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

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

Friday, October 26, 2012

Tom Cruise sues tabloid for $50 million

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

These days, any entertainer has to manage his or her reputation very carefully. That isn't easy with all the blogs, tabloid TV programs and supermarket checkout gossip rags that are many Miami residents' guilty pleasures.

Last Wednesday, Tom Cruise sued Life & Style Magazine over a story it ran alleging that he had "abandoned" Suri, his daughter with his soon-to-be-ex-wife Katie Holmes. Cruise's attorney said the actor is seeking $50 million in this entertainment lawsuit.

A lawsuit like this is rather unusual. Usually, celebrities do not bother suing. Libel and defamation lawsuits are hard to win, and it often makes the celebrity look bad and keeps the offending story alive longer than would have been the case if the celebrity had done nothing.

Far more often, celebrities use the power of their influence to exploit journalists' fears of being cut off from future stories, or they do what Cruise's lawyer did to Vanity Fair and the National Enquirer, which is send a letter threatening a lawsuit. Oftentimes, just knowing that a celebrity has retained an attorney is enough to keep journalists from lying, being deceitful or publishing falsehoods.

But evidently, this story bothered Cruise deeply. His attorney released a letter defending Cruise as a father and calling the magazine's publishers "sleaze peddlers."

We cannot predict the future, but we would not be surprised if this case settled out of court. Cruise does not really need $50 million and he isn't all that likely to get it. What he really wants to do here is send the message that he won't tolerate false accounts that damage his reputation. A lawsuit like Cruise's is one way of accomplishing this, but there are other avenues that entertainers might do well to explore.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter, "Tom Cruise Sues Life & Style Magazine For $50M Over Suri Abandonment Story," Matthew Belloni, Oct. 24, 2012

Monday, October 22, 2012

Julianna Margulies files countersuit against former management co.

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

As any Miami fans of "The Good Wife" can probably guess, it seems Julianna Margulies didn't learn to be a shrinking violet from her years playing Alicia Florrick, the CBS sitcom's resilient main character.

Last week, Margulies met fire with fire by filing a countersuit against her former management company.

The company, D/F, had sued Margulies in July, claiming she owed the company at least $420,000 in unpaid commissions and shares of revenue drawn from deals she signed while represented by D/F, such as her endorsement contract with L'Oreal Cosmetics.

In her countersuit, Margulies said her management company demonstrated "a general lack of initiative, attention, focus and commitment." She also claimed that D/F breached its contract with her by not performing the services she expected it to render. She is seeking to be compensated for the damages she incurred by remaining with the company during the time she feels it did not put forth its best efforts on her behalf.

Plenty of entertainers feel like there's a mismatch of business savvy and legal know-how when it comes to dealing with agents and managers. It's pretty easy to feel outmanned when you've spent your career honing your artistry and craft and your agent or manager has spent his or her career improving his or her negotiating skills. One way many entertainers combat this feeling is to find an attorney whom they are confident will be advocate strongly and zealously on their behalf.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter, "Julianna Margulies Fires Back at Ex-Manager Lawsuit, Claims 'Inappropriate' Behavior," Eriq Gardner, Oct. 19, 2012

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

'Fashion Star' crew walks out to call attention to contract dispute

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

Lots of people in Miami watched the last season of "Fashion Star." The reality show, in which a panel of celebrities decides the fate of aspiring designers, was a big hit for NBC.

Recently, the show's producers had to cancel two days of shooting because crew members walked off the set to protest an ongoing contract dispute.

The 60 or so crew members were angry that they were working without a contract. They also said they wanted to draw attention to their dissatisfaction with their health benefits and pension program.

The crew members are part of a union, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. That means they have professional negotiators and a latticework of support from people who do this for a living/

Do you have that kind of back-up?

When you're an entertainer, it can sometimes feel like you're on your own. Especially if you are angling for your big break, it can be really hard to plant your feet and argue for what you deserve because you're afraid the record company, television studio or modeling agency will pack up its things and leave you for another talent.

One way you can help boost your negotiating power is to work with an attorney who was experience in with negotiating. Experience is the best teacher, after all, and someone who has been through the process before has likely picked up tips and tricks that can be used to help you.

The bottom line: You should not be afraid to stand up for yourself and make an argument for what you are worth. Sure, you may need some help to be effective, but who doesn't?

Source: Variety, "'Fashion' crew exits set over contract dispute," Dave McNary, Oct. 13, 2012

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Trademark dispute erupts between 'The Hobbit' and 'Age of the Hobbits'

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

If there were a movie at Redbox called "Age of the Hobbits," how many people here in Miami would think it had something to do with Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit," which is due to be released this holiday season?

Probably quite a few, because the word "hobbit" calls to mind J.R.R. Tolkein's "Lord of the Rings" novels. Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit" is based on those books; "Age of the Hobbits" is not.

