Password sharing has its legal risks but …

downloadCord cutters rejoiced this past Super Bowl Sunday. Not only is CBS creating it’s own streaming option, but the broadcaster went out of its way to make streaming the annual spectacle incredibly easy. Now, could streaming services make it even simpler: What about the legality of password sharing?

Cord cutting is the practice, relatively new and especially popular among millennial media consumers, to “cut” the cable cord, canceling pricey, bundled cable broadcast service. That’s because customers can access and consume media (including television shows, movies, video games, and music videos) cheaper and via other online services, typically streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. Cord cutting also fosters password sharing: providing services’ access information with friends, family, or significant others. It got a lot of attention when Emmy host Andy Samberg last fall gave out a working HBO password on air. calls the practice “a telling step in contemporary coupling – a contemporary version of leaving an extra toothbrush in your partner’s bathroom.”

Although some estimates put the economic losses of this practice as high as a half-billion dollars annually, HBO and Netflix’s respective CEOs don’t see password sharing as a problem, even going so far as to say it helps create new subscribers. What are the legal implications? Does it violate the terms of service? Can I be arrested?! (more…)

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Will nine black robes retool Batmobile ruling?

IMG_0313Na-na-na, Batman! Or should we say  Dark Knight or Caped Crusader? There have been many versions of Batman since the character launched in 1939. Each new Batman movie or television show brought not only new nicknames and new actors but also various Batmobiles. Each vehicle has differed — from Adam West’s convertible to George Clooney’s limo to Christian Bales’ motorcycle tank to Ben Affleck’s  dune buggy.

But now the U.S. Supreme Court has been asked to decide if the car that helps the caped crusader thwart evil is so distinctive to Batman to merit copyright as an intrinsic part of the literary character. As this blog noted earlier, the appellate decision that prompted this high court appeal was a surprise because it extended copyright where it never had gone before — to a car and its design. (more…)

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When hip-hop artist misses beat, lawsuit fails


Hip-hop artist Tyrone Simmons waited too long to “get money.”  His copyright infringement suit over a beat he owned and that was used in rapper 50 Cent’s 2007 hit I Get Money, has been dismissed due to untimeliness (tip of the hat to Loeb and Loeb for posting the case).

In 2006, Simmons purchased a hip-hop beat created by defendant William C. Stanberry Jr. It later was sold to defendant Curtis Jackson (aka 50 Cent) who used it in Money. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit found that because Simmons waited more than three years to file suit, he is barred by the statue of limitations. Musicians off on their timing? It happens this way:


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Slants ruling: troubling twist for Skins, TM law

Courtesy of

I am going to admit my secret shame. I am a Washington Redskins fan. My father’s family hails from the District, and his grandfather had season tickets at one point. With the woeful lack of a LA football team (for now) the Skins were the only feasible fan option for me for pro football.

But I actually fit into an odd ‘Skins minority: I’d favor a name change for the team. Yes, it would be a shame to lose some franchise history — but not as much of a shame as rooting for a franchise with an odious name. As such, I was glad when a federal judge upheld the Federal Trial and Appeal Board’s 2-1 ruling that the team’s name is offensive to Native Americans, and, thus, ineligible for trademark protection under 15 USC §1052(a). That section of the Lanham Act states that offensive marks are not valid trademarks.

But then the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (the special court dealing mostly with appeals from the patent office) recently struck down 2(a) as an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment in the case In Re Simon Tam. Now my consternation applies not just to a football team and its name but also to the modernity, or lack of it, in trademark law. (more…)

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Royalty rate ruling strikes a rare harmony

crb-logo-owlAfter a complex legal decision gets issued, if none of the affected parties can be seen, jubilant and dancing in the court aisles, maybe the judges got it just right? That seems to be the online consensus reaction to a recent decision by three federal judges, who in an arcane bit of copyright law that also affects the Librarian of Congress, set the royalty rates that artists get paid for outlets that play their music.

