Monday, July 21, 2014

Phony Maps & Copyright Traps

By all accounts, Ohio native Lillian Mountweazel (1942-1973) lived an interesting life. The former fountain designer turned to photography at the tender age of 21, exhibiting and publishing her critically-acclaimed photographs of such far-ranging subjects as Parisian cemeteries and American mailboxes. Mountweazel died at just 31 years old in an explosion, while on an assignment for Combustibles magazine. Had she lived a bit longer, she might have eventually settled down in Agloe, New York or Argleton, England -- places which, like Lillian Mountweazel, never really existed.

Those are just a few examples of copyright traps: fabrications deliberately tucked into otherwise factual publications in order to detect third-party copying. Copyright traps can be found in a variety of sources like:
  • Encyclopedias: Lillian Mountweazel was an invention of The New Columbia Encyclopedia (1975). "If someone copied Lillian," editor Richard Steins told The New Yorker in 2005, "then we'd know they'd stolen from us."
  • Dictionaries: In 2005, linguistic experts uncovered the New Oxford American Dictionary's copyright trap, "esquivalience." Defined as "the willful avoidance of one’s official responsibilities; the shirking of duties," editors confirmed it had been invented and inserted to detect copying. (The word appeared in both the first and second editions of the dictionary, but has been dropped from the most recent 3d edition.)
  • Telephone directories: A dispute over phony phone-book entries made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1991. In the seminal copyright case Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service Co., 499 US 340 (1991), plaintiffs included twenty-eight fictitious listings in their telephone directory, from which defendants copied four. Writing for a unanimous Court, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor held that the plaintiff's directory listings were uncopyrightable facts, and their basic arrangement lacked sufficient originality to receive protection from the copyright laws.
  • Search engine results: More recently, search engine competitors have used fictitious results as a way to detect copying. In 2011, Google created 100 fictitious search engine results for gibberish words like "hiybbprqag." Google later accused rival search engine Bing of stealing its results for these made-up entries. See a detailed review of the sting operation, complete with screen shots, at Search Engine Land.
Perhaps the most interesting examples of copyright traps occur in the world of cartography. Last week, the blog Atlas Obscura highlighted the age-old map-making practice of "trap streets" or even fictitious towns, such as the famously non-existent Argleton, England. Its American equivalent, Agloe, New York, was covered earlier this year by NPR and Big Think. It's impossible to know how many other "phantom settlements" might be lurking in old maps – a 1902 National Geographic Magazine article on map copyright law describes the practice, saying that "occasionally some map-makers intentionally introduce slight errors in order to more effectually catch the unwary infringer. Appearance of such an intentional error has been held evidence of copying."

In the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court's Feist decision, though, it seemed likely that trap streets and other fictitious map entries would be treated similarly to fictitious telephone directory listings – that is, as uncopyrightable facts. Atlas Obscura cites a Pennsylvania federal court opinion from Alexandria Drafting Co. v. Amsterdam, No. 95-1587 (E.D. Pa. June 4, 1997), which addressed the copying of trap streets, and held for the defendant after applying the reasoning of Feist. It should be noted, however, that legal research citators like Westlaw's KeyCite and LexisNexis's Shepard's service reveal that this particular opinion was withdrawn and vacated by the same court a year later, on June 22, 1998, by an order which read in part, "THE 6/4/97 DECISION IS WITHDRAWN AND VACATED AND OF NO FURTHER FORCE OR EFFECT." (According to a party brief in an unrelated case from the 2d Circuit Court of Appeals, this opinion withdrawal was part of a confidential settlement agreement between Alexandria Drafting and Amsterdam. Brief for Defendants-Appellees Cross-Appellants, Sparaco v. Lawler, No. 99-9519, 2002 WL 32174330 (2d Cir. June 28, 2002), at 29-30.) But while Alexandria Drafting Co. itself should no longer be cited by legal researchers, its reasoning and application of Feist would likely be repeated in future, similar court opinions concerning copyright traps.

To learn more about copyright law, check out the Goodson Law Library's research guide to Intellectual Property or Ask a Librarian.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Updated Guide to North Carolina Practice

The Goodson Law Library's research guide to North Carolina Practice has just been updated. This guide outlines primary and secondary legal research resources for the state of North Carolina, in both print and electronic formats. So what's changed in the latest version of this guide, besides updates to links and book editions?
  • A new section with guidance on researching North Carolina legislative history, including links to General Assembly study reports and digitized versions of House and Senate journals.
  • Updates to the list of A-Z Subject Treatises to include North Carolina Continuing Legal Education (CLE) publications, which are now available to the Duke Law School community via Bloomberg Law's secondary sources menu.
  • Improved instructions for accessing online versions of other treatises on LexisNexis and WestlawNext, as well as N.C. pattern jury instructions through Fastcase (which is provided free to members of the N.C. Bar Association, and is the only electronic source for the state's pattern jury instructions).
Thanks to Reference Intern Aaron Kirschenfeld for his work on updating the N.C. Practice research guide. For help with accessing the listed resources, or for other questions about North Carolina legal materials, be sure to Ask a Librarian.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Rotten Links (Are Big Time-Sinks)

It's no secret that web links can be unreliable. The Chesapeake Digital Preservation Group, which has been reporting on website "link rot" since 2008, said in its 2013 annual report that nearly half of the links from its original website sample list no longer work; this includes a number of government and educational websites. A similar study of websites cited by the U.S. Supreme Court from 1996-2010 showed that nearly one-third of the cited links were no longer functional. As the A.B.A. Journal reported in December, groups including Chesapeake as well as (of which Duke Law is a member) are working to combat the problem going forward, but in many cases the damage has already been done.

So what can researchers do when they encounter a dead website URL? A blueprint can be found in chapter 6 of the latest edition of Levitt & Rosch's new reference work The Cybersleuth's Guide to the Internet: Conducting Effective Free Investigative & Legal Research on the Web. For pages which were changed or moved very recently, you may be able to access a cached version through your preferred search engine. Google, Bing and Yahoo all provide temporary "cached" copies of the last time their search engine's crawler visited a particular page. On Yahoo search results, a link for the "Cached" version of each page is displayed prominently; on Google and Bing, cached options must be accessed through a drop-down arrow next to the page's URL.

Cached versions of pages change frequently. To view versions of a web page which are older than available search engine caches, try the Wayback Machine, which provides archived versions of specific web pages, dating back to 1996 in some cases. Enter the website URL in the search box to view a timeline of available archived versions. For example, the Goodson Law Library home page has been archived back to February 1999 (back when it was known as the Duke University Law Library, or D.U.L.L.).

 Note that many websites request to be excluded from the Wayback Machine, and even archived versions of pages may not always display properly. (For an example, note the broken image files in this early 1999 snapshot of the Duke Law Library site. They load quickly and effectively by the snapshots from 2000.) Sometimes, top-level archived pages will display properly, but lower-level pages will result in an error message. In addition, content which was generated dynamically (e.g., from a built-in site search) on a site, and downloads such as PDF files, may still be inaccessible via the Wayback Machine. However, the site remains a great option for accessing older versions of known URLs.

For help with tracking down a broken link, be sure to Ask a Librarian.