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

Friday, September 2, 2011

Sports agent teaching at school he sued raises eyebrows

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

A sports agent who filed a lawsuit against a university for allegedly interfering with his relationship with an athlete he formerly represented has been hired to teach a class at the school. The agent formerly represented one of the school's football defensive ends, helping him obtain a contract with a professional NFL team.

In the lawsuit, the agent argued that the university interfered with his relationship with the athlete, causing the termination of their relationship a few days before a NFL lockout ended. The lawsuit seeks approximately $300,000 in recovery from the athlete, supposedly the amount of loans and advances that the agent furnished him while the athletics contract was still ongoing.

Some have questioned whether the hiring of the agent to teach raises ethical or conflict of interest issues. These include whether agents should recruit athletes for professional teams if they are teaching at a school, or whether an agent should teach at a school where a client was formerly a student.

Opinions may differ, however, and the agent has said that his only intention in accepting the teaching job was to pursue his love of teaching. Despite this, in light of the lawsuit, the athletic department at the school decided not to recommend the agent's class to its student athletes. A spokesman for the department indicated that it had not been aware that the agent was under consideration for a teaching post until after his hiring was already announced. Other sports agents have been hired for teaching positions at other universities.

Source: Business Insider, "Ethical Considerations Of Sports Agent Teaching College Course" Aug. 29, 2011


Wednesday, August 31, 2011

For intellectual property, is the best defense a good offense?

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

Intellectual property disputes are an increasingly shaping the music industry. For years now, copyright owners have fought to keep their music from being used or downloaded illegally. For many pop and hip-hop artists using rhythms, beats and loops from older songs is common. In other cases, a new song may be reminiscent of another song but not a direct copy of it.

One very popular songwriter is moving proactively when allegations of plagiarism arise, rather than wait for an infringement lawsuit, Lukasz "Dr. Luke" Gottwald, has taken to filing defamation lawsuits against those that claim copyright infringement.

Dr. Luke has served as a songwriter for numerous artists including Britney Spears, Avril Lavigne, Ke$ha, among others. Recently the Bellamy Brothers indicated that they thought the song "Hold It Against Me" that Dr. Luke wrote for Britney Spears, copied one of their songs. Rather than wait for a copyright lawsuit, Dr. Luke sued them for defamation.

In this instance the two sides settled the case. Both sides agreed that there was no infringement. Dr. Luke explained that his defamation suits are not simply an attempt to preempt infringement suits. In court filings related to another, similar lawsuit he said that the false allegations of infringement caused the record labels to demand indemnification to protect themselves. Thereby causing him actual financial damage rather than just creating a future potential litigation risk.

This strategy may not be the best approach every time infringement is alleged, but it does highlight the complicated and dynamic nexus where music and litigation converge.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter "Why Music Producer Dr. Luke Sues People Who Claim He Copies Songs" Eriq Gardner, Aug. 31, 2011


Friday, August 26, 2011

Soft costs can be a large part of commercial development

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

Before the first shovel of dirt is turned over at the site of most commercial real estate ventures, a lot of money has already been spent.

Consider the stadium being built at Community Maritime Park in Pensacola, Florida. To date, the project has cost nearly $14.8 million. That number does not include the soft costs - money spent to pay architects, engineers, planning consultants and so on.

At Maritime Park, $9 million in costs not directly associated with the actual construction have been spent so far. This translates into about 18 percent of the total $54.7 million budget as compared to the normal 10 to 15 percent for a typical waterfront development project.

The head of the Community Maritime Park Association blames the higher soft costs on problems with the project early on including the firing of the original developer and a major redesign that resulted in additional fees being paid to architects and engineers. Additional real estate and legal fees were incurred to purchase a strip of adjacent land without which, the stadium would not have fit.

The costs continued to add up including changes in the landscaping design when it was more than 60 percent complete. A redesign of the storm water system design saved construction costs, but added over $50,000 to the soft costs.

The contracting of a Double-A baseball team meant additional development costs had to be spent to accommodate the requirements of a Double-A baseball club.

