Behind a fun festival season, legal lines in sand

For Coachella and other lucrative live music events, there’s no fiddling around in enforcing protections for brands, merchandise

Summer’s quickly approaching, and that means the music festival season soon will be rocking and rolling in its full glory. But there’s more than meets the eye in staging successful—read that highly lucrative—events, besides getting throngs out in Mother Nature’s splendor for a splendid series of hot performances by top artists of the moment.

For Entertainment Law counsel, protecting a festival’s name, brand, intellectual property, and associated merchandise can require a lot of non-musical movements, year-round overtures in copyright and trademark enforcement. They’re playing a big score, with events and goods representing a sizable part of pop music’s revenues these days.

That’s the prelude for this post, now on to seeing some of how it’s done, with a sampling of the legal fugues performed by a major player, the Coachella Music Festival LLC:

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‘Oh, really?’ Early awakening’s murderous?

Passengers posits that rousing a space crew member early from a suspended state is tantamount to murder. How on earth might that be true?

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.

In the movie Passengers,  travelers on a swanky spaceship must trek for 120 years to reach and colonize Homestead II, a planet in a distant galaxy. To survive their journey, they’re all put into a suspended state, to be awakened just months before reaching their destination. But when the ship veers through an asteroid belt, Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) accidentally awakens only 30 years into the trip. He grows depressed and isolated, confronting his  certain death in the 90 years before he reaches his planned new home.

Then, he notices Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) in her suspension pod. He falls for her. He struggles with his choice but wakes her, also nine decades too soon. When conscious, she is devastated that she will die before anyone else aboard besides Jim awakens, especially because she planned to stay only briefly on Homestead II before returning to Earth to write a book about her experiences.

Jim leads her to believe her rousing to consciousness was an accident. They grow close. Then an android, the bartender at one of the couple’s favorite spots on the ship, spills the beans to Aurora: Her amorous interest intentionally woke the sleeping beauty.

When another crew member Gus (Laurence Fishburne), a Chief Deck Officer, is accidentally awakened, Aurora fights with Jim. She insists to Gus that Jim has murdered her. Did he?  This flick raises an ethical or moral dilemma. But, really, murder? What might be legal considerations for such a claim, other than an angry lover’s recriminations about how a partner may have affected her longevity?

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Justices zip up a fashion copyright case

High court, in novel 6-2 ruling, extends legal protection to stripes, chevrons, zig-zags that adorn a major makers’ cheerleader uniforms

The three women donned dapper black for the colorful discussion. Their four male colleagues also appeared in sober, knee-length, noir-dominated attire. After weeks of chatter no doubt about stripes, chevrons, zig-zags, the sculpture of Marcel Duchamp, and multi-dimensionality in design, justices of the highest court in the land recently had their final hurrah in a battle over cheerleader gear, copyright, and fashion.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled 6-2 that graphics elements on uniforms designed by Varsity Brand Inc. (“Varsity”) can be protected under section 101 of the Copyright Act. Sis, boom, bah: That means Varsity now gets to pursue its infringement claim against Star Athletica, Inc., (“Star”). But who else might be cheering or jeering (in Bronx fashion) this decision, unusual even at a court that this term also has pondered the rights of kids and Wonder dogs. (more…)

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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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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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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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Talent agency, casting workshops charged

LA City Attorney files raft of Krekorian Act cases

Delores White, an Inglewood mom, thought her daughter, “Mia B.,” had star potential. White started working with Network International Models and Talent, a Beverly Hills firm that she hoped would boost her child’s career. After signing a one-year contract with Patrick Arnold Simpson and Paul Atteukenian of the firm, White paid $700 them for pictures of her daughter to develop her “portfolio.” The two men then got the family to pay them upwards of $8,000, in advance, to allow the daughter to participate in a modeling conference in New York.

But mother White got suspicious of the mounting upfront fees and contacted authorities. They have confirmed her worst worries. Officials led by Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer (at lectern in photo right) have filed seven criminal charges against Simpson, 48, and Attekeunian, 51, accusing them of violating California’s Krekorian Act  by charging a client up-front fees and falsely representing Network International Models and Talent as a licensed talent agency. They were charged with petty theft, attempted grand theft, and criminal conspiracy. If convicted, each could face up to four years in jail and $33,500 in fines.

Authorities followed on the Network International case with charges in a separate Krekorian Act prosecution against 28 defendants, including 18 casting directors, associates or assistants who were guest “instructors” at five  casting workshops, which officials asserted were “pay to play” businesses barred under the act. 

These were the seventh and eighth sets of publicly announced prosecutions by the City Attorney’s Office under the act. It serves as a reminder that Los Angeles, while a star-making capital, also can be rife with dubious ways to develop talent. The existence of the Krekorian Act, and its recent updates, also serve witness to key ways that aspiring stars and their supporters can avoid scams—by watching out for anyone who wants to take money up front from them and being wary of promises that sound too good to be true, and, now that are carried by modern means like social media or the Internet. (more…)

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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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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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