Miami, FL Law Blog for Entertainment Law, Business Law, and Public Interest

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Who owns the right to sue if someone steals your music?

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

Different bands and labels may have a variety of approaches to how they manage their intellectual property. Everyone is familiar with the multitude of lawsuit filed by the RIAA against those suspected of illegally downloading music. Musicians not only put their heart and souls into their music, but for many of them it is their primary source of income. It is important that they are appropriately compensated by those whom consume their music.

While some artists and labels choose to vigorously protect their intellectual property, other musicians may prefer another approach. Regardless of how a rights owner chooses to manage their intellectual property, the keys factor is that they have the right to decide. That is why one band was very surprised when a lawsuit was filed in Florida seeking damages against individuals that had allegedly downloaded the band's music. The band had never even heard of the entity that filed the lawsuits.

The band has reached out to their label to see if there was any legitimate reason that this third party that they had never heard of would be filing a lawsuit regarding the rights to their music. While there are licensing and rights management firms that do seek to enforce artists' intellectual property rights on their behalf, there must be some formal assignment of the right to seek damages on behalf of the artists before such an entity can legitimately file a cause of action.

Source: Gizmodo, "Apparently, Copyright Trolls Don't Need to Tell the Band When Suing Its Fans," Andrew Tarantola, April 30, 2012

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Company booked fake concerts, ran off with money

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

A company filed a lawsuit against Black Velvet Entertainment and its chief, alleging that it falsely claimed to represent musicians and would book them for concerts. One of the singers the company said it represented was Kanye West.
In 2009, Black Velvet contacted the company and said that they would book a concert with Kanye West for $45,000. Eventually, Black Velvet "came clean" about not representing Kanye West, but would apply the money to book another concert. The company sent another $100,000 to Black Velvet for another concert, but learned that Black Velvet did not represent that singer, nor did it apply the $45,000 to the booking fee for the second concert.

According to allegations in the lawsuit, the company alleged that Black Velvet had every intention of conning the company from the beginning. The company did not realize this until after Black Velvet offered another booking with a $10,000 binder, and the money was wired to Black Velvet. Documents say that the whole situation turned into a shell game.

The plaintiff company also states that they did not know that Black Velvet had been defrauding business partners for over 10 years. The defendants Black Velvet and its chief allegedly had been setting bookings for all this time, when they had no authority from the personalities to do so. Once Black Velvet solicited money from companies, it would disappear. According to court documents, the plaintiff company is seeking punitive and compensatory damages for conspiracy to defraud, fraud, breach of contract and conversion.

Source: Pollstar, "Fake Kanye Concert Lawsuit," April 21, 2012

Monday, April 23, 2012

Star athletes not immune from business disputes

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

National Football League wide receiver Randy Moss has made his way around the league and the country. He has used his remarkable athletic ability to make great plays on the field, often out-leaping and outrunning defenders for big plays. But off the field, Moss has not proven to be quite as fleet of foot, running into several obstacles that have not been as easy to overcome as an opposing cornerback.

As you may know, Moss spends the offseason training and working out South Florida. The Miami Herald reported recently that Moss has now filed a lawsuit against the owners of a barber shop in which he invested.

According to a lawsuit Moss has filed in this matter, he invested $160,000 into a barbershop as part of an agreement that was supposed to see Moss' investment repaid in addition to receiving up to one quarter of the revenues from the barbershop.

But Moss contends that the owner of the barbers shop initially tried to repay him with checks that were worthless. Moss says the owner then tried to engage in a shell game in which he changes the name of the legal entity that owned the barbershop in an attempt to avoid paying Moss.

It is great when athletes and other entertainers that have experienced some success decide to diversify their income streams by seeking out opportunities outside of the professional sports and entertainment industries. It remains to be seen what the court decides in thisa matter, but successful athletes and entertainers must tread carefully as there are many individuals who seem them less as business partners and more as meal tickets.

