Month: June 2013

Ooh-rah: reality TV infringment case advances

A former police officer has switched from fighting crime on New York’s streets to battling Hollywood television producers in court, with a U.S District Court in Los Angeles allowing him to proceed with his litigation and denying a motion to dismiss filed by NBC Universal Media LLC and its co-defendants. The court ruled that the Richard Dillon had a sufficient claim for copyright infringement of his television series treatment. But his other assertions about violations of California’s Unfair Competition Law, breach of contract, and inducement of breach of contract were dismissed. After twenty years in law enforcement, Dillon turned to consulting and serving as a TV show technical adviser. He eventually decided to step into a more creative role, developing the idea for a reality TV show, Celebrity Seals. His treatment detailed his concept of celebrity contestants competing with each other in events mimicking the training for U.S. Navy SEALs. Winning competitors would see $100,000 donated to the charities of their choice. Dillon protected his treatment, registering it with the Writer’s Guild of America in May, 2011, and with the U.S. Copyright Officer in June, 2012. He and his co-creator, Jonathan Moss, then began shopping the project to TV producers, including David A. Hurwitz, who was pitched in a conference call and received a follow-up copy of the treatment.  Hurwitz, the litigation asserts, told Dillon and Moss that NBC...

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War-epic partners wage unending court combat

James Jones published his powerful battlefield-based novel almost twenty years after World War II’s end and the film made from it represented famed director Terrence Malick‘s return to Hollywood screens after twenty years. The sprawling ensemble assembled as its stars — including Sean Penn, Jim Caviezel, Nick Nolte, George Clooney, John Travolta, Adrien Brody, Billy Bob Thornton, John Cusack, Woody Harrelson, Martin Sheen, Viggo Mortensen, John C. Reilly, Jason Patric and Mickey Rourke — put forth performances highly praised by the likes of Martin Scorsese and the late critic Gene Siskel, who called 1998’s The Thin Red Line the “greatest contemporary war film” he had seen. But by 1999, the partners developing and producing the movie and another, The White Hotel, had locked themselves into legal combat that would take them through state and federal terrain, all over claims as to who may have bilked whom over shares of profits. And now, in 2013, the New York Supreme Court  has denied a request for summary judgment in favor of Paul Verner, a defendant and attorney in the case, ruling that he did not meet his burden as there were still issues of fact to be decided at trial. In 1994, a limited partnership, with general and limited partners, was formed to make films, including The Thin Red Line. As is common in such instances, the general partners have management...

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Paramount wins battle over ‘La Dolce’ rights

Life isn’t so sweet for a film company that claimed ownership of the 1960 Federico Fellini masterpiece, La Dolce Vita.  Fellini, who was known for his inimitable cinematic style that left an indelible legacy on the film world, had two companies locked in a tug of war over La Dolce, which stars Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg. The chain of title dispute between International Media Films Inc. and Melange Pictures LLC was settled by the U.S. District Court in California, which granted summary judgment in favor of Paramount Pictures Corp. and Melange.  The court held that International Media Films was liable for contributory copyright infringement through its licensing of the films rights. The competing ownership claims have their roots with the same company, Cinemat S.A., which acquired La Dolce rights from Riama Films in 1962.  Plaintiff Paramount, exclusive licensee of Melange’s  rights in the film, asserted that its chain of title came from a 1962 transfer from Cinemat to Astor Pictures.  IMF contended that it owned the rights to the film through a transfer from Cinemat to Hor A.G. in 1980. This lawsuit arose out of IMF’s exploitation of film rights in the United States, which both sides concede began in 2003.  IMF has granted licenses to reproduce, distribute, license, sub-license and to manufacture “video devices” such as videotapes, DVDs and digital formats. Paramount filed a complaint alleging five...

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In dance music dispute, a big legal back-step

A small record company has pulled off a David v. Goliath defeat in court against publishing giant EMI, as a U.S. District Court in New York has vacated a $100,000 judgment against Karen Records Inc. for copyright infringement and dismissed the complaint citing EMI Entertainment World Inc.’s lack of standing to bring a claim. Karen Records Inc. describes itself as “the home of the best merengues, bachatas and sones.”  In 2005, EMI sued it for copyright infringement, claiming it owed unpaid statutory royalties on four songs Karen included on three CDs it released between 1999 and 2001: La Colegiala by Grover Walter Leon Aguilar;  Corazón Partío by Alejandro Sanz; Cuando Acaba el Placer by Nacho Mano; and  Fuiste Mia un Verano by Leonardo Favio and Vico Berti. In 2009 the court granted summary judgment, finding that EMI had terminated Karens’ compulsory licenses to certain of the songs and that Karen never obtained a license to the remaining composition. And in 2011, the court found willful copyright infringement and granted EMI a $100,000 judgment. Karen, in response, asked the court to set aside that judgment. It cited Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) (1), (3), and (4), arguing EMI lacked standing for its suit and that the court, therefore, lacked jurisdiction.  Chief U.S. District Judge Loretta A. Preska agreed with Karen and granted its motion to dismiss. The judge found...

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Must we pay to sing that birthday tune to ya?

Happy wha, wha, what? Lawsuit? That song that’s crooned daily around the world to commemorate how we’ve gotten a year older is copyrighted — or is it in the public domain? Jennifer Nelson, a New York documentary filmmaker, has sued Warner/Chappell in a federal court in Manhattan (thanks to Billboard for the online post of the suit) challenging the music publisher over its claims to the song Happy Birthday, which, the New York Times reports, she says long ago entered  the public domain. Nelson, who is producing Happy Birthday, a documentary about the song’s history and future, signed a license with Warner/Chappell, paying $1,500 to include the song in a scene — and to avoid paying a $150,000 fine. She now says she never knew the tune belonged to anyone and points to evidence that it evolved from Good Morning to All, penned by sisters Mildred J. Hill and Patty Smith Hill before the turn of the 20th century. Though there’s historical dispute as to the song’s exact origins, they apparently set the words of Happy Birthday to its music.  The  sisters sold their song to Clayton Summy in 1893 for ten percent of the retail sales of sheet music, which Nelson claims dates its copyright expiration in 1921.  In 1988, however, Warner/Chappell paid $25 million to acquire Birchtree Ltd., a company owned by Summy and whose musical catalog included...

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