The judges, acting as the Copyright Royalty Board, recently issued new rates for streaming services, which took effect Jan. 1 and will hold sway until 2020. The rates require online radio and streaming companies to pay 17 cents per 100 plays of songs and 22 cents per 100 listens by paying subscribers to any ad-free radio offering.

Under the ruling, the musicians, who had been screaming about getting ripped off, will get a little more money; over the air, broadcast radio outlets will pay a little less. And streaming services, such as Pandora and Spotify, will fork over more. How does this absence of acrimonious reaction and rare harmony about the rates’ decision affect the music industry and its supposed dash away from old-fashioned technologies like on-air radio stations and toward Internet-based service providers, such as online radio and streaming services?


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Entertainment, media law event’s on Thursday

SWevent_imageSouthwestern Law School’s Donald E. Biederman Entertainment and Media Law Institute and the Media Law Resource Center on Thursday will present the 13th Annual Entertainment and Media Law Conference, an all-day event in downtown at the Los Angeles Times building.

“I am particularly excited about the program where an all-star panel, including Aaron Sorkin, will debate the legality and ethics of the media’s publishing hacked material – from studio salaries, scripts and slanderous gossip to nude photos of celebrities, ” said George Freeman, Executive Director of the Media Law Resource Center. He added that there will be “a program on the steps companies can take to avoid being hacked – and what to do if disaster happens from legal and PR points-of-view – will be timely, enlightening and entertaining.”

Professor Steven Krone, Director of the Biederman Institute, said, “The Biederman Institute and Southwestern Law School are delighted to be continuing our long partnership with the MLRC, and we’ve put together another program that promises to be topical and useful for lawyers and anyone interested in the entertainment and media industries.

Three discussion panels will be presented:

  • “The Future of Theaters—The Role of Traditional Distribution in the Digital Era”
  • “On the Digital Battlements—Dealing with Hackers, Enemy States and the U.S. Government”
  • “From Your Hard Drive to the Front Page—Leaked Information, Journalism, and the First Amendment”

Besides Sorkin –Academy Award-winning screenwriter, producer and playwright —  scheduled speakers will include prominent entertainment attorneys, legal scholars and industry insiders including: Alisa Bergman, Senior Vice President and Chief Privacy Officer, Warner Bros. Entertainment; Mary Ellen Callahan, former Chief Privacy Officer, U.S. Department of Homeland Security and current Cahir of Privacy and Information Governance Practice, Jenner & Block LLP; Howard Cohen, Co-President, Roadside Attractions; John Fithian, President & CEO, National Association of Theatre Owners; George Freeman, Executive Director of the MLRC; B. James Gladstone, Executive Vice President, Business & Legal Affairs, Lionsgate Entertainment; Mark Haddad, Partner, Sidley Austin LLP; Blaine Kimrey, former journalist and current shareholder, Vedder Price; Douglas Kmiec, Professor of Law, Pepperdine Law School; Professor Steven Krone, Director, Donald E Biederman Entertainment and Media Law Institute at Southwestern; Christin S. McMeley, Chair of the privacy and Security Practice, Davis Wright Tremaine LLP; Andrew J. Thomas, Partner, Jenner & Block LLP; and Eugene Volokh, Professor of Law, UCLA School of Law.

The event, offering four hours of CLE credit, is scheduled from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. followed by a reception.

Event co-sponsors include: AXIS PRO Insurance; Davis Wright Tremaine LLP; Doyle & McKean LLP; Fox Networks Group & Fox Group Legal; Fox Rothschild LLP; Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz, PC; Hiscox Media; Jassy Vick Carolan LLP; Jenner & Block LLP; Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP; Kelley Drye & Warren LLP; Leopold Petrich & Smith PC; Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz LLP; QBE Insurance Corporation; and Sidley Austin LLP.

The conference will be at the Times, 202 W. 1st Street. There is a parking structure at 213 S. Spring Street.

