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

Monday, July 9, 2012

Hollywood keeps a close eye on "Premium Rush" breach of contract suit

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

Miami fans of actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt might not have realized that his next movie, "Premium Rush," is the subject of some litigation that is being watched very closely in Hollywood.

That's because the author of the book "Ultimate Rush" is alleging breach of implied contract with his claim that Sony executives stole his idea and made "Premium Rush" without giving him money or credit.

The reason other movie studios are very interested in this lawsuit is that breach of implied contract is easier to win than copyright infringement, so plaintiffs have turned increasingly to using the former cause of action instead of the latter. If the author here prevails, it may mean that all of Hollywood has to be more careful about where and how they secure their ideas for future films. It might also mean a windfall for writers and other creative people who contribute to a film because they will likely have to be paid to ensure there isn't a lawsuit.

In this case, the author is having a little trouble because it seems he cannot definitivelyprove that Sony executives read his book and then ordered a rip-off of it to be written as a script. But then again, the judge refused Sony's request to dismiss the author's suit because it wasn't entirely clear that the author's expectation of payment was unreasonable. Not many people saw that coming and it added some steam to the author's case.

However the case is decided, it will be interesting to see how it impacts entertainment, copyright and contract law in the future.

"Premium Rush" is released Aug. 24.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter, "Judge Rejects Sony Attempt to Kill 'Premium Rush Lawsuit,'" Eriq Gardner, July 6, 2012

Monday, July 9, 2012

Rihanna sues former accountants, who allegedly cost her millions

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

Here in Miami, lots of entertainers start to entrust certain areas of their professional lives to other people once they attain a certain level of success. After a point, it only makes sense to have a publicist handle media inquiries, an agent arrange gigs and contracts and an accountant manage financial matters. After all, these people are good at what they do and allowing them to handle your business for you frees you up to pursue your career.

But sometimes, this relationship of trust gets abused. Such is the case with singer Rihanna, who recently sued her accountants at the New York firm of Berdon LLP, alleging that breach of contract, mismanagement and other grave accusations.

One of the most concerning of Rihanna's claims is that the accountants rigged her 2009 Last Girl on Earth tour such that they received 22 percent of the tour's revenue, but gave her just 6 percent. Rihanna claims that the accountants' practice of paying themselves commission out of revenues, not profits, meant they had no reason to offer her germane financial advice, which they were supposed to do per the terms of their agreement. Furthermore, she alleges this is not a standard industry practice and that it caused the tour to lose money.

Rihanna hired Berdon LLP in 2006 when she was 16 and severed ties with the firm in 2010. Interestingly enough, in her lawsuit, she claims that once she hired new accountants, her fortunes began to improve - her 2011 Loud tour was a financial success.

If a business relationship ever goes sour like this for you, it might be a good idea to speak about the matter to an attorney who often works with entertainers. He or she will be able to look at the circumstances and see if you have any recourse.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter, "Rihanna Sues Ex-Accountants for Millions," July 5, 2012

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Fashion photographer alleges "contributory copyright infringement" - what's that?

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

Here's a rather technical lawsuit that nonetheless might be interesting to any models working in Miami; television legal correspondent Dan Abrams's two websites are being sued by a photographer who claims that they used pictures she took without permission. Claims of copyright infringement are not uncommon, but what's noteworthy here is that the photographer is also claiming contributory liability for copyright infringement, which we will explain shortly.

First, the facts: The websites, and, allegedly published pictures that photographer Andrea Carter-Bowman took of Lotte Moss, the younger sister of fashion icon Kate Moss.

After Carter-Bowman's legal team served the websites with a cease and desist letter, they allegedly took the photos down, but then replaced them with links to other sites that still had the pictures posted (also illegally).

The photographer is alleging copyright infringement. She claims that even by providing a link to illegally posted photos, the websites were "contributorily liable" because they were knowingly assisting with copyright infringement.
"Knowingly" is the key word here. If Abrams Media Network knew that what it was doing is wrong (and Carter-Bowman says it did), then the company might be in trouble.

