Month: March 2015

En garde: legal duel over Zorro zips to Calif.

There is a saying, a very old saying: when the pupil is ready, the master will appear. The public is ready, so will the Masked Avenger appear? Could he finally be revealed and put into the public domain? A lawsuit is in the works to free Zorro from the ties it has to Zorro Productions Inc. and Sony Pictures Entertainment. The suit was originally brought in Washington, but has since fought its way back to sunny California. Robert Cabell, publisher of the musical, “Z- The Musical of Zorro,” is suing John Gertz, owner of ZPI over a threat of taking away Cabell’s musical licensing in Germany. In his 2013 action, Cabell argues the masked man was not in the public domain and that ZPI’s trademark on the character should be canceled. Why didn’t this suit initially survive? Because U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez in Seattle ruled that the avenger wasn’t at home in Washington. The judge since has reversed course, allowed the case to be revived, and said that courts in California probably had jurisdiction since ZPI’s principle place of business is Berkeley. Now that Zorro is being fought over in California, there’s a possibility that Gertz will try to dismiss the case, citing the statue of limitations. But if Sherlock Holmes is free for public use, why is this war over Zorro still an issue? The copyright had expired, and, as Judge Richard...

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Another round of chasing the anonymous

Can you sue the nameless and faceless? In the entertainment industry’s most recent quest to curb internet piracy, a new solution — does this sound familiar? — to sue “Joe Doe” has arisen: In a recent high-profile hijacking of the new, Dumb and Dumber To film, thousands of John Does in Oregon are being sued for copyright infringement after illegally downloading the newest installment of the franchise. Copyright cases against the anonymous are controversial. Most commonly, plaintiffs move to subpoena the otherwise private identifying information from internet service providers. Previous cases used a mass-joinder approach where plaintiffs attempted to “stuff as many defendants into a case as possible.” Actions to curb infringement are particularly important in cases like the Expendables 3, where the film has not yet been released but is being currently illegally distributed online or is available for download on torrent sites. The cyberworld also has been plagued by so-called trolling episodes, in which parties, porn makers themselves or others who buy up rights, file mass actions against ISPs to learn the names of those alleged to have illegally downloaded blue materials — they’re offered a settlement to protect their identities, if they will pay a fee, say, of several thousand dollars. While copyright protection is important, others are worried about the potential intrusion on the right to privacy that may be at stake if internet providers are...

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Appeals court stands up for Marley heirs’ rights

Select musicians cross genres and generations and their inspirational messages resonate widely, such as the great Bob Marley‘s mantra to “love the life you live, live the life you love.” While the late reggae master could wax philosophic with the best of them, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently offered a pragmatic view in protecting part of Marley’s legacy: The appellate judges affirmed a ruling by U.S. Senior District Judge Philip M. Pro in a case brought on by Fifty-Six Hope Road Music, which is owned by Marley’s children, holds the rights to his persona, and had sued A.V.E.L.A., Freeze, and JEM over T-shirts and other merchandise emblazoned with his image. In his written opinion for the appellate panel,  Judge N.R. Smith discussed important factors about the Lanham Act and celebrities’ Right of Publicity while also upholidng the award of more than $1.5 million to Hope Road in damages, wrongful profits by defendants, and attorney and other fees.   Dead celebrities still have rights –or their persona does The courts have treated celebrity persona as an identifiable intellectual property protected under the Lanham Act; death does not preclude protections under the law, as can be found under §1125 (a).) All successors in interest should pay heed to these rights, especially as marketers seek to exploit dead celebrities, particularly as an emerging fashion trend. H&M, for example, carries a whole section of shirts with images of Tupac Shakur, Biggie Smalls, Kurt Cobain, and many others...

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