fewer than four firms (Sidley Austin; Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe; Woodcock Washburn; and Adduci, Mastriani and Schaumberg) working on the six-month-old case, in which it accuses Barnes & Noble’s Nook e-readers of infringing Microsoft patents. Barnes & Noble this week supplemented its team of Cravath, Swaine & Moore and Kenyon & Kenyon with Paul Brinkman‘s group from Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan. The Quinn addition is notable because Barnes & Noble’s devices use Google’s Android operating system; Quinn, which is one of Google’s go-to IP firms, previously defended the Android system in Apple’s ITC case against HTC.

When it comes to Android, Microsoft and Google don’t exactly think the same way, as you’ll see below. But there is one issue on which they have a peculiar alignment of interests: they’re both trying to put the kibosh on supposedly confidential information that’s jumped from litigation into the public domain.

Google, as you’ll no doubt recall, has been fighting for months to undo the damage an email written by one of its Android engineers has apparently caused to Google’s defense of Oracle’s Java infringement claims. (The engineer, Tim Lindholm, said all alternatives to Java “suck” and Google should license the software code.) Google has been arguing, without any success, that Oracle improperly introduced the damning email into the record and all traces of it should be purged — even though, by now, Lindholm’s email is plastered all over the Internet.

Nortel IP sale will help Google win OK for Motorola bid

Alison Frankel
Aug 18, 2011 22:43 UTC

Remember the Cold War military doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction? The idea was that if the United States and the Soviet Union both knew the enemy had enough weapons to wipe the entire country off the map, neither would actually use those weapons. Mutually Assured Destruction got the entire world through the age of fallout shelters and Barry Goldwater. So the doctrine should be powerful enough to get Google, Apple and Microsoft past Justice Department antitrust regulators.

It’s a given that Google’s $12.5 billion Motorola bid is going to be scrutinized for its antitrust implications. Google’s law firm on the deal, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, has conceded that point; the firm announced that David Gelfand – who previously escorted Google unscathed through antitrust reviews of its DoubleClick and AdMob acquisitions — will be antitrust counsel on the Motorola bid. The $4.5 billion acquisition of Nortel’s intellectual property by a consortium led by Microsoft and Apple is already under review by the DOJ’s antitrust division. I’m betting that each patent plays will have an easier time passing regulatory muster because of the other.

Before I get to why, there’s the issue of which agency will be investigating the Google deal. Both the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department have the power to conduct premerger antitrust reviews. They’ve both looked at Google acquisitions in the past: the FTC green-lighted the 2007 DoubleClick and 2010 AdMob deals; the DOJ rejected Google’s proposed advertising partnership with Yahoo in 2008 and approved, with some modifications, its deal with ITA Software in 2011. The FTC is also reportedly conducting a widespread antitrust investigation of Google’s search engine business. But I have it on good authority that the Justice Department will be handling the Motorola review, partly because DOJ has historically overseen competition in the telephone industry and is already reviewing the AT&T merger with T-Mobile and the Nortel IP sale.

Microsoft beats Google in Motorola fight

Alison Frankel
Aug 16, 2011 22:42 UTC

Monday was mostly a good day for Google and Motorola. Unless you’re on vacation where there’s no Internet access, in which case you’re not reading this, you’re surely aware that Google announced its $12.5 billion acquisition of Motorola, which means that Google is picking up one of the best patent portfolios in wireless history — and supposedly had the pleasure of besting Microsoft in doing so. But the news wasn’t all good for Google and its new best friend, Motorola. Deep down in the patent litigation trenches at the U.S. International Trade Commission, Administrative Law Judge Theodore Essex denied Google’s high-profile, third-party motion for sanctions against Microsoft in Microsoft’s infringement suit against Motorola.

Okay, so it’s not exactly on a par with the $12.5 billion deal. It’s a little humbling, though, for Google and its lawyers at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan. As I mentioned yesterday, Google filed an Aug. 10 motion for sanctions in the Microsoft ITC case, claiming that Microsoft violated a confidentiality order when it disclosed Google code to one of its experts without informing Google. (The ITC proceeding, in case you hadn’t figured it out, involves Motorola products that employ Google’s Android operating system.) Google asserted that when it found out what Microsoft planned to disclose, in-house lawyer Matthew Warren emailed a Microsoft lawyer to request a conference. Microsoft, according to Google, didn’t respond. Google then filed the sanctions motion.

But Judge Essex said Google rushed to judgment. The ground rules in the case, in which just about everything is (frustratingly) shielded by the confidentiality order, say that any party that objects to another’s use of confidential materials has to make a good-faith effort to resolve the dispute, and then must wait two days before filing a motion for sanctions. “The ALJ finds no basis to discern from Google’s statement whether Google made a reasonable, good-faith effort to resolve the matter with Microsoft,” Judge Essex wrote. “The ALJ notes to Google failed to attach the Warren email to its motion and it is unclear whether Google even notified Microsoft of its intention to file the instant motion.”

Google’s Motorola deal is good news for Quinn Emanuel

Alison Frankel
Aug 15, 2011 19:00 UTC

There are all sorts of questions out there about Google’s $12.5 billion acquisition of Motorola Mobility. What will the deal mean for HTC and Samsung, the other cellphone makers using the Android platform? Will the merger force Microsoft to make a bid for Nokia? And is Carl Icahn, Motorola’s biggest shareholder, finally satisfied? I’ll leave it to others to ruminate on all that. I’m interested, as always, in what this deal means for lawyers.

The one clear answer is that a union between Google and Motorola is a good thing for Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan.

Quinn’s Charlie Verhoeven and his patent litigation team are favorites of both Google and Motorola in the smartphone wars. With Google’s endorsement, Quinn has been representing both Samsung and HTC in high-stakes litigation against Apple; Quinn got those assignments after amassing an impressive collection of patent trial wins for Google in the Eastern District of Texas. (Even Verhoeven and Google can’t win ‘em all; I reported in May on a $5 million verdict against Google in the Bedrock patent trial.)

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