As we said, even though this case is a little...dry, it might still be interesting to professional in the entertainment industry, since so many livelihoods depend on control of pictures of oneself. Intellectual property rights are one of the chief ways artists, models and other creative professionals can protect their work and profit from it.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter, "Fashion Photographer Sues Mediaite Over Photographs of Kate Moss' Sister," Eriq Gardner, July 2, 2012

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Jessie J's "Domino" accused of infringing on another singer's copyright

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

It seems to be a rough week for British musicians.

In our last post, we told Miami readers about the British boy band One Direction and the copyright dispute it is involved in over its name. Now, another British recording artist has found herself embroiled in an entertainment lawsuit.

This time, it's singer Jessie J. She was recently sued by an American singer who claims that Jessie J's breakthrough single "Domino" (listen to it here) contains verbatim portions of his 2008 song "Bright Red Cords."

The American singer, Will Loomis, even went so far as to film a video highlighting what he saw as the similarities between the two songs and posted it to YouTube. Jessie J's legal team has since had it taken down, alleging that it infringes on Jessie J's copyright.

Loomis has now sued Jessie J and her record label, Universal Music Group, and is seeking $150,000 in damages. Jessie J, who co-wrote "Domino" and has seen it become her biggest success to date, has not commented publicly on the suit.
We do not know who is right or wrong in this suit, but either way, we hope it shows musicians how important it is that they secure their copyrights and be very vigilant about protecting them. Certain copyright protections do attach automatically, but if you rely on that alone, you could find yourself in a bad position later on when someone infringes on your copyright.

For what it's worth, Jessie J is hardly the only singer to find herself in this position. Avril Lavigne was accused of copying a lesser-known song and using it as the basis for her monster 2009 hit "Girlfriend," for example.

Source: BBC, "Jessie J faces copyright claim," June 27, 2012

Monday, June 25, 2012

British band One Direction: Our name is 'what makes us beautiful'

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

What's in a name?

A lot, if you are an artist. Hopefully, Miami entertainers understand that a name is how casting agents, prospective employers, fans and audiences identify you and distinguish you from others in your same field. Actors, models and singers have a strong incentive to protect their names and keep others from misappropriating them. After all, your economic livelihood depends on it.

Recently, a U.S. band filed an entertainment lawsuit against a British band of the same name. What's interesting here is that British band is One Direction, the group of five teenage sensations responsible for the massive hit "What Makes You Beautiful," and the U.S. band is also called One Direction, but has never found success.

The U.S. one direction claims that it has been using the One Direction name since 2009, a full year before the members of the British One Direction made their debut on the reality TV show "The X Factor." They are seeking $1 million in damages.
The British One Direction, however, has countersued. Its legal team alleges the U.S. band is trying to extort money from them and take advantage or their success. It has accused the U.S. band of "fraud, oppression and malice."

The British ban's countersuit is the newest development in the case, so at the moment it is anyone's guess how this lawsuit will turn out. Of course, having a strong, experienced entertainment lawyer on your side increases your chances at (but does not guarantee) a victory.

Source: E! Network, "One Direction Countersues American Boy Band With Same Name," Brandi Fowler and Baker Machado, June 22, 2012

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Ashton Kutcher's production company seeking $1.44M in breach of contract case

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

Miami viewers might remember Ashton Kutcher's first reality TV venture, the successful MTV program "Punk'd." Kutcher had hoped to follow that show with a series about employees at the California Department of Motor Vehicles, but evidently the organization reneged on earlier indications that it would participate in his show. Now, Kutcher's production company has sued the DMV.

The basis of the lawsuit is essentially a contract dispute. The production company that Kutcher runs with his business partner, Jason Goldberg, claims that it negotiated a deal with the DMV in 2010 under which DMV employees would serve as the basis for a new half-hour reality program. Kutcher's production company, Katalyst Media, claims that the DMV had agreed to participate in at least four episodes.

