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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‘Marshall Tucker’ rockers lose battle for mark


The southern rockers in The Marshall Tucker Band may be singing the blues. That’s because the musicians in the legendary, long-running, and oft-reconstituted band had their trademark lawsuit against their publishing company dismissed recently.

The band had filed various trademark claims against MT Industries (MTI) over “The Marshall Tucker Band” mark. But on March 1, a U.S. District Court in South Carolina granted a motion to dismiss the band’s claims of infringement and dilution against the company.

Band members had also initiated a claim of copyright cancellation, as well as other state law claims. MTI argued that the entire action should be dismissed, and filed a motion to dismiss, arguing the court’s lacked subject matter jurisdiction. How did this long hard ride end? (more…)

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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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New chair zaps FCC changes on set-top boxes

Out with the old, in with the new: Ajit Pai, President Trump’s new chair of the Federal Communications Commission, has reversed course,  revoking reports and investigations launched under previous leaders. Pai has criticized his predecessors’ “midnight regulations,” saying there were issued with little notice and discussion. But critics were quick to point out his revocations occurred in much the same way. 

Ignoring the politics, some of what Pai swept away will affect entertainment content, specifically access issues involving set-top boxes that consumers must rent—at much-criticized costs of hundreds of dollars annually—to get cable and satellite programs. The Obama Administration had wanted third-parties to provide the units, lowering their price and potentially opening more robust content options, such as through apps and streaming services.

Consumers, especially millennials, have been revolting against this technology, cutting the cord on the hefty costs of cable and satellite service. “Over-the-top content” from Netflix, Amazon, HBO, and others—as well as new technologies to deliver it—have made this possible. But the hope that consumers soon might be liberated from renting set-top boxes has been put off for who knows how long.

Streaming content sources typically have not included live sports, nor were network television shows available on streaming devices. But now, a content shift is under way. And the options, made available directly to streamers, especially through proprietary apps and subscription online services, are solid, including new shows and movies (please see HBO’s Game of Thrones  or its Westworld if you have been living under a rock).

What does this mean for the entertainment industry? As more content moves toward streaming and away from old-line cable and satellite providers, entertainment lawyers may need to be cutting new media deals for clients to adjust. As older content gets re-purposed for stand-alone channels, many licensors are confronting contracts that fail to address major technological changes. And what about advertisers? How will they approach their deals when “over the top” content lacks ads or permits consumers to fast-forward past them?

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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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