Who gets last laugh in battle over Conan jokes?

U.S. judge, ruling jests can get ‘thin’ copyright protection, advances to trial a writer’s suit claiming that O’Brien, his team infringed on timely quips posted on Twitter about Tom Brady, Caitlyn Jenner, Washington Monument

Comedian Conan O’Brien, NFL quarterback Tom Brady, transgender celebrity Caitlyn Jenner, and the Washington Monument all walk into a bar one day. And O’Brien says … Wait, wait, why is gag-writer Alex Kaseberg not laughing at or liking much this joke set up?

It may be because the one-time writer for comic legend Jay Leno has accused O’Brien and his one-liner squad of  stealing jokes from him for the lanky red-head’s TBS late-night show off of Twitter.

U.S. District Court Judge Janis L. Sammartino in San Diego has rejected two of Kaseberg’s claims but has found that three jokes involving Brady, Jenner, and the capital landmark pose genuine issues of material facts. The judge has snapped off any laugh tracks and sent comedy into a new legal realm by allowing for now Kaseberg’s suit against O’Brien to proceeed to trial. Pa-dum. So when a comic star and writer walk into court, what might be said, or, um, argued?


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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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Are 6-second Vines ‘too minimal’ to infringe?

vine-micro-video-app-smart-phone-ios-androidVine, a social media website acquired by Twitter, is a popular technology among millennials. They like it because it lets them create looping six-second videos, which are easy to view and to share quickly and widely, often virally. Vine also is gaining traction with brands for marketing, and that is creating issues for intellectual property owners

Vine has steered away from infringement claims, so far, because of Twitter’s prompt compliance with take-down notices under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act; those take-down requests also have been rarely contested by user-posters.

But is the brevity of Vine’s core product also prophylactic–does it provide a de minimis defense? That notion has come under fire in Britain with a recent court ruling from a judge, who found that “fair dealing” failed to apply to Vine snippets showing key moments of an original cricket broadcast. How might the legal thinking cross the seas and be seen in U.S. courts that share a common law tradition?


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Dancing baby spins again, now for more fair use


Oh, that baby never seems to stop dancing, does he?

The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, en banc, has released an amended opinion and dissent in the “Dancing Baby” case aka Lenz v. Universal Music Corp, which this blog has posted plenty about previously.

For a quick recap, this case involves plaintiff Stephanie Lenz, who nine years ago posted a 29-second video on youtube.com of her then infant son dancing to Prince’s Let’s Go Crazy. Universal, which owns the song’s copyright, then used Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s take-down procedures to seek video’s removal.  The two parties have gone at in court ever since, resulting last year in the appellate opinion finding that a rights’ holder must make “a good faith inquiry” as to whether content would qualify under the Copyright Act’s fair use exception before requesting a take-down.

In its original opinion, the appellate judges included a limit that the “consideration of fair use need not be searching or intensive,” and that “implementation of computer algorithms appears to be a valid and good faith middle ground for processing a plethora of content while still meeting the DMCA’s requirement’s to somehow consider fair use.” The judges sought to explain some of the process that rights holder must perform before seeking a take-own, as well as limiting the scope of their required inquiries.

But in amending their opinion, the appellate judges have removed both those limitations. Let’s dance a little more with the revised ruling: (more…)

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Walmart rears up against cartoonist’s site

When a cartoonist decides to horse around, must a mammoth corporation react as if an online site is a horse of a different color, and whinny to the jest, nay, nay, neigh? With the Entertainment industry seeking to protect its intellectual property, especially in response to lucrative merchandising issues, it’s worth seeing that copyright and trademark issues create legal issues for other enterprises, too–and that the cyber chatter can be just as robust over the online world’s perception that corporations may feel their oats too much and might consider a wee bit more horse sense about aggressive protection of brand.

Today’s publicity-attracting incident involves Walmart, from which Jeph Jacques, creator of the comic strip Questionable Content, received a recent cease and desist letter  after he launched his Walmart.horse website via the Tumblr photo-sharing and blogging software.

Jacques insists his is a protectable fair use of Walmart’s trademark. In the C&D notice, Walmart, the nation’s largest retailer, says the site, among other mark infringement claims, particularly “weakens the ability of the Walmart mark and domain name to identify a single source… [and] tarnishes the goodwill and reputation of Walmart’s products, services, and trademarks.”

