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…)

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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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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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‘Empire’ strikes back in City of Brotherly Love

U.S. judge in Philly becomes latest of several to reject claims about originality of hit TV series

Rome not only wasn’t built in a day, it also took centuries and legions of soldiers to defend its expanding glory. TV’s Empire, it turns out, is requiring its own formidable legal forces to fend off its attackers.

And Lee Daniels, the hit Fox series’ ceasar, may be singing Philadelphia Freedom after shaking off the latest assault with a federal district court in Pennsylvania dismissing a copyright infringement suit by former actor Clayton Prince Tanksley.

Tanksley lacked much brotherly affection for Empire, which he claimed copied his TV drama Cream. How did his suit, and several others, curdle, legally speaking? (more…)

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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…)

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EU court details tech, profit infringement perils

Copyright violations can occur too readily and for makers’ improper advantage when razzle-dazzle TV tools make it too easy to access protected content—with, and without rights owners’ OK, court warns

The sale of multimedia players that permit users to effortlessly stream illegal content to a television screen can be the kind “communication to the public” that is illegal under the European Union’s Copyright Directive, the Court of Justice recently decided.

The ruling by the EU’s high judicial body in Luxembourg could be key as technology continues its unchecked advance.

The case arose when Stichting BRIEN,  a Dutch anti-piracy group, filed legal action against Jack Wullems, the creator of the multimedia device known as Filmspeler. Wullems installed third-party add-ons to his creation to permit customers easy access to protected works on streaming websites operated by third-parties. Some of these sites allow access to digital content—both with and without copyright holders’ permission.

The EU high court characterized the Filmspeler as akin to “a pirate … Apple TV,” and noted that Wullems had advertised the device as such. Those promotions played a  large part in how the court ruled because it helped show that Wullems aimed strictly to profit from the device, which many customers had purchased. But how did this case prove to be digital double-Dutch in the Netherlands and across the Continent? (more…)

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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?

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Congress takes aim at nation’s copyright chief

Lawmakers advance measure to strip Librarian of Congress of power to appoint copyrights Register, giving authority, instead, to the president, with congressional assistance

Congress is sending a rebuke to the bureaucrats who run a system that’s critical to Entertainment Law: The House has passed and sent to the Senate a proposal to strip The Librarian of Congress of the power to appoint the Register of Copyrights, giving that authority, instead, to the president.

HR 1695, the Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act,  has passed the House Judiciary Committee in a 27-1 bipartisan vote, and it has advanced out of the House in a 378-48 vote. It now rests with the Senate Rules and Administration Committee.

Whether it goes beyond, it has become the legislative equivalent of baseball’s brush-back pitch, with lawmakers expressing some degree of displeasure with the nation’s copyright administrators—and creating a colloquy over how this potential change might affect innovators and creators.

How did this tussle blow up? (more…)

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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…)

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‘Oh, Really?’ A ‘Night Of’ ethics, evidence woes

In our ‘Oh, Really’  feature, the Biederman Blog’s editors and alumni— voracious consumers of trendy matters — cast a curious, skeptical, fun and smart end-of-the-week eye on popular culture and its entertaining products, sharing their keen observations about legal matters these raise.

The HBO series “The Night Of” has won critical acclaim. In this crime drama, Nasir, a community college student from a working class, Queens, Pakistani-American family heads out with friends to a party one Friday night. He meets a beautiful, mysterious young woman. After a night of drinking and ingesting other substances with her at her place, he blacks out. He awakens the next morning to find her stabbed 22 times.

The rest of the series is “Did he, or didn’t he?” and tracks his attorneys–a weary, down-on-his-luck ambulance-chaser, and the other a wet-behind-the-ears Pollyanna—as they build a defense. Their work is cut in with the hunt of a dogged detective who is “just one case away from retiring.” The series culminates in the young man’s trial, when we learn his surprise fate. The show’s performances are stellar, the direction is spot-on, and the writing —by the masterful Richard Price—is superb. But, really, how about the law in this hit? (Some spoiler alerts ahead, fyi.)

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