Statue of Limitations vs. Latches Doctrine: SCOTUS Agrees to Hear “Raging Bull” Copyright Case

By: John Hodnette *

film-background-1334067869u9dOn October 1st, the Supreme Court of the United States agreed to hear an appeal of a copyright dispute arising from the popular classic film “Raging Bull.” Patrella v. MGM concerns the claim by Paula Patrella that the 1980s film starring Robert De Niro was based on a book and two screenplays created by her father, Frank P. Patrella, and the boxer Jake LaMotta. The claim is more than legitimate, given that the fact that the film was inspired by Jake LaMotta’s life is common knowledge, even appearing in headlines. However, it is not the copyright claim itself that is being appealed to the Supreme Court, but rather an issue of Civil Procedure: whether to apply the latches doctrine or the relevant statute of limitations.

The Latches Doctrine is a legal common law defense in an equitable action that “bars recovery by the plaintiff because of the plaintiff’s undue delay in seeking relief.” This doctrine is based on the idea that the courts should not aid those who take an inordinate amount of time to raise their claims. Elements include “knowledge of a claim, unreasonable delay, [and] neglect, which taken together hurt the opponent” because after a certain amount of time, an opponent reasonably does not expect a claim to be brought against them. It does not matter if the claim is legitimate, the doctrine can bar a claim that is made too late. Continue reading »

Embracing Pirates

By: Rebeca Echevarria *

The_Pirate_Bay_logoOpponents of video piracy have long been fighting to stop illegal downloads of copyrighted content, but it seems some major players are bowing out of that fight. Netflix and HBO produce some of the most pirated television programs but seem to be embracing the piracy, rather than trying to put a stop to it.

Netflix viewers were captivated by the suburban woman who finds herself in prison in Orange is the New Black and raved about Kevin Spacey’s portrayal of a manipulative political genius in House of Cards. HBO viewers also have nothing but praise for the television adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book series in HBO’s hit series Game of Thrones. But with Orange is the New Black, House of Cards, and Game of Thrones’ high ratings came a flurry of illegal sharing and downloading of the hit shows. For two years in a row, Game of Thrones has been the most pirated television show in the world. One would think that HBO and Netflix would be opposed to the proliferation of illegal file sharing of their main cash crops, but that does not appear to be the case. Continue reading »

Battle of the Royalties

By: Samantha Berner *

BAfter a big win for Victor Willis, the songwriter of the classic “YMCA” song, a Copyright Law amendment dating back to 1976 is finally showing its powerful effects. The Law allows songwriters to reassert their rights to royalties of songs they created, even if those rights were previously signed away, after thirty-five years has passed. The transfer of rights is automatic after the 35 years expires, requiring only that the songwriter apply for the transfer at least two years in advance. The amendment only applies to those songs created after January 1, 1978. As the thirty-five year term ends for the songs signed away around that time, heated debates are ensuing between the songwriters and record companies. Continue reading »


By: Lindsey Chessum*

The Book is a Success

MockingbirdNelle Harper Lee is known for the outstanding success of her one and only book, To Kill A Mockingbird. A friend gifted her a year away from work to write a book, and just four years later she had a bestseller. Her success measured in numbers comes in at $1,688,064.68 in royalties (over a six month period in 2009). As for the intangible worth…well, her book is required reading for the majority of high school students across the nation.

Her life story would appear to be a fairytale, and yet, so little of what we would associate with a modern fairytale can be associated with Lee’s life. After her first book’s success she hid herself from the world: refusing to take interviews and refusing to move from her small hometown of Monroeville, Alabama. She even refused to write another book. Today, she suffers from extremely poor vision, partial paralysis to her left side, and a failing short-term memory.

Oh, and she just settled a lawsuit against her literary agent, whom she accuses of tricking her into signing away her copyright for To Kill A Mockingbird. Continue reading »

Populism or Bad Policy? The fight to unlock cell phones

By: Benjamin Zich*

smartphoneFew things in modern life are more important than one’s mobile device. Without the ability to immediately communicate or access the Internet, many of us almost feel naked. In this context of an always-on, hyper-connected culture, it is understandable why control over the functionality of one’s cell phone or mobile device is of singular importance.