What legal issues will prevail, so one of these conflicting parties happily and triumphantly rides off into the sunset?


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Eminem raps are OK but Facebook posts aren’t?

EminemThe world has heard an earful from Marshall Bruce Mathers, the recording artist also known as Eminem aka Slim Shady. Since he broke out in the rap and hip hop scene as a pale poet from Motown with lots to say, Mathers also has done his share of aggravating audiences with his pointed and profane views, which women and gays have found hateful and offensive. Look online and it’s also clear that Eminem’s lyrics lean far out on themes of violence and harm to others. As with others in his genre, however, no one has ever suggested stuffing a sock in his utterances, legally speaking, no matter how disturbing his words. It’s music and free speech and protected, right? Well, what happens when those very same lyrics get put to page, on Facebook specifically, and they’re thrown in with other messages targeted at an individual? What happens then? That issue has made its way through an appellate court and heads to the U.S. Supreme Court this fall. (more…)

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‘Oh, Really?’ Ethics shattered in 2 professions?

glassIn ‘Oh, Really?’ the Biederman Blog’s editors — voracious consumers of all matters pop culture — cast a curious, skeptical, fun and smart end-of-the-week eye on popular productions, sharing their keen observations about legal matters these raise.

He’s a fresh-faced, eager but ruthlessly ambitious guy who somehow also manages to be nice, likable and accomplished. He’s also more than a little furtive, mysterious and slippery. And the actor who captures all these characteristics — a star who also portrayed a youthful warrior who would morph into one of the notorious, tortured Freudian villains of pop culture — has won praise for putting a personable, accessible and bespectacled face on the practice of pathological lying. Why is it worth revisiting actor Hayden Christensen as scribe Stephen Glass in the critically acclaimed but relatively low-grossing flick Shattered Glass?

Well, when truth turns into fiction, fiction shows truth and the truth becomes an object of scorn, this must be a mix of Washington, Hollywood and San Francisco or journalism, movies, the law and commentary. And who knew that the odious practices of one craft, chronicled in a movie three years ago, would be resurrected in a California Supreme Court rebuke and then would subject the legal profession to its own tut-tut-ing over  its bad actors? (more…)

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In NY, comic fans’ curses for social media stunt

There’s no doubt that events like Comic Con and Comikaze build fans’ frenzy for superheroes, the supernatural and all manner of matters fantasy. These conventions, for Hollywood, also have proven fantastic venues to hype  and promote big-money producing comic-themed movies and TV shows, providing Tinseltown marketers and producers a choice opportunity to connect with die-hard comic fans and other influential consumers. Which is why some alarms must have sounded here on the West Coast  over the possibility that overzealous East Coast event sponsors might spook this special and specialized audience of convention-goers, as occurred at New York Comic Con with a surprising dust-up over privacy and social media. (more…)

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Court reconsiders harm in online infringement

imagesA U.S. District Court in New York has done a double-take on its Agence France Presse v. Morel decision handed down in January.

Granting a motion of reconsideration, the court clarified its previous ruling to reflect that photographer Daniel Morel (left, in a Karl Melander photograph) was entitled to receive only one award of statutory damages per work infringed jointly by defendants Agence France Presse and Getty Images.

This has been a much-heralded case because analysts have said it provided a legal slap and warning even to large institutions that they may not go online, particularly to social media sites, to nab, then use for commercial purposes the copyrighted creative works of others without permission. (more…)

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Listen up: There’s legal rancor on podcasting

pa_logoPodcasters, beware: a company that owns a patent for the podcasting format may have its sights on you — or at least it is taking on commercial firms that host your work for using technology they’ve legally claimed. Personal Audio has sent numerous letters demanding licenses from podcasters and has sued some high-profile personalities  in the podcasting world, like Adam Corolla’s ACE Broadcasting and HowStuffWorks. While the company hasn’t yet cast its litigation net widely, the entertainment personalities and media institutions that have tapped this technology are staggering, from the likes (just type the term in a search engine to see this) of Ellen Degeneres to Mick Jagger, with NPR (think everything from Car Talk to This American Life), the New York Times and the Financial Accounting Standards Board, in there, too. In case you’re wondering, the company also says it has taken a bite out of Apple. (more…)

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