Source: Miami Herald, "Return to field by Randy Moss follows salon suit," Jose Lambiet, March 18, 2012

Friday, April 20, 2012

Florida homes provide good backdrop for commercials

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

Florida provides a great commercial filming industry, especially in areas that look like anywhere in America. In other words, houses that have no palm trees but have luscious lawns even during the winter months provide great location shoots for smaller contractors. Before a firm can shoot in a location, it must have permission from the owners of the property, or a lawsuit could ensue.

Most large film companies that use big-name actors and actresses generally create the scenes, but it could be cheaper for the smaller film studios to rent a home that fits their needs. The home the film studio chooses must look like it could be located anywhere in America -- the area should have oak trees, sunshine and even brick-lined roads.

Florida also provides a lot of technical expertise, on camera talent and diverse landscape, which makes the area more compelling for commercials and other films. If a film needs a variety of scenes, the film studio can go from "Anywhere America" to the tropics in a short time. Film studios can find location backdrops for any scene from Africa to a small town in the Midwest to South Louisiana.

Records at the Florida Film Commission show that several hundred film and television projects and 140 commercials have been filmed in Florida since 2010. These numbers do not include filming projects that do not require permits or create an impact on public property. Since spring of 2011, 97 of the permitted projects were commercials.

According to a film commissioner, snow and other bad spring weather pushed the filming industry to look for Florida locations. A scene for Indiana's Hoosier Lottery was filmed at Lake Louisa in Clermont, Florida. A commercial for a Michigan online newspaper was filmed in three Florida cities.

Source: Orlando Sentinel, "Winter Garden a rising star in Orlando area's TV commercial business," Stephen Hudak, April 12, 2012

Monday, April 16, 2012

What's wrong with Reebok selling a Jet's jersey for Tim Tebow?

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

The NFL draft is set to start next week. While the Miami Dolphins will be among all the other teams jockeying for the best talent, once each team has made its picks a whole new round of negotiations begins as teams and players seek to come to an agreements regarding a contract. But these are not the only big money contracts associated with professional football. Licensing of team jerseys and other apparel is also big business.

Earlier this year, Reebok's long term deal with the NFL to make and sell team jerseys and other apparel expired. Nike is now the official apparel of the NFL. But Reebok's agreement allowed it to sell inventory that it had already produced but simply not sold at the time that the contract expired. One jersey that Reebok sold after the expiration of their licensing agreement was a Tim Tebow jersey with his new team, the Jets. The problem is that Tebow was not traded to the Jets until after the licensing agreement had expired.

This means that the jerseys that Reebok was selling could not have been left over inventory that was manufactured prior to the expiration of the agreement, because at that time no one know that Tebow would end up with the Jets. Nike then filed a lawsuit against Reebok.

Reebok had said that it had received oral permission to sell the Tebow Jets jersey, but was unable to offer any evidence to back up that claim. The federal judge in the case issued a preliminary injunction which meant that Reebok had to stop selling the jerseys immediately while the issue was litigated. Following the injunction, Nike and Reebok were able to reach a settlement which resolved the matter.

Source: Forbes, "Judge Blows Whistle On Reebok's Tebow End-Around," Daniel Fisher, April 11, 2012

Friday, April 13, 2012

Lawsuit arises from playground of the rich and famous

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

South Florida is a popular area for those with means to come and enjoy the sun and the water. For actors and celebrities such as Eva Longoria and Jennifer Lopez, one of best places to relax in the Miami area was right offshore. The Utopia mega-yacht caters to singers and entertainers who want to spend their time in the Miami area in luxury.

But now, Market America is the defendant in a lawsuit filed by the Miami chef they employed to create fine meals for the celebrities and guests on the luxury boat.

The chef claims that the owners of the boat physically abused him while he was working on the yacht. In the lawsuit, the chef alleges that the owner would become intoxicated and throw kitchen utensils at the chef. Including at least one occasion on which the chef was knocked to the ground by the owner of the boat. The chef claims that he has sustained serious back injuries as a result of the abuse and it is now difficult for him to work.

