Oops, a contract lost: Jay-Z wins logo suit.

roc-a-fella_recordsShawn Carter — the man, the myth, the legend, and the hip-hop mogul better known in the music world as Jay-Z — seems to be in court a lot for something or the other. Recently he prevailed in a legal tussle over the logo used by the record label that made him famous.

When Roc-A-fella Records Inc. and Roc-A-Fella Records LLC were created in 1996 and 1997, respectively by the trio of Damon “Dame” Dash, Kareem “Biggs” Burke, and Carter, they needed a logo to set them apart from other labels in the music industry. Dwayne D. Walker Jr. claims the trio enlisted his services to accomplish this task. He may have assisted. But a federal judge has decided the entrepreneur trio did not owe Walker any money. The court dismissed Walker’s claim, seeking $7 million and accusing the trio of breaching a contract that Walker claimed only Dash signed two decades ago. No, the dog didn’t eat Walker’s homework. But he couldn’t find a crucial document. (more…)

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1,000 words? Does ‘willful’ apply to 5 pictures?


Run-DMC, the iconic hip-hop trio, clearly realized the huge cool factor in the pictures taken of them by the renowned photographer Glen E. Friedman.  So, too, did Sony Music, which secured rights from him allowing Run-DMC fans to download his hot pictures as “wallpaper” for their computer screens.

But the shooter, legally speaking, cried “Whaddup?!” when he learned that Live Nation Merchandise had found his images’ sufficiently compelling that it used five of his pictures on T-shirts and a wall calendar. The company said it had a process by which it asked Run-DMC to approve the sale of the goods.

It wasn’t clear with the artists, though, that they needed to secure copyright approvals from Friedman. The colloquy over what went wrong got set right recently by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which rejected some of Friedman’s claims but left Live Nation open to potentially paying even more for a “willful” whoops — possibly removing copyright markings from the photographer’s works and infringing on his rights to them. (more…)

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Judge pulps copyright suit against ‘Lemonade’

The critics went crazy with their raves when Beyonce Giselle Knowles-Carter, aka just Beyonce, let loose with a grim, discordant, pained blast with her latest album Lemonade. It was promoted with a broadcast HBO special, which, in turn, had a suitably moody, terse trailer. That tiny cinematic bit, however, especially flipped out an indie filmmaker, who sued Beyonce, asserting that her visual sip of Lemonade, 39 of the 60 seconds in the trailer, had infringed on his copyrights for his film Palinoia multiple times and in multiple ways.

But a noted federal judge in Manhattan, displaying he could be quite the cineaste/critic, had not only a simple but also a fast and stinging reply: No way.

U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff, just weeks after the case was filed, has dismissed the summer suit against Beyoncé, with prejudice. He ruled just before Labor Day but his 32-page opinion has now become available (thanks to SDNY blog for putting it online). It’s a detailed burn of the claims by Matthew Fulks, the Louisville, Ky.-based, independent filmmaker who sued Beyonce and five other defendants, claiming elements of the film trailer and the film itself promoting Lemonade infringed upon his short Palinoia. (more…)

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‘Domino,’ Jesse J untoppled in copyright suit


Although federal judges at two different levels were offered a glimpse of some top pop performers’ supposedly cozy creative lives, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has knocked down like so many dominoes the elements of a plaintiff-proffered conspiracy theory about alleged copyright infringement involving a hit song.

That led the appellate judges, affirming a district court ruling, to give Jessica Cornish, the British singer, and chart-topping songwriter better known as Jessie J, a clear legal victory in early September over plaintiff Will Loomis.

He was a rising star in the Santa Barbara indie music scene and had claimed that Jessie J’s 2011 hit, Domino, infringed on Bright Red Chords, a tune that he and his band, The Lust, had limited success with in 2009. (more…)

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‘Oh, Really?’ Pokemon chased by legal reality

508800-pokemon-goIn our ‘Oh, Really?’  feature, the Biederman Blog’s editors and alumni— voracious consumers of trendy matters — cast a curious, skeptical, fun and smart end-of-the-week eye on popular culture and its entertaining products, sharing their keen observations about legal matters these raise.

Who knows how many millennials and youngsters spent the long Labor Day holiday chasing Pikachu, Eevee, and Jigglypuff? Who knows how many will race out this weekend to pursue Squirtle, Bulbasaur, and Charmander? And where’s Tauros or Mr. Mime?

“Gotta catch ‘em all, Pokémon!” rang out the ’90s theme song every Saturday morning on the cartoon show iconic to a  generation fully coming into its own. Now, history is repeating itself, as  kids, teens, and, yes, some adults repeat that tune as they zip around trying to “catch” Pokémon on the hot smartphone game app Pokémon Go.

