Fun with Facebook

Recent Cases Involving Facebook 

 

I recently attended a presentation by retired judge Jacqueline Connor on the effect of social media in the legal system.  After listening to her talk about a number of highly amusing cases, I went online to see just how many such cases are now out there.  I was shocked to find that in the month of February 2014 alone, there were over 100 legal opinions issued in the U.S. just involving Facebook.  While some of these cases were more disturbing than amusing, there were a few gems that cried out to be written about.

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Federal Judge Declares Sherlock Holmes Characters in Public Domain. Sort of.

Federal Judge Declares Sherlock Holmes Characters in Public Domain.  Sort of.

 

Comedian Dmitri Martin has a great joke about the expression “sort of.”  Although normally a fairly meaningless expression, saying “sort of” after certain things suddenly becomes very important.  Such as after the phrase “I love you,” or “You’re going to live,” or “It’s a boy.”  I immediately thought of this joke after reading a recent order issued by a federal court in Illinois.  The order declared that Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, 221B Baker Street, the evil Professor Moriarty, and other elements of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s beloved works have fallen into the public domain.

 

Sort of.

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What’s in a Tweet? #Social Media, #Free Speech and #Schools

Our Law Law Land readers have been well-educated on the law of defamation as it relates to Twitter, and on the opinion of one of our bloggers that “Twitter sucks.” (I used to agree, and even though I’m coming around to Twitter slowly, I must say I still prefer Facebook as my time-vacuum, overshare medium of choice.) So when you all read about Kansas high schooler Emma Sullivan tweeting about Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, “Just made mean comments at gov brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot,” you knew she wouldn’t be liable for defamation because she was expressing an opinion, not making a statement of fact.

Maybe Governor Brownback’s staff should read our site a little more often too. The fact that Sullivan’s tweet didn’t meet the test for defamation didn’t stop them from notifying Emma Sullivan’s school principal about her tweet (sent to her legion of 60 followers!). In turn, the principal notified Sullivan that she needed to write an apology to the governor by Monday, November 28. On Monday, the Shawnee Mission School District issued a statement that Emma Sullivan did not need to write an apology to the governor but saying this issue presented “many teachable moments” about the use of social media. Sullivan, for her part, came forward — with, what else, a tweet — to state for the record that she would not apologize to the governor (“I’ve decided not to write the letter but I hope this opens the door for average citizens to voice their opinion & to be heard! #goingstrong”). Then an apology on Facebook ended up coming from the governor himself, who evidently decided not to run for reelection on his staff’s “silence the teenagers” platform when he declared, “My staff overreacted to this tweet, and for that I apologize. Freedom of speech is among our most treasured freedoms.”

Meanwhile, in the court of public opinion, people’s reactions have ranged from celebration of Emma Sullivan’s exercise of her free speech rights, to criticism of the Big Brother-esque nature of Brownback’s staff’s vigilance of his name in social media, to the sentiment that Sullivan was being rude, to agreement that Brownback “does suck.” (Oh, to go back to those innocent days where you believed your online postings were “private!”) So, given that she is a student, what limits are there on Sullivan’s speech? Continue reading the full story . . . »


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Losing all Faith in Love (and Reality Television)

I tried, Law Law Land readers, I really, really tried. I struggled, but alas, I was not strong enough to stop myself from writing about the Kardashian divorce.

The 72-day marriage (if it can even be called that) of Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries (herein referred to as “KK,” or maybe “666” would be more appropriate), is chock full of legal issues. What about the pre-nuptial agreement? (“Ironclad,” I’m sure, but speculation is already swirling about whether Kim’s “shady behavior” has rendered it “worthless.”) What to do with the gifts? (Apparently Kim is donating$200,000 to charity in lieu of returning the gifts. I’m sure the people who bought her the $375 candy jar, or $6,500 vase, or $1,250 serving spoon, or $1,600 teapot, or $840 ashtray are thrilled about that decision and the tax write off she gets. And no, I did not make up those items or prices). Why isn’t gay marriage legal and this is? (Beats me, but it really makes you think about that whole “sanctity of marriage” argument.)

No, you aren’t having a stroke, it really is that big and shiny.

But the burning issue I want to write on? What happens to THE RING? (I think the 20.5-carat sparkler deserves all-caps treatment.) Continue reading the full story . . . »


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Q&A: Should I Turn My Short Film Into a Video Game Before I Get the Movie Made?

Q: I wrote, directed and produced a sci-fi action short that I think would make a great big budget feature. In the meantime, I have a friend who works for a small video game developer who absolutely loves the concept of my short and thinks it would make for a great game. I think it would be very cool and am thinking about putting together some sort of deal with my friend, but I don’t want to do anything that could jeopardize my ability to someday make a studio film based on my short. Should I just pass or do you think there’s a way I could make this work?

A: For you and your friend’s sake, I hope your short doesn’t involve a chubby, mustachioed Italian plumber with a love of coins who’s intent on saving a princess from mushroom and turtle creatures… in space. If that’s the case, we may have a problem. If not, there’s a chance you can make this work, but you’re right to be concerned about the possibility that your granting of rights to this video game developer could later affect your ability to produce a big screen adaptation of your short film.

First a quick note to those readers who think this may not apply to them because it involves video games: the majority of these issues would arise with respect to a production of any type of derivative work based on something you own, whether it be a video game, a book, a stage play, etc. so don’t be afraid to keep reading! Continue reading the full story . . . »


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Lessons Learned as a Lawsuit Over Cult-Classic Porno-Chic Flicks Is Prematurely Evacuated

Remember the “senior superlatives” from your high school yearbook? Maybe you were voted “most likely to succeed” or “most likely to be a rock star.” Me? My dear classmates graciously awarded my best friend and me the title of “Most Likely To Be in an X-Rated Movie.” (It was unclear whether we were supposed to star in it together or what.) At the time, I pretended it was a compliment, smiled and curtseyed, and then secretly vowed to spend the rest of my life proving them wrong. Well Bellingham High School Class of 2002, now I realize what you actually meant to say: Amber M. Burroff, “Most Likely To Write a Sassy and Salacious Legal Blog About an X-Rated Movie.”

So, here’s the scoop. In April 2009, Arrow Productions, Inc., owner and distributor of Deep Throat — a tastefully-titled carnal classic whose plot (the sexual adventures of a sexually frustrated woman who is in search of the saucy secret to the female orgasm) is surpassed in greatness only by its tagline (“How far does a girl have to go to untangle her tingle?”) — filed suit against VCX Ltd. and its owner, David Sutton, alleging a variety of claims for copyright and trademark infringement arising out of VCX’s unauthorized distribution of Deep Throat. According to Arrow’s complaint, VCX and Arrow are both in the business of “selling prerecorded sexually oriented motion pictures for personal home use, presently and, in recent years, in DVD format and previously in VHS videotape format.” (Translation: “we sell porn.”) And in addition to competing for sales of Deep Throat, Arrow and VCX have both long distributed one of the other seminal classics of the “Golden Age of Porn,” Debbie Does Dallas.

Last month, though, after two and a half years of down-and-dirty legal combat, Arrow and VCX suddenly settled the lawsuit, with the parties agreeing that Arrow would hold the exclusive rights to Deep Throat, while VCX would move forward as the exclusive distributor of Debbie Does Dallas. So now that this long-running battle over two titans of adult film history has come to a sudden and anti-climactic finish, what lessons can we learn? Continue reading the full story . . . »


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