Author: Kasia Campbell

New legal poses for dispute over famous photo

Let’s click on the instant replay about a lawsuit filed by a photographer against Sports Illustrated, the subject of the photograph, Desmond Howard, and other companies the shooter claimed had used his photograph without permission. Just to jog your memory, back in 1991, photographer, Brian Masck, took a photo of Desmond Howard, then a University of Michigan star, posing as the Heisman Trophy during a Wolverine game against Ohio State University. Sports Illustrated used the photo in its publication, paid Masck $500, and credited him for the photo. Many years later, Nissan used the photo as part of an advertisement in Sports Illustrated, Fathead sold stickers of the photo, and Wal-Mart and Amazon sold posters and reproductions of the photo. The photo ended up becoming one of college football’s iconic images, yet Masck did not register it with the copyright office until 2011. Yes, we’re shaking our heads. But apparently Masck was told by his lawyer at the time that he did not need to register the photo. Last year, the court was unwilling to dismiss Masck’s unfair competition claims under the Lanham Act because it was not ready to conclude that his photo was an intangible. The court sought more arguments on the issue — and now that the guys in stripes, er robes, have blown the whistle, this legal play’s far from over. Instead, the court has...

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Actor Azaria wins last laugh, legally speaking

Jim Brockmire is a legend in the booth, the old-school sports announcer from days of yore who was fired for his outrage over the radio after finding out his wife had an affair. Brockmire is known in the sports world as the plaid-coat wearing, red-tie rocking, red-rose sporting, bad-mouth talking (of his cheating wife), and movie-referencing play-by-play guy. He is, hands down, one of the best in his game, well, that is if you ask sports broadcasters. OK, seriously, Brockmire is just a character created by actor-comedian Hank Azaria — recognizably known as the voices of Moe, Apu, and Chief Wiggum on the hit television show The Simpsons. He sued actor Craig Bierko over ownership of the sports announcer voice, which both actors had been doing. And a federal court recently spoke up as to which voice mattered, legally speaking. Bierko claimed Azaria was using his “Sports Announcer Character” without permission. The two had met at a social gathering where Bierko did the voice for Azaria. There was talk of doing a project together using the voice but plans fell through. After Azaria started playing Brockmire character publicly, Bierko sent a cease-and-desist letter asserting Azaria was not authorized to use his “Sports Announcer Character.” In deciding Azaria’s suit against Bierko, U.S. District Judge Gary Allen Feess in Los Angeles granted summary judgment, finding that Azaria could copyright the Brockmire character but Bierko’s “Sports Announcer Character”...

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American Gangster: fight, in court, will rage on

Charles “Chaz” Williams, known as the man who  robbed a string of banks in the 1970’s, escaped prison, and went on to manage some of hip-hop music’s biggest acts, is seeking to claim his gangster status from cable networks. Black Entertainment Television (“BET”) created a documentary series called American Gangster, where it reflected on the life and times of some of American’s most notorious criminals. The series lasted three seasons. A season two episode, called Chaz Williams Armed and Dangerous, was about Williams’ life as a bank robber in Queens, New York. Williams himself had created a story about his life and registered it with the copyright office. He filed a $20.5 million law suit against BET and others for copyright infringement on his copyrighted story about his own life. He claims BET copied fictional aspects, which he made up, from his protected life story. Williams alleges BET and A&E are liable for airing the American Gangster episode and Netflix, Apple and Amazon are liable for distributing the episode to their customers.  The networks sought dismissal, arguing that the episode was based on historic facts, which are not copyright protected. However, a federal court in New York found that Williams has sufficiently alleged a copyright infringement action because his expression of his historical facts are copyright protected and he has shown, even slightly, that the defendants may have copied such expression. This is enough to overcome a motion to dismiss. Thus,...

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When Bing Crosby wives duel, No. 2 wins

A tale of Hollywood love has ended in a cat fight from the grave — this clawing concerning the right of publicity by booming baritone Bing Crosby, the legendary music, film, television and radio superstar. His relationship with Dixie Lee — the beautiful blonde actress who was born Wilma Wyatt and was the singing start of “A Fine Romance” — lasted more than two decades and resulted in four children before her death in 1952. He later remarried, this time to the stunning brunette actress Kathryn Grant, with whom he stayed until his death in 1977. They had three children. But as happens in Hollywood, a battle has ensued between Crosby wife No. 1 as represented by Wilma’s Trust, and wife No. 2 — with the latest development in the long-running legal saga occuring recently in the appellate courts. In 1996, Wilma’s Trust sued Kathryn and HLC Properties Ltd., which was hired to protect Bing’s estate, for the trust’s share of income derived from his and Wilma’s community property. The suit was settled in 1999 with the parties agreeing to release Kathryn and HLC from any future known or unknown claims pertaining to additional sources of community property. Then, in 2008, the California legislature amended California Civil Code Section 3344.1 to allow a deceased celebrity, who died before Jan.1, 1985, to transfer the right of publicity by contract or by will or...

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Discord over jazz recordings ends in blue note

It was a whirlwind romance between the owner of a famed Manhattan club and a notable jazz vocalist. And as even a rueful ruling court would note, it was, perhaps, destined to fail. Love first blossomed as an older club owner, John Valenti, introduced the younger talented beauty, Hilary Kole, to the world-renowned jazz pianist, Oscar Peterson. Soon the two musicians began work for a duets album, with Kole on the vocals and Peterson on the keys. Magic was in the air as the two recorded a dozen takes of four jazz vocal standards, but, as fate would have it in the world of copyright law, ownership disagreement ensued: Kelly Peterson, the executrix of Oscar Peterson’s estate, and Jayarvee Inc., owned and operated by Valenti, brought a copyright infringement suit against Kole when she arranged to have one of the unpublished songs played on Kole — who has recorded or performed with Dave Brubeck, Michel Legrand, John Pizzarelli, David Frishberg, Monty Alexander, Benny Green, Freddy Cole, Alan Broadbent, Cedar Walton — counter-claimed seeking declaration of copyright ownership. Peterson and Jayarvee registered the edited sound recordings while Kole subsequently registered the original sound recordings. It was disputed as to whether the vocalist transferred her rights in the sound recordings to Valenti, her lover and owner of the legendary Birdland jazz club, during their seven-year relationship. Valenti claimed Kole signed over her interests when she...

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