(In case you are wondering, the series was envisioned as depicting "the variously humorous, emotional, dramatic, moving, humanizing and entertaining situations that arise on a daily basis at DMVs more than 170 offices across the state of California.")

However, Katalyst Media claims that the DMV "abruptly and without justifiable excuse" backed out of the deal, claiming that the show was "no longer in its best interests."

Naturally, Katalyst Media didn't like that because it had sold the series to TruTV had now had to explain to the cable station why it could no longer deliver the show they had talked about.

Katalyst Media and a second production company, Soda and Pop, Inc., are seeking $1.44 million in damages. The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter, "Ashton Kutcher Production Company Sues DMV for Backing Out of Reality Series," Matthew Belloni, June 19, 2012

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Louis Vuitton loses "Hangover 2" copyright infringement case

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

Louis Vuitton doesn't think taking liberties with its trademark is a laughing matter, even when the alleged infringement is for the sake of a joke.

The company recently sued Warner Brothers after the movie studio allegedly used a knockoff Louis Vuitton bag in last summer's hit "The Hangover 2." Although it lost its case, the luxury goods maker's aggressive position is a model for any party that wants to make sure it is doing enough to protect its intellectual property assets.

The genesis for the lawsuit was a scene in "The Hangover 2" in which it appears a character has a Louis Vuitton suitcase. However, the company itself thinks the bag was a knockoff made by a notorious Chinese imitation-peddler.

Warner Brothers didn't address the issue of whether the bag was fake, but it pointed out that the entire point of having the film character holding a Louis Vuitton was to underscore the fact that he is a hypocrite and isn't as sophisticated or genteel as he wants people to think he is. So, if the bag were fake, it would actually further the joke.

A judge sided with the movie studio, opining that because the bag was onscreen for less than 30 seconds, no one was likely to be confused. Even so, lawsuits such as this one send a strong message that the holder of intellectual property rights is not likely to take any disrespect and will go after anyone who thinks about abusing its intellectual property assets.

Source: The Mail Online, "Louis Vuitton loses court battle against Warner Brothers after Hangover 2 used fake bag instead of the real deal," June 18, 2012

Friday, June 15, 2012

Bogart's son to Burberry: Stop misusing my father's image

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

Models, whether they are working in Miami or elsewhere, need to be very savvy when they sign contracts. If they're not careful, they can end up signing away much more than they bargained for.

This is because most clients aren't buying an individual, physical photograph; they're buying an image and the rights to use that image, usually the right to use it to sell things. The decision as to how much permission to grant can be very pivotal and requires some understand of entertainment law and intellectual property to pull off properly.

Recently, the estate of Humphrey Bogart, the American actor made iconic by his farewell scene with Ingrid Bergman in "Casablanca," sued British luxury clothier Burberry, alleging that the company was illegally using an image of Bogart to sell its signature raincoats.

Burberry has countered that the image is not being used directly to sell its products and that it paid the appropriate license fee to stock-photo giant Corbis for the right to use the image.

(Interestingly enough, Bogart's son Stephen has said the image Burberry is using from "Casablanca" depicts Bogart in a raincoat by Aquascutum, not Burberry).

This story illustrates how it can be hard to control the commercial use of your likeness. When you're a model, it can sometimes feel like you're David and your client is Goliath; do you really have any power at all? The answer to that question is yes, especially if you have an attorney who understands entertainment law sticking up for you.

Source: Drapers, "Burberry sued for using Humphrey Bogart image," Victoria Gallagher, June 12, 2012

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

ABC, CBS clash in entertainment lawsuit over new show

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

Miami fans of the reality show "Big Brother" may have been looking forward to the debut of the similar new show "The Glass House," but CBS officials are not.

