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

Monday, December 3, 2012

Shakira sued for $100 million over oral agreement

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

You would think that if millions of dollars were hanging in the balance, the parties to a contract would want to get their agreement down in writing.

But that apparently is not what happened with Shakira and her former business manager, who was also her boyfriend. The former manager recently sued Shakira, claiming that she owes him nearly $100 million by the terms of a contract that, apparently, was strictly oral.

The former manager alleges that he used his business skill and management expertise to help Shakira recover from disappointing album sales by getting her to record her smash hit "Hips Don't Lie," which went to the top of the charts in 25 countries, and "Waka Waka," the official World Cup anthem. Those successes helped Shakira snag a $300 million concert deal with promote and organizer Live Nation.

In a separate case, Shakira has sued the former manager for "misappropriation of funds." She has alleged that he paid himself unauthorized bonus and used Shakira's personal funds to pay for his own expenses.

The reason this entertainment dispute caught our eye is the fact that it seems Shakira and her then-manager did not commit their agreement to writing. That certainly is not advisable for anyone, and it is hard to conceive of how no one ever told Shakira and her manager that they ought to.

Getting any sort of agreement you make in writing is always a good idea. Of course, you hope that there is never a reason for an argument to rise over it, but you never know.

Source: BBC News, "Shakira sued for $100m by former boyfriend," Dec. 2, 2012

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Facebook copyright status updates have no legal effect

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

Lots of Miami residents have probably seen their Facebook newsfeeds clog up with status updates from friends that appear to be an effort to make a legal statement concerning the content the friend posts to Facebook.

In many cases, the message claims to be "in response to new Facebook policies" and purports to assert that Facebook cannot copyright any pictures or status updates the user makes.

So, do such statements have any legal effect?

In short, no.

First, Facebook's terms and policies say that any content a user uploads to the site belongs to the user, not to Facebook.

Second, while copyright protection attaches automatically as soon as an author fixes his or her work in a tangible medium (which doesn't mean it isn't a good idea to take extra steps to protect your content, by the way), that can be overridden if you sign an agreement beforehand agreeing that someone else owns your copyright.

For example, engineers, reporters and other professionals often have to sign an agreement when they are hired saying that their employer owns the rights to work created on the job, not the original employee. So, if Facebook's terms said that it owned your copyright (which they don't), then you could not change that with a status update.

We don't expect everyone to be copyright experts, of course, but this is an interesting example of how conventional wisdom regarding copyright law may be inaccurate. It is always a good idea to seek an authoritative source whenever a legal issue arises.

Source: WPTV, "Facebook warning hoax: Copyright privacy message capitalized on privacy fears, experts say," Nicole Saidi, Nov. 27, 2012

Friday, November 30, 2012

Contract dispute: After 22 years of holdup, studio sues Scorsese

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

When two parties make a contract, there is generally the expectation that the service contemplated will be performed promptly, or that the good negotiated over will be delivered reasonably quickly. The parties should make their expected timetables clear, of course, but generally speaking, it is not often that parties make a contract and expect it to last 22 years.

That's why a movie studio is suing famed movie director Martin Scorsese, whom Miami residents know as the creative force behind cinema classics like "Scarface" and "Raging Bull." The studio claims that in 1990, Scorsese agreed to direct a film for the studio, but has put off starting filming for more than two decades.

Scorsese's legal team counters that the director, who has never been what you would call prolific, still wants to make the film (and thus satisfy the contract). It points out that Scorsese and the studio have made five deal amendments to the contract over time and that Scorsese has given the studio more than $3.5 million to atone for his tardiness.

The reason we thought this story was interesting is that it seemed like a situation in which accepting that a party (here, Scorsese) was going to or had breached the contract was not acceptable to the other party (in this case, the studio.)

Sometimes, damages are not enough. You do not want money; you want what was bargained for and what you were promised.

