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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‘Oh, Really?’ Yes, ‘Vinny’ still a hit after 25 years

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.

How’d that happen? Has it really been 25 years since a low-budget, gentle comedy about two New York youts—Bill (Ralph Macchio) and Stan (Mitchell Whitfield) and how they get into deep hot water in Dixie, only to be rescued by a Brooklyn wise guy—sneaked into theaters nationwide, became a hit, then a cult classic?

My Cousin Vinnyexperts note, not only has charmed audiences for awhile now. It also has earned a special spot in many lawyers’ hearts and minds because of its attention to telling truths. Its director holds a Cambridge law degree. It has been deemed by a respected legal publication as one of the 25 greatest legal movies, and it has been written up in legal textbooks and online sites.

The eminent jurist Richard Posner has written that the film is “particularly rich in practice tips: how a criminal defense lawyer must stand his ground against a hostile judge, even at the cost of exasperating the judge, because the lawyer’s primary audience is the jury, not the judge; how cross-examination on peripheral matters can sow serious doubts about a witness’s credibility; how props can be used effectively in cross-examination (the tape measure that demolishes one of the prosecution’s eyewitnesses); how to voir dire, examine, and cross-examine expert witnesses; the importance of the Brady doctrine … how to dress for a trial; contrasting methods of conducting a jury trial; and more.

Vinny has a notable fan at Southwestern Law School, too: Prof. Norman M. Garland (right), an expert on constitutional criminal procedure and evidence. Garland, who has served as the Irwin R. Buchalter Professor of Law and the Paul E. Treusch Professor of Law, offered a few observations about the film and its long and high-standing among legal practitioners: (more…)

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Actors’ ages can be posted online, court says

Is it proper to ask thespians their age? It is, a federal judge in San Francisco says.

U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria recently ruled on a request for an injunction against it that a California law, which prevents the film and television information website IMDB from posting actor’s real ages, is out of bounds and cannot be enforced.

While the law’s aim was to prevent age and gender discrimination in casting, the judge held that the law likely abridges expression of non-commercial free speech, writing,  “it’s difficult to imagine how AB 1687 [the law] could not violate the First Amendment.” (more…)

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‘Bad Girl’ defeats, decisively, infringement claim

When a Club Girl became a Bad Girl, a songwriter got in a delayed huff. But he and his lawyer ignored a fundamental aspect of copyright law, a legal point on which an appellate court just offered a pointed reminder: “co-authors of a joint work are each entitled to undivided ownership and the joint owner of a copyright cannot sue his co-owner for infringement.”

That’s why crooner Usher Raymond is sitting prettier than ever as his 2004 derivative hit, Bad Girl, has won a decisive victory over an attack on it, with a ruling from the the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. U.S. Chief Judge Theodore A. Mckee wrote the decision on behalf of the three-judge panel, which included U.S. Circuit Judges D. Michael Fisher and Joseph A. Greenaway Jr.

They not only sent packing Daniel V. Marino, a co-writer  of Club Girl, a tune from which Usher’s successful record was derived, they also upheld sanctions against his counsel. What happened? (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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Judge carves up claims in ‘New Girl’ case

New GirlHollywood can be a small town, particularly when it comes to Entertainment Law practitioners at a certain level. This can cut both ways for potential clients, as plaintiffs Stephanie Counts and Shari Gold learned when U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson in Los Angeles tossed a big section of their suit, rejecting claims of idea theft and breach of contract over the popular Fox television program New Girl

The judge–who had previously found their suit problematic–pointed out to Counts and Gold that, despite their complaints to him, they had been fully informed by their initial counsel of a potential conflict of interest before entering into talks about a potential settlement, which they rejected. Wilson found their attorneys were not “incapacitated” by the potential conflict, nor did they act in bad faith. Meantime, he reminded them that they had exceeded the statute of limitations for their action and, he, thus, granted defendants’ motion to dismiss part of their claim. How did this case get in such a muddle?

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‘Oh, Really?’ Ethics shattered in 2 professions?

glassIn ‘Oh, Really?’ the Biederman Blog’s editors — voracious consumers of all matters pop culture — cast a curious, skeptical, fun and smart end-of-the-week eye on popular productions, sharing their keen observations about legal matters these raise.

He’s a fresh-faced, eager but ruthlessly ambitious guy who somehow also manages to be nice, likable and accomplished. He’s also more than a little furtive, mysterious and slippery. And the actor who captures all these characteristics — a star who also portrayed a youthful warrior who would morph into one of the notorious, tortured Freudian villains of pop culture — has won praise for putting a personable, accessible and bespectacled face on the practice of pathological lying. Why is it worth revisiting actor Hayden Christensen as scribe Stephen Glass in the critically acclaimed but relatively low-grossing flick Shattered Glass?

Well, when truth turns into fiction, fiction shows truth and the truth becomes an object of scorn, this must be a mix of Washington, Hollywood and San Francisco or journalism, movies, the law and commentary. And who knew that the odious practices of one craft, chronicled in a movie three years ago, would be resurrected in a California Supreme Court rebuke and then would subject the legal profession to its own tut-tut-ing over  its bad actors? (more…)

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It’s yet another big Na’vi ‘no’ in `Avatar’ suit

James Cameron. Image Credit: Disney
James Cameron. Image Credit: Disney

While Avatar may have made movie-goers globally swoon for a world blue, a parade of claimants have pursued director James Cameron for reasons green — seeking to claim a share of the box-office smash’s billions in gross. The latest nyet, however, for someone seeking some of that Na’vi cash came on Jan. 17, when a federal court in Maryland ruled in Cameron’s favor in a copyright infringement suit. In that action, Bryant Moore asserted that Cameron created Avatar by copying his screenplays. (more…)

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