That network, which airs "Big Brother", recently filed an entertainment lawsuit ABC, which was poised to debut "The Glass House" June 18. Essentially, CBS is claiming that "Glass House" is a rip-off of "Big Brother." CBS asked for and was granted a temporary restraining order last week that would prevent the debut of "The Glass House" until at least the dispute, which centers around copyright infringement, is settled.

ABC has claimed that the elements of "Big Brother" that it is accused or pirating are not able to be copyrighted. In a statement, the network said all the elements shared by "Big Brother" and "The Glass House" are generic staples of the reality television genre - strangers living together, competitions and winning a prize.

ABC recently filed a counterclaim against CBS, alleging that its temporary restraining order would nullify $16 million worth of promotion it had poured into the show's debut.

While it is true that common things cannot receive intellectual property protection (you could not copyright the idea of love song, for example, because it's such a general, widely explored genre), ABC did hire a producer who worked on "Big Brother," which does make one wonder a little where the show's concepts came from.

Based on what you have read here, what do you think about this?

Source: The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, "ABC Files Counterclaim Against CBS in The Glass House vs. Big Brother Smackdown," Linday Silberman, June 12, 2012

Friday, June 8, 2012

Daytona Beach company sued for allegedly infringing on RE/MAX's trademark

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

You might not think that a big company like real estate giant RE/MAX would bother with a much smaller Daytona Beach competitor. But you'd be wrong.

Recently, RE/MAX sued Daytona Property Management, alleging that its use of white, red and blue bars in its promotions infringed on RE/MAX's trademark covering its recognizable tri-color bands.

A trademark is a symbol, word or phrase used to distinguish the products of one seller from those made by another. No company could trademark, say, the color blue in itself (i.e. exclude everyone else from using any shade of blue for any reason), but it could trademark a particular shade of blue or a certain distinctive use of the color blue in advertising and/or marketing, especially if it is in connection with the sale of real estate.

RE/MAX first became aware of Daytona Property Management's promotions in 2008 and has tried to convince the company that its promotions infringe on its trademark, but to no avail. RE/MAX has now filed suit in federal court and wants Daytona

Property Management to stop using its current logo and to destroy the existing signs that it believes violate its trademark.
For its part, Daytona Property Management has not commented publicly on the lawsuit.

What do you think - does it make sense that RE/MAX can try to stop a smaller company (which probably isn't much of a business threat) from using a design somewhat similar to its own trademark, or does that seem like overkill?

Source: The Daytona News-Journal, "Daytona firm accused of trademark infringement," Tom Knox, May 5, 2012

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Entertainment lawsuit filed over distribution of "Atlas Shrugged: Part One"

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

Did you ever see the movie "Atlas Shrugged: Part One"? Probably not, because Miami wasn't the only city where moviegoers largely ignored this film. Despite being an adaptation of Ayn Rand's famous and well-respected novel, it made almost no money when it was released in 2011 and quickly disappeared from theaters.

Recently, the production company behind the movie filed suit against Relativity media, its distributor, and Netflix, alleging that they each failed to pay a $1.5 million fee to release "Atlas Shrugged: Part One" on home video. Lawsuits such as this are quite common in entertainment law.

The company that made the movie, Atlas Productions, said in its lawsuit that it had fulfilled all the terms of the agreement in entered into with Relativity and Netflix, but has not been paid. Furthermore, it alleges Netflix committed copyright infringement by releasing "Atlas Shrugged: Part One" without fulfilling the terms of its agreement.

All told, Atlas Productions is alleging unjust enrichment, fraudulent misrepresentation, copyright infringement and breach of contract.

Although it is impossible to remove every possible source of legal friction, having an attorney who understands the intricacies and details specific to entertainment law on your side can really help head off a lot of potential future problems. Such attorneys know what to look out for, what to prepare for and how to best represent your interests. In a field like entertainment, where it's definitely true that not all that glitters is gold, having counsel and advice you can count on is very important.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter, "Netflix, Relativity Sued Over 'Atlas Shrugged' Distribution Deal," Matthew Belloni, May 30, 2012

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