Month: March 2012

‘Roscoe’s’ fried up over music licensing

This guest post is by Matt Haddad, who has just completed the Entertainment Law and Web 2.0 course at Southwestern: What happens when a dining spot with a well-known Los Angeles name serves up unlicensed tunes, gets caught and then wants to litigate a lot? Well, just ask the owners of Roscoe’s House of Chicken ’n Waffles in Long Beach. The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) is a performing rights organization that represents over 427,000 songwriters, composers, and music publishers. It licenses its members’ music and collects royalties when their music is performed publicly.  An ASCAP license gives a venue the ability to use any of the 8.5 million songs and musical works that it oversees. Roscoe’s in Long Beach opened a lounge where live music and songs from CDs were played over a loud speaker.  Management rejected multiple offers by ASCAP to obtain licensing between 2001 and 2008.  Ultimately, ASCAP hired an investigator who identified the public performance of eight songs that had valid copyrights registered to seven ASCAP members. The music companies sued and won on summary judgment. Roscoe’s lost its appeal which you can read here. The music companies were awarded $4,500 per copyright infringement and $162,000 for attorneys’ fees. The legal documents offer no explanation as to why defendants in this case failed to seek licensing nor why they kept at this case. If some quick math adds up, licensing for instances like those described in this case might have amounted to...

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Court clobbers bid to reclaim ‘Conan’ rights

Stan Lee Media Inc.  has suffered another defeat in its attempt to restore its rights to the “Conan the Barbarian” character as a court recently dismissed its lawsuit against Conan Sales Co., Paradox Entertainment and Lee’s attorney, Arthur Lieberman, among others. The eponymous enterprise argued that when Conan Sales Co. bought back the rights to the character, numerous of its shareholders (1,800) failed to receive proper notice.  The company also asserted that Lieberman made misrepresentations and failed to disclose conflicts; Stan Lee Media claimed that its interests in the proceedings were improperly represented and for these reasons sought the annulment of the transfer of rights to Conan Sales Co., later sold to Paradox Entertainment. U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson dismissed the lawsuit, ruling that notice to shareholders was not required during the bankruptcy process but even if it was, Stan Lee Media could not show standing or harm. Further, Wilson found the company had proper representation in the bankruptcy proceedings and had failed to establish any improper action by Lieberman. Since Stan Lee Media declared bankruptcy in 2001, the company has doggedly sought to reclaim intellectual property rights that the company’s board of directors assert were fraudulently taken during bankruptcy. Assets in dispute include the characters Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk and the Fantastic Four. The Second Circuit in March is scheduled to hear the company’s arguments that it has standing...

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Sorry, Cowboy, soap dropped in ‘Naked’ claim

In Naked Cowboy v. CBS and Bell-Phillip Television, U.S. District Judge Barbara Jones in New York dismissed the complaint filed by the Naked Cowboy for Lanham Act violations including trademark infringement and unfair competition by CBS and Bell-Phillip Television.  She ruled that any similarities between the Naked Cowboy and a character portrayed on a CBS-TV soap opera were “minimal at best.“ For those unfamiliar with the skin-clad cowboy in this case, the Naked Cowboy, aka Robert J. Burck II,  is a Manhattan street performer, readily identifiable because he wears little more than a cowboy hat, acoustic guitar, underwear and boots while performing daily  in Times Square for a decade now. He filed for trademark protection in October 2000 and re-registered in 2010. Shortly thereafter,  the CBS soap “The Bold and the Beautiful” aired an episode in which a character, Oliver, sweetly sings to character Amber while only wearing briefs, cowboy boots, and a cowboy hat. While Burck maintains the portrayal of a unclothed cowboy was substantially similar to that of his protected character, the district court found that the words “Naked Cowboy” were not present at any point during the episode and no such words were spoken by any characters.  Jones ruled that “[t]he Naked Cowboy costume is indeed distinctive, but … similarities between Oliver’s costume and the Naked Cowboy costume are minimal at best.” Further, Judge Jones narrowed any monopoly Burck may...

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