In certain circumstances, that is not possible, but we certainly understand the desire to make a bid for what you wanted in the first place. When we encounter clients who are in the situation we just described, we make every effort and pursue every avenue to get what is desired.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter, "Martin Scorsese Defends Taking 22 Years and Counting to Direct 'Silence' (Exclusive)" Eriq Gardner, Nov. 27, 2012

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

'Hobbit' update: New Line isn't backing down in trademark infringement suit

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

Several of our last few posts have been about "The Hobbit," the film that is set to debut in a few weeks. The movie is causing quite a few entertainment law issues because it is expected to do very well at the box office and many people want to cash in on it, but of course, the estate of "Hobbit" author J.R.R. Tolkien and New Line, the studio that made the movie, want its economic success to be theirs alone.

Not long ago, we told Miami readers about how New Line had sued movie studio Global Asylum over the release of "Age of the Hobbits," a straight-to-video film that doesn't have anything to do with Tolkien's world of Middle Earth, but might cause consumer confusion. Global Asylum is often derisively called a "mockbuster" studio because it has a habit of releasing movies with titles or artwork similar to other successful films.

This week, New Line presented evidence in its trademark infringement suit against Global Asylum showing that as much as 30 percent of consumers might be confused and think that "Age of the Hobbits" is a New Line production affiliated with Tolkien's work.

The evidence comes from Nielsen Co., the marketing and survey company many businesses use to test market conditions. In the survey, Nielsen showed consumers the real artwork for "Age of the Hobbits" and asked consumers whom they thought made it. About 30 percent of them indicated they thought the film was somehow connected to the New Line films.

Interestingly enough, when Nielsen kept the original artwork but changed the title, only 6 percent of consumers thought it was affiliated with New Line's films.

We thought this was an interesting update. We will keep an eye on this lawsuit and will continue to update you on any other significant developments.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter, "'The Hobbit' producers Enlist Nielsen in Legal Fight Against 'Age of the Hobbits,'" Eriq Gardner, Nov. 27, 2012

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Tolkien's estate sues movie studio, book publisher over online gambling game

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

We're very close to the premiere of "The Hobbit," as any Miami fan of J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy series surely doesn't need to be told.

But this recent piece of entertainment law news doesn't have anything to do with that upcoming film. Rather, it has to do with a "Lord of the Rings"-themed online slot machine-style game.

That game has prompted Tolkien's estate to sue book publisher HarperCollins, film studio New Line Cinemas and other parties under the theory that the game breaches their longstanding merchandising and licensing agreement.

Tolkien's estate believes the agreement, which was signed in 1969, applies only to tangible merchandise, like toys and games. It claims digital platforms like games and ringtones were never contemplated by the agreement. It also points to a clause that reserves "any rights not granted herein" as proof that any rights not specifically mentioned are retained by the estate.

The estate is not happy with the game because it believes it tarnishes Tolkien's name. The lawsuit claims that Tolkien's famously devoted fan base is "outraged" at its existence.

The estate is seeking $80 million and an injunction against the online gambling game, as well as any future digital-based enterprises it thinks exceed the scope of the agreement.

The defendants have not commented on the suit.

In cases where an issue develops years into a relationship and it is not clear how (or if) the governing agreement applies to the situation, having a conversation with an attorney about the matter can be very helpful. Of course you want to pursue business opportunities to maximum profitability, but naturally you do not want to do so if it is not allowed and would result in costly and time-consuming litigation.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter, "Tolkien Estate Sues Warner Bros. Over 'Lord of the Rings' Slot Machines (Exclusive)" Matthew Belloni, Nov. 19, 2012

Friday, November 16, 2012

'Spider-Man' musical the subject of copyright infringement lawsuit

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

Florida residents may have heard about the hit Broadway musical sensation "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark." The show began performances in November 2010, and since then it has been grossing an average of $1.4 million.

However, the show's former director was fired in March of 2011 during the show's preview performances. She filed a lawsuit last November for intellectual property infringement. She claims that she had copyright protection to the "Spider-Man" script, along with rights to the staging of the performance. She says that because she was fired, the producers are benefitting from her intellectual property without paying her. She is seeking $1 million that she believes she is owed in back pay and royalties.