That's why New Line Cinema recently sued The Asylum over its "Age of the Hobbits" film, which is due to be released direct-to-video a few days before "The Hobbit" is released in December.

New Line claims that "hobbit" is a trademarked phrase and refers only to characters in Tolkein's novels. The Asylum claims otherwise; pointing to how a hominid species discovered in 2003 was referred to as a "hobbit" before it received a proper scientific name.

Some elements of "The Age of Hobbits" do seem to suggest it is a knockoff, but that in and of itself is not illegal. In 1993, a film production company won the legal right to make an imitation of "Aladdin," and ever since then, it's been harder for studios to prevent the making and marketing of copycat films.

It will be interesting to see how this develops. The Asylum was also sued this summer when it tried to release a film called "American Battleships" at nearly the same time as Universal's "Battleship" and in that case, it changed the name of the film to "American Warships."

Source: The Hollywood Reporter, "'Hobbit' Lawyers Threatens 'Age of the Hobbits' Movie (Exclusive)" Matthew Belloni, Oct. 17, 2012

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Producers of 'The Wolf of Wall Street' settle lawsuits against each other

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

Lots of Miami residents are Martin Scorsese fans, so we thought this might be an item of interest: a former producer on Scorsese's upcoming movie "The Wolf of Wall Street" has settled her lawsuit against the remaining producers of the project, and the production company behind the film has also ended its countersuit against the producer.

The reasons behind the settlement are not clear, but generally, parties to a lawsuit settle when they are able to reach a mutually satisfactory compromise and want to avoid the time and expense of a lawsuit.

The producer has said that she spent years adapting Jordan Belfort's book "Wolf of Wall Street" into a film project. She claims she commissioned the scriptwriter and helped get star Leonardo DiCaprio interested in the project.
The producer has said that in exchange for her work, she was promised a back-end deal that would have given her at least $700,000 in compensation and the right to actually produce the film.

But the production company cut her compensation to $250,000, gave her only an "executive producer" credit and eliminated the back-end deal. It said it had no obligation to provide the compensation and credit the producer thought she was entitled to receive.

Press coverage of the settlement indicated that both the producer and the production company were represented by attorneys in their dealings with one another. Many entertainment professionals find it well worth their while to hire an attorney to represent their interests. When things are going well, it can be hard to imagine why you would need a lawyer on your side, but as we all know, fortunes can change in a heartbeat.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter, "'Wolf of Wall Street' Producers Settle Dueling Lawsuits," Matthew Belloni, Oct. 3, 2012

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Judge: "Steel Magnolias" can air as planned

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

In our last post, we talked about how a producer of the 1989 film version of "Steel Magnolias" had tried to stop Lifetime from airing its TV version of the same story.

But, as any Miami resident who subscribes to Lifetime might already know, "Steel Magnolias" went on the air as planned. So what happened?

In short, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge denied the producer's motion for a temporary restraining order.
Now, all that means is the judge did not think it was necessary to prevent the film adaptation from airing. It doesn't mean a final verdict was reached on the producer's underlying claims.

To recap, the producer had sued Lifetime, A&E Networks and Sony Television over the TV adaptation, which stars an all-black cast including Phylicia Rashad and Queen Latifah. The producer claims that when Sony bought her production studio a few years ago, hence acquiring the rights to "Steel Magnolias," it also acquired the obligation to offer her participation in any future adaptation. The defendants, of course, disagree.

We often work with entertainers to resolve matters that are along these lines. In any field of work, experience matters -- it's the best teacher, after all, and increases familiarity and fluency in relevant issues.

If learning more about what we do interests you, you always have the option of visiting our Entertainment Law website. We've designed it with an eye towards offering relevant information, so we hope it can be a resource to you.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter, "Lifetime's Steel Magnolias Reboot Won't Be Stopped by Judge," Eriq Gardner, Oct. 5, 2012

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Producer sues over Lifetime's "Steel Magnolias" update

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

A version of "Steel Magnolias" is about to debut on Lifetime. But this isn't a rerun of the 1989 weepy classic starring Dolly Patron, Julia Roberts and Sally Field. Instead, it's a new, made-for-TV version with an all-black cast that includes Queen Latifah.

Although that may sound like an interesting adaptation, not everyone is excited about it. On Monday, a producer of the 1989 film version sued Lifetime Entertainment, A&E Networks and Sony Pictures Television over the new adaptation, alleging that it is being made without her necessary permission.

This case is a good example of why Miami artists and entertainers need to make sure that their claims to any intellectual property assets they might have are ironclad and reflected in clear, concise, tightly drafted documents. It doesn't seem that this dispute will keep the movie from airing, but this type of disagreement has derailed many a project.

When she helped make the 1989 "Steel Magnolias," the producer had a production company. That production company was purchased by Sony Pictures Television. Now, Sony claims that purchase gave it the right to remake "Steel Magnolias" for TV and the producer says it does not.

