In another superhero summer, adult woes fester

Will Hollywood finally hit a day of reckoning with ageism and sexism?

Hollywood may be happy this summer that Wonder Woman, one of its box office blockbusters not only has sustained a seemingly endless parade of comic superhero sagas, it also has given the industry a success story to— weakly— fend off long-standing, self-evident claims about sexism in the movie business.

But ageism, a twin bane of Tinsel Town, festers still. And with 1 in 3 prime occupants of theater seats in the United States 50 or older, and the business under legal fire for discriminating against its seasoned talent, can the major studios, in particular, quell seasons of discontent just with a slate of noisy, youth-oriented offerings that movie executives pray will shower revenue: Can yet more Cars, Aliens, Transformers, Caribbean Pirates, and Spider Men keep not only kids but also grownups, especially those with a little gray in their hair, enthralled with the movies?

Or might Hollywood, with introspection and creativity, overcome its issues to better portray characters who are older than 60 without demeaning or comedic stereotyping? Aren’t there profit-generating and great roles—neither sexist nor ageist—on the silver and broadcast screens for revered stars like Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon (shown above)? Aren’t there affluent, powerful markets to be expanded with benefits to the business and to older Americans, too? (more…)

Read More

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…)

Read More

Appeals court, at least, sees talent act clearly

U.S. Ninth Circuit judges reject managers’ attack on California law but disputes keep surfacing over representation, commissions

Saunter down the street in Des Moines or Poughkeepsie and ask the first passer-by about who engages in the “procuring” business and be glad not to get a punch in the nose for asking about something that sounds like it’s part of the world’s oldest profession. But at least in Hollywood, and for especially for those in the entertainment industry, this practice—part art and part commerce—is so common that it should be legally plain and it is clearly understood, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has declared.

The judges in the appellate court for the stars have upheld the dismissal of a suit by the National Conference of Personal Managers, a group aggravated by still controversial state statute(s) that they argue keeps clients from showing them the money—the California talent agencies act. The appellate judges concurred with a lower court ruling rejecting the managers’ claims, and finding that the act does not violate due process, equal protection, or free speech of talent managers in the entertainment industry.

The law says that only state-licensed agents may procure work for clients—the legions in Los Angeles of actors, directors, writers, and, yes, wannabes. The problem with the half-century old talent sections of the state labor code is that they also bar non-agents, including managers, attorneys, and the unlicensed from obtaining work for clients. This can and has created ned in the Biz, sparking significant protests before. The personal managers’ complaint provides a timely reminder that the griping about the act not only isn’t going away, it provides a recurring reason to keep re-examining the historic but also changing representation of talent in the Golden State. (more…)

Read More

With tech-streamers’ rise, will law jobs change?

The industry headlines tell a persuasive tale. Netflix: The most feared force in Hollywood? Netflix: The monster that’s eating Hollywood. Netflix is killing it—big time—after pouring cash into original shows.

With cord-cutting becoming  ever more common and broadcast network ratings steadily declining, will Entertainment Lawyers start streaming from traditional industry workplaces in search of Elysian Fields with newer employers working in newer technologies?

It may be a question to ponder, even as the studios and Netflix head to court in a battle over claims the big and growing streaming service poached key entertainment executives

But for lawyers, in particular, there may be more cultural and workplace issues to consider before throwing caution to the wind, polishing up that CV, and seeking to get in the queue for new employment. Yes, Netflix the disrupter of the TV world, the company that’s changing how consumers digest content,  is hiring.

But the company has its own distincitive hiring practices and workplace environment, bringing a holistic, freethinking, Silicon Valley “start-up vibe” to the often provincial and openly combative, kill-or-be-killed culture of showbiz in Hollywood—and to the typically buttoned-up environment of legal departments in some of those entertainment companies.

What’s the brief on working for entertainment-tech hybrids, or at least one of the giants of the day in this area?

(more…)

Read More

A writers’ strike averted, troubling trends persist

When Hollywood gets the sniffles, its lawyers can feel like they’re suffering a major bout of pneumonia. So there was good reason for the collective exhale by many in the industry in recent days as the Writer’s Guild of America—the union to which all working screenwriters are required to belong—reached a contract deal with the studios. A potentially punishing strike was avoided. Productions continue. The disputing parties didn’t get all each wanted.

But did the entertainment business just whistle past some current economic concerns  to kick down the path some big, longer-term issues? As audiences confront increasing programming choices and their entertainment habits transform, have writers (long a vulnerable party in the Hollywood system) served as a harbinger of how industry talent—whether scribes, directors, producers, actors, or lawyers—keeps struggling and may be losing ever more to the tides of technology? (more…)

Read More

Calif. tosses angry actor’s talent-act claim

Star’s manager prevails in beef over commissions, representation

Thomas Gibson‘s acting career, launched at age 10, has taken him through Julliard, the Broadway stage, and Hollywood, where he starred in the CBS TV hit Criminal Minds for a dozen years. But the unsmiling 55-year-old has seen a highly lucrative career take a rough turn recently, including his 2013 arrested for a DUI (for which he lost use of his license) and his highly publicized tussles and firing in late 2016 from the crime procedural show that had made him one of the industry’s top-paid performers.

While he battles to restore his reputation, actions by Gibson, his longtime manager, and a recent ruling by the California Labor Commission won’t stop the negative turn. The state’s Talent Agencies Act isn’t always the easiest regulation for performers and their managers to navigate, as recent prosecutions have affirmed. But a state labor commissioner found clearly that problems Gibson may have encountered and complained about were on his side, not his manager’s. Let’s dig in to this critical but tempestuous situation. 

Photo: Cliff Lipson©CBS 

 

 

(more…)

Read More

Is an icon’s image too generic to trademark?

Bitter battle by Marilyn Monroe estate to protect her legacy may have unforeseen 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?

(more…)

Read More

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…)

Read More

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…)

Read More

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…)

Read More