Here’s another example of copyright law misuse. A news article published by Wired reported that Apple Computer alleged a copyright violation and was able to get eBay to remove a U2 special edition iPod from it’s listing. Although the article reported the iPod was “modified,” the only thing modified was the box the unit came in. The iPod itself was misleadingly described as “modified” but perhaps the more appropriate term describing the iPod should have been “used.”
The owner did nothing more than load Negativland albums onto the iPod with audiovisual clips from other artists and corporations, labeled the box “Special Edition U2 vs. Negativland” and added pictures of Negativland to the box. The Negativland albums are included in the auction so that the legitimacy of the music would be the same as if an individual bought an iPod and the Negativland albums, brought them home and personally loaded the albums onto the iPod.
Francis Hwang, the seller, states:
"This unauthorized modification is an artful mashup of the forces or corporate megarock and obscure experimental music, and a provocative symbol of the ongoing struggle between those who would confine culture and those who would free it."
and intended to make a statement about U2’s 1991 copyright battle with Negativland over the unauthorized parody of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”
It appears that eBay removed the listing because the seller described the item as “unauthorized” and Apple complained their copyrights were violated. Needless to say, it has surprised intellectual property attorneys because Negativland did not object to having their sound recordings loaded into the iPod and sold by auction with the accompanying CDs and thus, does not appear to be infringing on the sound recordings.
Because the sound recordings do not appear to be an issue, the only other possible copyright issue is the modified packaging. Although the seller modified box, it can be argued that he didn’t copy any copyrighted element from the packaging but rather created an unauthorized parody by adding additional labels that either supplemented or covered up the copyrighted elements on the original packaging to make a statement about U2’s battle with Negativland.
Perhaps Fred von Lohmann of the Electronic Frontier Foundation summed it up perfectly with the statement: “We always have to be careful when people invoke intellectual-property rights in order to stop things that have nothing to do with IP.”
Perhaps eBay was being too cautious by removing the listing simply because the seller described it as “unauthorized” and Apple made a seemingly baseless copyright complaint. Perhaps Francis Hwang should ditch the controversial box and delete the word “unauthorized” in the item description. Would certainly be interesting to see what’s the basis of the next copyright complaint if one surfaces at all.