Posts by Ken Basin




This Is Our Super Bowl Blog Post. Now Come and Get Us, NFL!

[In honor of Super Bowl XLVII — because everyone knows that Roman numerals make everything very distinguished and significant — we're bringing back one of our most-read, and most personally-favored posts.  Enjoy your SUPER BOWL PARTY, everyone.]

Unless you live here, I’m assuming you’re aware of a little football game taking place this weekend between the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens.  (And maybe, just maybe, you might have heard something — but probably nothing original — about that whole Harbowl storyline.  Well here’s a little-known wrinkle about it.)

I’m as excited as anyone for the game, which is why, this Sunday, I might try to find a local bar hosting a Super Bowl party. But I’ll probably be out of luck, unless I’m willing to go to a “Big Game” party instead. And if I’m feeling spendthrift — the always-confusing word that sounds like “thrifty” but actually means “profligate” — I might try to pick up a new flat-screen TV at a Super Bowl sale. But unless I’m willing to settle for one of those ubiquitous “Big Game” sales, I’ll probably be forced to stick with what I’ve got.

Every year, while every sports yak in America is obsessing over Super Bowl scouting reports, every business in America is trying to capitalize on the game. But most of them aren’t using the words “Super Bowl” to do so, and the reason is fairly obvious: the phrase “Super Bowl” is trademarked by the NFL, which is famously protective of its intellectual property. Moreover, the privilege of using the phrase “Super Bowl” in advertising is one of the valuable rights bestowed by the NFL upon its advertisers and promotional partners — which gives the NFL extra incentive to keep freeloaders from poaching the phrase (thereby diminishing its value to potential paying promotional partners).

But what if the NFL is wrong? What if I really could check out the Super Bowl party at my favorite watering hole without them being subjected to the threat of legal doom?

Guess what, folks: I can. Continue reading the full story . . . »



A Law Law Land Correction (and a Litigant Speaks!)

An interesting footnote to last week’s post, revisiting our “5 Cases to Watch” for 2012.

Last week, I wrote that while talent manager Rick Siegel’s legal war with his former client — which had since morphed into a crusade against California’s Talent Agencies Act writ large — was over, the fight had been taken up by Siegel’s colleagues at the National Conference of Personal Managers, which, in November 2012, brought a direct constitutional challenge against the Talent Agencies Act in federal court.  As part of my preview of the case, I noted that the case “may still be a long shot — anytime someone tries to claim that a law violates the Thirteenth Amendment’s prohibition on slavery, you have to raise your eyebrows a little.”  But this week, I received a reader correction from Mr. Siegel himself, who writes:

Ken,

The 13th Amendment claim isn’t about slavery.

The 13th Amendment of the United States Constitution states in part:  “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

So to be constitutionally compliant, the benefit of one’s labor can only be voided should there exist: (1) a statute stating that such labor was criminal; and (2) a finding been forfeited must have been found duly convicted of that crime.  Every other California occupational licensing scheme where one loses the right to contract has statutory notice that the unlicensed engagement of activity is a criminal offense and makes that engagement either misdemeanor or felony, the TAA expressly states that per § 1700.44(b) that no TAA violation can be considered criminal.  As the action can’t be seen as criminal, the penalty violates the 13th Amendment.

The original post has been revised to refer to “involuntary servitude” instead of slavery.  Lawyers for the State of California, the Association of Talent Agencies, and celebrities who just like being able to not pay their estranged personal managers may, of course, disagree with Mr. Siegel’s interpretation of the Thirteenth Amendment, but let it never be said that Law Law Land doesn’t strive to be fair and precise in its snark.

As for me, I’m just psyched to have gotten (politely) called out by a celebrity of recent history in California law.  Can’t wait for Kim Kardashian to email the blog next!



“Where Are They Now”: Law Law Land Edition

This time last year, Law Law Land joined the hackneyed proud tradition of legal blogs offering year-end lists of cases to watch in the coming year (though in our defense, we did try to mix it up by reviewing totally absurd cases as well as totally important cases).  But “year in review” and “year to come” are cultural clichés that never held much appeal to me.  “Where are they now?” on the other hand?  That’s more my speed.  (Maybe that’s why I always adored the last five minutes of every episode of VH1’s Behind the Music, where the program would show the artist in their current, everyday life and tease the inevitable “impending comeback.”)  So what has become of those five big cases we told you to watch this year?  And did we pick good ones or not?  (Preview:  Yes, we did.  Oh shush, I don’t care if we’re biased.) Continue reading the full story . . . »



The Secret World of Copyright

What do Avril Lavigne cover songs, Dish Network’s AutoHop feature, celebrity sex tapes, apartment hunting websites, and ad-serving browser skinning programs have in common?

Each of them is a window into how copyright, an 18th century concept, drafted into a 20th century law, impacts the products we use and the way we experience life in a 21st century world.

