Month: January 2012

A literary genre that may be a lawyer’s fantasy

Do lawyers rush in where fans have unabashedly tread? As fantasy and sci-fi fiction have become big dollar properties — especially if they make the leap from pages to screens (online and big) — there’s been a burst of literary litigation especially surrounding franchise properties. Serial works such as Harry Potter and Twilight have created cult-like followings, with fan fiction and “fanzines” emerging left and right. Generally speaking, these fan-created works coexist peacefully with the originals, serving in many instances to increase fervor and respect for the originating creation. But this isn’t always the case, as yet another bit of litigation involving the popular Darkover sci-fi books reminds.  In a recently filed complaint, the trust that owns and controls copyrights, marks and other commercial rights to the sci-fi series has taken aim at an author asserting she created derivative works without permission. The Darkover series has been in continuous print since 1962, with most of the books written by original author Marion Zimmer Bradley, best known for her tome, Mists of Avalon. The Darkover series is named for the fictional planet of its setting and the series follows a core of distinct characters. The works have shown staying power among readers and has built a big fan base. Since Bradley’s death in 1999, the Marion Zimmer Bradley Literary Works Trust has operated as the trust for the series, with Ann Sharp acting as trustee. But in 2006, the trust asserts,...

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Hollywood v. Silicon Valley: What’s next?

Even as national politicians boast about giving each other a figurative punch in the nose, the movie and music industries, their lawyers and lobbyists are getting a hard shove back from the online world over legal measures aimed at ridding the internet of intellectual piracy that the entertainment industry loathes and says costs it billions. No, this blog won’t go dark today — instead, here’s our take on today’s Hollywood v. Silicon Valley legal smackdown. The brawling, of course, is over the Stop Online Piracy Act, a bill that proposes to clean up the net by giving lawmakers the power to shut down any website that is accused of containing pirated material. Along with SOPA, there’s the Enforcing and Protecting American Rights Against Sites Intent on Theft and Exploitation Act, aka, PIPA, backed by the Entertainment Software Association and providing another method to combat infringement. But these measures, which the influential film and music industries had sought to jam through Congress and looked to have clear sailing for awhile, angered the netizens, who called them an authoritarian overreach that could imperil both free expression and robust commerce online. So, as the media have blared for a bit now, many prominent net players have expressed their ire on sites seen by tens of millions daily. They’ve shuttered their websites for the day or launched other online protests. The protesters include...

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In Brazil, Sony pays piper for racist tune

Just in time for the U.S. holiday that honors the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King for his role in battling for civil rights in this country comes the latest hemispheric finding in a case that shows the challenges when a democratic, multicultural society seeks to both allow free speech but also to curtail racist, hateful expression — in this instance a curious slap at a global music publisher for its role with the lyrics of a song by a popular Brazilian clown cum politician. Sony Music Entertainment just recently has been ordered in Brazil to pay $1.2 million Brazilian reals ($656,000 U.S.) in a lawsuit brought by ten nongovernmental organizations that combat racism. As reported by Gata Negras in a recent post on the blog  Black Women of Brazil, the Civil Chamber in Rio de Janeiro awarded the antiracism groups that sum after Sony’s unsuccessful 2004 appeal; the legal body imposed the penalty, calculating inflation on the plaintiffs’ suit’s value and interest retroactive to 1997. At issue is Sony’s release of the song, Veja os Cabelos Dela (Look at Her Hair), on the CD Florentina.  Sony Music holds the copyrights on the work and distributed 250,000 or so copies. The song offended many Afro-Brazilians and women, with what critics assailed as its racist and misogynistic lyrics; the tune asserts that the hair of black women — whom it labels as malordorous — could be used to...

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A legal shootout over choppers in video game

The gaming blogsphere is abuzz over Electronic Arts’ filing of what many sites (such as THREsq) have dubbed a “preemptive” lawsuit (see complaint at Paid Content) against Textron, the parent company of Bell, a manufacturer of military and other helicopters, seeking a court declaration of the game maker’s right to depict real-life military helicopters in its Battlefield 3 video game. EA took action, apparently, after Textron asserted that the copter depictions in the video game constituted trade dress infringement and dilution. EA says the depictions “are protected by the First Amendment and the doctrine of nominative fair use.” In June, the Supreme Court ruled that video games are entitled to the same free speech protections as movies, books, and music. After this landmark decision, EA prevailed in a matter involving the unlicensed use of a college quarterback’s likeness. EA believes the use of the helicopters would also fall within its right to free expression. Online analysts have noted that EA has licensed many real-world automobiles for inclusion in its Need for Speed video game. What’s the legal difference between the appearance of the vehicles therein and the disputed choppers here? Those cars in Need for Speed are central to the game’s purpose, whereas the copters in Battlefield 3 “are not highlighted or given greater prominence than any of the other vehicles within the game.” This is not the first lawsuit involving EA...

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What’s hot in karaoke? $1 billion in legal howls

Karaoke is growing in popularity, with many bars and other entertainment venues offering it alongside trivia contests on one or many nights a week.  But this kind of group crooning may prove a costly and legally problematic pastime, if the music on the karaoke discs and programs is unlicensed. Sony/ATV Music Publishing claims statutory damages of at least $1.3 billion for such alleged infringement. KTS Karaoke has responded by suing Sony for declaratory relief of copyright noninfringement, or, in the alternative, a reduction of the damages amount at issue. Sony is a major music publisher and its kingdom of copyrights in this area is broad and diverse. The late Michael Jackson famously purchased ATV in 1985 for $46.5 million, thereby acquiring the rights to the Beatles’ music catalog. KTS is one of the nation’s largest karaoke distributors, marketing software and hardware for personal and commercial use. Eriq Gardner of The Hollywood Reporter reports that in correspondence sent to KTS, Sony claims at least 6,715 acts of copyright infringement. The music publisher asserts these occurred in the  sale of discs and software containing unlicensed tunes for which it holds copyrights. According to Gardner, Sony further says those 6,715 acts resulted in damages of $1.3 billion, an assuredly steep valuation. The KTS response hinges on when Sony claims it learned of these actions and steps the company may have failed to take...

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