For more information or to register online visit here. Questions about the conference may be directed to Southwestern’s Biederman Institute at (213) 738-6602 or

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‘Oh, Really?’ It’s tough to ‘Get away with murder’


In ‘Oh, Really?’ the Biederman Blog’s editors and alumni— voracious consumers of all matters pop culture — cast a curious, skeptical, fun and smart end-of-the-week eye on popular productions, sharing their keen observations about legal matters these raise. This guest post was contributed by Sherrie Fields, a former editor of the blog and new member of the California Bar.

How To Get Away With Murder is the latest prime time hit to be produced by television titan Shondra Rhimes’ and it has fast become a Thursday night staple following Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal.  Similar to Rhimes’ other shows, Murder is chalk full of drama, suspense, love triangles, and sex.

Viola Davis portrays Annalise Keating, an emotionally messy and conflicted but cunning lawyer, a role for which she won Best Actress at the most recent Emmy awards. In between the steamy sex scenes, Keating finds time to teach a course on criminal law, while running a highly successful criminal defense practice. Five of her students have earned coveted internships with her law firm and must assist Keating in representing clients in each episode, in which they invariably find themselves in precarious and scandalous situations.

While the television series is highly entertaining, as a recent Southwestern Law School graduate,  some aspects of the show require suspending  knowledge of a true first-year law school experience. Do any 1L’s lead lives with this much drama? Oh, really? (more…)

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By golly, how did Gollum get into Turkish court?

gollum_395_394t100lead_erdoganEntertainment Law practitioners in the United States don’t all that often see their clients involved in libel cases involving the nation’s top political leaders, thanks to decisions like New York Times v Sullivan. The absence, thankfully, of official libel laws also makes it all but unheard of for American political leaders to pursue legal actions with officials receiving great reputational protection. And for those who love and make movies, it’s also rare on this side of the pond to need to ponder whether certain cinematic characters ought to wear the proverbial black or white hats.

So let’s keep to a minimum the curious consideration under way in Turkish courts: Is the slimy character Gollum from the mega-hit Hobbit movies a bad or good guy and does a village doctor deserve prison time under Turkey’s laws for allegedly insulting that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan by posting images of him alongside the fictional ring-snatcher from JRR Tolkien’s fantasy novels?

The issue perplexed a local magistrate sufficiently that he’s called in an array of experts to advise. Famous film director Peter Jackson also has weighed in, decrying the prosecution.

OK, here’s where we slip on that magic jewelry and slip away ….

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Thanks, ABA Journal for a 3rd honor!

Blawg100WebBadgeWe’re honored and grateful. The ABA Journal, the flagship magazine and online information site for the American Bar Association, has named the Biederman Blog for a third year running one of its Top 100 legal web sites, its Blawg 100. The journal, which says that it routinely scrutinizes more than 4,000 legal web sites to provide analysis and insight on the field to the Bar’s nearly 400,000 members, put Southwestern Law School’s student-run, Entertainment Law project in outstanding company. Others also in the Blawg 100 included sites by Jonathan Turley, Rick Hasen, Paul Caron, Eugene Volokh, as well as the professional operations of scotusblog and The Hollywood Reporter. Our thanks go out not only to the ABA, its journal, Southwestern, Dean Susan Prager, the law school’s other administrators and supportive faculty and staff, we owe most to our diligent, delightful, and discerning student editors.

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Duude, parody serves as ‘sword’ in drama appeal


This guest post was contributed by Travis J. Sabaiti, a J.D. candidate in the Southwestern Entertainment Law and Web 2.0 Fall, 2015, class:

When two funny friends in New York decide to riff in a theatrical production, Point Break LIVE!, on Point Break, a surfer-detective film that many critics found to be more than a few waves on the side of awful, comedy ensued. For awhile. But the legal tangle that then followed after the comic duo had a falling out required the judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to unsnarl.

Before anyone cues a laugh track over this case’s conclusion, Entertainment Law practitioners well-versed in copyright might want to look again at this case and see if it changes conventional wisdom about protections for parody. (more…)

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