Month: August 2013

‘Oh, Really?’ 47 million ways TV courts differ

In ‘Oh, Really?’ the Biederman Blog’s editors — voracious consumers of all matters pop culture — cast a curious, skeptical, fun and smart end-of-the-week eye on popular productions, sharing their keen observations about legal matters these raise. Pop quiz: Who is America’s highest-paid television star? Kim Kardashian? Nope. John Stewart? No. Tina Fey? Negative. Try this: TV Guide says it is Judith Sheindlin, aka “Judge Judy,” who reigns atop this nation’s star list, pulling down a whopping $47 million annually. It’s unsurprising, actually, that the Judge Judy phenomenon has seeped so deep into pop culture. By delivering her brand of “drive-thru” justice and entertainment, replete with common sense conduct and no-nonsense rebukes from the bench for an endless array of reality TV-style twits, Sheindlin has become one of America’s most trusted jurists. But the cruelest reality of the broadcast courts — where Judge Joe Brown hauled down a reported $20 million annually and Judge Marilyn Milian presides over one of TV’s longest-running and highly profitable franchise series — is how much they differ from the pauperized, actual state of the legal system. While Judge Judy exemplifies the exception where a law degree is worth millions, her show and the other TV courts falsely portray an American legal system that’s fiscally healthy and sufficiently rewarding to give all plaintiffs, especially those with relatively minor matters, an abundance of time and...

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Happy together under state not U.S. law?

Might there be a loop hole around the Copyright Act section 114 statutory license covering public performances of digital audio transmissions?  The Turtles think so and the Sixties rockers have brought a class-action lawsuit against Sirius XM, claiming the satellite radio station is playing their music without their permission, violating their sound recording rights. The Turtles’ infringement claims are based on California law, not federal copyright law.  That’s because their songs, including their hit Happy Together, were recorded before 1972 and Congress had not yet extended copyright to include protection for sound recordings.  The Sound Recording Amendment of 1971 extended federal copyright to sound recordings fixed on or after Feb. 15, 1972.  Recordings fixed before that date remain subject to state or common law copyright.  Recording artists rights further were extended with The Digital Performance Right in Sound Recordings Act of 1995, which acknowledges a performance right in digitally transmitted public performances as covered in sections 106, 112 and 114.  Section 114 of the Copyright Act requires statutory licenses for digital audio transmissions by satellite radio stations and web casters. The Turtles don’t have to bring their claim against Sirius under federal copyright laws, they contend, because in 1972 Congress hadn’t retroactively protected songs recorded before that time, meaning state laws govern. If so, potential causes of action could include misappropriation, as well as violation of state specific statutes...

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Copyright an issue for museums in cyberspace

As museums modernize and seek to offer more of a virtual experience for the public, copyright law will play an increasingly important part in curators’ lives. That was underscored by the Getty Museum’s recent announcement that it will offer free downloads of high-resolution images of 4,600 works in its collection — an action that brings to the forefront this question: Does making digital copies of art in the public domain create derivative works protected by copyright? No, says writer Michael Weinberg in this timely article. He argues that the Getty digital files aren’t automatically copyright protected. Museum collections, typically,...

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For comic artist’s heirs, a less than super appeal

Nope, there’s no superhero rescue to be found in court for the heirs of comic book artist Jack Kirby.  The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld a lower court decision in favor of Marvel, finding that his works at issue — such as Iron Man and the Hulk — were done for hire, meaning his heirs lack termination rights under section 304(c)(2) of the Copyright Act of 1976. In 1940, Kirby and Joe Simon created and sold the Captain America comic series to Marvel. In later years, under the legendary Stan Lee, Kirby helped to create other iconic characters of the genre, such as the Iron Man, Hulk, X-men, Fantastic Four and Thor — all properties that only have burgeoned in value with Hollywood’s current fixation on making blockbuster films based in comic books.  Both sides agree Kirby was a free-lancer, not a formal Marvel employee.  He was paid by check, at a per-page rate, for his drawings; he didn’t draw a fixed wage nor salary. Lee said that for many years, he and Kirby used the “Marvel Method” to develop comics, a system consisting of Lee meeting with the artist and providing a brief outline of an issue or idea; from that inspiration, the artists drew and Lee followed up  with dialogue and captions. While Lee said he “maintained the ability to edit and make changes...

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Video-art ruling’s a scream for Green Day

Scream as he might, a street artist whose work was used in giant video backdrop can’t prevail in his lawsuit against the rock band Green Day, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth District says.  The appellate judges in Pasadena ruled in favor of the band, affirming summary judgment by the district court in the lawsuit filed by artist Dereck Seltzer alleging violations of the Copyright Act and Lanham Act for the unauthorized use of his artwork. Richard Staub, a professional photographer and set designer, was hired to create the video backdrops for Green Day’s 2009-10 concert tour for their album 21th Century Breakdown.  For the song East Jesus Nowhere, Staub used a photo he shot of a Hollywood brick wall covered with graffiti and posters, including a weathered and torn copy of Scream Icon, created by Seltzer in 2003. Seltzer had taken his image of a screaming and contorted face and made it into posters and stickers. He sold and gave these away and many were plastered on walls in Los Angeles as street art. In his video, Staub modified his photograph of Scream Icon, adding a large, spray-painted red cross over the screaming face. His video was the backdrop for Green Day concert performances and their 2009 MTV performance.  Seltzer learned about and unsuccessfully tried to resolve use of his work. He then registered a copyright...

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