Posts In "First Amendment"

First Amendment

Q&A: I’m Spoofing a Well-Known Person in My Film, Should I Worry About Defamation or Likeness Issues?

Q: I’m making a series of humorous short films about the dot com bubble days. One of the characters is named Gill Bates in a not-so-subtle dig at you know who. We’re pretty hard on him in a humorous way. Do I need to worry about defamation or name and likeness issues with this or any other “based on real life” characters we may use?

A: I like where you went with this. It’s pretty impressive that you took one of America’s most beloved nerds and, through a simple switcheroo of letters, made him sound even nerdier with a name like “Gill.” Then you creeped it up with a last name like “Bates.” Which is perfect because I’m pretty sure Bill Gates sits up in his room wearing his mother’s wig arguing with himself about whether he should be allowed to invite Steve Jobs in for supper.

Did you see what I did right there? I not only made a half-hearted attempt at a movie-themed joke, I also demonstrated my lack of fear about telling the world that a public figure dresses up like his mother and converses with himself, knowing it’s probably not true. Is the source of this fearlessness my unbridled confidence that my good looks can get me out of any bind? Most likely. (I’m still very excited about our new profile pictures.) However, I also derive comfort from South Park’s favorite constitutional protection: the First Amendment. Continue reading the full story . . . »

Everything You Need to Know About “The Social Network” and the Law

The new Facebook movie, “The Social Network,” opened this weekend to rave reviews and the No. 1 spot at the box office. If history is any guide, we should now prepare ourselves for two things: (1) a string of copycat films (coming soon, “Friendster: We Totally Came Up With This Idea First, Really!” and “MySpace: Hey, Where Did Everybody Go?”); and (2) a string of lawsuits.

As studio litigation departments know well, the standard legal claim that follows the release of a successful movie is one for “idea theft” brought by plaintiffs who claim that their idea for the movie was stolen by the filmmakers. But because “Social Network” is based on a true story — and because everyone who believes he invented Facebook has already sued Mark Zuckerberg — any claims are likely to focus on the film’s portrayal of real-life individuals. Continue reading the full story . . . »

Q&A: I Shot a Spec Pilot Using Current Music…It’s Not for Profit, Do I Need to Get Clearance?

Q: I shot a spec pilot in order to showcase my writing/directing talents. In it I use popular and current hip-hop, rock, and pop music. I am not showing this pilot for money — I’m distributing DVDs to production companies and studios, and screening it to generate buzz about my TV series and get a deal (so this project is not to generate revenue directly). Can I use this music without getting clearance or paying ASCAP fees?

A: No. These songs are protected by copyright. Copying them without a license is copyright infringement. Just about any original work is protected by copyright, and in most cases you can’t use it without a license. Continue reading the full story . . . »

The Perils of the Paparazzi

While walking (or for most people, driving) through the urban jungle of Los Angeles, it’s not unusual to see a swarm of ravenous, camera-wielding hyenas (a/k/a the paparazzi) stalking their prey (a/k/a a celebrity) outside of a restaurant or shop. Or you might see several cars speeding and swerving down a street in an attempt to capture that money shot of a big-time star gracefully traversing the streets. While I’m not one to judge (I tend to get excited when I see a celebrity in the flesh), the packs of paps seem to be a threat to both the celebrity’s and the public’s safety. Continue reading the full story . . . »

Five Legal Issues Every Documentary Filmmaker Should Keep in Mind

The entertainment industry can be a legal minefield. And while the legal issues that face documentary filmmakers may not be unique, documentarians — who typically work on shoestring budgets, rely heavily on preexisting copyrighted materials, and often say things that moneyed and powerful interests don’t want to hear — are uniquely vulnerable. With that in mind, here’s a “top 5” list of legal issues that you, our favorite documentary filmmaker (yes, you, silly), should know about when planning, making, and selling your film. Continue reading the full story . . . »

Leggo My Likeness, Part Deux: Does Starcraft II Violate Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Right of Publicity?

As comedian Myq Kaplan says, “There’s a spectrum of dorkery from people who use words like dorkery and those who do not.” When Starcraft II was released on July 23, I was one of the millions of uberdorks around the world whose preorder instantly made it the fastest and best-selling computer game of 2010. As an additional testament to my dorkery, I soon thereafter identified a myriad of legal issues with the game.

Number one, the game destroys graphics cards (especially in laptops) because Activision-Blizzard forgot to include a framerate cap. This small oversight caused thousands of graphics cards like mine to overheat and die during game play. Huge potential for a class-action lawsuit? Possibly, but not very interesting, academically.

Number two, the game has a gigantic, mechanized soldier unit based on Arnold Schwarzenegger called the “Thor” (yielding the optimal blend of dorkery and machismo). But alas, as any Arnold aficionado can immediately tell, the Thor is voiced by a sound-alike and not the actual Governator. This made me wonder: did Arnold license his right of publicity forStarcraft II, or does the First Amendment give Activision-Blizzard the right to use Arnold’s likeness without his permission? Continue reading the full story . . . »