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…)

It’s in vogue: an appellate rift over sampling

The Material Girl, when using a .23-second horn blast in her mega-hit Vogue, didn’t infringe on a record company’s copyrights, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled.

But in holding for Madonna, aka Madonna Louise Ciccone, the appellate judges in California also locked horns with their federal brethren in Nashville over what’s legally acceptable and what’s not when it comes to “sampling,” the practice of musicians taking snippets of others’ work.

The dispute over de minimis v. “bright line” sampling–or not–may be left to the U.S. Supreme Court to resolve.

The case started when VMG Salsoul, a recording company, sued Madonna and others in July, 2013, asserting she and producer Robert “Shep” Pettibone violated copyrights by sampling a “horn blast” from the 1976 song Love Break. (more…)

Prenda firm’s ‘trolling’ draws appellate fire

Have the pernicious copyright-related practices of the Prenda law firm finally come to an end? Judges on the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals have bench-slapped  the firm as sternly as can be, with a recent decision affirming U.S. District Judge Otis copyright-trollWright’s sanctions against the Prenda lawyers.

This tawdry tale includes some strange twists: Wright, a Southwestern Law alum and Star Trek fan, wrote a scathing decision  that was one of several decisions from judges nationwide, calling out the Prenda lawyers for their copyright trolling. Judges have termed firm actions to be “legal shakedowns,” and abusive of the judicial system.

Just to remind: The now infamous Prenda lawyers created a commercial business targeting those who liked to download adult videos. The lawyers had, TechDirt says, “sketchy copyright trolling practices that appeared to include Team Prenda uploading their own content to torrent sites, [and] tracking who downloaded them.” Then the firm, on behalf of its dummy corporation that “owned” copyrights on the blue videos,  would sue rafts of down-loaders claiming infringement; rather than risk the embarrassment of public exposure of their naughty hobby, defendants agreed to relatively small settlements that soon added up to significant sums. (more…)

Legal phasers fired to protect Klingon language

vubpu’ jon nuchpu’. jonbe’ tlhInganpu. That translates to “Cowards take hostages. Klingons do not.” The Language Creation Society, based in Ridgecrest, Calif., has declared war. The group, as Randazza Legal Group PLLC, has filed an amicus brief to speak up on behalf of the Klingon language, which is under fire as part of the lawsuit Paramount Pictures Corp. v. Axanar Productions Inc.

The brief, liberally sprinkled with the language spoken by characters like Commander Worf (actor Michael Dorn) from the long-running hit TV and movie franchise, Star Trek, essentially argues that no one can copyright a language, even one that has been entirely artificially created.

In their continuing mission to explore strange new worlds and protect their copyrights, CBS and Paramount sued Alec Peters and his crowdfunded production Axanar late last year in a Los Angeles federal court. The studios seek damages for direct, contributory and vicarious infringement as well as an injunction to stop production.

Let’s translate what’s going on here–minus the requisite insults, (as described in the video above by a German lecturer on Klingon in a promotion for a video game): (more…)

A legendary rock dispute finally rolls to trial

A federal district judge has put Led Zeppelin on the stairway to a jury trial, denying the legendary rock band’s motion for summary judgment on a copyright infringement claim against it over the classic tune Stairway to Heaven (a tip of the hat to Courthouse New for posting the judge’s ruling).

The trial has been scheduled for May 10, and if the trust for rocker Randy Craig Wolfe (aka Randy California), of the band Spirit, is victorious, it could force Led Zepplin to reliquinish part of the song’s profits. Those are estimated to amount to at least $562 million between royalties and record sales. The trust, as part of its lawsuit, also is seeking a songwriting credit for Wolfe.

The dispute over this song has been as long and almost as legendary as the iconic tune itself, with the court noting the controversy’s roots dating to the late Sixties. So, besides listening and comparing the two songs in videos (above), how this case finally gotten to trial? (more…)

Are 6-second Vines ‘too minimal’ to infringe?

vine-micro-video-app-smart-phone-ios-androidVine, a social media website acquired by Twitter, is a popular technology among millennials. They like it because it lets them create looping six-second videos, which are easy to view and to share quickly and widely, often virally. Vine also is gaining traction with brands for marketing, and that is creating issues for intellectual property owners

Vine has steered away from infringement claims, so far, because of Twitter’s prompt compliance with take-down notices under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act; those take-down requests also have been rarely contested by user-posters.

