Adriannnnnnn: Stallone and Co-writer Sued Over “The Expendables”

By Pierce Haar *

Expendables posterDrago and the other villains from the Rocky movies have some company now as the enemies of “Rocky” a.k.a. Sylvester Stallone.  A Connecticut screenwriter has sued Sylvester Stallone and his co-writer of the 2010 action film for copyright infringement.  Marcus Webb claims that the screenplay for “The Expendables” is “strikingly similar and in some places identical” to his screenplay for “The Cordoba Caper.”  Mr. Webb claims to have filed the screenplay for the work with the U.S. Copyright and Patent Office in 2006.  According to him, “there can be no dispute that Stallone had access to and copied portions of the screenplay.”  Webb shopped the script around Hollywood between 2006 and 2009 to various producers, but it was ultimately not picked up. Continue reading »

Who’s Not Ready?: Lionsgate Entertainment Sued for Copyright Infringement for Music in the LeBron James Documentary

By Tierryicah D. Mitchell *

The King and His Courtship The Pursuit of LeBron James



Kings in Court Series: Part II



Commonly referred to as King James for his superior skills on the basketball court, LeBron James is the perfect subject of the second edition in the Kings in Court Series. The Kings in Court series was created to highlight individuals, who are deemed to be royalty in their own right, that have found themselves in court for some sort of intellectual property violation.

On or around September 6, 2011, songwriter-producer Mason “Big Mace” Hall filed suit in a Georgia federal court against Lionsgate Entertainment (the distributor of the documentary) and Interscope Records (LeBron James’ label) for copyright infringement for the inclusion of unauthorized music in Liongate’s documentary, More Than A Game. Mr. Hall alleges that the song at the center of the controversy entitled, “We Ready,” was used at several points during the documentary without his permission.  During the documentary, which highlights the high school basketball careers of LeBron James and his high school teammates, the young players can be heard performing a pre-game motivational chant also entitled, “We Ready.” Interviews conducted during the documentary with several players explained that this song-chant, which was performed ritually during the warm-up of each game, became the “rallying cry” of the team. Continue reading »

Trial Date Set for Next Year in Google Digital Library Case

By Lena Mualla *

Google LogoGoogle aims to create the world’s largest library.  Depending on the outcome of its pending litigation with authors and publishers, we may see the realization of that goal sooner rather than later.  The benefits are obvious: making a massive array of books available, including books from all over the world as well as books that are currently out of print, would improve access to knowledge.  In fact, as part of an earlier, unsuccessful attempt to resolve the litigation, Google announced it would offer at least one terminal in each public library, allowing free access to its digital library.  In addition, Google further committed to providing accommodations for those who are visually impaired.

However, authors have been up in arms over Google’s alleged copyright infringement of their works in its quest to form its digital library.  Specifically, Google had used snippets of authors’ works without obtaining the right to do so.  Moreover, Google came under fire for its scanning of orphan works.  An orphan work is a copyrighted work whose copyright owner cannot be found.    That is why the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers brought suit against Google in 2005 for copyright infringement.  Yet, Google is seemingly in a good position, despite the ongoing litigation.  Attorneys for both the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers indicate that progress is being made, hinting that a settlement may be reached before the trial date. Continue reading »

The Savory Jazz Collection: When Will These Orphan Works Find a Home?

By Christian Stoffan *

Benny Goodman

Benny Goodman

Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman, Teddy Wilson, and Coleman Hawkins were great jazz musicians, but some of their most spectacular recordings are not fully available to the public.  Why?  The recordings of the impressive Savory Collection are “orphan works.”

A work is legally an orphan work where it is difficult or impossible to identify or contact the copyright owner.  This legal phenomenon occurs because of the evolutionary nature of copyright law.  Orphan works are the byproduct of three decades of change that has relaxed the obligations of copyright owners to assert and manage their rights.  The U.S. Copyright Office recognized the detrimental effect of the potential copyright liability of orphan works and suggested a legislative solution when they published a Report on Orphan Works in 2006.  The proposed legislation, the Orphan Works Act of 2008, creates a limitation on remedies available for copyright violations of works that meet the criteria of an orphan work.  The controversial criterion is a “reasonable search” for the copyright owner.  The purpose of the legislation is to protect good faith users of orphan works without eliminating remedies for copyright owners. Continue reading »

99 Problems and Syl’s Just One: Rap Royalties, Jay-Z and Kanye West, Sued for Copyright Infringement on the ‘Throne’

By Tierryicah D. Mitchell *

Kanye West and Jay-Z

Kings in Court Series: Part I

The Kings in Court series was created to highlight individuals, who are deemed to be royalty in their own right, that have found themselves in court for some sort of intellectual property violation.

On October 14, 2011, blues and soul musician Syl Johnson filed suit against the self-proclaimed kings of rap, Jay-Z and Kanye West, alleging copyright infringement. According to the complaint, which was filed in an Illinois federal court, the rap royalties illegally sampled a portion of Syl Johnson’s, “Different Strokes,” on their most recent album, Watch the Throne,in the song, “The Joy.”  The complaint further makes the dual points that Mr. Johnson never gave any permission for the use of his song and that Mr. Johnson has not been given any form of recognition or payment for the use of his song. Continue reading »

Digital Databases in Danger: Authors Wage War on Libraries’ and Archives’ Digital Collections

By Sarah R. Riedl *

Racks in a library with booksWe live in a world where much of life is digitized: meetings take place over the Internet without needing to leave home, bills are paid without the use of stamps or checks, and books can be read without turning a single page.  While for a great many of us this digitization makes life simpler and more streamlined, eight authors are watching their copyrights trampled as a result of such digitization.

