La-La-Lawsuits: A look back on May’s finest litigious moments

May 27th, 2011

Warner Music Group is facing two class action lawsuits brought by its shareholders challenging the recent sale of WMG to Access Industries for $3.3 billion.  The shareholders are attempting to enjoin the sale, claiming that WMG breached its fiduciary to shareholders by facilitating the acquisition “for grossly inadequate consideration and through a flawed process.” Reports show that there were potentially two higher bidders for the company, but WMG argues that other factors besides just the price tag went into consideration.  The class action says that major shareholders who own 56% of the company agreed to the sale, leaving minority shareholders, such as plaintiffs, with no way to stop the transaction through a shareholder vote.  It’s understandable that the WMG big wigs are pushing for the deal. Warner CEO Edgar Bronfman Jr. will receive a $13.6 million payout as a result of the transaction.  Read the NY Class Action Complaint.

Marlon Brando’s estate filed a lawsuit against Harley-Davidson Motor Company for allegedly selling a line of boots called “The Brando.” According to the lawsuit, the boots look similar to a pair that Brando wore in the 1953 classic The Wild One.

Donna Douglas, known for her role as Elly May in The Beverly Hillbillies, sued Mattell in Baton Rouge, Louisiana over the a recently released “Elly May” Barbie doll, asserting claims for false endorsement under the Lanham Act, violation of the Louisiana right of publicity statute, common law misappropriation, and unjust enrichment.  Douglas asserts in her complaint that the packaging and publicity for the Elly May Barbie uses Douglas’s photograph and name, that the doll copies Douglas’s “distinctive attributes in the portrayal of the Elly May character,” and that she never endorsed the doll or gave Mattel permission to use her name or likeness to promote sales of the Elly May Barbie

S. Victor Whitmill, the man who gave Mike Tyson his distinctive facial tattoo, has sued Warner Bros. over the similar-looking facial art on Ed Helms‘ character in the upcoming The Hangover: Part II,  asking for an injunction to stop the Memorial Day weekend release of the highly-anticipated comedy sequel.  Here’s a great article discussing the legal issues behind tattoos as well as Warner Bros.’ potential litigation tactics in the case.  On Tuesday, May 24th, the judge denied Whitmill the injunction, although the copyright infringement case will continue.  The judge noted Whitmill has a “strong likelihood of success” on the merits.  Big NYT article about the case here.

Curb Records sued Time McGraw for breach of contract, claiming that McGraw delivered the master recordings for his new album, Emotional Traffic, too closely to the completion of his 2009 album, Southern Voice.  According to the record deal, McGraw had agreed that each new album would be recorded “no earlier than 12 months and no later than 18 months” following the delivery of the previous album.  The suit alleges McGraw began recording “Emotional Traffic” tracks “in 2008 or before,” prior to the allowable period under contract, so the recordings are not “topical and new” as required by the agreement.  McGraw has counterclaimed, arguing that Curb’s release of numerous greatest hits albums violates the same provision that Curb is striving to enforce.

Jake Gyllenhaal‘s lawyers were busy sending out cease and desist letters to websites which published a picture of the actor stretching in tighty-whitey undies.  The photoshopped image allegedly violate’s Gyllenhaal’s rights by “portraying him in a false light, violating his right of publicity and constituting a false designation of origin in violation of the Lanham Act.”  Targeted websites include Queerty.com (which has decided to keep the photo up) and Buzzfeed.com.

Charles Bronson‘s estate sued MGM and Warner Bros. for failing to pay profits from two of Bronson’s 1970′s films, St. Ives and Telefon.  The suit was prompted by an audit of the companies, which showed that the films’ revenue had been significantly under-reported.  The causes of actions claimed are breach of contract, declaratory relief, accounting, unjust enrichment, money due on open book account, conversion, fraudulent misrepresentation, and unfair business practices.

Courtney Love has been sued by her former lawyers for libel, false light invasion of privacy, and intentional interference with a prospective economic advantage..  Apparently, Love accused one of the lawyers of taking bribes.  For example, one Twitter post from Love said, “I was fucking devastated (sic) when Rhonda J Holmes Esq of San Diego was bought off [...]“.