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?

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Animators to draw $170 million from studios

Disney, its subsidiaries join major studios in big settlement over visual talents’ claims of anti-competitive personnel practices

Animators, digital artists, and visual effects specialists for industry-leading companies like Walt Disney, Sony Pictures, 20th Century Fox, and Dream Works soon may be walking around with more money jangling in their pocket after the settlement of a sizable class action suit involving these movie-making talents.

That’s because Walt Disney Co.—including its subsidiaries Pixar, and Lucas Films— this month became the last major players to agree to a deal to resolve legal claims, with zero admission of wrongdoing, that they had a “no poach” agreement among themselves over hiring the animators and others, including sharing pay information on them. The workers had asserted these all were antitrust violations that reduced competition in the market  and kept down salaries. Disney and its subsidiaries agreed to settle the claims for $100 million.

DreamWorks Animation, Sony Pictures Animation and 20th Century Fox’s Blue Sky Studios had settled with the animators earlier for roughly $70 million, sending the combined tab for Hollywood to draw to a close this labor action to nearly $170 million. (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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A King of Comedy clobbers an old claim

Steve Harvey, the original king of comedy himself, will get the last laugh in his long dispute with Joe Cooper, a  videographer.

A federal court in Dallas has tossed Cooper’s lawsuit, seeking $50 million, and asserting that Harvey had breached a contract with him for recording 120 or so hours worth of the comedian’s stand-up routines at Harvey’s Dallas club back in 1993.

It turns out that the joke two decades later is on Cooper, as jurors, after just hours of deliberation, found that he and Harvey had not entered into a valid contract. Instead, Harvey’s counterclaim that Cooper invaded his privacy due to misappropriation of the comedian’s name and likeness prevailed. Cooper learned the hard way that posting YouTube videos can have their legal peril. (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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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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Ollivierra, Lind named Institute co-directors

biederman-leadersSouthwestern Law School has announced that faculty members Neil Ollivierra and Robert Lind will serve as the new co-directors of the nationally recognized Biederman Entertainment and Media Law Institute.

Lind is a Southwestern icon, renowned entertainment law expert, prolific author of preeminent texts and treatises, and a mentor and champion of students and alums alike. Prior to his appointment at Southwestern,  Ollivierra served as in-house counsel to various motion picture and television studios at the highest level of business and legal affairs, including Lionsgate Entertainment (The Hunger Games, The Twilight franchise, Orange Is the New Black, Mad Men) and EuropaCorp (Lucy, Taken, The Fifth Element, La Femme Nikita).

Together, their combined expertise, experience, passion and industry affiliations will help to ensure the continued success and growth of the Institute in the spirit of its beloved namesake, Donald E. Biederman. He was a highly admired teacher, scholar, and pioneer in the world of entertainment and media law and the Institute’s founding director. (more…)

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RIP, to a celebrated force in Entertainment Law

 

Let there be no doubt: the Purple Reign, which has ended tragically all too soon, affected Entertainment Law and many of its practitioners.

Prince Rogers Nelson, 57, not only played the role of path-breaking artist, musician, fashionista, and trend-setter, he also was, as various media have noted, an innovator deeply concerned about intellectual property and the legal protection of creative works.

He rocked the recording industry with his willingness to contest its talent representation practices and contracts, which he saw as creative constraints that kept him from controlling his own works. He fought, perhaps to excess, to ensure that his copyrights were enforced. He took a principled stand about the creator’s sovereignty, even in the face of rapidly changing technological advance, becoming one of the prominent hold-outs against what he saw as the penurious payments by online streaming services to musicians, lyricists, and composers.

In doing all this and much, much more, he generated lots of work for Entertainment lawyers in Los Angeles, New York, Minneapolis, and elsewhere. As he a client, just as he was a giant of his craft, he was sui generis, and he will be much missed, practitioners have recalled. RIP, sweet Prince.

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Goliath of live concerts cleared on anti-trust

LNE_Logo_300_(10-2011)The way that fans interact with music has changed drastically in the decade, moving them away from getting them to form long lines at venues to buy tickets to concerts to doing so now online, at home, alone, instantly, and with a click of a mouse.  This also has meant that live performances sell out in mere minutes, whether they are music festivals like Coachella or  Adele’s upcoming tour.  The frenzy of camping out for shows has become antiquated. But has this technology-based change also given undue competitive advantage to big promoters with major name recognition? That has been a gripe of smaller players in the market, and it has become a more pressing issue to many as live concerts have become an ever more lucrative, central part of a music industry riven by streaming, recorded, published and performed ways of product distribution.

The complaint chorus rose to a crescendo about Live Nation, one of the leading companies promoting, orchestrating, organizing, and booking artists for concerts.  A federal district judge had dismissed on summary judgment an anti-trust challenge to Live Nation; appellate judges recently affirmed that ruling. The courts have found that the company’s size was neither inherently good nor bad but that plaintiff It’s My Part Inc. (IMP) had provided insufficient proof that its anti-trust claim could succeed.

The appellate opinion noted that IMP set up the case akin to a “David-and-Goliath battle between an industry behemoth and its regional challenger.” That wasn’t an apt analogy, said U.S. District Judge Harvie Wilkinson III, who wrote on behalf of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Weighing in on a key issue — whether the corporate giant illegally coerced bands to perform at its select venues — he wrote that “[j]ust as big is not necessarily bad, small it not necessarily weak.” He and his colleagues sided with the music industry Goliath not David. (more…)

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