To hear fans of Pokémon Go tell it, its rising technology–augmented reality (AR)–promises everything from mesmerizing new diversions  to innovative ways to present information and content to 100 percent Bar pass rates. But AR, as happens with many novel entertainment technologies, also has run smack into legal reality. (more…)

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An appellate reverse on records law for movies


The movie industry long has fought any efforts to impose content-based restrictions, with the courts and the law recognizing and giving wide berth to Hollywood’s First Amendment privileges.

But a surrogate sector of movie making–the billion-dollar adult entertainment industry–almost from its start has borne the brunt of efforts to impose government restrictions, also battling in the highest courts over whether blue laws are reasonable or outright censorship. These movies makers scored a win recently when the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals threw out a lower court decision and ruled in their favor on a case involving performers and film-makers’ need to maintain records about them.

Though proponents of the requirements said they provided a deterrent to exploitation of under-age actors and actresses and a tool to combat child pornography, which isn’t constitutionally protected, opponents said the rules edged into the territory of content controls barred by the First Amendment. (more…)

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A problematic ruling on password sharing

9th sigThis guest post was contributed by a blog alumna, and a newly graduated Southwestern juris doctor, who notes that she would have weighed in on this topic sooner, except she was studying and sitting for the most recent California Bar exam.

The Internet went into a tizzy early last month when United States v. Nosal came down from the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Blog after blog (after blog) proclaimed that this opinion made it illegal to use another person’s Netflix account. Earlier this year, this blog posted on this topic so how did the situation change?

Bottom line: the court found that defendant David Nosal violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) when he used a former co-worker’s password to access trade-secret information belonging to Korn Ferry, an executive recruiting and human relations company that also was his former employer. He then took this information and used it to set up his own firm in direct competition to Korn Ferry. This would lend credence to the idea that mere password-sharing is illegal.

But it is important to remember that the court made a distinction, differentiating according to the situation. “The circumstance here – former employees whose computer access was categorically revoked and who surreptitiously accessed data owned by their former employer – bears little resemblance to asking a spouse to log into an email account to print a boarding pass,” the appellate judges said. (more…)

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Judge maps out where a mark won’t hold

Mention the appellation Westsiders to those who know well the self-proclaimed entertainment capital of the world, and heads nod in knowing acknowledgement: Yes, those who reside in Los Angeles, west of La Cienega Boulevard, are, indeed, a peculiar people. Similarly, the Pet Shop Boys, an English pop duo, scored a 2000 hit by describing the affinities of London’s distinctive “West End girls and Eastern boys.”

But when it comes to residents of a slice of Manhattan, denizens of the Lower East Side or Loisaidas, is that a sort of generic geographical descriptor en Espanol, or is it a name of a group of people, say, a band, that can be trademark protected by a “urban bachata” duo hailing from the neighborhood? And, more key, if a film mentions Loisaidas repeatedly, including in its title, is that a trademark infringement?

No, a federal judge in New York decided recently,  dismissing a lawsuit against Kanye West, Damon Dash, and various corporate entities associated with Dash. The court found that Loisaidas, the film series by West and Dash, has artistic relevance and is protected by the First Amendment. (more…)

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400,000 reasons to stop a dubious ‘Loca’ lawsuit

A federal judge in New York sent a punishing message to persistent litigants seeking to prolong claims that have proved without merit: Just stop now. And, by the way, he told them, pay up for attorney fees for opposing counsel.

U.S. District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein has ordered Mayimba Music Inc. to fork over $400,000 in legal fees and nontaxable expenses resulting from its curious copyright infringement case against Sony/ATV Latin Music Publishing LLC and Sony/ATV Discos Music Publishing LLC over pop star Shakira’s hit song Loca. The court found that Mayimba had presented dubious evidence and failed to prove infringement. (more…)

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Judge finds foul play in royalties for ‘Foul Play’

Although it may be fashionable to criticize screenplays from days past as quaint and almost cliche in how their plot complications tied up so neatly, a judge in Los Angeles has provided a tidy $6.8 million curtain-closer to a lawsuit over disputed right payments for some older films. In doing so, Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle has agreed with plaintiffs that there really was foul play over sums owed to the estates of Foul Play screenwriter Colin Higgins and others.

Berle recently approved a $6.8 million settlement of a class action lawsuit against Paramount Pictures Corp.  by Colin Higgins Productions. The suit disputed video royalty payments, and was one of several legal actions filed against Hollywood studios, and now slowly coming to resolution. (more…)

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