As star marks abound, are they too ordinary?

With billions of dollars at stake, celebrities’ lawyers have been beating down the door at a surprising government office in hopes of advancing clients’ economic interests by staking exclusivity claims on everything from dolls to dresses to perfumes. That gold rush-style boom, not in copyright requests but rather in mark applications to the U.S. Patent and Trademarks Office, (shown right) also keeps bumping against some hard realities that may make some female stars, especially, and their counsel rethink the supposed advantages of marks versus copyrights.

Although conventional wisdom among barristers may hold that marks may be the better way to build a brand because they permit legal protections for phrases that aren’t exactly unique, it may be that some names, words, sayings, and coinages are just too common or close to material that Uncle Sam already has allowed to be stamped with the signature TM.

This legal speed bump may be especially timely and pertinent for Entertainment Law practitioners to ponder in the wake of the recent decision by a federal court in Manhattan, asking if the intellectual property rights of screen legend Marilyn Monroe, for her estate, may be too generic for protection. Other celebs also have hit some TM woes worth noting.    (more…)

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Princely legacy includes court time for heirs

Artists may relish that copyrights last for decades. But do they consider sufficiently their wishes for who will nab their royalties after they are gone and other key estate planning issues?

Although some experts have urged Entertainment lawyers to consider a new field of performers’ post-mortem rights, the continued legal tussling over the works of superstar Prince Rogers Nelson may suggest to some practitioners that not only must they consider long-lived intellectual property concerns like copyrights lasting almost a century, they also just may need greater depth and expertise in dealing with wills, trusts, and estates.

Consider that days before the recent, one-year anniversary of Prince’s death, his lawyers were in a Minnesota district court, filing a complaint that audio engineer George Ian Boxill, a former collaborator,  sought to release unheard music of the iconic entertainer without the authorization of Paisley Park Enterprises. State Judge Wilhelmina Wright moved quickly, issuing a temporary injunction to block the release of a six-song EP. Prince recorded the work, titled Deliverance,  between 2006 and 2008 with Boxill.

Fans briefly partied like it was 1999, as Deliverance’s lead song, a track featuring a fierce blues riff, was made available for streaming via iTunes and Apple Music. The EP also was online for early download on princerogersnelson.com for $6.99 or $19.99 depending on audio quality.  But Prince’s estate countered with its own version of Let’s Go Crazy, ensuring that Boxill could not release unauthorized tracks, which lawyers argued violated the producer’s recording agreement with Prince.

Streaming sites have yanked down the disputed works. How did the late legendary songwriter find himself in a legal state that might even make doves cry—and why is this condition not unique among famed creatives? (more…)

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‘Blurred Lines’ and a + path for ‘Photograph’

A costly infringement case may be pushing songwriters to consider legal options, adding credits and sharing royalties rather than litigating. Is it stifling creativity, too?

Have legal concerns grown so Thicke that songwriters find it’s easier now to just get Happy and + colleagues who seek credit because their works sound sort of similar?

Ed Sheeran—the singer, songwriter, actor, guitarist, and record producer—may have sent the music industry a strong message with his recent settlement of a copyright infringement suit over his hit song Photograph. In answer to 2016 claims by songwriters Martin Harrington and Thomas Leonard that they should be awarded $20 million from him because they say his song infringed on their composition Amazing (as recorded by Matt Cardle, the 2010 winner of The X Factor reality series), Sheeran, legendary for his mathematically signed albums, effectively replied: —  .

He then apparently decided not to be ÷, and to just × the number of folks credited on his tune.

What’s going on—and was this part of a potentially −legal trend? Let’s get to the √ of this music industry development. (more…)

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Web services catch a break on older music

Justices decline case contesting net providers’ ‘safe harbor’ protections for pre-’72 music recordings, infringement claims

Where the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court decline to go can matter as much as where they do.

The lesson has played out anew with the high court’s recent refusal to take up a much-watched Entertainment Law dispute involving pre-1972 sound recordings and online service providers.

That has left the services, the music industry, and judges in courts across the country with some complex copyright issues hanging more than a little bit. For now, performers may have been dealt a setback,  while the providers look like they won a victory rooted in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s “safe harbors.”

This controlling case may have executives at the online video service Vimeo sighing in some relief after they were sued in 2009 by Capitol Records for copyright infringement.

A federal district judge hearing the case ruled the video site liable for infringement where pre-1972 recordings had been uploaded without license to Vimeo’s site.

But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit overturned that judgment, finding the lower court’s exempting older recordings from the DMCA’s safe harbors would “defeat the very purpose Congress sought to achieve in passing [it].” The appeals court refused to reconsider the case in August, leading the record industry to appeal in December to the U.S. Supreme Court. But the high court declined to hear the case, leaving the Second Circuit judgement in place, especially since it was joined by another appellate circuit.

What’s this dispute about and why does it matter?

(more…)

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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?

(more…)

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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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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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‘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…)

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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…)

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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…)

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