Appeals court, at least, sees talent act clearly

U.S. Ninth Circuit judges reject managers’ attack on California law but disputes keep surfacing over representation, commissions

Saunter down the street in Des Moines or Poughkeepsie and ask the first passer-by about who engages in the “procuring” business and be glad not to get a punch in the nose for asking about something that sounds like it’s part of the world’s oldest profession. But at least in Hollywood, and for especially for those in the entertainment industry, this practice—part art and part commerce—is so common that it should be legally plain and it is clearly understood, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has declared.

The judges in the appellate court for the stars have upheld the dismissal of a suit by the National Conference of Personal Managers, a group aggravated by still controversial state statute(s) that they argue keeps clients from showing them the money—the California talent agencies act. The appellate judges concurred with a lower court ruling rejecting the managers’ claims, and finding that the act does not violate due process, equal protection, or free speech of talent managers in the entertainment industry.

The law says that only state-licensed agents may procure work for clients—the legions in Los Angeles of actors, directors, writers, and, yes, wannabes. The problem with the half-century old talent sections of the state labor code is that they also bar non-agents, including managers, attorneys, and the unlicensed from obtaining work for clients. This can and has created ned in the Biz, sparking significant protests before. The personal managers’ complaint provides a timely reminder that the griping about the act not only isn’t going away, it provides a recurring reason to keep re-examining the historic but also changing representation of talent in the Golden State. (more…)

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With tech-streamers’ rise, will law jobs change?

The industry headlines tell a persuasive tale. Netflix: The most feared force in Hollywood? Netflix: The monster that’s eating Hollywood. Netflix is killing it—big time—after pouring cash into original shows.

With cord-cutting becoming  ever more common and broadcast network ratings steadily declining, will Entertainment Lawyers start streaming from traditional industry workplaces in search of Elysian Fields with newer employers working in newer technologies?

It may be a question to ponder, even as the studios and Netflix head to court in a battle over claims the big and growing streaming service poached key entertainment executives

But for lawyers, in particular, there may be more cultural and workplace issues to consider before throwing caution to the wind, polishing up that CV, and seeking to get in the queue for new employment. Yes, Netflix the disrupter of the TV world, the company that’s changing how consumers digest content,  is hiring.

But the company has its own distincitive hiring practices and workplace environment, bringing a holistic, freethinking, Silicon Valley “start-up vibe” to the often provincial and openly combative, kill-or-be-killed culture of showbiz in Hollywood—and to the typically buttoned-up environment of legal departments in some of those entertainment companies.

What’s the brief on working for entertainment-tech hybrids, or at least one of the giants of the day in this area?

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ISP denied preemptory shield on rights claims

An internet service provider, weary of hearing complaints from a music rights-management organization, tried to get a federal court in Manhattan to stop in advance what it felt was the group’s sing-song whining about improper online postings of copyrighted songs. But the judge decided the request by Windstream Services for a preemptive declaratory judgment against BMG was way out of tune.

The court found Windstream’s request “un-tethered” to any specific claim of copyright infringement and said it could be construed to absolve the ISP of not only past but also future actions. That, like performing in the wrong key, can’t be allowed, the court said in a case that offers some important reminders about parties following procedures detailed in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. (more…)

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‘Oh, Really?’ A ‘Night Of’ ethics, evidence woes

In 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.

The HBO series “The Night Of” has won critical acclaim. In this crime drama, Nasir, a community college student from a working class, Queens, Pakistani-American family heads out with friends to a party one Friday night. He meets a beautiful, mysterious young woman. After a night of drinking and ingesting other substances with her at her place, he blacks out. He awakens the next morning to find her stabbed 22 times.

The rest of the series is “Did he, or didn’t he?” and tracks his attorneys–a weary, down-on-his-luck ambulance-chaser, and the other a wet-behind-the-ears Pollyanna—as they build a defense. Their work is cut in with the hunt of a dogged detective who is “just one case away from retiring.” The series culminates in the young man’s trial, when we learn his surprise fate. The show’s performances are stellar, the direction is spot-on, and the writing —by the masterful Richard Price—is superb. But, really, how about the law in this hit? (Some spoiler alerts ahead, fyi.)

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Oh, Sheldon, go ahead, sing the darn cat song

Court swats away suit over Warm Kitty, as sung on Big Bang Theory

Actor Jim Parsons has turned the misanthropic, mischievous, and often malevolent character of Sheldon Cooper, uber nerd and brilliant physicist, into not just an Emmy winner but also a million-dollar-an-episode recurring star part in a prime time network smash. Fans obsess about the adventure of Sheldon and his pointy-headed pals. But, hello, kitty, a federal judge in Manhattan has told Big Bang Theory aficionados they can rest easy about one of Sheldon’s signature musical quirks.

U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald has dismissed a cat-and-mouse game of copyright infringement against the show. It had been hit with a suit by the holders of the rights to the lyrics of Warm Kitty. That’s a tune the two sister-plaintiff’s asserted their nursery school teacher-mom wrote decades ago, then protected in 1937. Eccentric Sheldon, whose idiosyncratic behavior often alienates him from friends and foes alike on the TV show, often sings a version of Kitty to himself to self-soothe.