Some design changes are unavoidable in any building project, but it seems that Community Maritime Park has had more than its share. The hope is that stadium operations will return enough of a profit to pay for the extra costs needed to get the project finished.

Source: Pensacola News Journal "Maritime Park: What you see isn't all that's spent" Jamie Paige, Aug. 20, 2011
 


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Investors, employees and others went unpaid when theatre closes

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

When a movie theatre opened last year in Florida, employees and others doing business with the owner assumed that the owner would do his best to keep up with his bills and payroll. But when the business went under they were all left empty-handed and discovered that they were not the first ones to find themselves in this position.

According to local news sources, the owner and his business have been the subject of numerous commercial lawsuits resulting from an apparent failure to pay creditors and employees. An investigation determined that the owner was associated with at least 88 theatres in Florida and other states, but that the majority of these never opened or were open only for a short time. It was also determined that the owner and his business have been subject to lawsuits at least 69 times and have been ordered to pay more than $24 million in civil judgments.

The owner is alleged to have convinced commercial property owners to provide upfront funding for construction or renovation of the theatres. In some cases the owner actually hired contractors to do the work but then failed to pay them when the bills came due.

When investors, contractors and employees have attempted to collect on these unpaid bills and judgments, they assert that the owner hid all of his assets and property, while all the while living in an upscale condominium. Surprisingly there is no record of criminal fraud actions against the owner.

In many situations, business disputes arise because the entrepreneurial plans of one party do not work out as well as they had hoped. In this case however it appears that there was an absence of good faith in the owner's business dealings.

Source: Treasure Coast Palm "Ex-owner of failed Stuart theater leaves behind unpaid bills, fraud allegations" Matt Clark, Aug. 23, 2011


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

1970s superstars reclaim their hits through copyright law reform

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

A 1976 reform of copyright law by Congress has the music industry bracing itself as popular artists from the 1970s begin to file claims for ownership of their disco-era hits. The legislation granted the writers of the music "termination rights" over publishing rights agreements after 35 years -- which means that late 70s hits are about to become eligible.

The copyright law reform applied to songs from 1978 and onward. It allows artists to reclaim rights to their music within five years of the 35-year mark by giving two years' notice. This year, performers like Bruce Springsteen, the Doobie Brothers and Kenny Rogers have been able to reclaim the publication rights to their 1978 hits. In a few more months, a new batch of artists will be able to reclaim the rights to hits released in 1979.

The legislation is not limited to performers, but applies to songwriters and composers as well. Bob Dylan has already filed for the rights to some of his compositions. Joining him are performers like Tom Petty, Bryan Adams, Loretta Lynn, Kris Kristofferson, Tom Waits and Charlie Daniels. Now these artists, songwriters and performers will have the opportunity to end long-term copyright and publication agreements with music producers, reclaiming the majority of the royalties for themselves.

According to many, the music industry is already on its last legs, and this legislation will leave some recording labels without major royalty-producing assets. The industry has lost tremendous sales as fewer people purchase music on the more profitable CD format, opting instead to buy from online suppliers such as iTunes, and fewer purchasers purchase entire albums. The big players in the record industry "have made it clear that they will not relinquish recordings they consider their property without a fight," said one attorney filing termination claims on behalf of artists.

Source: New York Times, "Record Industry Braces for Artists' Battles Over Song Rights," Larry Rohter, Aug. 15, 2011


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Jersey Shore cast member sued over use of trademark

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

Michael Sorrentino, a cast member of the popular TV reality program Jersey Shore, is being sued by a clothing company in relation to a trademark issue. The company, Dilligaf U.S.A., claims Sorrentino breached a contract he entered into last year to promote and wear the company's products. The company claims that the television personality did not attend scheduled photo shoots and wore a competitor's clothing in violation of their agreement.

Sorrentino, also known as "The Situation" during show broadcasts, has allegedly told the clothing firm that this was his trademark. He then promised, in a contract, that the company could use this trademark to promote its clothing, The agreement, according to the manufacturer, requires Sorrentino to help promote and sell products bearing "The Situation" trademark. It also purports to prohibit him from helping to market and promote the clothing of other manufacturers.