On the other hand, the producers contend that the former director was fired for breach of contract and that they do not owe her anything. According to their counter-lawsuit, they say that she did not cooperate with artistically overhauling the musical while in its preview stage.

In August of this year, the judge in the case ruled that the sides had to come to terms in the lawsuit or risk going to trial.

Based on sources close to both parties, it appears that the financial settlement, the acknowledgement of the director's artistic contribution in future performances, and the future of a documentary about the show are still areas of contention between both parties.

If the parties cannot reach a settlement agreement, then this intellectual property dispute will head to trial before a jury in the coming year.

Source: New York Times, "ARTSBEAT; 'Spider-Man' Settlement Talks Miss Deadline," Patrick Healy, Oct. 31, 2012

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Actor Corbin Bernsen involved in contract dispute

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

Actor Corbin Bernsen is probably most familiar to Florida residents as the character he played, Arnie Becker, on the long-running TV show "L.A. Law." Additionally, Bernsen can still be found acting, most recently in USA Network's show "Psych."

Back in 2009 he agreed to a five-year employment contract worth $1 million as the pitchman for television advertisements for law firms. However, he has recently filed a lawsuit against the marketing company responsible for the contract. Bernsen is seeking nearly $700,000 that he believes he is still owed under the contract.

The marketing company on the other hand argues that they were within their contractual rights to no longer honor the contract. They claim that Bernsen breached the contract by violating the terms of the morality clause.

Morality clauses are often found in employment contracts with actors and actresses. The goal of a morality clause is to protect the vendor from situations in which the employee's reputation has been called into question. If such is the case, the vendor may cancel the contract in order to sever their association with that actor or actress.

Did Bernsen breach the morality clause in his employment contract? Let's look specifically at what morality violations we are talking about. Bernsen is accused of:

  • Tax issues with the Internal Revenue Service
  • Accusations of assault
  • Publicly arguing with resort employees
  • Discussing sex and drugs, and casting attorneys in a negative light during a television show

A court will now decide whether these allegations amount to the violation of Bernsen's morality clause in his employment contract, or whether the company is simply trying to figure out how to escape responsibility for the terms of the contract.

Source: The Virginian-Pilot, "L.A. Law" star testifies in contract dispute in Norfolk," Tim McGlone, Nov. 8, 2012

Friday, November 9, 2012

Southern Florida pastry chef poised for big break

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

A pastry chef who once worked at The Ritz-Carlton Coconut Grove will soon appear on the Food Network reality show "Sweet Genius." On the show, he will try to win challenges and take home the ultimate $10,000 top prize.

The chef, Max Santiago, now works at Valentino's in Ft. Lauderdale.

It is not unreasonable to expect that this appearance will probably bring Santiago a lot of visibility and perhaps further offers, either for new positions elsewhere in the country or perhaps entertainment-related opportunities, maybe even his own show, book, etc.

In situations like that, it's likely someone in Santiago's position would not quite know how to proceed. Entertainment is an industry very unlike most other industries, so when people start talking about publicity rights, trademarks, endorsements, licensing and the like, a great many people find themselves lost at sea.

It's crucial that any entertainer on the brink of success develop a working relationship of legal concepts that are closely related to the entertainment industry. Certainly, you can have an attorney represent you, but you need to be informed so that your work with the attorney is productive and fruitful.

If you're interested in gathering more information about entertainment law, consider visiting our Entertainment Law page. Revisiting this blog would also not be a bad idea; we plan to use it as a platform for discussing relevant entertainment-law news and developments, so we want it to be a resource for you.

Source: The Miami Herald, "A 'Sweet' gig for pastry chef," Nov. 7, 2012

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

'Flight' gives rise to interesting fair use dispute

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

Denzel Washington's Miami fans might not have realized it, but when they went to see Washington's new thriller "Flight," they were actually watching the subject of a very interesting intellectual property debate.

In case you have not seen the movie, Washington plays a character who struggles with alcohol and drinks at inappropriate times, like when he is behind the wheel.