His lyrics aren’t a carbon copy of the plaintiff’s song. But the sisters argued that the show failed to secure their permission to use the song and the lyrics were substantially similar enough to sue. What gave the judge paws about this cat scratch legal tiff?

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Es tiempo, dice el juez en el caso ‘Timeless’

Court advances claim that U.S. television show may have infringed on Spanish hit

Timing’s everything, a federal judge in California has reminded Sony Television and NBC Universal, as he has denied their moves to dismiss a suit against them by Onza Partners, broadcast creatives in Spain.

The partners object to how negotiations they conducted over their Spanish TV hit in the summer of 2015 with a prominent American agent and Sony progressed—or didn’t—to the fall announcement of an NBC show. The Spaniards unsuccessfully filed suit just before the fall 2016 airing of the American production, not necessarily to block its broadcast but certainly to halt its distribution.

The well-rated program, Timeless, waited for no one, and now the creators of El Ministerio del Tiempo, aka the Department of Time, await the calendar for the federal courts to decide if Sony and NBC infringed on their work and breached a contract, as they claim. The dispute may turn on case law that goes back decades in time.

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Court resurrects a killer’s privacy suit over film

He’s the real-life ax murderer who keeps acting like a terrifying character in a Hollywood slasher movie, popping up repeatedly at inopportune times in scary fashion. Yes, he’s baaack: Christopher Porco, convicted of murdering his father and attempting to murder his mother with an ax while the victims were at home asleep in their bed, has just won from prison a New York court ruling that may send some shivers up the spines of movie makers whose works are rooted in reality.

A New York Court of Appeals judge recently reversed the dismissal of Porco’s suit against Lifetime Networks over claims of statutory privacy violations (a tip of the hat to the Hollywood Reporter for posting may key documents in this case online). Four years ago, he sued Lifetime after it produced a made-for-television film based on the public story of his heinous crime. A furious court battle erupted and threatened to prevent the airing of Lifetime’s Romeo Killer: The Christopher Porco Story, starring Eric McCormack, Matt Barr and Lolita Davidovitch. It didn’t.

But, cue the screechy Psycho violins as the soundtrack, and let’s see how this case, some say, menaces the movie business all over again.

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Jurors slash through a gore-flick rights feud

My hat’s off to the jurors who were able to find willful copyright infringement by production company PFG Entertainment Inc. and sales agent Ted Rosenblatt,  ordering them to pay the creator of The Toolbox Murders franchise. PFG and Rosenblatt made a deal to distribute Coffin Baby, a film written and directed by horror make-up artist Dean Jones, whom plaintiffs asserted stole and re-purposed footage from an  earlier, failed project he directed, The Toolbox Murders 2.

Jurors, who awarded $460,000 to Tony Didio, producer and creator of the original The Toolbox Murders, not only had to slash their way through B-movie history—they also lived through the horror of being exposed to some truly gruesome, exploitative films

A part of the due diligence for this post, I thought I should research and watch the Toolbox Murders. I tried to watch the original film, even some of it. I really did. But the nauseating scenes of a man using a drill on a young girl, the jarring editing, and the bad pop music, just stressed me out, man. I already juggle a full-time job and law school. My life is sufficiently complicated that I couldn’t find the stomach to watch graphic depictions of innocents’ slaughter.  So I can’t tell you what the picture’s full story is, though it has to do something with a maniac roaming an apartment building, slaying people, including naked women, in macabre fashion.

Ugh The law and history in the case? That we can review.

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Actors’ ages can be posted online, court says

Is it proper to ask thespians their age? It is, a federal judge in San Francisco says.

U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria recently ruled on a request for an injunction against it that a California law, which prevents the film and television information website IMDB from posting actor’s real ages, is out of bounds and cannot be enforced.

While the law’s aim was to prevent age and gender discrimination in casting, the judge held that the law likely abridges expression of non-commercial free speech, writing,  “it’s difficult to imagine how AB 1687 [the law] could not violate the First Amendment.” (more…)

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Can ‘Axanar’ offer model for studio, fan peace?

In what once was the final frontier, the actions of some one-time loyalists started to raise huge concerns among the rulers of the Great Empire of Hollywood. They feared that rebel forces had aligned and had started to take advantage of technological advances that might threaten imperial products, trade, and treasuries. Forces amassed, threats were exchanged.

Fortunately, a battle has been averted. So now some die-hard fans of the half-century-old Star Trek franchise legally can push ahead with their scaled-back, online production of a mini-film they have dubbed Axanar, which they now can’t use to fund-raise. And for now, Hollywood will keep the peace with its throngs of ticket- and merchandise-buying aficionados, while also setting, its lawyers hope, some relatively easy-to-follow red-line legal bounds on increasingly professional, not-for-profit, crowd-sourced fan films.

The Axanar skirmish may be telling — a lot — about not only Hollywood’s unceasing struggles with change but also, perhaps, key shifts in some of its legal strategies with assaults on its intellectual property.

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