The Simplest, Most Complicated Law You Know

Non-lawyers usually think of copyright as a pretty simple and intuitive area of the law, and in many ways, it’s one of the easiest areas to break down into easy, digestible (if somewhat oversimplified) terms.  What’s a copyright?  The exclusive right to control and exploit creative works.  How do you infringe a copyright?  Copy or perform a work without permission/payment, or steal it to create your own new, too-similar work.  Putting aside people’s chronic tendency to confuse copyrights and trademarks — helpful hint:  copyrights are for creative works, trademarks are for brand name, logos, and slogans — copyright is an area of law that, at least initially, the general public can intuitively “get.”

Of course, when the breakneck speed of technological development meets the languorous pace of national lawmaking, things can get a bit more complicated. For example, when the copyright infringement case against file-sharing service Grokster finally came before the Supreme Court in 2005, the Court’s nine justices required three separate opinions and the invention of an entire new theory of copyright liability to explain why Grokster was illegal, but other, less offensive services might not be illegal.  (Headline:  “Supreme Court Rules ‘Unanimously’ Against Grokster 3-3-3.”)

To be fair, though, things started getting wacky long before the Internet was invented.  For instance, most people know that any musician can cover any other musician’s song, without permission (for a small, statutorily-defined fee).  Why?  Because in 1909, Congress created a special “compulsory license” scheme to allow player piano roll makers to sell song rolls without having to separately seek permission from the original songwriters.  Somewhere along the way, some clever lawyer figured out the law was drafted broadly enough to allow for unauthorized cover songs, and now we all have to deal with Avril Lavigne defiling John Lennon’s “Imagine” in the name of Darfur relief.  (Miley Cyrus’s evisceration of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Celine Dion’s desecration of AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long” were, to my knowledge, only ever performed live, and so we have a different quirk of copyright law — the proliferation of blanket “public performance” licenses  managed by performing rights organizations ASCAP and BMI — to blame for those abominations.) Continue reading the full story . . . »



This Week’s Other Sports/Game Rules and Officiating Scandal

Sure, most of America might be abuzz about how poor NFL refereeing definitely may or may not have swung the outcome of this week’s showdown between the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks on Monday Night Football.  But this week, the NFL doesn’t have a monopoly on sports-and-games fairness scandals (even if its scandals might have the most effect on Vegas betting lines and home fantasy football leagues everywhere).  That’s because of a new case that will surely rock the (narrow, quirky, cloistered) world of game show and trivia nerds everywhere.

So here’s a trivia question for you:  what happens when producers of a game show tell two contestants there will be no trick questions on the show, and then throw something that might be considered a “trick question,” causing those contestants to blow $580,000 in potential winnings?  Do the contestants:

(A)  Quietly retreat to their homes and try never to look at the chain of excoriating comments on the YouTube video of their defeat.

(B)  Launch an inspiring grassroots campaign on the Internet to get a second run on the show.

(C)  Reevaluate their personal choices and embrace new lives of monastic asceticism, untempted by the siren’s call of game show winnings.

(D)  Sue.

If you guessed D, congratulations!  You win…the rest of this article.  So can two contestants who lost it all on TV win it back in the courtroom?

Before we answer that question, you must understand:  I’m a particularly qualified expert to opine on this subject.  Sure, the law degree is nice, but lots of people have those.  I, on the other hand, have particular insight on the question of what happens when you, oh, I don’t know, lose a half-million dollars in winnings (give or take) in the span of about 4 minutes in front of a national network primetime audience.  So I think these plaintiffs can take it from me when I say, Run from this lawsuit.  Run like the wind. Continue reading the full story . . . »



Why a High-Concept Idea Makes for a Low-Grade Lawsuit

At some point — probably during a conversation with one of your insufferable film school friends — you may have heard a movie described as “high concept.”  Although the phrase sounds like it should describe something terribly sophisticated and respectable (like Downton Abbey with a twist of Kenneth Branagh), it usually actually refers to the opposite, i.e., any artistic work that can be easily described by a simple premise.  A movie pitch from 30,000 feet.

A good high concept project can be summed up in a short “what if?”  (What if dinosaurs could be clonedWhat if the world was all one big virtual reality lieWhat if a man had to live the same day over and over?)  The best (and worst) high concept projects can be understood by their names alone.  (Planet of the Apes [best].  Planet of the Apes [worst].  Jaws [best].  Snakes on a Plane [worst].  Ace Ventura:  Pet Detective [best].  Hobo With a Shotgun [best of the worst].)  And while some high concept projects can be elevated by good storytelling and universal themes, usually we aren’t talking about great works of art.

Audiences and studio marketing executives both love high concept fare.  But from a lawyer’s perspective, when a dispute arises and you’re worried that someone may have stolen your work, the higher your concept, the lower your chances in court.  That lesson may soon be learned the hard way by comic book artist Steven John Busti, whose 1995 9-page comic, Cowboys and Aliens, is (at least in title) just an AP style guide edit away from the 2011 film, Cowboys & Aliens (and the 2006 graphic novel series on which it was based). Continue reading the full story . . . »



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