Results tagged “Entertainment Law”

April 19, 2012

Dougherty Summary Judgments Blog.jpg By Professor Jay Dougherty

A complaint filed by the magician Teller of the team Penn & Teller against a Dutch magician has been receiving much press and attention lately. Read more about the case here. It presents some fascinating issues and if they are not resolved on other grounds it could lead to the first decision regarding a category of works added expressly to the 1976 Copyright Act, namely those of "pantomime." I've written the leading article on the subject, "Now You Own It, Now You Don't: Copyright and Related Rights in Magic Productions and Performances," which was published in a book called "Law and Magic: A Collection of Essays." (The book is available on Amazon.) Professor Jim Grimmelman has posted a nice blog about it, hitting some of the issues.

Here's one link to Teller's copyright registration for his illusion, "Shadows." The claim is a "pantomime drama." The registration might have presumptive validity. As discussed more fully in my article, there's no statutory definition of pantomime, but the Compendium II of Copyright Office practices defines "pantomime" in part as: "the art of imitating or acting out situations, characters, or some other events with gestures and body movement." From what I've read of Teller's piece, and the illustrated "script" for it that was attached to his registration, it sounds like that could apply here. If so, copyright law gives him an exclusive right (in the U.S.) to "publicly perform" it, "publicly display" it, or "prepare derivative works" adapted from it. (It's not clear how one would "display" a pantomime, maybe in a still photo? There's a case finding which proves that still photos could infringe a choreographic work.) Of course, a court won't give copyright to the mere "idea" of the illusion, and since the YouTube video of the defendant's act has been removed I haven't compared the two. Also, the "method" or "system" of the illusion--how it is actually effectuated--might not be protected, although this can be a complex issue. There is also the "useful article" problem, but it would be interesting to see how a work that "portrays the appearance" of cutting a rose by cutting its shadow would be assessed. There would probably be some "thin" protection, but if the defendant's work is too similar in its expression, coupled with the presumption of validity, this suggests that Teller has more than a ghost of a chance!

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March 3, 2011

By Professor F. Jay Dougherty

Jay Dougherty

Recently there have been reports that the Tolkien estate has fired off cease and desist correspondence to Steve Hillard, the Texas-residing author of a self-published book called Mirkwood. Mirkwood is apparently a fictional work, perhaps Tolkienesque, in which J.R.R. Tolkien is a character. It appears that the gist of the assertions (which are reportedly asking that the book be enjoined and destroyed) is that it is an unauthorized commercial exploitation of Tolkien's name and likeness; in other words, a violation of his rights of publicity. This claim seems extremely weak, and it's surprising that it would even be asserted.

First, the decisional law and many statutes have pretty clearly established that one doesn't have a property right in his or her life story. The same can be said as to fictional works including a "real" person as a character, at least if they are not held out as being true (and even the small line of cases drawing that line are questionable). Some plaintiffs have argued that a work that has nothing to do with the person whose persona is used becomes a "commercial exploitation" of that persona. But books, films, songs, works of art, etc. are not the same as T-shirts and coffee cups. They are works of expression--speech protected under the Constitution. (A football videogame is currently being challenged, in part on an assertion that it is just a product, not "speech." See my colleague Jennifer Rothman's recent post about oral argument in that case.) Courts in different jurisdictions have used various approaches to address tension between the relatively new right to control commercial uses of persona that are not false endorsements. Most of those approaches should favor almost any expressive use that is not an advertisement pure and simple, although one of them---the most antagonistic to freedom of expression---looks at the elusive "primary intent" of the expressive defendant. The "Mirkwood" book doesn't appear to be being held out as true, and appears to be highly expressive and "transformative" (one of the tests applied in this context). The Tolkien estate should lose on that basis.

But their claim is weak for at least two other reasons. First, many states' laws, especially covering a right of publicity after the death of the person portrayed, expressly exclude from liability speech works such as books or films. In fact, if the estate were to assert the application of Texas law to this dispute, that law has such an exclusion: "A person may use a deceased individual's name, voice, signature, or likeness in: (1) a play, book, film..." Texas Property Code Section 26.012. But the dispute may not even have to reach that clear defense. The majority rule as to whether the right of publicity survives death is to look to the law of the state of domicile at the time of death of the celebrity. Mr. Tolkien lived in England when he passed away in 1973 (long before the descendible right of publicity was officially recognized in most states). England does not recognize a right of publicity, let alone a descendible one that survives death. See, e.g., Cairns v. Franklin Mint, 292 F.3d 1139 (9th Cir., 2002) (Princess Diana domiciled in England at time of death--no right of publicity claim under California deceased celebrity statute) (note that decision also affirmed a $2 million+ award of attorneys' fees to the defendant). Hence, a Texas court, if this dispute were to get that far, should toss this claim out at an early stage on a similar basis, too.

