Posts In "Legislation"

Legislation




Employment Law 101: Hollywood Edition

While I most often write on Law Law Land about copyrightsInternet issues, and various things Hollywood, the bread and butter of my practice is employment litigation: more specifically, representing employers who are sued for wrongful termination, discrimination, sexual harassment, and/or wage and hour claims. In California, employment laws tend to favor employees, and like any employer, Hollywood employers are vulnerable to employment lawsuits when they don’t cross their T’s and dot their I’s (and sometimes even when they do).

The Hollywood employment lawsuit du jour was brought against MTV by a former employee on the show The Hills. Do you remember that trip to Costa Rica the cast took for the 100th episode of the show? Yeah, me neither — as much as I love me some Justin Bobby/Audrina drama (almost as much as I love James Franco and Mila Kunis’ spoof of them during the writers’ strike), I just couldn’t stomach K-Cav as leading lady. [Ed. Note: Did any of the last sentence mean anything to you, dear readers? No, me neither.] But this Costa Rica trip will now live on in infamy, not only as the trip where Justin Bobby apparently wore a Confederate flag hat, but also as the trip that fueled this lawsuit.

According to the complaint, Eliza Sproul was a Field Clearance Coordinator/Production Coordinator on The Hills and accompanied Kristin and crew to Costa Rica. There, her employment “took a turn for the worse” when she was allegedly pressured with drugs, sexually harassed, and forced to work long hours until she “essentially broke down” from exhaustion. The complaint was just filed on October 18, so MTV has not yet filed any responsive papers. But I’m going to put on my employment litigator hat for a moment to analyze Ms. Sproul’s claims. Continue reading the full story . . . »


Northern District Class Action Lawsuit Against Yelp! Inc. Dismissed After Receiving Too Many Bad Reviews from Federal Judge

Yelp.com describes itself as “the fun and easy way to find and talk about great (and not so great) local businesses.” It proclaims that “[a]s of August 2011, more than 63 million people visited Yelp within the past 30 days.” Its tagline: “Real people. Real reviews.®”

I view Yelp.com as one of the many unnecessary, “Web 2.0” websites I will never use that litters the information superhighway like marine snow in the deep ocean. My wife views it as a source of idle entertainment, where she can enjoy reviews that palaver about Jersey Shore-like drama, before even getting to whether a particular restaurant had good food or not. But some businesses have complained, and even filed lawsuits against Yelp,

 

alleging that Yelp salespeople represent to businesses that Yelp has the power to manipulate Yelp.com business listing pages, and that Yelp will wield that power in favor of the business if it becomes a “Yelp Sponsor” and against the business if it declines to do so.

In other words, some businesses claim that Yelp is the like the internet mafia, asking business owners for protection money to make those bad reviews sleep with the fishes. Is it true? Continue reading the full story . . . »


Panties in a Twist

Sometimes mistakes are made by accident. Sometimes mistakes are made on purpose (which, I guess, makes them not really mistakes). And sometimes, mistakes are made by, um, stupidity. File this one under stupid.

The Attorney General of the Navajo Nation recently sent Urban Outfitters a cease-and-desist letter, demanding that the corporation stop using the Navajo Nation’s trademarks to sell clothing and accessories that are completely unrelated to the Navajo people. Urban Outfitters’ (extremely tasteful) line of 24 “Navajo”-themed items included such surefire crowd-pleasers (pictured below) as the “Navajo Hipster Panty” and the Navajo flask — especially charming, I’m sure, to a Native American community that has long struggled with alcoholism and whose alcohol-related mortality rate is nearly 12%. Or maybe the style-makers at UO just hadn’t heard.

Just a few items from Urban Outfitters’ site described as “Navajo."

But Urban Outfitters’ “Navajo” product line wasn’t just culturally insensitive (not to mention egregiously ugly). It was also probably a violation of both trademark law and the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990. Continue reading the full story . . . »


Bright Lights, Stars and Machine Guns: Just Your Average Night in Hollywood

If there’s any pattern in my blog posts, it’s that they are often inspired by my real-life experiences. This one is no different. Recently, I arrived home around 9 p.m. and was greeted by the sound of machine-gun fire that sounded like it was coming from across the street. My husband was out watching a football game (the rival team I poked fun at here) so I had nobody to confirm if there was, in fact, urban warfare taking over the mean streets of Hancock Park, or if it was jut my imagination. The sound continued intermittently every 15–20 minutes for the next hour, with me jumping out of my seat every time (and our cat jumping out of his seat in the window), until my husband got home and confirmed that it was neither my imagination nor an uprising of disgruntled Larchmont Village bakery-goers: a movie was being filmed on the next block over. Sure enough, I seem to have ignored the giant light hovering over the block, which was so bright it could have lit an entire football field for a nighttime game.

