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 [...]“.

USTR “Priority Watch List” – The World’s Biggest Piracy Offenders

May 26th, 2011

The US Trade Representative published a report on global infringement of intellectual property rights (IPR), detailing a “priority watch list” of the biggest offenders. The report also discuss developments in IPR protection and enforcement.

Here is the priority watch list, in order of most offenses, along with excerpts taken from the report that I found interesting.

USTR Priority Watch List

1.  China

“It is estimated that there are 457 million Internet users in China, as copared with 223 million in the United States; when coupled with reports that 99% of all music downloads in China are illegal, the concersn of industry are understandable.”

2.  Russia

“[N]umerous pay-per-download websites as well as cyberlockers, BitTorrent sites, and unauthorized music services . . . reside in Russia. . . . Additionally, recent litigation with respect to the single collecting society accredited to collect royalties on behalf of all performers and record companies (i.e., the All-Russia Organization for Intellectual Property (VOIS)) has introduced uncertainty regarding VOIS’s status and the status of the accreditation process generally.”

3.  Algeria

“[C]opyright piracy and trademark counterfeiting remain widespread and enforcement efforts remain insufficient.”

4.  Argentina

“[S]erious problems persist, including widespread available of pirated and counterfeit goods, an inefficient judicial system, and a failure to adjudicate civil and criminal cases and impose deterrent level sentences. . . . [O]verall levels of copyright piracy continue to present a problem, as reflected, for example, in a reported growth in piracy over the Internet.”

5.  Canada

“Canadian efforts in 2010 to enact long-awaited copyright legislation were unsuccessful.”

6.  Chile

7.  India

“India continues to have a weak legal framework, and ineffective overall IPR enforcement persists.”

8.  Indonesia

“The United States also urges Indonesia to address its serious market access barriers for IPR-intensive products . . . [including] its customs valuation methodology for imported motion pictures and continuing market access restrictions in the entertainment industry.”

9.  Israel

“The United States encourages Israel to amend its copyright law to provide for statutory damages . . . [and] to enforce judicial decisions requiring cable operators to compensate copyright holders for the unauthorized retransmissions of television broadcast signals containing their works. . .”

10.  Pakistan

“[W]idespread copyright piracy (including book piracy and piracy of software programs in enterprises), as well as trademark counterfeiting, persis.”

11.  Thailand

“Piracy and counterfeiting, including illegal downloading of pirated works frm the Internet, and the theft of cable and satellite signals, remain rampant in Thailand, and the motion pictures industry has reported a significant increase in unauthorized camcording of motion pictures in theaters.”

12. Venezuela

Access the report and other related documents here.

Annual “Women in IP 2011″ MCLE Program, June 8, 2011

May 17th, 2011

I recently heard about a great event featuring some outstanding women in the field. Details below.  I’ll be attending the program, so if you can’t make it, be sure to check back for a recap of the evening.

The Intellectual Property Law Section of the
New York State Bar Association presents:

The 9th Annual Women in Intellectual Property Law Program
Wednesday, June 8, 2011
5:00 P.M. to 9:00 P.M.
at
White & Case LLP
1155 Avenue of the Americas
(between 44th and 45th streets)

You may register now by obtaining information and forms at:  http://www.nysba.org/ipl

Gather with the women of the Intellectual Property Law Section for an evening of networking and the opportunity to meet some of the leading women practitioners in the field on Wednesday, June 8, 2011 from 5 pm to 9 pm at White & Case LLP, 1155 Avenue of the Americas, New York City. The program is presented by the NYSBA Intellectual Property Law Section and Hosted by White & Case LLP and dessert reception sponsored by  Thomson Reuters/Thomson CompuMark.

Join Moderator Dyan Finguerra-DuCharme, Counsel at White & Case LLP and panelists Dr. Lock See Yu-Jahnes, Partner at Fitzpatrick, Cella, Harper & Scinto, Lydia Gobena, Partner at Fross Zelnick Lehrman & Zissu, P.C., Suzanne White, Senior Counsel, Coach, Inc. and Lydia Cheuk, General Counsel, Blue Man Group, as they discuss such topics as Strategies for Success, How the IP Field has Changed, Developing a Client Base, Mentoring Relationships, Equality in Compensation and Achieving a Balance between Home and Work.

The evening begins with wine and hors d’oeuvres at 5 pm followed by the MCLE program from 6 to 8 pm. Coffee and dessert will be served immediately after the program, courtesy of Thomson Reuters/Thomson CompuMark. Gift drawings will take place during the dessert reception.

Registration is $35.00 for NYSBA Intellectual Property Law Section members. Other attendees will be charged $55.00. Registration in advance by fax for this program is highly recommended as seating is limited and this program traditionally sells out quickly. Attendees must bring a photo ID to the meeting. Under New York’s MCLE rule, this program is approved for 2.0 credits in Skills for both newly admitted and experienced attorneys.

Space is limited so please register as soon as possible to avoid being closed out of the program.

For additional program information and a registration form visit: http://www.nysba.org/ipl

Questions may be directed to npitts@nysba.org.

We hope you can join us for this annual event!

Program Co-Chairs:  Joyce Creidy, Esq. and Dyan Finguerra-DuCharme, Esq.