We all love Tolkien and his imaginative books. I loved the books and the films, and can't wait for the new The Hobbit films, in production now. I happily pay for them, and will continue to do so. He was a genius, and his heirs deserve to benefit from that. But he is also iconic and forever intertwined with certain types of fantasy literature. That he is now a character is such a work should be celebrated--not threatened with Sauronian attacks and destruction!

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February 24, 2011

Loyola Law School sealBy Jacqueline Lechtholz-Zey, JD '11 and Gregory Strausberg, JD '09, LLM '11

On Feb. 25, the Loyola of Los Angeles Entertainment Law Review will present a day-long, three panel event entitled "Paparazzi Law in a Flash: Examining California's Past, Present and Future." This symposium aims to educate its law student, media professional, and attorney audiences on the legal discourse surrounding the modern day paparazzi in the context of the recent enactment of AB 2479 ("the anti-stalking law"). This newly enacted law makes it a misdemeanor to tailgate or drive recklessly to capture a photo or tape recording of an individual for commercial purposes. It represents California's most recent attempt at addressing the storied problem of striking the proper Constitutional balance between the First Amendment's protections for newsgatherers and an individual's right to privacy. With the passage of AB 2479, it is clear that states are again starting (as they did with the rise of "yellow journalism" over a hundred years ago) to recognize a growing problem in the way this segment of the media interacts with its subjects. However, the lack of enforcement of past laws aimed at curbing abusive practices--as indicated by the relative absence of lawsuits under California Civil Code § 1708.8--demonstrates the immense power of the First Amendment and the difficulty in crafting laws that do strike this proper balance. More information about the event is available on its website.

The legal dialogue regarding the paparazzi--including its dynamic interplay of state and federal law--is a field that has intrigued scholars (legal and non-legal alike) since the beginnings of America's media and entertainment industry, as exemplified by the axiomatic writings of Louis Brandeis and Samuel Warren in The Right To Privacy at 4 Harvard Law Review 193 (1890). While no point in American history clearly establishes the origin of an aggressive media force in need of legal regulation, many attribute the identification of this problem as coinciding with the rise of "yellow journalism" in the late nineteenth century. Such "journalism" is no better typified than by the infamous publication of an article in the New York Journal in 1898 that exclaimed, "DESTRUCTION OF THE WAR SHIP MAINE WAS THE WORK OF AN ENEMY"--a title that does not seem to sound so far flung from the typical grocery store tabloid reads of 2011. Such dramatic, seemingly simple proclamations had the power of catching the attention of the average nineteenth century reader and were therefore crucial to the fortunes of the rapidly expanding media companies of the time. However, behind such "simple" statements and their accompanying images (which often depicted famous individuals or sensationalized events) laid an extremely complex legal dilemma, which forced legal scholars such as Louis Brandeis and Samuel Warren, along with the American courts, to properly consider the point at which the First Amendment shield ended and where the right to privacy sword began.

Paparazzi Law in a Flash: Examining California's Past, Present and Future will include discussions of the past, present and future legal developments on this topic in a way that is understandable to legal and non-legal professionals. Loyola Law School has assembled leading practitioners, scholars, as well as recently admitted entertainment lawyers who have all played a central role in the on-going debate of what is permissible, constitutionally protected activity versus activity giving rise to criminal and civil liability. Loyola Professor Karl Manheim will speak about parallel efforts and international privacy law. And Professor Jay Dougherty will serve as a moderator. Loyola of Los Angeles Entertainment Law Review is also proud to include the discussions and articles of its own students Patrick Alach JD '09 and Gary Wax JD '09, which should be of use to those who seek to enforce or defend against the instantiation of this new statutory scheme.

This event is open to all who wish to attend. For media relations, please contact Brian Costello, deputy director of commujnications. We thank you for your support of this event and other future Loyola Law School entertainment and media law productions.

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