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 . . . »
Posts In "Litigation"
The Quaker State can be proud of many things. The Liberty Bell. Andy Warhol. Tastykake. Trading Places. The Immaculate Reception. But one part of its history that Pennsylvania may wish to forget (besides dog killer Michael Vick) is the garrulous young woman chosen to represent the state in the Miss USA pageant — Sheena Monnin. Last month, a New York arbitrator found that Monnin defamed the Miss Universe organization when she claimed that the show had been rigged and ordered her to pay $5 million in damages. Everyone knows that beauty pageants are big business (and were even before Honey Boo Boo tragically became a household name). But how did they suddenly become the setting for big damages awards too?
“Fraudulent, Lacking in Morals, Inconsistent, and in Many Ways Trashy”
Monnin participated in the Miss USA competition and was not one of the semifinalists selected by the pageant judges. A different panel of celebrity judges then chose the five finalists, including the eventual Miss Universe, Olivia Culpo of Rhode Island.
Moments after learning she had not been chosen as a semifinalist, Monnin sent an email to the director of the Miss Pennsylvania USA Pageant, Randy Sanders, claiming that the contest had been “f-ing rigged Randy.” (Wouldn’t be surprised if this phrase becomes part of the vernacular.) Monnin resigned as Miss Pennsylvania the next day. As her reason, she stated that the pageant system had “removed itself from its foundational principles” by allowing transgendered contestants. That night, she publicly announced her resignation on Facebook, stating that she wanted no affiliation with an organization that was “fraudulent, lacking in morals, inconsistent, and in many ways trashy” — a sentiment that sounds like it could just as easily be a review of the clientele at many Hollywood nightclubs.
In a second Facebook post, she provided a new rationale for her resignation: the show had been rigged. As evidence, Monnin gave details of a conversation with another contestant who purportedly had found a list naming the top five finalists prior to the final judging.
Not surprisingly, these comments received much media attention. Monnin repeated her accusations on NBC’s Today Show, which is broadcast nationally.
Given that allegations of corruption in judging are nothing new and are rarely substantiated (the 2002 Winter Olympics figure skating scandal notwithstanding), the Miss Universe officials might have let this go after Monnin ignored the group’s offer to review the judging process with her. Forgiveness, however, was no longer on the agenda after the organization allegedly lost a potential $5 million sponsor who purportedly pulled out after expressing concern about the “rigging” allegations. Continue reading the full story . . . »
Free-to-play games are all the rage these days. Many people while away their days playing Angry Birds, or Words with Friends before going home to watch Monday Night Football. Nerds — and, increasingly, “normal people” — do the exact same thing, except instead of watching football, we play games like Super Monday Night Combat. This summer, the remarkable viability of the free-to-play business model gained extra attention when Forbes reported that the most-played PC game in the world is now a free-to-play game called League of Legends. For those of you struggling to understand the profitability part, just take a look at League of Legends character Teemo (pictured left). I mean, seriously, who can resist purchasing all the adorable “skins” for him?! (Clearly, not me.)
Nevertheless, the business world of free-to-play gaming is not without its dark, seedy underbelly, where even the cute and cuddly characters are forced to work in digital sweatshops and sell virtual drugs on simulated street corners just to make ends meet. Well, ok, maybe it’s not that extreme. But as a recent (and bitter) dispute between game makers Zynga and Kixeye demonstrates, the gaming business can be just as ugly (and fascinating) as some of the game battles themselves.
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 . . . »
There is a lot to be thankful for in Los Angeles this Thanksgiving. As I’m sure we can all agree, near the top of the list is the Lakers’ recent acquisition of superstars Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, as well as team USA Coach Mike D’Antoni, all in time for the holidays. Of course, I’m guessing that the Buss family’s decision not to hire Coach Phil Jackson (who is dating Lakers executive and daughter-of-the-owner Jeannie Buss) is going to make things awfully awkward at the Buss family Thanksgiving dinner table.
Of course, that’s only going to the second most awkward turkey-related incident of the last month for a member of the Lakers family. The dubious first prize goes to Laker great Magic Johnson, whose passion for turkey and other tasty treats has found its way into a civil lawsuit against him.
Just before Halloween, a woman named Latina Thomas — who, until recently, was Magic’s personal flight attendant — filed a wrongful termination action against Magic and the aviation company that had co-employed her. Ms. Thomas alleges that she was fired for being seven minutes late to work after waiting an extra-long time at a deli counter trying to purchase “two types of specific turkey” for Magic’s sandwich. Ms. Thomas claims that the turkey incident was a pretext for her firing so that Magic could replace her with a younger woman.
So who’s the real turkey here? Magic Johnson or the flight attendant? Continue reading the full story . . . »
Many people consult with psychics. Not an unusual thing to do (certainly not in California). But not a lot of people spend the next 38 years adding rooms to their houses because the soothsayer said spirits would kill them if construction ever stopped. At least one person is reported to have done so: Sarah Winchester, the widow of the son of the famed gunmaker. By the time the heiress died in 1922 at age 82, her seven-room farmhouse had become a seven-story, 160-room Victorian-style mansion, replete with winding dead-end passageways, interior windows, and doors to nowhere.
These types of legends make good movies, which is why a production company approached the owner of the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California, to request permission to film there. The owner turned it down, stating that another company had already acquired the rights to the Winchester story. The filmmakers went ahead and made their movie anyway, calling it Haunting of Winchester House and putting a Victorian-style mansion on the DVD cover. You can guess what happened next.
The case that followed, Winchester Mystery House, LLC v. Global Asylum, Inc., represents a classic battle seen frequently in the world of entertainment litigation: the trademark owner who wishes to preserve his exclusive rights to a particular name vs. the artist who wishes to use that name as part of a creative work. And the battleground? The First Amendment, of course. So what happens when the owners of one of America’s most famous haunted houses take on the filmmakers who have gone renegade to tell its (highly fictionalized) story? Continue reading the full story . . . »