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?

(more…)

Read More

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.
 (more…)

Read More

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?

Read More

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…)

Read More

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.

(more…)

Read More

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…)

Read More

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.

(more…)

Read More

‘Bad Girl’ defeats, decisively, infringement claim

When a Club Girl became a Bad Girl, a songwriter got in a delayed huff. But he and his lawyer ignored a fundamental aspect of copyright law, a legal point on which an appellate court just offered a pointed reminder: “co-authors of a joint work are each entitled to undivided ownership and the joint owner of a copyright cannot sue his co-owner for infringement.”

That’s why crooner Usher Raymond is sitting prettier than ever as his 2004 derivative hit, Bad Girl, has won a decisive victory over an attack on it, with a ruling from the the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. U.S. Chief Judge Theodore A. Mckee wrote the decision on behalf of the three-judge panel, which included U.S. Circuit Judges D. Michael Fisher and Joseph A. Greenaway Jr.

They not only sent packing Daniel V. Marino, a co-writer  of Club Girl, a tune from which Usher’s successful record was derived, they also upheld sanctions against his counsel. What happened? (more…)

Read More

Experts to focus on entertainment’s ‘crazy year’

As the digital age makes it easier than ever for anyone to generate original and derivative works while expanding the reach of such creations, how do artists protect their intellectual property? How do producers set up strategic distribution deals with international markets and deal with censorship and other adaptations that may need to be considered? How does the entertainment industry keep pace with the internet and contend with liability matters?

These issues will be the focus of Keeping the Beat in a Crazy Year: Blurred Lines and Border Crossings, the 14th Annual Entertainment and Media Law Conference presented by Southwestern Law School’s Donald E. Biederman Entertainment and Media Law Institute and the Media Law Resource Center (MLRC). The conference will be Jan. 19 at the Los Angeles Times Building. (more…)

Read More

Podcasts? Here are 3 on entertainment law

If you’re looking for a way to stay up to date in easy, convenient fashion with key developments in entertainment and media law, why not try a novel, different technology: Podcasts, which hit big in the early 2000s then seemed to fade a decade or so later, have reemerged to become all the rage again. We’re talking Serial, This American Life, Fresh Air, and the many offerings available through National Public Radio and Apple.

There also are at least a trio of Entertainment Law podcasts worth considering for some reasons described below: It’s a subjective call, and there may be options to add.

But in the upcoming downtime connected to the holidays, it may be worth devoting some moments to: the Entertainment Law Update Podcast, Laws of Entertainment with Lisa Bonner, and the Fordham Intellectual Property, Media, and Entertainment Law Journal Podcast. Here’s why, for those with long commutes or the need for informative diversion, to listen up! (more…)

Read More