Month: April 2012

A new history of Hollywood and copyright

While those of the internet era might think that Hollywood’s a johnny-come-lately to matters of intellectual property law, Peter Decherney, a University of Pennsylvania associate professor of cinema studies, English and communications, shows in his new book, Hollywood’s Copyright Wars:  From Edison to the Internet, that cinematic pioneers dealt with copyright concerns — and this area has been an important concern of the industry ever since. Still, as Decherney points out, the history of the movie business and copyright law has been unpredictable, at best — what could have been big legal matters weren’t, while some lesser issues turned out to be key. For entertainment law practitioners who want a readable work that provides a longer view and context to today’s trade pub headlines, this book might be a boon; it wins praise in a review from the 1709 blog and here’s more info on Decherney, his main book page and his YouTube discussion , “Can the Supreme Court save the Public Domain … and Hollywood?”...

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Documentary filmmakers score a win over IRS

A tax judge has ruled in a recent case that documentaries can be a for-profit activity, a huge win for documentary filmmakers, many of whom hold other jobs or make money in other ways while also pursuing their cinematic projects and hoping those make money.  The IRS and a tax judge had raised concerns around Hollywood and in the ranks of certain filmmakers about deductions in a case involving Lee Storey, an attorney who fought this case. The IRS had argued that a documentary Storey worked on was more of a hobby and the tax judge had seemed to agree, potentially dealing a big blow for documentary filmmakers who hold day jobs. Then others weighed in — raising ned. Although it is unclear if the IRS will appeal this decision, the case has gotten its share of negative coverage for the tax collectors and the court, viz THR,...

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A studio victory on distribution of vintage films

The appellate division of the Supreme Court of New York has determined that Paramount Pictures has distribution rights to 16 vintage movies, despite the claims by Richard Feiner & Co. Inc. that it owns the exclusive rights in certain markets. In 1986, the New York company Richard Feiner & Co. sold the rights to exploit 16 feature-length films produced in the 1940s and 1950s to Republic Pictures for almost $2.5 million.  In the contract, Feiner was to retain and the rights to show the movies markets where it currently had existing licenses, which included New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and 18 other others.  Feiner claimed that in 2007, Paramount–which took over Republic’s rights to the films — had violated the contract by showing the works on American Movie Classics and Turner Classic Movies TV in the plaintiff’s selected markets.  Paramount did not dispute the airings, but argued that it had not collected any royalties on the airing of the films from June, 2001, to May, 2010. The lower court had denied Paramount’s motion for summary judgment, ruling that there was an issue of material fact as to whether Paramount’s national cable licenses violate Feiner’s local broadcast licenses.  But the First Department New York Appellate Division ruled that Paramount’s evidence is sufficient to have Feiner’s claim dismissed.  Feiner claimed that, under the agreement, it retained not only the rights in...

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Holograms resurrect dead stars, legal issues

Tupac and Nate Dogg — rappers who have been deceased since 1996 and 2011, respectively — appeared last week on stage, albeit as holograms that allowed Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg to perform their noteworthy songs “California Love” and “The Next Episode” without missing a beat. The West Coast performance demonstrated the identical hologram technology that allowed Mariah Carey to perform a Christmas concert in five European cities simultaneously. This new technology raises interesting legal issues about use of the likeness of a dead celebrity.A key issue concerns Tupac’s “right of publicity,” which prevents others from using, without permission, the name or likeness of a person for commercial gain. When alive, that right vests in the individual; the issue gets more complicated after an individual’s death.In some states, the right of publicity automatically passes to heirs or passes via a will or other testamentary document; this is the case in Indiana or California. In New York, however, the right of publicity ends upon an individual’s death. Courts have determined that the state where the person domiciled at time of death provides the governing law. More information on post-mortem rights of publicity is contained in this article. The Wall Street Journal reports that representatives for both Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg are planning a tour with holographic Tupac and it could launch a trend in such musical tours. The technology,...

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Paid political ads OK on public TV, court rules

A longstanding law barring public broadcast television stations from airing paid political or public-issue ads has been deemed unconstitutional by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which, in a 2-1 vote, ruled that prohibition violated the free speech clause of the First Amendment.  The court stated: “Public issue and political speech in particular is at the very core of the First Amendment’s protection … Public issue and political advertisements pose no threat of ‘commercialization.'” The issue was initially raised by Minority Television Project after the FCC  levied a $10,000 fine on the California nonprofit for running paid advertisements from companies such as State Farm Insurance, General Motors and Chevrolet on a San Francisco public television channel. The FCC argued in court that if public broadcasters become dependent on paid ads, they would reduce their educational and public service programming, replacing these with offerings that would draw wider audiences and enhance advertising revenue. But  Judge Carlos Bea, writing for the majority (Minority Television Project Inc v. FCC, Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 09-17311,) replied: “There is no evidence in the record — much less evidence which was in the record before Congress — to support Congress’s specific determination that public issue and political advertisements impact the programming decisions of public broadcast stations to a degree that justifies the comprehensive advertising restriction at issue here.” The appellate court’s April 12 decision left intact the $10,000 fine against the Minority...

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