Month: April 2011

Here’s how to ensure prop cash is legal

With product placement a ripe source now for revenue, entertainment lawyers increasingly are getting called on to to know where and when to obtain copyright and trademark licenses or releases for items appearing in movies and TV programs. With a tip of the cap to the always informative lawyer-blogger Lionel Sobel at the Entertainment Law Reporter, here are answers to how counsel should answer when quizzed about showing cash, money, currency, moolah or dough in some fashion on screen. Sobel, for example, points to a post by entertainment lawyer David Albert Pierce at the MovieMaker about filming money; a law permitting use of cash in motion pictures can be found in the U.S. Code under “ ‘Printing and Filming of United States and Foreign Obligations & Securities’ (18 USC 504).” Pierce said the use of “prop money” can create more complications than actual cash. Those who would film fake money “must fully comply with the requirement of ‘The Counterfeit Detection Act of 1992’ (31 CFR 411).’” This act proves rigorous, meaning that filming real money may be easier. But, Pierce notes, this can pose another problem: finding the needed sums. If the production happens to call for torching cash, complying with the law may be the only option since, he says, “burning actual currency is a crime set forth under 18 USC 333.” In Canada, Bob Tarantino addresses this topic at the Entertainment & Media Law Signal....

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Un-‘Happy Days’ for actors over royalties

Cast members of the television hit “Happy Days” have filed a complaint against the CBS and Paramount Studios in Los Angeles Superior Court, asserting breach of contract.  The Santa Monica-based law firm, Pfeiffer Thigpen Fitzgibbon & Ziontz LLP, has claimed on behalf of Anson Williams, Don Most, Marion Ross, Erin Moran and the estate of Tom Bosley that CBS, the successor in interest to Paramount and current owner of the show, has refused to pay merchandising revenues owed under their contracts. In essence, the Hollywood studio and network have been accused of maintaining an “if you don’t ask [for royalty payments], then we don’t pay” policy, in violation of the actors’ contractual provisions. Such merchandise, the actors’ complaint asserts, includes slot machines, comic books, T-shirts, greeting cards and DVDs on which their images are used. This litigation was triggered when a cast member was questioned about her proceeds from a Happy Days , slot machine, about which she said she knew nothing. The actors’ complaint makes some fancy assertions about the import of the TV sitcom, calling it “a staple in American television history and … a household name.” Though the show long since has gone out of production, the suit says it had a “lasting effect on Americans as well as American television and is still an integral part of pop culture even today.” The suit says CBS unfairly held...

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SWCast shut down by SoundExchange over complaint

SoundExchange — a nonprofit performance rights organization that collects digital performance royalties from satellite radio (such as SIRIUS XM), Internet radio (like Pandora), cable TV music channels and similar platforms for streaming sound recordings — has disabled a music web-casting ISP SWCast.net. Although the site seems to have been launched again, several of the services of SWCast are still shut down. Randall Krause, the president-CEO of SWCast Network, has written a response to the SoundExchange take-down, saying: It is without question that sound recording copyright owners and recording artists deserve to be properly remunerated for the exploitation of their works, in any commercial context. And I fully respect (and expect) SoundExchange for carrying out their mission to ensure that Webcasting services “pay their dues” for the use of their members’ creative works. Krause is optimistic that the web-casting services will be up and running soon, which is good news for the frequent visitors who have reached out with inquiries as to why SWCast was out of commission. The service disruption arose due to SoundExchange’s report that SWCast had violated the DMCA.  SoundExchange said it had repeatedly notified SWCast about infringing material on its site that needed to be taken down but got no complicance; that led to the DMCA complaint and SoundExchange’s brief shutdown of the SWCast site....

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Dr. Dre triumphs in digital suit

Rap legend Andre Young, a.k.a. Dr.Dre, has emerged victorious from a federal lawsuit he filed over owed royalty payments in early 2010 against WIDEawake Death Row Entertainment LLC.  U.S. District Judge Christina A Snyder in Los Angeles has ruled that the defendant breached Dre’s contract by selling his music online, without his permission and contrary to their 1996 agreement; Dre, thus, is entitled to 100% of all digital sales from his classic 1992 album, “The Chronic.” The defendant, Canadian-based WIDEawake Entertainment Group, had purchased at auction Death Row’s assets after it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, reported the Los Angeles Times in January, 2009.  Dre claimed that the company had breached the agreements by (1) failing to pay him royalties since 1996; (2) digitally distributing his album The Chronic without permission; and (3) and including his recordings in a compilation album entitled “Death Row’s Greatest Hits.” In 1996, Dre and Death Row apparently had entered into a written agreement whereby he would relinquish his 50% ownership interest in the firm and assign all copyrights in his recordings. But those rights were assigned to the extent that the “master recordings shall only be distributed in the manners heretofore distributed” (i.e. not digital). In return, Death Row agreed to pay royalties to Dre from the sales of recordings he wrote, produced or on which he performed. The defense asserted that,...

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Whither or wither Grooveshark service?

What can we expect from Grooveshark’s streaming music service? Its mobile app was removed from Apple’s store last year and Google removed Grooveshark’s app from its android market in early April. Apple and Google may have felt pressure from record companies such as EMI and Universal, which both have sued Grooveshark. EMI dismissed its suit after agreeing to a license, while Universal is still fighting its suit. Grooveshark has released an open letter encouraging Apple and Google to reinstate its products, arguing there is nothing illegal about its offerings. Grooveshark allows users to stream any song in its catalog on-demand and save them onto playlists without paying a cent, infuriating record companies with these uploads without a distribution deal. Record companies argue this process infringes on copyrights. Grooveshark says that it fully complies with the DMCA, which requires it to remove content upon being notified by a copyright holder; it says it has taken down 1.76 million tracks and suspended 22,274 users who abused the system. But can users freely upload content? Grooveshark has pushed for record labels to offer its users a blanket license, which would allow companies such as Universal to profit, too. Universal is likely arguing the blanket license offers insufficient compensation and that Grooveshark is inducing infringement through its overall design. YouTube’s win over Viacom in June, 2010, was huge for Grooveshark, as both rely on DMCA...

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