Appellate court rejects cable license for FilmOn

In its long-running bid to transform broadcasting, controversial firm fails to persuade judges to extend protections granted to cable companies. TV networks complained high-tech company’s through-air, content “capture,” and re-transmissions constitute infringement.

FilmOn boasts that it provides its customers through its website with an impressive access to “600 free live TV Channels” as well as “45,000 complimentary movies.” While Internet streaming services like Hulu and Netflix often say they have been forced to raise their prices to cover expensive content-licensing fees how, then, can FilmOn offer online such a wide, no-cost offering of copyright protected entertainment?

The answer—or so FilmOn thought, at least—rests in Section 111 of the Copyright Act. It allows bona fide cable systems to secure licenses that permit them to re-transmit a “performance or display of a work” previously broadcast by others—but without securing consent of the material’s copyright holder. Cable systems are protected against infringement claims, provided they pay fees to the U.S. Copyright Office, as spelled out by statute.

For FilmOn, which has become something of a broadcast copyright bad boy, Section 111 was a key legal step to advance the company’s controversial ambitions to transform broadcasting. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has pulled the plug on yet another aspect of its complex, continuing technology-based arguments in its battle with competitors and the TV networks. The appellate judges in Pasadena, Calif., recently ruled in favor of Fox, NBC, ABC, CBS and other broadcasters, finding that FilmOn can’t qualify as a cable system and thereby can’t obtain federal licenses allowing it to re-transmit copyrighted material from the networks.

Are we near the end of the long-running battle over what happens with free signals pulled from the air by thousands of tiny antennas at a central site, then sent onward? Hasn’t the highest court in the lands settled the contentious “Aereo” argument? (more…)

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Behind a fun festival season, legal lines in sand

For Coachella and other lucrative live music events, there’s no fiddling around in enforcing protections for brands, merchandise

Summer’s quickly approaching, and that means the music festival season soon will be rocking and rolling in its full glory. But there’s more than meets the eye in staging successful—read that highly lucrative—events, besides getting throngs out in Mother Nature’s splendor for a splendid series of hot performances by top artists of the moment.

For Entertainment Law counsel, protecting a festival’s name, brand, intellectual property, and associated merchandise can require a lot of non-musical movements, year-round overtures in copyright and trademark enforcement. They’re playing a big score, with events and goods representing a sizable part of pop music’s revenues these days.

That’s the prelude for this post, now on to seeing some of how it’s done, with a sampling of the legal fugues performed by a major player, the Coachella Music Festival LLC:

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Oh, Sheldon, go ahead, sing the darn cat song

Court swats away suit over Warm Kitty, as sung on Big Bang Theory

Actor Jim Parsons has turned the misanthropic, mischievous, and often malevolent character of Sheldon Cooper, uber nerd and brilliant physicist, into not just an Emmy winner but also a million-dollar-an-episode recurring star part in a prime time network smash. Fans obsess about the adventure of Sheldon and his pointy-headed pals. But, hello, kitty, a federal judge in Manhattan has told Big Bang Theory aficionados they can rest easy about one of Sheldon’s signature musical quirks.

U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald has dismissed a cat-and-mouse game of copyright infringement against the show. It had been hit with a suit by the holders of the rights to the lyrics of Warm Kitty. That’s a tune the two sister-plaintiff’s asserted their nursery school teacher-mom wrote decades ago, then protected in 1937. Eccentric Sheldon, whose idiosyncratic behavior often alienates him from friends and foes alike on the TV show, often sings a version of Kitty to himself to self-soothe.

His lyrics aren’t a carbon copy of the plaintiff’s song. But the sisters argued that the show failed to secure their permission to use the song and the lyrics were substantially similar enough to sue. What gave the judge paws about this cat scratch legal tiff?

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‘Oh, really?’ Early awakening’s murderous?

Passengers posits that rousing a space crew member early from a suspended state is tantamount to murder. How on earth might that be true?

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.

In the movie Passengers,  travelers on a swanky spaceship must trek for 120 years to reach and colonize Homestead II, a planet in a distant galaxy. To survive their journey, they’re all put into a suspended state, to be awakened just months before reaching their destination. But when the ship veers through an asteroid belt, Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) accidentally awakens only 30 years into the trip. He grows depressed and isolated, confronting his  certain death in the 90 years before he reaches his planned new home.

Then, he notices Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) in her suspension pod. He falls for her. He struggles with his choice but wakes her, also nine decades too soon. When conscious, she is devastated that she will die before anyone else aboard besides Jim awakens, especially because she planned to stay only briefly on Homestead II before returning to Earth to write a book about her experiences.

Jim leads her to believe her rousing to consciousness was an accident. They grow close. Then an android, the bartender at one of the couple’s favorite spots on the ship, spills the beans to Aurora: Her amorous interest intentionally woke the sleeping beauty.

When another crew member Gus (Laurence Fishburne), a Chief Deck Officer, is accidentally awakened, Aurora fights with Jim. She insists to Gus that Jim has murdered her. Did he?  This flick raises an ethical or moral dilemma. But, really, murder? What might be legal considerations for such a claim, other than an angry lover’s recriminations about how a partner may have affected her longevity?