Market America, the company that owns the boat, not surprisingly disagrees with the chef's version of events. According to a spokesperson for the company, they allege that the chef has a history of dishonesty and frivolous litigation. It should be interesting to see how this case plays out over the next few months.

Source: Miami Herald, "Yacht chef's mega lawsuit against the Ridingers," April 13, 2012

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Trademark lawsuit filed over The Platters band

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

A trademark infringement lawsuit has been filed accusing a music promoter of improperly permitting musical performing groups to use the name of "The Platters" without obtaining consent. The lawsuit was filed by Herb Reed, who is the last original member of The Platters band left alive.

Disputes over the use of the band's trademark have flared off and on over several decades. The band came to fame while releasing such popular song hits as "The Great Pretender" and "Only You." The current lawsuit is against Florida Entertainment Management as well as individually agaisnt its CEO.

In 1974, a court ruled that the band's assignment of The Platters trademark in 1956 to Five Platters Inc. (FPI) was not legally binding, and that the FPI company was a sham used to try to obtain the use of the group's name.

The FPI company, the court found, did not incorporate any of the original musicians who performed as part of the original band, and represented an attempt to mislead the public into believing that they were hearing the original band members when FPI's group "The Buck Ram Platters" performed.

Further litigation over the trademark ensued in Florida courts after FPI registered "The Platters" with federal trademark authorities, which Reed claims was improper.

That registration was canceled in 1989. The current litigation claims that the defendant promoter has promoted singing groups across the country, allowing them to perform as The Platters despite not having been in the original group. The promoter, the plaintiff argues, never legitimately acquired the rights to the name from anyone with the authority to license it.

The lawsuit seeks injunctive relief against the use of the band's name as well as trademark infringement damages.

Source: Courthouse News, "'The Platters' Trademark Suits Keep Spinning," Nick DiVito, April 6, 2012

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Nike files lawsuit against Reebok over licensed jerseys

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

Reebok was the official sponsor for the National Football League Players Association to produce and sell player apparel in Florida and throughout the country. That decade long contract expired before March 1 of this year. However, Nike will become the exclusive supplier of NFL jerseys and apparel for all NFL teams beginning in April. Reportedly, Nike paid $1.1 billion for the right to hold the official license for the next five years.

So what is the business dispute between these two competitors? The dispute surrounds Tim Tebow, the NFL quarterback who grabbed headlines last season. He was recently traded from the Broncos to his new team, the Jets.

Though Nike assumed that Reebok would only be selling off its remaining inventory, Reebok has decided to supply jerseys with Tebow's name on them to retailers. Although these sales were for a limited period of time, Nike obviously expected to be the exclusive seller of these jerseys.

Nike certainly would like to protect its interests as the NFL's official jersey seller, and especially of Tim Tebow apparel, which is obviously a hot commodity. In fact, Tebow jerseys were the second highest selling jersey for the entire league last year.

Did Reebok have authorization to sell these jerseys? Does their agreement with the NFL Players Association grant Reebok the license to sell this product? Or was Reebok taking advantage of this unique situation at the end of their licensing agreement?

Nike filed a lawsuit to have a court address these questions surrounding the shirts and other apparel that Reebok is selling featuring the name and number of Tebow. Nike claims that Reebok's sales have caused Nike financial harm as they are now at a competitive disadvantage and have already lost substantial sales because of Reebok's actions.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, "Nike Sues Reebok Over Tebow Shirts," Chad Bray and Miguel Bustillo, March 28, 2012

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Facebook the subject of patent infringement lawsuits

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

Recently, the social-networking giant Facebook has been the subject of business litigation by Yahoo! Inc. In that case, Yahoo! is seeking triple damages for what it claims is the infringement of its intellectual property, including 10 patents involving Internet privacy, advertising and information sharing.

And this is not the first time that Facebook has been the subject of such litigation. In fact, last year Facebook was among the top 28 targeted defendants in intellectual property cases.