In recent months, there has been much written about the decision by the Library of Congress that consumers who attempt to “unlock” their cell phones will now be violating copyright law. But what exactly is cellphone “locking” and why does it matter? Cell phones are originally manufactured as unlocked phones, meaning that the cell phone will work with any service provider. However, cell phones are customarily locked when they are sold as part of a package deal where you buy the cell phone and also enter into a service provider contract. The phone is locked to a single service provider, and software within the phone prevents the user from switching the phone over to another service provider that might offer a more enticing deal. This seems like a perfectly reasonable restriction for the duration of the customer’s contract; however, the phone does not necessarily unlock when the service contract ends. Continue reading »

The Next Era of Digital Media

By: Stephen C. Pritchard *

Kindle PicThe advent of digital media, including online music stores, e-books, and the ability to purchase and/or rent movies with one click, has resulted in an increase in individual copies of such media only previously seen with the invention of the printing press, the 8-track, and the VHS. None of those creations can come close to reaching the explosive upturn in media that the Internet has allowed, however. With this start comes the question of where digital media will go next in terms of growth and expansion.

One of the areas most likely to be successful is that of digital media reselling or lending. This raises major intellectual property issues and will also be of great concern to publishers, movies studios, and recording companies. Amazon and Apple, arguably two of the largest digital media providers, both recently began forays into the area by filing patents to essentially create systems or markets for their customers to resell or swap their digital media. Continue reading »

Horror in Fantasy Land: A Film Disturbs Disney’s Image

By: Claire Little *

591px-Walt_disney_portraitIn January, one of the most buzzed about movies at Sundance Film Festival was Escape from Tomorrow, a Disney-themed cinematic thrill ride. The debut film of writer-director Randy Moore, Escape from Tomorrow is a fantasy-horror film that follows a family on vacation at Walt Disney World. But the park is no magical kingdom for the family. Instead, its influence encourages the father’s collapse into insanity. Jim White, the father played by Roy Abramsohn, starts his wild ride after receiving a phone call from his boss announcing that Jim has been laid-off. The call sends him on a downward spiral complete with Jim longing for underage girls, hallucinations involving Disney characters and props, and a feigned suicide attempt at a Disney attraction. The movie culminates with a brainwashing scene underneath Epcot’s Spaceship Earth and Jim’s death at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, a Disney hotel. The movie leaves viewers with the message that perpetual happiness is unattainable, even at Disney World. Continue reading »

Ray Charles’ Children Reclaim Rights to Father’s Works Despite Previous Agreements

By: Rebeca Echevarria *

As we envision our future, we like to think that a well-crafted will can ensure that our will is carried out after we die. We rely on the idea that contracts will be upheld after we are gone and plan for the manner in which our estate will be handled after our passing. Like many of us, Ray Charles relied on this idea as well.Nancy_Reagan,_Ray_Charles,_Ronald_Reagan

Before his passing, Ray Charles entered into a signed agreement with his children that in exchange for half a million dollars each, they would relinquish any future claims on his estate. He then, in his last will and testament, donated the remainder of his estate to the Ray Charles Foundation, including the copyright royalties from approximately sixty of his songs under contract with various labels. Since 1986, the Ray Charles Foundation—then known as the Robinson Foundation for Hearing Disorders—has provided financial support in the area of hearing disorders and supported institutions and organizations for educational purposes. Continue reading »

Even Hedge Funds Love Comics – Stan Lee Comic Book Character Lawsuit Receives Unusual Support

By: Allison McCowan *

Stan_Lee_sigA lawsuit involving a company formerly tied to iconic comic book publisher Stan Lee remains afloat thanks to the financial backing of hedge fund managers who wish to cash in on potential winnings once the dispute is resolved.

In 2009, the Walt Disney Co. (“Disney”) purchased Marvel Entertainment (“Marvel”) and its roughly 5,000 characters for $4 billion. Since then, Disney has earned significant profits off the Stan Lee (“Lee”) creations in the form of merchandise – action figures, toys, costumes, and, of course, “The Avengers” film, which earned more than a billion dollars in global office revenue. However, one company claims Disney has no right to any of the characters. In October 2012, Stan Lee Media Inc. (“SLMI”), formerly affiliated with Lee, filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court in Colorado claiming SLMI, not The Walt Disney Company, owned the rights to any and all of Stan Lee’s characters, including the very profitable “Avengers” gang. Continue reading »

European Legislation Could Limit Users’ Google Search Experience

By: Lena Mualla *

Over the last few months, Google News service, which provides links to the websites of news publishers, has been feeling pressure from European lawmakers to pay for the right to continue linking to those news sites. Those links are provided alongside snippets, i.e., parts of the news article that are republished by Google. Those snippets allow Google to increase its advertising profits, profits that are not passed on to the original publishers.

Google's Eric Schmidt and French president Francois HollandeAfter Google chairman Eric Schmidt met in Paris with French president Francois Hollande on February 1, 2013, Google announced that it had reached a deal to avoid a law that would have required it to pay in order to link to news content sites. In return, Google will establish an $81.3 million fund to aid French newspapers in developing a web presence. Initially, Google had rebuffed demands for payment from French publishers, threatening to omit any references to French media altogether. Continue reading »