Lionsgate hit with a $5.8 million ‘Biggest Loser’

Arbitrator rules studio undercut profit potential of fitness guru Jillian Michaels’ recorded workouts with free YouTube postings

Fitness guru Jillian Michaels has found a legal workout that may make skinnier the wallets of Lionsgate Films Group while also putting more muscle behind performers’ options to protect their works from popping up for free on YouTube.

Entertainment law experts are watching closely Michaels’ recent favorable decision from an arbitrator, awarding her $5.8 million in her dispute with the studio over fitness videos tied to the hit TV weight-loss show Biggest Loser.

What led her to get so exercised about how Lionsgate treated her workouts, and how might this tighten up some commercial online video practices?

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Champs’ publicity-rights claim slapped down

With federal copyright laws holding sway, online sales are acceptable of prized photos of basketball players, their games, appellate judges find

Patrick Maloney, a hot-shooting guard who helped catapult his 2001 team to Catholic University’s first-ever Division III national championship, has become a school legend for his elite decision-making on a basketball court.

But he, teammate Tim Judge, and other Cardinal players made bad calls in courts of law when they and their attorneys sought to contest a decision by their alma mater, the NCAA, and an online vendor, T3Media and its Paya.com website, to allow the public to download pictures of them and their games, especially their now 16-year-old upset victory over William Paterson at the Salem (Va.) Civic Center, a federal appeals court has decided.

On behalf of themselves and other college jocks, Maloney, Judge, and other CU Cardinals had asserted that state right-of-publicity laws gave them a say about the uses of the disputed shots, and, more importantly their likenesses and identities.

But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in Maloney v. T3 Media, Inc., cried foul, blowing the whistle under First Amendment-protecting anti-SLAPP statutes, and finding that the Federal Copyright Act pre-empted their state publicity rights claim. Here’s an instant replay of how these ballers lost this key round of their legal game. (more…)

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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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Appellate court gives boot to video game claims

If plaintiffs aren’t clever enough to present the courts with the basics, notably the materials that they assert that others exploited and owe them money for, then judges have no choice but to dismiss their royalties and copyright infringement claims, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has reminded a complaining party smart enough to help create a best-selling video game.

Unfortunately for Robin Antonick, the appellate judges recently blocked his attempt to recover royalties from Electronic Arts Inc. for his claimed work on the industry giant’s top-selling product, the John Madden Football video game.

Antonick was the coder who created the first Madden football vide game in 1988. It was played on the Apple II computer. After the immediate success of that debut version, EA asked Antonick in 1989 to jump on a second version, which would be played on the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo systems.

But in the middle of 1990, the company told him to stop his work because EA said it had decided to go in a different direction with the amusement. Then, in November, 1990 EA Sports released Madden II, and from 1992 until 1996, the company continued to release regular installments of the game each year for both the Sega and Super NES systems.

Now, more than two decades after creating the celebrated and highly profitable game with its cult following, Antonick sued EA, seeking royalties he claims he was owed on the Sega and Super NES console versions of the game under the contract he signed with the company. (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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Slants ruling: troubling twist for Skins, TM law

Courtesy of redskins.com

I am going to admit my secret shame. I am a Washington Redskins fan. My father’s family hails from the District, and his grandfather had season tickets at one point. With the woeful lack of a LA football team (for now) the Skins were the only feasible fan option for me for pro football.

But I actually fit into an odd ‘Skins minority: I’d favor a name change for the team. Yes, it would be a shame to lose some franchise history — but not as much of a shame as rooting for a franchise with an odious name. As such, I was glad when a federal judge upheld the Federal Trial and Appeal Board’s 2-1 ruling that the team’s name is offensive to Native Americans, and, thus, ineligible for trademark protection under 15 USC §1052(a). That section of the Lanham Act states that offensive marks are not valid trademarks.

But then the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (the special court dealing mostly with appeals from the patent office) recently struck down 2(a) as an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment in the case In Re Simon Tam. Now my consternation applies not just to a football team and its name but also to the modernity, or lack of it, in trademark law. (more…)

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Jordan’s rebuke for grocer’s ad? $8.9 million

michael-jordan-career-20-e1421440457181He has insisted all along the way that his long legal battle was all about the power and pride of his name and not about a monetary victory. But even in Los Angeles, almost any litigator would be pleased to be part of the recent, much publicized $8.9 million federal court jury award to basketball legend Michael Jordan in his right of publicity suit against Dominick’s, a now-defunct grocery chain in Chicago that published an advertisement in a Sports Illustrated  commemorative edition using the superstar’s likeliness. (more…)

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In big-dollar publicity rights bid, athletes lose

college sports

Onetime college athletes seemed to have gotten a big win over broadcast networks and video game makers last year when a federal judge in California ruled that the NCAA could not keep athletes from licensing their own names and images. But a different legal play hasn’t scored in similar fashion with a federal court in Memphis.

There, a group of Tennessee athletes argued that they had publicity rights under common law and should be compensated for playing in televised games. Wrong call, said U.S. District Court Judge Kevin Sharp, who ruled that the players failed to present any valid theories about their publicity rights under Tennessee common law. State law prohibits use of a person’s name or likeness for advertising purposes but  allows their use for sports broadcasting.

The athletes had brought both state and federal claims but the broadcasting defendants, including ESPN, ABC, CBS, and NBC, were granted their motion to dismiss. With the stakes so high,  it’s worth a little play-by-play in the running contest among jocks, broadcasters, and video game makers. (more…)

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‘Wild Thing?’ He’s not golden in the legal ring

Steve “The Wild Thing” Ray, the popular professional wrestler with the shoulder-length golden locks, has gotten thrown out  of the legal ring, again. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit of Appeals has tossed the appeal of the onetime Universal Wrestling Federation star’s loss against sports broadcasting powerhouse ESPN.

Ray brought state claims against the network, for re-telecasting bouts from his early years of wrestling professionally. Although ESPN acquired the films of him legally, Ray said the broadcasts undercut money he might make from broadcasts of his UFW fights. He claimed in his Missouri case that the global TV and satellite channel had invaded his privacy, misappropriated his name, infringed on his publicity rights, and interfered with his prospective economic advantage from broadcasts of his fights.

ESPN got the case moved to federal court and a district judge granted its motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim; that decision was upheld by the federal appellate court, which said his state claims were preempted by the federal Copyright Act. While the appellate judges threw no chairs across the ring, didn’t slap the plaintiff in a headlock, nor did they twist his arm, just in case anyone’s unfamiliar with Ray’s entertainment skills:

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In latest twist in ad suit, Jordan tastes defeat

As the San Antonio Spurs and Manny Pacquiao could well advise basketball legend Michael Jordan, even champions don’t win every contest. Jordan himself discovered this off the hard courts and in a court of law recently, when a federal judge in Chicago, dealing with matters from a case remanded to him by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, rejected the superstar’s motion for summary judgment in a lawsuit over a grocery ad that seemed to salute him. (more…)

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