Eight authors and three authors’ groups have filed a copyright infringement suit against HathiTrust, a research library partnership, and several universities for their digitized book collections.  The plaintiffs claim HathiTrust and the universities have violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).  The plaintiffs seek injunctive relief stopping the defendants from distributing the digitized copies and declaratory relief stating that the defendants have infringed copyrights.  Moreover, the plaintiffs do not seek any monetary damages for the alleged infringements. Continue reading »

Artists Prepare for Battle with RIAA over Looming Termination Rights

By Rob Abb *

What do Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, and Bob Segar have in common, besides being legends of rock and roll?  In two years, each rock icon faces a potential legal battle with his record company over rights to some of his most successful albums.

Billy Joel's 1978 "52nd Street" Album CoverCurrently, their record companies own the copyrights to some of the artists’ most famous and successful works.  However, in 2013, Joel can exercise his termination rights under the 1976 Copyright Act and regain control of his 1978 album, “52 Street.” Similarly, Springsteen can reclaim control of his 1978 album, “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” and Segar can reclaim his 1978 album, “Stranger in Town.”

How are Joel, Springsteen, and Segar planning to reclaim their work?  When Congress passed the Copyright Act in 1976, it included a new property right – a right that authors or their estates can use to recapture ownership and control of copyrights by terminating past assignments or licenses of those works following a set number of years.  The right is granted to authors, including songwriters, poets, novelists, painters, etc., and ensures that grants of even the entire copyright can be terminated, regardless of consideration or what the contract specifies.  Accordingly, Congress made the termination right “inalienable.” Continue reading »

Former Rutgers QB Hart’s Case Against EA Sports Falls Incomplete

By Joseph Norman *

Rutgers Quarterback Ryan Hart

Ryan Hart in action:

“Point Guard, number 3 for three!” might be the call you hear from your Xbox 360 when you are playing EA Sports’ NCAA Basketball with Chris Paul and the 2004 Wake Forest Demon Deacons.  Even though Chris Paul just dialed up downtown, the announcer did not refer to him by name.

EA Sports cannot name Chris Paul in the video game because they would need to have a license to do so; however, the NCAA prohibits players from making money off of their publicity rights so players cannot license their name to EA Sports.  Instead, EA Sports uses Paul’s physical attributes, sports statistics, and biographical information to represent the virtual Paul.  In other words, when a user plays EA Sports’s NCAA Basketball and selects Wake Forest’s 2004 squad, the point guard on that team is meant to be a close physical approximation of the real point guard from that time in that year.  But it isn’t Chris Paul! Continue reading »

Tattoos and Copyrights: Inseparable from the Individual or a ‘Borrowed’ Image?

By Ashley Webb *

In the newest wave of intellectual property suits, one Hollywood studio is being sued for violating a tattoo copyright.  In “The Hangover Part II,” wimpy D.D.S. Stu wakes with a hangover that will last a lifetime: a huge tribal symbol tattooed to his left cheek, identical to the Maori-themed tattoo world-champion boxer Mike Tyson dons.

Mike TysonWhile millions of fans found humor (and irony) in the Tyson-inspired tattoo on Stu’s face, Mr. S. Victor Whitmill is not laughing.  A tattoo artist from small-town Missouri, Whitmill claims to own the copyrights to Mike Tyson’s tattoo, and therefore the exclusive right to create derivative works as well as the right to public display of the tattoo.  In his suit against Warner Bros. for appropriating the copyrighted “Tribal Tattoo” onto Ed Helms’ character, Whitmill claims, “this case is not about Mike Tyson, Mike Tyson’s likeness, or Mike Tyson’s right to use or control his identity.”  Rather, his complaint states it is about the copying of the tattoo onto someone else, and the failure to obtain permission to reproduce a derivative work for use throughout the film and promotional materials.  So far, a U.S. District Court Judge has denied Whitmill’s request for an injunction to prevent the opening of the film. Continue reading »

Costco Wholesale Corp. v. Omega S.A.: The Beginning of Gray Market Confusion and the End of First Sale Doctrine Protection for Retailers and Consumers

By Greer Benge *

Costco Wholesale trademarkOn December 13, 2010, the Supreme Court issued its decision in its de novo review of the Copyright Act’s impact on foreign-made goods and the first sale doctrine in Costco Wholesale Corp. v. Omega S.A. [hereinafter Costco v. Omega]. With Elena Kagan recusing herself, the Court’s 4-4 decision preserved the Ninth Circuit’s decision in favor of Omega.  Due to the rare split, no precedential value attached to the Court’s ruling, leaving in place the rejection of the first sale doctrine within the Ninth Circuit for foreign manufactured goods without affecting the interpretations of the doctrine in other circuits.  So, if you find yourself in California in the near future, you may want to hold off on purchasing that discounted digital camera from a price-savings club.  What appears to be an innocuous purchase may well be in contravention of the Ninth Circuit’s interpretation of the so-called “gray market:” if the camera has been manufactured in a foreign jurisdiction, it may potentially violate copyright infringement statutes designed to prevent the alienability of goods in secondary markets.

“Gray-market” goods are authentic products under a brand name protected by a trademark or copyright.  Typically, these products are manufactured abroad, then purchased and imported into the United States by third parties, bypassing authorized U.S. distribution channels.  As a result, retailers are able to offer gray-market goods to consumers at a discount due to the international discrepancies in the manufacturers’ pricing systems. Continue reading »