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YouTube’s service terms just can’t be ignored

Federal judge tosses suit over music video that was pulled down, then re-posted, and had its view count reset

Performers who leap on to YouTube may be visually savvy, marketing smart, and outstanding early adopters of cutting-edge social media platforms. But besides promoting themselves zealously in cyber space with online services, they also need to step up and master an old legal fundamental: It pays to read the fine print before consenting to any agreement in ink and paper or electrons, as a federal judge in San Francisco has reminded an unhappy plaintiff.

To be sure, the overwhelming majority of YouTube users likely would fail a quiz on the service provider’s terms of service (TOS) agreement before assenting to it. But if the too blithely check off a box on an online page and move ahead with understanding their legal situation, they then also can’t gripe to courts and seek relief when YouTube removes, relocates, and resets the view count of their posted music videos. That was the beef in Darnaa, LLC v. Google Inc.

Plaintiff Darnaa was a limited liability company, an independent music label promoting and producing the works of artist Darnaa. The LLC in March, 2014, uploaded to YouTube the artist’s music video Cowgirl as part of an advertising campaign to promote sales of the song recordings in online digital music stores. But, yippee-ki-yay, YouTube made that ditty mosey where Darnaa didn’t expect on the great cyber free range. Why didn’t the judge corral YouTube, the online video giant? (more…)

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Justices zip up a fashion copyright case

High court, in novel 6-2 ruling, extends legal protection to stripes, chevrons, zig-zags that adorn a major makers’ cheerleader uniforms

The three women donned dapper black for the colorful discussion. Their four male colleagues also appeared in sober, knee-length, noir-dominated attire. After weeks of chatter no doubt about stripes, chevrons, zig-zags, the sculpture of Marcel Duchamp, and multi-dimensionality in design, justices of the highest court in the land recently had their final hurrah in a battle over cheerleader gear, copyright, and fashion.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled 6-2 that graphics elements on uniforms designed by Varsity Brand Inc. (“Varsity”) can be protected under section 101 of the Copyright Act. Sis, boom, bah: That means Varsity now gets to pursue its infringement claim against Star Athletica, Inc., (“Star”). But who else might be cheering or jeering (in Bronx fashion) this decision, unusual even at a court that this term also has pondered the rights of kids and Wonder dogs. (more…)

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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?

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Polish tiff translates into $3 million in penalties


Do widzenia i powodznia!* Telewizja Polska, S.A. (TVP), may be saying to $3.06 million in its bank accounts. That’s because U.S. District Court Judge Tanya S. Chutkan in Washington, D.C., has found, under American law, that the Polish national television network infringed on the copyrights of Spanski Enterprises, Inc. (SEI), a Canadian content-distributor of Polish television programming.

Chutkan ruled that TVP got itself in quite a ogórek kiszony** over the rights to show dozens of episodes broadcast on an international Polish-language broadcast channel, TVPolonia.com, which touts itself as airing “Polish news, current affairs and information programs, sitcoms, mini series, soap operas, movies, programs for children, entertainment programs and much, much more.”

Co oni walczą o?Słuchaj.***

*Goodbye and good luck! **dill pickle ***What were they fighting about? Listen up.
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Blue film firm keeping up its barrage of suits

 

Malibu Media, LLC., an adult film company, filed 201 copyright infringement lawsuits in February. It also launched 747 cases in 2016, and 1,956 suits in 2015, according to Bloomberg Law data. If that sounds like a lot, here is a mind-rattling statistic: In 2014, the company accounted for up to 40 per cent of all copyright infringement claims in the country.

The company was founded by a husband and wife team in 2009. They have said they aim to upend the industry with a higher quality of erotic films. Malibu launched the site x-art.com and created porn that was more expensive to make than most of its competition. The firm charged a monthly subscription fee of $40 for access.

In 2011, after two years of promising growth, their subscriber base plateaued at around 50,000 users. The company soon determined that 300,000 people were watching pirated versions of the company’s movies each week. Malibu filed its first copyright infringement lawsuit in February, 2012. (more…)

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Es tiempo, dice el juez en el caso ‘Timeless’

Court advances claim that U.S. television show may have infringed on Spanish hit

Timing’s everything, a federal judge in California has reminded Sony Television and NBC Universal, as he has denied their moves to dismiss a suit against them by Onza Partners, broadcast creatives in Spain.

The partners object to how negotiations they conducted over their Spanish TV hit in the summer of 2015 with a prominent American agent and Sony progressed—or didn’t—to the fall announcement of an NBC show. The Spaniards unsuccessfully filed suit just before the fall 2016 airing of the American production, not necessarily to block its broadcast but certainly to halt its distribution.

The well-rated program, Timeless, waited for no one, and now the creators of El Ministerio del Tiempo, aka the Department of Time, await the calendar for the federal courts to decide if Sony and NBC infringed on their work and breached a contract, as they claim. The dispute may turn on case law that goes back decades in time.

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