The manufacturers seek to recover profits lost because of low sales, and Sorrentino's alleged failure to promote the clothes. The plaintiff company also seeks to recover the costs of manufacturing "The Situation" clothing.

Sorrentino faces an earlier, unrelated lawsuit from management company Gotham NYC Entertainment that claims that it assisted him in getting the job on the TV show. It further claims that, once he got the job, he unfairly fired it. Both lawsuits were filed in state courts.

Sorrentino is not alone among the show's cast in facing lawsuits. A total of nine courtroom proceedings have been filed against various members of the cast during the past two years.

Source: Courthouse News "Another Lawsuit Against 'Jersey Shore' Guy" MARIMER MATOS, Aug. 2, 2011


Sunday, August 7, 2011

Landlord and restaurant in dispute over lease

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

A Naples, Florida landlord has filed a lawsuit in an attempt to evict a restaurant that rents commercial space from him. Local news sources report that the business dispute apparently began when one of the partners that own the restaurant, Handsome Harry's, entered into a deal to sell his interest in the restaurant.

The landlord said that he would terminate the restaurant's commercial lease unless the agreement was unwound, returning the ownership to the original partners. The landlord contends that he must approve any change in ownership in the restaurant and that he was never consulted. The restaurant owners claim that the landlord has not right to prohibit transfers of interest in the restaurant.

In an attempt to stem the lawsuit, the restaurant owners called off the transfer. Despite this the landlord still moved forward with his attempt to evict the restaurant. The local restauranteur who had intended to purchase the interest in the restaurant says that they "seriously do not understand what we are fighting about right now." He is still hoping that an arrangement can be worked out so that he may purchase an interest; he has been involved with running the restaurant since January.

The landlord's lawsuit asserts that there were several other breaches of the lease as well, including taking out a business loan without his consent and informing him that they were insolvent. The restaurant owners claim that they have never told the landlord that they were insolvent and have, in fact, always paid their rent on time. They say that the loan application did not violate the lease because they only pledged their interest in the business, not the lease.

Source: Naples News "Handsome Harry's landlord sues to evict bistro from Third Street South site" Laura Layden, Aug. 9, 2011


Friday, August 5, 2011

Miami cracks down on idle construction sites

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

In its efforts to shut down inactive construction sites citywide, the City of Miami has filed a lawsuit against the developer of one such real estate developer. The lawsuit argues that the site is potentially dangerous in its current condition and that it looks unattractive. Unfortunately many projects which made great financial sense during better financial times, suddenly became unfeasible once real estate market values dropped. Now many developers find themselves with unfinished projects and idle construction sites.

Reports describe the site in question as a vacant lot filled with holes, dangerous ledges, metal grating, stagnant water, graffiti and walls that look likely to collapse. The project was once intended to become two towers, but it was abandoned after the housing crash.

The site's developer contends that it sent multiple clean-up crews to the site, ridiculing the city's accusation as "absurd." The developer is currently undergoing bankruptcy, which could complicate the lawsuit according to one inspector. The bankruptcy filing has requested a stay on the lawsuit during the litigation.

The inspector told reporters that the city is only attempting to get the developer to either continue the project and bring the site up to code or fill the site's holes and remove any potential hazards. As long as the site can be made adequately safe, explained the inspector, the city does not plan to take any further action.

If the lawsuit is effective in shutting down the project, it will likely have implications on several other locations. The City of Miami has named a number of sites in the Little Havana and other areas as potential legal targets.

Source: Miami Herald "Miami aims to shut down inactive construction sites" Aug. 1, 2011


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Grooveshark in hot water over online music streaming

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

Earlier this year we shared a story with you about how Google had removed the Grooveshark app from the Android Marketplace. Florida-based Grooveshark is an online music streaming service which has drawn attention from the recording industry for its business model which allows users to upload and share music even if they do not have a licensing agreement for the music.

Now a group of music publishers and songwriters have filed a federal lawsuit against Grooveshark claiming that the online service provides access to many songs for which they have not obtained licenses. The group that brought the lawsuit includes the man who wrote the song "Rhinestone Cowboy" and the former lead singer of Grand Funk Railroad.

