Legal Drama

Latest Lawsuits in Hollywood: Lisa Kudrow, Steely Dan, The Kardashians, Spotify, Innocence of Muslim

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Hey guys. Happy Sunday. There is nothing more I’d like to do than to sleep in all day today. My week was so busy and right now, every muscle in my body feels it. But, I think what I need is a good hour at the gym stretching , doing cardio and hitting the weights.

I missed you guys! Okay, let’s get into it proper proper by looking at all the latest lawsuits in Hollywood. I think you all will appreciate the legal stories and the implications for your businesses and craft, and hopefully avoid making similar mistakes.

CIVIL LITIGATION

1. (Breach of Oral Contract) Lisa Kudrow Owes Ex-Manager $1.6 Million, Jury Rules
This is a case of a breach of an oral contract where Lisa Kudrow won before they even got to trial. The case actually got thrown out on a summary judgment motion. Folks, this simply means that just because someone sues you doesn’t mean the case has to be dragged all the way to trial. You can begin with your defense to knock the case out of the courtroom right away.

An aggressive trial team or  trial attorney would  be thinking of filing a Summary Judgment (SJ) motion (basically court legal documents asking the court to toss the case out because there really is no case to fight about). This then places the case up for very close scrutiny/dissection and if the defense prevails, then “it is too bad, so sad, go home Plaintiff.” Kudrow pulled an SJ motion on her ex-manager. He didn’t take it lying down. He appealed the case. The appellate court ruled in his favor, the case goes back to the trial court and this time makes its way to jury; and it is a Plaintiff verdict for $1.6million.

What is interesting about this case, folks, is that the court does pay attention to customary practices within the industry. Under contract law where express written terms are silent on what the parties actually agreed to, we can look to the customary practices of the industry to ultimately determine what the right result ought to be.

Moral of the story: It is always a good idea to have a written contract.

For AML artists, I think you all will find the excerpt below interesting.

“On the witness stand, Bauer testified that managers are paid in perpetuity on all gigs their clients take while being represented by the manager. The witness said he had never had a commission cut off because he had been fired. “I would never make that deal,” he told the jury. “The only consequence of a termination is on future projects.”

Howard himself testified that he had never discussed post-termination commissions with his client. . .”- THR, Esq.

Alright, on to the next case.

2. (Breach of Contract) Steely Dan Sued By Former Singer Over Digital Royalties

This case brings up the issue of joint authors and what happens when relationships go bad among band members. AML artists you want to be very clear on who owns what in negotiating your band agreements. Be sure to consult with your entertainment lawyer independent of the band’s so that way your specific interest is accounted for.

“David Palmer, an original member of Steely Dan, is going to court against his former bandmates with claims of being cheated on digital performance royalties.

His lawsuit was filed on Friday in LA Superior Court and highlights a little-known fact about the system set up by SoundExchange. In passing along money derived from sources like Sirius XM and Pandora, the digital performance rights organization has a policy of paying featured artists directly rather than band entities.
That system makes sense for the most part, but raises some problems in instances of bickering band members. Such appears to be the case for Steely Dan, which hit it big in the 1970s and has sold more than 40 million albums worldwide.” – THR, Esq.

3. (Defamation) Judge Narrows Lawsuit Over ‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians’

Who remembers this case? The gist of it is that the ex-step mom of the Kardashians sued Ryan Seacrest, the network and its participants in a lawsuit where she alleges that they defamed her based on what they said on national TV. The latest news is that he court has essentially narrowed the scope of that lawsuit, dismissed some defendants and made it only about four statements allegedly made on the show that may or may not constitute defamation. It will be interesting to see who this ends. I have a feeling the Plaintiff is the least interested in settling this case and just wants her day in court. Let’s see what happens shall we? – THR, Esq.

4. (Copyright Infringement/IP) Spotify Settles Ministry of Sound’s Lawsuit Over User Playlists

Spotify and Ministry of Sound have clicked delete on a legal dispute that had the potential of breaking ground.

Last September, MoS sued Spotify under the theory that the music streaming service had an obligation to ensure that users didn’t make playlists that mimicked the selection and arrangement of MoS’ compilation albums. The legal claims filed in the U.K. appeared to apply the intellectual property doctrine of “sweat of the brow,” protecting the tireless effort in creating a work to playlists. When Spotify refused MoS’ demand to delete user playlists, it was taken to court. MoS was seeking an injunction.

