Author: Justin Jennings

Judge dissects, discards a ‘Machete’ claim

Danny Trejo, a Los Angeles native with a troubled past, has transformed himself into a Hollywood franchise by portraying some mean hombres all too willing to dispense rough vigilantism. But a Utah federal judge, weighing in on a copyright infringement claim vaguely tied to Trejo’s first starring role, has shown how tough the real law can be on unsupported claims. U.S. District Judge David Nuffer took a legal machete and whacked apart a lawsuit filed by filmmaker Gil Medina, claiming Univision and its El Rey Network  infringed on his 2006 indie movie Vengeance, which he wrote and filmed. It also was the first movie in which Trejeo starred as the lead. Medina claimed that the broadcasters’ 2010 televising of Machete, a different movie also starring Trejo, infringed on his Vengeance copyright because the two works shared a similar plot and had the same star. No es cierto, the judge ruled. Was there access? Access to a work is critical to establish an infringement claim, and Medina’s suit relied on his assertion that this occurred when he said he provided a rough cut of  his Vengeance to film producer Robert Rodriguez in 2005. Rodriguez, who was not a defendant in Medina’s suit, examined the script and rough cut before telling the plaintiff he was uninterested in the work. In 2009, Rodriguez produced Machete. Those facts were insufficient to support Medina’s...

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Will studio win after a decade, 3 court rulings?

The solemn, esteemed appellate courts don’t get to tell parties to just buzz off, of course. But after a decade of litigation, will some movie memorabilia product-makers finally give up their campaign to tap images from some of Warner Brothers’ most iconic films and characters? The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, in a second adverse decision, has affirmed lower court rulings against plaintiffs Art and Vintage Entertainment Licensing Agency (AVELA), Dave Grossman Creations, X One X Productions and Leo Valencia. Instead, the court has given the studio yet another legal victory. Specifically, the appellate judges said...

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Tech mogul stays on the hook for $750,000

He’s youthful, handsome, an entrepreneurial dynamo, and his personal wealth has been estimated at times at near a billion dollars. But even for a San Diego tech innovator like Michael Robertson (shown at right), a $750,000 copyright judgment against him personally has to sting, especially when it has been affirmed recently by an appellate court. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has ruled against Robertson and his defunct online music storage firm MP3tunes, allowing plaintiffs to pursue further  infringement claims in a long-running lawsuit involving record companies and music publishers once part of EMI Group Ltd....

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How offensive will high court allow marks to be?

Four white men, two white women, a Latina, and an African-American soon will decide how blunt, vulgar, and racist trademarks in the United States may be. This esteemed, older, and not necessarily greatly diverse group will consider whether Asian American musicians may “re-appropriate” Slants, a traditional slur against their ethnic group, and obtain formal, legal exclusivity and commercial protections for that term. But Redskins, another racial term deemed offensive and derogatory, especially to Native Americans, another minority group in this country, will not be part of the deliberations for now by, of course, the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court. Their impetus for examining the issue of “scandalous, immoral, and disparaging,” trademarks — a topic this blog has taken up before — resulted from an appeal by no less than Uncle Sam, who said the important issue had gotten unclear and messy for the multicultural nation. Here’s why:   How the ‘disparaging marks’ case arose The high court, which has become active in taking on free speech and First Amendment-related issues in recent times, didn’t surprise many analysts when it announced recently that it would hear Michelle K. Lee v. Simon Shiao Tam, a challenge to the constitutionality of key provisions of the 1946 Lanham Act. The act gives the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office the authority to deny registration to potential marks because they “may disparage […] persons,...

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Oops, a contract lost: Jay-Z wins logo suit.

Shawn Carter — the man, the myth, the legend, and the hip-hop mogul better known in the music world as Jay-Z — seems to be in court a lot for something or the other. Recently he prevailed in a legal tussle over the logo used by the record label that made him famous. When Roc-A-fella Records Inc. and Roc-A-Fella Records LLC were created in 1996 and 1997, respectively by the trio of Damon “Dame” Dash, Kareem “Biggs” Burke, and Carter, they needed a logo to set them apart from other labels in the music industry. Dwayne D. Walker Jr. claims the trio enlisted his services to accomplish this task. He may have assisted. But a federal judge has decided the entrepreneur trio did not owe Walker any money. The court dismissed Walker’s claim, seeking $7 million and accusing the trio of breaching a contract that Walker claimed only Dash signed two decades ago. No, the dog didn’t eat Walker’s homework. But he couldn’t find a crucial document. U.S. District Judge Andrew Carter in Manhattan faulted Walker in a late September ruling because the plaintiff could not produce a contract to substantiate his royalties claim. Walker filed his suit in July, 2012, asserting he created the legendary 1995 artwork depicting a vinyl record. That design was the basis for Roc-A-Fella’s logo. Walker said he was paid $3,500 two decades ago...

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