But is the brevity of Vine’s core product also prophylactic–does it provide a de minimis defense? That notion has come under fire in Britain with a recent court ruling from a judge, who found that “fair dealing” failed to apply to Vine snippets showing key moments of an original cricket broadcast. How might the legal thinking cross the seas and be seen in U.S. courts that share a common law tradition?

(more…)

RIP, to a celebrated force in Entertainment Law

 

Let there be no doubt: the Purple Reign, which has ended tragically all too soon, affected Entertainment Law and many of its practitioners.

Prince Rogers Nelson, 57, not only played the role of path-breaking artist, musician, fashionista, and trend-setter, he also was, as various media have noted, an innovator deeply concerned about intellectual property and the legal protection of creative works.

He rocked the recording industry with his willingness to contest its talent representation practices and contracts, which he saw as creative constraints that kept him from controlling his own works. He fought, perhaps to excess, to ensure that his copyrights were enforced. He took a principled stand about the creator’s sovereignty, even in the face of rapidly changing technological advance, becoming one of the prominent hold-outs against what he saw as the penurious payments by online streaming services to musicians, lyricists, and composers.

In doing all this and much, much more, he generated lots of work for Entertainment lawyers in Los Angeles, New York, Minneapolis, and elsewhere. As he a client, just as he was a giant of his craft, he was sui generis, and he will be much missed, practitioners have recalled. RIP, sweet Prince.

Will cable boxes go bye-bye, content increase?

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Is it time to say goodbye to cable companies’ set-top transmission boxes, the monthly charges that come with them, and a possible entertainment content choke point?

The FCC has approved a Notice of Proposed Rule Making to allow consumers to access cable and cable programming through other means, not just cable companies’s set-top boxes.

The FCC had released a fact sheet in January that detailed the reasoning behind this shift. The agency says that “99% of pay-TV subscribers are chained to their set-top boxes,” that they pay “on average $231 in rental fees annually” per household, and that these new rules will “tear down anti-competitive barriers and pave the way for software, devices and other innovative solutions.” Like what? (more…)

Court orders rapper to stop rolling with luxe TM

 

rolls royceRobert D. Davis, a rapper who on stage partly went by the moniker Rizzy and more, won’t be rolling any longer with references to a luxe automobile brand.

That’s because a federal judge in New Jersey has ruled in favor of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Ltd in a trademark infringement and dilution action against Davis, aka “Rolls Royce Rizzy.” The court barred Davis from using “Rolls Royce” as his stage monkier and from employing the company’s registered “RR” logo on his website and on t-shirts. How did the rapper get run over with this decision? (more…)

Dancing baby spins again, now for more fair use

Dancing-Baby-2

Oh, that baby never seems to stop dancing, does he?

The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, en banc, has released an amended opinion and dissent in the “Dancing Baby” case aka Lenz v. Universal Music Corp, which this blog has posted plenty about previously.

For a quick recap, this case involves plaintiff Stephanie Lenz, who nine years ago posted a 29-second video on youtube.com of her then infant son dancing to Prince’s Let’s Go Crazy. Universal, which owns the song’s copyright, then used Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s take-down procedures to seek video’s removal.  The two parties have gone at in court ever since, resulting last year in the appellate opinion finding that a rights’ holder must make “a good faith inquiry” as to whether content would qualify under the Copyright Act’s fair use exception before requesting a take-down.

In its original opinion, the appellate judges included a limit that the “consideration of fair use need not be searching or intensive,” and that “implementation of computer algorithms appears to be a valid and good faith middle ground for processing a plethora of content while still meeting the DMCA’s requirement’s to somehow consider fair use.” The judges sought to explain some of the process that rights holder must perform before seeking a take-own, as well as limiting the scope of their required inquiries.

But in amending their opinion, the appellate judges have removed both those limitations. Let’s dance a little more with the revised ruling: (more…)