La-la-lawsuits: A Look at June’s Finest Litigious Moments

July 1st, 2012

Felony charges are now being brought against Curtis Management’s former CFO Rickey Charles Goodrich.  Goodrich is charged with fraudulently withholding over $400,000 allegedly owed to Pearl Jam.

The FTC concluded its review of Sony’s purchase of EMI Music Publishing without taking action, which means the deal will go through.  A detailed report on the acquisition by Billboard is available here.

In a years-long legal battle between FBT Productions, producers of many hit Eminem recordings, and Universal Music, a California Judge suggested this month that Universal had been “bamboozling” and attempting to “dupe” him into overlooking an issue that could represent a substantial amount of money for both FBT and potentially many other artists. The case largely revolves around whether Universal can count digital music downloads as “licenses” or “sales.” After the 9th Circuit ruled in favor of digital music downloads falling under the licensing provisions of the contract, in which artists get a 50/50 split of the proceeds, it was discovered that Universal had been sending 71% of its digital music proceeds to foreign divisions and only paying artists their fair share on the remaining 29%. This led the presiding Judge to allow FBT to amend its original complaint to allege that Universal has also breached an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, as well as a previous settlement agreement. Universal seems prepared to argue that it only has to pay artists on 29% of the revenue they earn.

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court decision (previously covered here) , holding that the fair use defense applied to a 2008 South Park episode parodying a 2007 infamously viral video entitled “What What (In The Butt)” (WWITB). The lower court had held that fair use applied because South Park’s use of the original had done “the seemingly impossible – making the ‘WWITB’ video even more absurd by replacing the African-American male singer with a naive and innocent 9-year-old boy dressed in adorable outfits.” The Court of Appeals agreed, despite the fact that Brownmark Films, the original copyright owner of WWITB, had accidentally waived its fair use defense on appeal, saying that the South Park episode was “clearly a parody” by “providing commentary on the ridiculousness of the original video and the viral nature of certain YouTube videos.”

A copyright infringement suit filed against Sylvester Stallone in October 2011, which claimed that Stallone copied the film The Expendables from another copyrighted script, was dismissed this month. Plaintiff Marcus Webb originally filed suit claiming that The Expendables was “strikingly similar” to a script he had written and shopped around Hollywood for several years entitled The Cordoba CaperStallone’s motion to dismiss argued that The Expendables was already on its third draft when Webb began The Cordoba Caper, that Webb had no evidence Stallone had ever even seen the The Cordoba Caper, that any similarities were merely ideas, and that the two works were substantially different. Stallone’s motion was granted “in all respects.”

Akron, Ohio, rock legends, The Black Keys, filed a copyright infringement suits against both Pizza Hut, for allegedly misusing the song “Gold on the Ceiling,” and the Home Depot, for allegedly using elements of the song “Lonely Boy” without permission. The Keys are seeking unspecified damages of more then $75,000 and orders preventing the use of the songs in both suits.

A temporary restraining ordered requested by CBS against ABC airing its new reality series entitled “The Glass House” has been denied. CBS filed its suit in May, alleging that “The Glass House” was using proprietary information from its show “Big Brother.” The judge in the case said that “CBS has failed to persuade the Court that it will suffer immediate and irreparable injury if ‘Glass house’ airs,” and also went as far as saying that, while CBS is expected to continue moving forward with litigation, the company’s “success on the merits is unlikely.”

Louis Vuitton’s much publicized lawsuit against Warner Brothers for its depiction of knockoff Louis Vuitton products and the use of the Louis Vuitton name in “The Hangover: Part Two” has been dismissed, with the court holding that not only was the depiction in question protected by the First Amendment, but the nature of the film and Zach Galifianakis’s character, “Alan,” made it highly unlikely the consumers would be misled or attribute “Alan’s” views to Louis Vuitton.

In a case originally against Fox Television for violating the FCC’s indecency rules, the Supreme Court held on June 21, 2012 that the FCC could not enforce its current policies against fleeting expletives and nudity on over-the-air programs based on due process grounds. Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion of the court, saying that broadcasters “must be given fair notice of conduct that is forbidden or required.” The case originally centered around awards shows in 2002 and 2003, in which Cher and Nicole Richie both used expletives.

Kim Dotcom, founder of Megaupload and its associated websites, won a small victory this month when a high court judge in New Zealand ruled that the search and seizure of property at his mansion was unlawfully conducted due to the search warrant failing to meet the mandate of specificity necessary in the country. The search was a collaborative effort between US auhorities and local law enforcement. The warrant listed his only crime as “copyright infringement,” and said nothing of the fact that US authorities were involved. Dotcom is currently awaiting an extradition hearing set to take place in August.

Popular British singer Jessie J has been sued by singer Will Loomis in Newport, California. Loomis’s suit claims that large parts of his song “Bright Red Courts,” released in 2008, were used in Jessie J’s most recent hit, “Domino.” Universal Music Group, Lava Records, and Universal Republic Records are also named as defendants in the case.

Vivendi, the parent company of Universal, has finally been ordered to pay $956 million in a suit over Vivendi’s 2001 acquisition of USA Networks from Liberty Media. Liberty originally filed the suit in 2003, arguing that Vivendi had misled Liberty and investors about the company’s financial situation, which inflated the company’s stock price. Vivendi stocks were exchanged during the transaction. The judgment amounts to about 75 cents per share, or 4.4% of the company’s total value. Vivendi has said that it will appeal the judgment, but it has yet to be determined whether the company will be allowed to do so.

In a $1 million trademark dispute heating up over which act will be able to truly call themselves “One Direction,” Simon Cowell’s label Simco, along with Sony Music Entertainment, launched counterclaims against the US One Direction (USOD) alleging that the they had “devised and perpetrated a scheme to exploit the goodwill” of the UK One Direction (UKOD). The original lawsuit alleged that USOD had been selling its album, The Light, online since February 2011. UKOD are claiming that while their record was released later, they have been using their name since their public debut on The X Factor in the fall of 2010. UKOD also registered a website, a Twitter account, a Facebook account, and posted music videos on their Youtube page, which were subsequently viewed worldwide, around the same time. Attorneys for UKOD also allege that USOD made reference to UKOD on their own Facebook page in November of 2010, adding fuel to the counterclaim.  UKOD was the first British act to have its debut album enter the Billboard 200 album chart at number one. USOD are standing firm and prepared to move forward with the matter.

Actress Melissa Joan Hart, first made famous for starring in Nickelodeon’s Clarissa Explains it All, has finally reached a settlement with former talent manager, Kieran Maguire, over claimed commissions from income Hart earned on the hit ABC Family series Melissa & Joey. Settlement terms have not been released, but Maguire’s original complaint had alleged that he rescued her spiraling career, that she had promised him 10% of her earnings from Melissa & Joey, and that “Melissa Joan Hart has no heart.” Maguire’s attorneys have released a statement claiming that the settlement was reached amicably.