One of the drinks Washington's character consumes in Budweiser. Earlier this week, Anheuser-Busch asked Paramount Pictures to digitally erase the Budweiser trademark from future copies of 'Flight.'

In a statement, Anheuser-Busch said it does not condone irresponsible use of its product and doesn't like that it is being depicted in connection with unhealthy drinking.

Now, usually, the use of a trademarked image in a film is considered fair use, meaning it is a reasonable and fair use of work without the author's permission. However, it's a case-by-case analysis, since a condition of fair use is that the use in question not impede the rights holders' ability to earn money and doesn't constitute more of a "use" than is necessary to accomplish the original objective.

As applied to this film, then, does negatively portraying Budweiser impede Anheuser-Busch's economic interests and is Budweiser used more extensively than necessary to accomplish the objective of showing that Washington's character is an alcoholic?

In any event, Anheuser-Busch has asked for the logo to be removed, but hasn't made any legal moves yet. That likely says something about how it perceives its chances of filing suit over this issue.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter, "Anheuser-Busch Asks Paramount to Remove Budweiser From Flight," Daniel Miller, Nov. 6, 2012


Friday, November 2, 2012

Copyright infringement suit against Angelina Jolie forges ahead

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

Angelina Jolie's directorial debut, "In the Land of Blood and Honey," did not do much at the box office. But Miami residents might be hearing about it again soon because a lawsuit filed against Jolie by an author who claims she unlawfully used his book as the basis of her film nears its start date.

Jolie, her film's distributor and the film's production company were sued by Croatian author James Braddock in December. He claimed that "In the Land of Blood and Honey," a drama about refugees in the war-torn Balkans, used his 2007 book "The Soul Shattering."

The defendants tried to have the suit dismissed, but to no avail. Attorneys for the defendants have said they plan to ask for summary judgment, which means they will ask a judge to agree that the plaintiff cannot prove the required elements of his claim.

Jolie has said she did not base "In the Land of Blood and Honey" on "The Soul Shattering," but rather on her work with the United Nations and Bosnia. Her claim is that "In the Land of Blood and Honey" was created independently and any similarities between the two works are pure coincidence and, therefore, are not actionable.

If the case makes it to trial, it will be a very complicated lawsuit. Discovery would have to take place in both Europe and the U.S. and getting a busy star like Jolie to participate might be hard.

Our law firm works on intellectual property matters such as this. If you want to know more about the sort of cases we take, you could visit our website, which is accessible by the link in the previous sentence.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter, "Angelina Jolie 'Blood and Honey' Lawsuit Heats Up as Lawyers Fight Over Private Information," Eriq Gardner, Oct. 31, 2012

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Does 'Good Time' infringe on other singer's copyright?

Everyone in Miami has heard the mega-selling duet "Good Time" by Carly Rae Jepsen and Owl City. Now, one person has heard the song and thinks she recognizes it-- because it was hers.

Jepsen, Owl City (a.k.a. Adam Young) and their publishing companies have been hit with a copyright infringement lawsuit over "Good Time." The plaintiff is an Alabama singer-songwriter who thinks "Good Time" bears too much similarity to her 2010 single "Ah, It's a Love Song."

"Ah, It's a Love Song" was licensed to MTV, but it never reached the same heights as "Good Time," which was used to promote the London Olympics and has played on "Parks and Recreation" and in the trailer for the upcoming children's film "Hotel Transylvania."

The lawsuit against Jepsen and Young points out that there are similarities between the two songs with respect to timbre, rhythmic construction, melodic contour and pitch sequence. The songs are not similar with regard to lyrics, key or theme.

Jepsen and Young have not commented on the suit.

Copyright infringement suits like this are one way artists who believe their work has been unlawfully copied seek recovery for the work they think has been infringed upon. This is one of the areas of law that we practice.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter, "Carly Rae Jepsen, Owl City's Adam Young Sued for Allegedly Stealing 'Good Time,'" Eriq Gardner, Oct. 30, 2012

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