The producer is asking for a $5,000 fee per episode (in case there are multiple made-for-TV versions), a $10,000 bonus and a share of the net profits, as well as a producer credit. She notes that there was a 1992 remake of "Steel Magnolias: for CBS television for which she received compensation and a credit.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter, "'Steel Magnolias' Producer Sues Over Lifetime Remake," Alex Ben Block, Oct. 1, 2012

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Don Johnson's $50 million award cut back to $15 million

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

In an earlier post, we told Miami readers about a lawsuit that TV actor Don Johnson had filed over compensation from his successful CBS series "Nash Bridges."

At the time, Johnson and a production company were before an appeals court seeking to clarify whether the production company owed Johnson $50 million in compensation and interest, as a lower court had determined, or if it did not owe him anything at all because his claim was barred by a statute of limitations.

(Johnson owns 50 percent of the copyright to "Nash Bridges," which has done quite well in syndication and reruns).

Earlier this week, the appeals court found that Rysher Productions did owe Johnson compensation, but not $50 million. Because of the lower judge's errors in calculating interest and in promulgating faulty jury instruction, Johnson's award was trimmed down to $15 million. The appeals court found that the judge should not have added interest (that was the jury's job) but said there was nothing wrong with the jury's finding that the agreement between Rysher Productions and Johnson meant Johnson was owed $15 million.

So, who won here? It's hard to say. The production company wanted to pay Johnson nothing, but was that ever realistic? And while $15 million is a large sum of money, it's less than what Johnson had thought for years was due to him. Who do you think came out on top here?

Source: The Hollywood Reporter, "Don Johnson's $50 million 'Nash Bridges' Award Cut To $15 Million On Appeal," Eriq Gardner, Oct. 1, 2012

Friday, September 28, 2012

Actress loses bid to have controversial film yanked from YouTube

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

An actress recently lost a lawsuit she filed seeking to pull the immensely controversial film "The Innocence of Muslims" from YouTube. As Miami readers might have heard, the film has sparked violent unrest in several predominantly Muslim countries because of it depicts the prophet Mohammed, which is forbidden under strict interpretations of Islamic religious tenets

The actress had argued that she was conned into appearing in the 14-minute film. She said producers did not reveal the true nature of the project to her and that she was ashamed and horrified by how "grotesque" and offensive the final product was. She said that her family has received death threats because of her involvement in the film and claims to have lost work because of its affiliation with her.

She alleged that by continuing to allow it be accessed, YouTube's parent company Google and the film's producer were violating her right to control her own likeness.

Unfortunately for her, a judge dismissed her lawsuit because it seemed she was unlikely to "prevail on the merits," which means she did not present enough of an argument to make a case for a reasonable chance of success.

The actress' attorney said she will continue to seek a permanent injunction that will prevent the film from being shown.

The right of an entertainer to control how his or her image is used is very important. One's personal brand is a vital asset and it makes good business sense to exercise as much control over it as is possible. Our office often works with actors, musicians and models. For more relevant information on this area of law, you could consider looking at our Entertainment Law website.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter, "Judge Rejects Actress Request to Pull 'Innocence of Muslims' from YouTube," Matthew Belloni, Sept. 21, 2012

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

That's bananas: Velvet Underground, Warhol Foundation fight over copyright

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

For many people, Andy Warhol is synonymous with Pop Art. His brightly colored and deliberately blurred images of Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and Campbell's soup cans are nothing short of iconic. But who owns the rights to his famous image of a banana?

You might think the answer would be obvious -- he does -- but the plot thickens.

The band The Velvet Underground commissioned Warhol to do the cover art for its 1967 debut album. The album and its cover art, a brown-spotted yellow banana on a plain cream background, became famous.

Now, The Velvet Underground has sued The Andy Warhol Foundation for Visual Arts, alleging it violated a copyright held by the band when it licensed the banana image for use on iPad and iPhone cases and sleeves. It also claimed the foundation was violating the band's trademark because the banana image is accepted as symbol for the band.
Recently, a judge threw out the copyright portion of the lawsuit. It seems that the band's dealings with Warhol back in the 1960s were too murky and indistinct to permit The Velvet Underground to assert ownership of the copyright to the banana image.

However, the trademark portion of the case will be allowed to go forward.

The lesson to be learned here is twofold.

First, it pays to make sure all your Ts are crossed and Is are dotted when dealing with intellectual property assets. You don't want problems to arise later.

Second, it makes good business sense to see everything as a potential asset. It seems fair to assume that neither Warhol nor The Velvet Underground thought the banana image would become so famous. But if they had realized its potential, either party might have acted with greater care to firm up its claim to the image earlier on and thus benefitted from its ownership years later, when it became very valuable.

Source: The New York Times ArtsBeat, "Portion of Suit Over Warhol's Velvet Underground Banana Is Discarded," Dave Itzkoff, Sept. 11, 2012

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