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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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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Infringement makes federal court Krabby

Cartoon eatery wins mark protection

With its corps of intellectual property lawyers, Viacom, the entertainment giant, somehow didn’t legally shield the Krusty Krab— and some interlopers soon had plans to have their way with it.

Unfamiliar with this famed eatery, and maybe not savvy about the Sponge Bob Squarepants universe, too? Well, the Krusty Krab is the fictional, featured workplace of SpongeBob and the ever acerbic Squidward. Their famous joint also has its own legendary burger: the Krabby Patty.

Both were in danger, in Viacom’s view, of falling into the nefarious mitts of IJR Capital Investments, an LLC that proposed to open a Krusty Krab restaurant and to trademark that name.

As Mr. Bill, another notable fictional character, would exclaim: Oh, no!

Fear not sea sponges. Viacom pulled up its legal big boy pants and fought back – winning its case recently with a reminder from a federal court in Houston about critical components of IP and trademark law. Hint: Use in the market matters.

(more…)

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Can ‘Axanar’ offer model for studio, fan peace?

In what once was the final frontier, the actions of some one-time loyalists started to raise huge concerns among the rulers of the Great Empire of Hollywood. They feared that rebel forces had aligned and had started to take advantage of technological advances that might threaten imperial products, trade, and treasuries. Forces amassed, threats were exchanged.

Fortunately, a battle has been averted. So now some die-hard fans of the half-century-old Star Trek franchise legally can push ahead with their scaled-back, online production of a mini-film they have dubbed Axanar, which they now can’t use to fund-raise. And for now, Hollywood will keep the peace with its throngs of ticket- and merchandise-buying aficionados, while also setting, its lawyers hope, some relatively easy-to-follow red-line legal bounds on increasingly professional, not-for-profit, crowd-sourced fan films.

The Axanar skirmish may be telling — a lot — about not only Hollywood’s unceasing struggles with change but also, perhaps, key shifts in some of its legal strategies with assaults on its intellectual property.

(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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Judge dissects, discards a ‘Machete’ claim

Danny Trejo, a Los Angeles native with a troubled past, has transformed himself into a Hollywood franchise by portraying some mean hombres all too willing to dispense rough vigilantism. But a Utah federal judge, weighing in on a copyright infringement claim vaguely tied to Trejo’s first starring role, has shown how tough the real law can be on unsupported claims.

U.S. District Judge David Nuffer took a legal machete and whacked apart a lawsuit filed by filmmaker Gil Medina, claiming Univision and its El Rey Network  infringed on his 2006 indie movie Vengeance, which he wrote and filmed. It also was the first movie in which Trejeo starred as the lead.

Medina claimed that the broadcasters’ 2010 televising of Machete, a different movie also starring Trejo, infringed on his Vengeance copyright because the two works shared a similar plot and had the same star. No es cierto, the judge ruled. (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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New Calif. law captures some of the burning anger about ageism, sexism in Hollywood

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Amy Schumer’s parody of Hollywood gender and age bias

Although the adage holds that “it’s never polite to ask a lady her age,” in Hollywood, the very point of view captured in that aphorism has itself become a new flashpoint. That’s because women, unions, politicians, industry executives, and those who run online sites are struggling with the unhappy reality that in Tinsel Town “leading men age but their love interests don’t.”

For many actresses, age isn’t simply a number— it is leading reason why some will be passed up for a role. Just ask Maggie Gyllenhall, who recently was  told that “37 is ‘too old’ for a 55-year-old love interest.” Ageism, as industry critics have decried, is widespread and rampant for actresses, especially for those older than 34.

As more headlines detail Hollywood’s woes with ageism and sexism,  in anecdotal tales from the industry’s leading ladies, in infamous corporate hacks, and in comedy sketches parodying the situation, the movie industry is showing how hard it is grappling for solutions to its long-accepted issues with biases.

But is the right response to these incendiary issues to be found in California laws? There’s a new one that will require select websites, starting in Jaunuary, to pull down performer’s ages upon request. Gov. Jerry Brown supported and recently signed AB 1687. Since its enactment, the Internet has been abuzz over this bill. Why? (more…)

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