The next morning, I drove by to check it out, and saw the block lined with 1940’s-style cars, including a police car and an ambulance. Some Internet sleuthing revealed that the movie being filmed was Gangster Squad, a period piece slated to come out in 2012 with a star-studded cast including Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, and Sean Penn.

My first thought, of course, was, Cool! Maybe I can go stroll by after work and get a glimpse of the filming!

My second thought, since I am obviously a law dork, was, I wonder whether the neighbors have any rights with regard to the movie being filmed there? Continue reading the full story . . . »


No, You Can’t Change Your Name to Dotcom (Unless You’re a 30 Rock Character)

This blogger knows a little something about name changes, since I am in the process of changing from my maiden name to my married name (and still receiving almost daily emails saying “Rachel who???”). As I learned in the days leading up to the wedding, in California, when you get married you have a few options as far as changing your name. The wife can take her husband’s last name, the husband can take his wife’s last name, or both people can change their last name to some combination of the two. (I lobbied halfheartedly for “Wilchie,” but no dice.)

Outside of the marriage context, however, formal name changes must be done in court. While this certainly allows for more variety and creativity in the selection of a new name, the statutory name change process is more intricate. Among other things, it requires publishing notice of the requested name change in the newspaper for four weeks, ostensibly to give potential creditors and interested government officials an opportunity to discover any nefarious attempts to avoid them by changing one’s name. (L.A. Laker Ron Artest’s name change to “Metta World Peace” — really — was initially delayed by outstanding parking tickets.) Apparently, it hasn’t occurred to any enterprising legislator to revise the law to allow name-changers to Tweet their new names, or post them to Facebook or Google+.

Even in the absence of a formal name change, you can always ask people to call you whatever you desire, a request that lawyers have jargonistically dubbed a “common law” name change. (For example, I’ve told my colleagues who can’t deal with my new last name that they may now refer to me as “The attorney formerly known as Wilkes.”) But even in Hollywood, the land of self-invention and reinvention — where celebrities name their children after everything from fruit to superheroes — there is still a limit as to what people can legally call themselves. Just ask cannabis activist, convicted felon, perennial candidate for New Jersey political office, and Los Angeles transplant Robert Edward (“Ed”) Forchion, Jr., who learned firsthand last month that the sky’s not the limit when it comes to statutory name changes in California, when the Second Appellate District affirmed the denial of his petition to change his personal name to the name of his website, NJweedman.com. Continue reading the full story . . . »


My Twitter Has a Second Name, it’s W-E-I-N-E-R

What do you get when you mix a racy photo, alleged computer hacking, Twitter, and a Congressman named Weiner? (Besides Jon Stewart’s debut as an R&B producer.) That’s right, faithful readers, you get a smorgasbord of 21st century legal issues, and an example of why privacy is harder to keep than ever. You also get a great reason to think twice about what you save on your computer. And you get the joy of what is undoubtedly the best name for a scandal since “DickiLeaks.”

You’ve probably heard about Congressman Anthony Weiner, and the tough week he’s had. To recap, Weiner’s hard drive was “hacked” and a bulging photo (labeled “package.jpg”!) was sent to a college student from his Twitter account. Then the interwebs started chirping and the politician non-denial denials started (“I can’t say with certitude” [that it isn’t my bulging crotch making the Internet rounds]). Then the conservative bloggers found some absurd photos of Weiner showing off his pecs in front of framed photos of his family. And before you know it, we’ve got tearful televised confessions (“The picture was of me, I sent it”), and voila, a new word is seared into the American collective consciousness: Weinergate! It’s hard not to feel both bad for and perplexed by Weiner, even if he isn’t exactly the first New York Congressman to get caught sending racy pics this year. But I can also only feel so bad about any situation that results in one of my coworkers walking into a department meeting and announcing, “I can’t get enough Weiner!”

Of course, at this point, we all know that Weiner’s initial explanation for the sudden proliferation of his groinal region on the Internet — that his Twitter account was “hacked” — was as bogus as it sounded. But what if we lived in a magical world where a politician’s initial explanation for a totally inexplicable scandal was actually true? Let’s look at what anti-hacking laws say Weiner could have done. (Besides resigning, hiding out for a year, then taking a cushy job on cable news).

(Note: not covered here are potential claims for copyright infringement based on the unauthorized distribution of the photo itself, a favorite theory in the ever-popular celebrity-trying-to-block-a-sex-tape segment.) Continue reading the full story . . . »