The parties have now agreed to a settlement.

5. (Copyright Infringement) ‘Innocence of Muslims’ Actress Scores Huge Victory at Appeals Court

I wrote about and followed this case closely. This is quite an interesting case. On the Nollywood and Africa side of things, I have said often that, that industry cries infringement but fails to stop infringing on the intellectual property rights of others, particularly their Western counterparts. Equally worse, often times, they do not even obtain releases for talents that are featured in their films. On this side of the pond, this case illustrates the importance of obtaining releases as a film maker if you will do business with talents. The decision also extends to artists and music video directors.

We are not at trial just yet but the developments are interesting because of its implication for Google and content creators in general.

“Innocence of Muslims actressCindy Lee Garcia is being allowed to take on Google for refusing her demand to remove the controversial anti-Islamic film from YouTube. On Wednesday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals handed down a ruling with major implications for performers throughout Hollywood.

In her lawsuit, Garcia alleged that because she didn’t sign a release, she owned a copyright in her performance. She argued that after she sent a takedown notice to Google’s YouTube, the website had a legal obligation to remove the video. . . . Writing for the majority, 9th Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski reverses the lower court judge, which will mean that YouTube will need to scrub its network of a film that incited protests throughout the world. (Here’s the full ruling.)

“Just because Garcia isn’t a joint author of Innocence of Muslims doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a copyright interest in her own performance within the film,” writes the judge. “Whether an individual who makes an independently copyrightable contribution to a joint work can retain a copyright interest in that contribution is a rarely litigated question. But nothing in the Copyright Act suggests that a copyright interest in a creative contribution to a work simply disappears because the contributor doesn’t qualify as a joint author of the entire work.”

Google argued that Garcia didn’t make a protectable contribution to the film because filmmaker Mark Basseley Youssef wrote the dialogue she spoke, managed all aspects of the production and later dubbed over a portion of her scene.

“But an actor does far more than speak words on a page,” Judge Kozinski responds. Quoting a scholar, the judge says the actor must “live his part inwardly, and then … give to his experience an external embodiment.”

Kozinski says an actor’s fixed performance can be copyrightable if it evinces some creativity. “That is true whether the actor speaks, is dubbed over or, like Buster Keaton, performs without any words at all,” he writes. “It’s clear that Garcia’s performance meets these minimum requirements.”

The judge says that Garcia can claim copyright in her own contribution but not in “preexisting material” such as the words spelled out in an underlying script. The actress can assert a copyright interest in her portion of Innocence of Muslims, and Kozinski says that even if her contribution is minor, it isn’t de minimis. “We need not and do not decide whether every actor has a copyright in his performance within a movie,” writes the judge. “It suffices for now to hold that, while the matter is fairly debatable, Garcia is likely to prevail.”” – THR, Esq.

-Uduak

Photocredit: Keeping Up with The Kardashians

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Africa Music Law™

AFRICA MUSIC LAW™ (AML) is a pioneering music business and entertainment law blog and podcast show by Fashion and Entertainment Lawyer Ms. Uduak Oduok empowering the African artist and Africa's rapidly evolving entertainment industry through brilliant music business and entertainment law commentary and analysis, industry news, and exclusive interviews.

Credited for several firsts in the fashion and entertainment industry, Ms. Uduak is also a Partner and Co-Founder of Ebitu Law Group, P.C. where she handles her law firm’s intellectual property law, media, business, fashion, and entertainment law practice areas. She has litigated a wide variety of cases in California courts and handled a variety of entertainment deals for clients in the USA, Africa, and Asia.

Her work and contributions to the creative industry have been recognized by numerous organizations including the National Bar Association, The American University School of Law and featured in prestigious legal publications in the USA including ABA Journal and The California Lawyer Magazine. She is also an Adjunct Professor at the prestigious Academy of Arts University in San Francisco.
For legal representation inquiries, please email (uduak@ebitulawgrp.com). For blog related inquiries i.e. advertising, licensing, or guest interview requests, please email (africamusiclaw@gmail.com). Thank you for visiting Africa Music Law™.

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