Posts In "Litigation"

Litigation




A New Page for Google Books

In 2004, Google announced a project that, at the time, seemed audacious: a universal library, searchable online.  Book lovers rejoiced. “This is our chance to one-up the Greeks!” one archivist said (echoing what the rest of us were all surely thinking).  But lawyers did what we do best: worried.

Sure, the idea—now known as Google Books—was cool. But was it legal? After all, some of the books were copyrighted.  Google planned to show only snippets of the books, something its lawyers described as a “fair use.”  But the publishing industry had another name for the snippets: copyright infringement.

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Interlocking X’s Mark the Litigation Spot

So what does the world’s largest publicly traded international oil and gas company have in common with the cable network that’s brought us such irreverent comedies as It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, Louie, and The League?  One fuels America’s engines, while the other arguably powers the laughter of millions of viewers (among which this blogger can certainly be counted).  But the similarities don’t stop there!  Turns out they both have a fondness for the letter “X”; specifically, two letter “X’s” interlocked along a diagonal line – and this may be a real problem for one of them.

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Requiem for a Ridiculous Lawsuit

Last month, I wrote about some notable examples of film and television producers being sued or threatened for using other peoples’ creations without permission.  Examples included Emerson Electric suing NBC after Claire from Heroes stuck her hand in an “InSinkErator” brand garbage disposal; Coca Cola Company threatening legal action against an Italian film distributor over a film in which Jesus drinks a can of Coke in the desert; Louis Vuitton suing Warner Brothers over the unauthorized use of their luggage being used by a character who pronounced it “Luis” Vuitton in The Hangover Part II;  and Mattel suing MCA Records over the song “Barbie Girl.”  As if on cue, another such example has just arrived.

This month, a judge ruled on a lawsuit brought by Faulkner Literary Rights, LLC against Sony Pictures, Inc. for the studio’s use of a single line from the book Requiem for a Nun (written by that Nobel Prize winning William Faulkner guy) that was paraphrased and attributed to the author in the movie Midnight in Paris (directed by that controversial Woody Allen guy):

 

Original quote from Requiem for a Nun

Paraphrased quote in Midnight in Paris

“The past is never dead.  It’s not even past.” “The past is not dead.  Actually it’s not even past.  You know who said that?  Faulkner, and he was right.  I met him too.  I ran into him at a dinner party.”

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Happy Birthday…You’re Being Sued!

Have you ever noticed how people rarely sing “Happy Birthday to You” in movies and television?  Instead, people usually sing “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow,” even though no one actually sings that song in real life.  Nevertheless, this falsification of reality happens all the time.  My favorite example was when the crew of the Enterprise sang “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” to Worf on his birthday (in Klingon, naturally).  At the end of the song, Worf observed, “that is not a Klingon song.”  Worf’s observation is ironic, of course, because even humans don’t really sing “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” to each other on their birthdays.  (Well, maybe the humans who speak Klingon do….)

The reason for this falsification of reality is two-fold.  First, “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” is clearly in the public domain (which means you can use it for free).  Second, Warner/Chappell Music claims to own the copyright to the song “Happy Birthday to You” and charges $1,500 for a “synch license” whenever someone wants to use it on screen.

And until now, no one has ever formally challenged Warner/Chappell’s copyright to the Happy Birthday song.

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Bill Maher Prevails Over Donald Trump Lawsuit By Sitting and Waiting for the Donald to Figure Out to Drop It Himself

In February, I wrote about a particularly fake-haired boneheaded lawsuit that Donald Trump brought against comedian Bill Maher.  As you may recall, Trump accused Maher of breach of contract based on a joke that Maher had made on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, in which he had jokingly — really, completely obviously, jokingly — offered $5 million to the charity of Trump’s choice (the Hair Club for Men was Maher’s suggestion) if the real-estate mogul-turned-reality-TV-star-turned-national-punchline could provide proof that he was not, in fact, “the spawn of his mother having sex with an orangutan.”  Ignoring the scientific impossibility of humans and orangutans being capable of producing offspring, and surely torturing his poor lawyer (whom he conscripted to respond to Maher), Trump purported to “accept” this offer by sending Maher a letter enclosing a copy of his birth certificate (short form only, though!) and demanding payment of the $5 million.  When Maher did not respond to the letter, Trump went bananas and filed a lawsuit.

After recounting Bill Maher’s hilarious response to the lawsuit, I boldly joined the near-consensus of legal observers in predicting that Trump would lose the lawsuit.  And I’m here to report, I was wrong — Trump never even had a chance to lose the case, because he dismissed the lawsuit himself, perhaps as a result of his lawyers reaching the same conclusion I did.  (Or perhaps, Trump’s simian brain finally realized that the situation had evolved beyond his control.)

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Donald Trump Sues Bill Maher for Monkeying Around on Late-Night Talk Show

Here at Law Law Land, there are a few pearls of wisdom we like to repeat — perhaps to a fault — just because they are so helpful and right.  Copyright law doesn’t protect ideas, only the expressions of ideas.  Being legally right only matters if you can afford to prove it.  And, perhaps most important of all:  don’t mess with the Donald.  Just ask Bill Maher.

In January, Maher visited fellow comedian Jay Leno on The Tonight Show.  There, Maher discussed his “beef” with Donald Trump, who Maher claimed had rejected several invitations to appear on Maher’s late-night HBO show, Real Time with Bill Maher — evidently to Maher’s relief, given that Trump was such “a terrible racist.”  Of course, the ever-gracious Mr. Maher was quick to wish “the best for the syphilitic monkey who does [Trump’s] Twitter feed.”

Seizing upon the “syphilitic monkey” moniker, the conversation led (as it naturally would) into a joke about Donald Trump being “the spawn of his mother having sex with an orangutan” because, according to Maher, “the color of [Trump’s] hair…and the color of an orange orangutan is the only two things in nature of the same color.”  (Obviously.)  Ultimately, Maher concluded the joke by announcing — in an apparent parody of Trump’s (not actually) “very big,” (not remotely) game-changing pre-election announcement (more on that in a moment) — “I hope it’s not true…but unless [Trump] comes up with proof [that he is not the lovechild of an orangutan]…I’m willing to offer 5 million dollars to Donald Trump…that he can donate to a charity of his choice.”  As an example, Maher suggested the “Hair Club for Men.”

The very next day, demonstrating the sense of humor for which he has become legendary, Trump had his attorney write to Maher, formally accepting Maher’s “offer” and attaching a copy of Mr. Trump’s birth certificate, demonstrating that Trump is indeed “the son of Fred Trump, not an orangutan.”  (Can you imagine being the poor lawyer who got that “urgent” assignment at midnight?)  Trump demanded a $5 million payout, and when Maher ignored the demand letter, Trump actually filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court demanding $5 million in damages.  Let me be clear:  this is not actually a joke.  This is a lawsuit that has seriously been filed.

This prompted Maher to assert that Trump needs to understand two basic concepts:  “what a joke is and what a contract is.”  And although we all know how this case is going to end, we would be remiss in not taking this opportunity to dedicate an entire blog post to The Donald’s bloviating buffoonery.  Could Trump really take this lawsuit all the way to the bank?

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