In the hopes of expanding its patent protections, and in an effort to protect itself from these and similar lawsuits, Facebook has recently acquired 750 patents from IBM Corporation. The patents Facebook recently acquired involve various areas of technology that concern Facebook's business.

IBM can be considered as the king of patents as it has in fact been a leader in the patent acquisition area during the past 19 years. Last year alone, it was the recipient of more than 6,000 patents. No wonder IBM has been offering some of its patents for sale to other Internet companies.

Facebook's other major competitors, Google Inc. and Microsoft, each already has a stockpile of patents to protect their interests. Will this new acquisition of patents by Facebook protect it from future intellectual property lawsuits?
Investors in Florida who are considering purchasing a share in Facebook would certainly hope so, but that may not be realistic. As Facebook's business expands and changes, it is expected that it will continue to be the target of business lawsuits from other rivals who are concerned about protecting their own businesses.

Source: Bloomberg Businessweek, "Facebook Is Said to Buy 750 IBM Patents to Boost Defenses," Brain Womack, March 22, 2012

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Televangelists accused of financial misconduct

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

The famed televangelists behind the Trinity Broadcasting empire are facing a $50 million lawsuit brought by their granddaughter, the company's former chief financial officer. She claims that she was fired after exposing illegal financial decisions. The suit alleges that the couple, Paul and Jan Crouch, misspent company funds on luxury mansions throughout the nation, private jets, and a mobile home for their dogs. A supporting suit has been filed by another unnamed family member.

The husband of the woman bringing the suit was accused of embezzling about $1 million from the Trinity Broadcasting Network by a debt collection agency. The agency later targeted the woman, along with two of her relatives. The woman's father, who is Paul and Jan's oldest son, resigned from the company last year. He had been the vice president and chief of staff. Experts postulate that the man's departure was attributable to the outbreak of legal action.

Despite conflicting reports, the Crouch's legal team said that the case is simple: The woman and her husband who brought the suit stole from TBN. Attorneys for the televangelists said that couple is attempting to divert attention from their crimes in order to escape punishment.

TBN is one of the most popular religious-based entertainment networks, and one of the most profitable, with the company claiming $800 million in assets in 2010. Critics have often wondered how the money is spent, but the televangelists file tax forms separately through a variety of other companies that they own and operate.

TBN has been fraught with scandal before. In 1998, a lead church official paid an accuser more than $400,000 to hide evidence about a homosexual encounter. Federal Communications Commission authorities also investigated the company as part of a five-year legal battle, during which TBN was accused of monopolizing broadcast stations.

Source: Bloomberg BusinessWeek, "Lawsuits bring scrutiny to Trinity Broadcasting," Gillian Falccus, March 22, 2012

Monday, March 26, 2012

Florida financial firm sued over cancelled IPO

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

With large business opportunities come large business risks. When several companies come together to pursue a common goal there is often a great deal of optimism and positive messages about the future of the joint venture. Contracts are signed and hands are shaken as all the parties begin to try to carry out their responsibilities under the agreement. It is at this point that plans can sometimes go off the rails, deadlines and payment may be missed and the finger pointing begins.

A Florida financial firm now finds itself involved in a commercial lawsuit as part of a joint venture that was intended to facilitate the initial public offering of a security alarm servicing company. The lawsuit claims that the Florida firm, along with its partner intentionally destroyed the alarm servicing company by cancelling the IPO. They claimed that his was a breach of their contract and amounted to a "double cross."

The lawsuit indicates that the decision to cancel the IPO was an assertion on the part of the Florida firm and its partner that the alarm company had defaulted on a payment on an $85 million loan. It appears that the allegedly missed loan payment was supposed to come about as a result of an IPO by the alarm company on March 1. When the IPO did not happen the Florida firm stepped in and cancelled the IPO that was expected to close in April.

In response the alarm company says that they have actually paid $47 million and that they had not, in fact, defaulted on their loan payment. The alarm company is seeking $20 million in damages as a result of the cancelled IPO.

Source: Reuters, "Siemens sued for calling off alarm company IPO," Karen Freifeld, March 22, 2012

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