Grooveshark has already been sued by EMI and Universal Music Group. EMI dropped their lawsuit when they reached a settlement through which included a licensing agreement for all of EMI's music. A spokesman for Grooveshark says that they are hoping to reach a similar agreement with Universal.

Grooveshark maintains that its ultimate goal is to obtain licenses for every piece of music in the world. They argue that they are covered by the "safe harbor" provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and that any rights owner can have music taken down from their service by sending an email.

But many in the music industry do not appreciate this approach, claiming that waiting to take action until you get caught is not an appropriate business practice. A similar service called Spotify was recently released in the US after long being a favorite in Europe. Unlike Grooveshark, Spotify obtained license for all of the music which they provide on their service.

Source: The Tennessean "Suit against Grooveshark seeks music-streaming revenue" Brandon Gee, Aug. 2, 2011


Friday, July 29, 2011

T-Pain sues former business partners over auto-tune

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

The auto-tune effect has become ubiquitous in new releases in the pop and R&B genre. There are auto-tune iPhone apps and even auto-tune versions of viral YouTube videos. But no personality is more closely associated with the technology than Florida rapper T-Pain.

T-Pain's chart-topping auto-tune songs made him the perfect candidate to endorse the technology for its creators Antares Technologies. T-Pain partnered with the company in what seems to have been a successful endorsement campaign. But last month T-Pain ended that relationship and has now filed a lawsuit seeking damages for unauthorized use of his name and likeness.

Last month T-Pain created his own company that is developing and marketing its own version of this audio technology which it will call "The T-Pain Effect." The lawsuit asserts that Antares continued use of T-Pain's name and image will confuse consumers causing them to think that T-Pain is still endorsing the product. They may decide to purchase the Antares product rather than his new line of audio effects based on the misconception the T-Pain is still associated with Antares.

The lawsuit asks the court to enter an injunction which would prohibit Antares from further use or licensing of pictures of rapper or the name T-Pain. In addition, the lawsuit is seeking at $1 million in damages which presumably arise from lost potential profits due to the alleged infringement.

Endorsements can obviously be very lucrative for popular artists. But along with the extra income comes an extra level of business complexity. It is important that artists work with individuals whom they can trust and who understand the industry to ensure that their business partners are not taking an unfair advantage.

Source: Pop Crush "T-Pain Sues Auto-Tune Makers for Copyright Infringement" Trent Fitzgerald, July 28, 2011


Thursday, July 28, 2011

CVS lawsuit against Hillsboro county will soon go to trial

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

In a Florida lawsuit, the major drug store CVS is asking for $2.5 Million in returned property taxes. It has taken nearly four years for the case to reach the courts, but CVS wants all property appraisals reviewed again between the years of 2005 and 2010. The company claims that the property appraiser over-valued each of the 35 stores in the county by 10 to 15 percent each.

The defendants in the case include the Property Appraiser, the State Department of Revenue, and the Hillsboro County Value Adjustment Board. Attorneys representing these defendants are expected to argue that the reason these 35 stores should pay more in property taxes is because of a stipulation in the sales contracts of all 35 stores that CVS put in. This stipulation says that if one of the stores closes, it cannot be replaced by another drug store. Defendants argue that this devalues the property, saying that these types of structures and lots are developed specifically for that kind of business.
In retaliation to these claims, attorneys representing CVS argue that their stipulation will not create a situation where the county will miss a business opportunity. According to one lawyer representing CVS, "You could sell it to Walgreens and Walgreens would pay you more for it." The lawyer continued, saying "That's not true because Walgreens is already there. Wherever there's a CVS, there's a Walgreens nearby."

Both sides of the case say that similar issues to this have come up before, but that they were not at this level, and not this sophisticated. There will be a preliminary meeting on Aug. 3 to start deciding on a trial date.

Source: The Tampa Bay Tribune "CVS challenges way Hillsborough appraised properties" Mike Salinero, July 23, 2011
 


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