Month: April 2013

Infringment? It’s an alien claim, judge finds

While screenwriters, musicians, music companies and all the rest of us may feel as if life’s sufficiently chaotic sometimes that a planetary breakdown is under way and space travel might be a necessity to preserve life, those fantastical circumstances played a central role in a real copyright dispute between a scribe and a record label.  And, in this instance, a U.S. District Court in Manhattan found the facts too cosmic, ruling in favor of Warner Music Group and dismissing screenwriter Charles Bollfrass’ copyright infringement case for failure to state a valid claim. Bollfrass wrote Panspermia/Exogenesis, a screenplay that he calls a “cinematic science-fiction rock opera.” It tells a story of the impending destruction of humanity due to a planetary breakdown, and, in it, astronauts thwart humanity’s ruin by spreading human life to unpopulated planets via space travel.  In 2005, Bollfrass contacted three bands, including the group Muse, to score the film, providing them a copy of his screenplay.  Muse declined his offer but, in 2009, Warner Music Group released their album The Resistance  with the trilogy of tunes Exogenesis I, Exogenesis II and Exogenesis III. The album’s liner notes stated this sequence tells, “a story of humanity coming to an end and everyone pinning their hopes on a group of astronauts who go out to explore space and spread humanity to another planet.” Bollfrass sued Warner Music Group, claiming...

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89,000 reasons for case losers to sing the blues

The pitched legal battle, which had pitted heirs of the late great entertainer Ray Charles and an eponymous foundation he established to battle hearing diseases, has prompted yet another poke for the unsuccessful plaintiffs: U.S. District Judge Audrey Collins in Los Angeles, who had tossed the foundation’s federal and state claims against them and cleared a path for the Charles family members to continue their push to secure “termination rights” to more than four dozen of his songs, has ruled that the foundation must pay the defendant-heirs’ attorney fees. This had become a complex case that raised potential precedent-setting issues about beneficial owners and their standing to challenge termination rights for some memorable tunes including I Got a Woman, Mary Ann and a Fool for You. His dozen heirs, though told they would get $500,000 each after Charles’ 2004 death of liver disease in return for releasing claims on his estate, recently had decided that they should control the cache of songs that the Ray Charles Foundation insisted it should hold sway over; seven of them launched the process to reclaim rights to the music as part of copyright law. Like Charles, a flood of popular artists, many of whom were young, broker and freer at the time, had assigned those rights to publishers decades ago; they now want the valuable rights back and the statutes say sufficient time...

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One-sided win on tale of Victorian love triangle

The dysfunctional marriage of Effie Gray, a Victorian socialite, and John Ruskin, a leading art critic of his day, has provided the fodder for two distinct screenplays, according to a U.S. District Court in New York, which has granted a declaratory judgment sought by Effie Film LLC finding that British actress-author Emma Thompson’s work did not infringe on the copyright of a script by American writer Gregory Murphy. While the movie Effie will not be released until late 2013, Effie Film wanted to  preempt an infringement suit by Murphy, who wrote his script based on the same historical facts of the infamous triangle involving Gray, Ruskin and his artist-protege John Everett Millais, a founder of the Pre-Raphaelite school.  The screenwriter made claims to Effie Films and the media that Thompson based her work on his script for The Countess, which tells how the youthful, gregarious socialite wed the dour critic at the urging of their parents but never consummated their marriage and how she divorced him then to wed his friend and bear him eight children and social opprobrium in a time of stuffed shirts. The Countess was a play performed in New York and London, as well as a screenplay written by Murphy. He has published his account on how he confronted Thompson at her home, accusing her over the works, asserting she had seen his because it...

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Bum’s rush for author’s suit over messenger film

Well, here’s a plot that apparently isn’t so novel as to wheel its way into automatic copyright protection: a bunch of bad guys try to hunt down a messenger because the athletically gifted fellow is supposed to deliver something of value and skulduggery surrounds. A U.S. District Court in San Francisco granted summary judgment in favor of Sony Pictures against author Joe Quirk, who had asserted copyright infringement and breach of implied contract claims over his novel about a derring do delivery guy in a big city and whether it unfairly got made into the 2012 movie Premium Rush. Ultimate Rush, Quirk’s book, is set in San Francisco and follows a rollerblading messenger tangled up with criminals because of  people he’s associated with and the packages he is delivering. Quirk wrote and published his work in 1998, then deciding it would be ideal for film adaptation.  He secured a book-option deal with Warner Bros., which had two screenplays written based on it. But the project, like many, stalled and was not produced. Then, in 2010, Sony Pictures went into production with its film Premium Rush. It is set in Manhattan and tells of a bike messenger hunted by rogue cops seeking a package he has been hired to deliver.  Quirk heard about the film, asserted it was an unauthorized adaptation of his novel and he sued for copyright infringement, naming...

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When does infringement turn into a crime?

While artists, fans, lawyers, jurists and policy-makers struggle to define the legal bounds of intellectual property rights, at what point do those accused of infringing overstep so egregiously that their actions constitute a crime, with major penalties either in fines or imprisonment? That’s a central focus of Criminal Copyright Enforcement Against Filesharing Services,  an article worth a look from Benton Martin and Jeremiah Newhall, two recent law school graduates and now law clerks in the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. The piece by Martin (Emory Law School ’10) and Newhall (George Washington University Law School ’11) recently was accepted for publication in the North Carolina Journal of Law and Technology. The authors examine the history of criminal copyright enforcement, including the shift of focus to filesharing services, beginning with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. They also dissect the challenges in prosecuting filesharing-site operators and the effectiveness on deterrence of future copyright infringement. The authors scrutinize the shutdown of Megaupload and PirateBay, or “copyright wars” as they refer to these events, tackling questions such as: “What pushes a legitimate online file-storing business over the edge to criminal enterprise? How might criminal copyright enforcement differ materially from civil enforcement?” Besides the instances these writers cite, of course, lawmakers and judges in France and Spain have taken new steps to crackdown on copyright violation with felony-sized financial penalties in the form of big cash...

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