Is an icon’s image too generic to trademark?

Bitter battle by Marilyn Monroe estate to protect her legacy may have unforseen consequences for celebrities

It’s common these days for celebrities to trademark their names and properties attached to them (yes, you Beyonce, and all of you in the Kardashian clan). Her estate has tried to create comparable legal protections for Norma Jean Mortenson, the sliver-screen legend better known as Marilyn Monroe.

But a U.S. District Court in Manhattan has cast a long shadow over the movie star’s intellectual property rights, raising the possibility—not just for her and her estate but for other pop culture icons —that a megastar like Monroe may be too generic for protection.

The issue is far from decided, and, in a 51-page opinion and order, U.S. District Judge Katherine Folk Pailla has observed that, “What began in 2012 as a declaratory judgment action has transmogrified into a sprawling conflict raising issues of trademark, antitrust, and state business law.”  So, as Marilyn herself might aver: Sugar, what’s behind this Monkey Business that could Shock Miss Pilgrim, in which Something’s Gotta Give, some parties don’t seem to be Gentlemen [who] Prefer Blondes, and, the court hopes, won’t turn into a Seven Year Itch?

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Polish tiff translates into $3 million in penalties


Do widzenia i powodznia!* Telewizja Polska, S.A. (TVP), may be saying to $3.06 million in its bank accounts. That’s because U.S. District Court Judge Tanya S. Chutkan in Washington, D.C., has found, under American law, that the Polish national television network infringed on the copyrights of Spanski Enterprises, Inc. (SEI), a Canadian content-distributor of Polish television programming.

Chutkan ruled that TVP got itself in quite a ogórek kiszony** over the rights to show dozens of episodes broadcast on an international Polish-language broadcast channel, TVPolonia.com, which touts itself as airing “Polish news, current affairs and information programs, sitcoms, mini series, soap operas, movies, programs for children, entertainment programs and much, much more.”

Co oni walczą o?Słuchaj.***

*Goodbye and good luck! **dill pickle ***What were they fighting about? Listen up.
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Blue film firm keeping up its barrage of suits

 

Malibu Media, LLC., an adult film company, filed 201 copyright infringement lawsuits in February. It also launched 747 cases in 2016, and 1,956 suits in 2015, according to Bloomberg Law data. If that sounds like a lot, here is a mind-rattling statistic: In 2014, the company accounted for up to 40 per cent of all copyright infringement claims in the country.

The company was founded by a husband and wife team in 2009. They have said they aim to upend the industry with a higher quality of erotic films. Malibu launched the site x-art.com and created porn that was more expensive to make than most of its competition. The firm charged a monthly subscription fee of $40 for access.

In 2011, after two years of promising growth, their subscriber base plateaued at around 50,000 users. The company soon determined that 300,000 people were watching pirated versions of the company’s movies each week. Malibu filed its first copyright infringement lawsuit in February, 2012. (more…)

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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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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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Sir Paul’s rights claims: music industry temblor

In artists’ battles to terminate, recover copyrights, $750-million Beatles catalog’s a legal behemoth

It’s a provision of copyright law that has proved advantageous for many—but not for Duran Duran. Now Paul McCartney, a titan of the music industry, has sent tremors through the business by asserting he soon will try it with his iconic tunes, which are worth tens of millions of dollars.

The music industry has braced for some time over what will happen with musicians’ termination notices and the subsequent recaptures of their compositions as permitted under the law. Some songwriters – who say they too were young, poor, naïve, and misinformed – insist they must seize back their copyrights after being taken advantage in earlier deals. Will this launch a new gold rush of innovative deal making early in careers? On the litigation front, will Sir Paul bring a new wave of lawsuits over copyrights to now-legendary works? (more…)

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A King of Comedy clobbers an old claim

Steve Harvey, the original king of comedy himself, will get the last laugh in his long dispute with Joe Cooper, a  videographer.

A federal court in Dallas has tossed Cooper’s lawsuit, seeking $50 million, and asserting that Harvey had breached a contract with him for recording 120 or so hours worth of the comedian’s stand-up routines at Harvey’s Dallas club back in 1993.

It turns out that the joke two decades later is on Cooper, as jurors, after just hours of deliberation, found that he and Harvey had not entered into a valid contract. Instead, Harvey’s counterclaim that Cooper invaded his privacy due to misappropriation of the comedian’s name and likeness prevailed. Cooper learned the hard way that posting YouTube videos can have their legal peril. (more…)

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Infringement makes federal court Krabby

Cartoon eatery wins mark protection

With its corps of intellectual property lawyers, Viacom, the entertainment giant, somehow didn’t legally shield the Krusty Krab— and some interlopers soon had plans to have their way with it.

Unfamiliar with this famed eatery, and maybe not savvy about the Sponge Bob Squarepants universe, too? Well, the Krusty Krab is the fictional, featured workplace of SpongeBob and the ever acerbic Squidward. Their famous joint also has its own legendary burger: the Krabby Patty.

Both were in danger, in Viacom’s view, of falling into the nefarious mitts of IJR Capital Investments, an LLC that proposed to open a Krusty Krab restaurant and to trademark that name.

As Mr. Bill, another notable fictional character, would exclaim: Oh, no!

Fear not sea sponges. Viacom pulled up its legal big boy pants and fought back – winning its case recently with a reminder from a federal court in Houston about critical components of IP and trademark law. Hint: Use in the market matters.

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Judge clips VidAngel’s naughty wings


A streaming company that has tried to seize a higher ground, taking Hollywood movies from discs and “cleaning” the films of pornography, nudity, and violence and then providing them online to its customers, has itself acted in naughty, naughty fashion, a federal judge has found.

In Los Angeles, U.S. District Judge Andre Birotte Jr. ruled that VidAngel Inc. has infringed copyrights held by Disney, Warner Bros., and Twentieth Century Fox after failing to get appropriate licensing from them, which resulted in an order that the company stop all editing and streaming of the studios’ films.

Since the ruling, VidAngel has flapped its corporate wings and claimed technical issues in complying with the federal injunction – then flouted it. Who wouldn’t want to zap the sleaze straight out of a flick like Fifty Shades of Gray? But the company is finding that it can be costly to be righteous. Poking Hollywood in the nose and telling a federal court judge that “we’re right and you’re wrong” landed VidAngel in contempt of court. (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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