Posts In "Litigation"

Litigation




Monkey See, Monkey Sue

On behalf of Law Law Land, I would like to apologize to HBO, the New York courts, and basically, the world at large. A few months ago, my colleague Elisabeth Moriarty suggested that a creative Indonesian monkey should, perhaps, be afforded copyright rights in his adorable self-portrait. That suggestion must have angered the intellectual property gods, who have now unleashed their wrath upon the simian world. Some bozo, I recently learned, sued a cartoon ape for purported right of publicity violations and infliction of emotional distress. Rest easy, Magilla — no one is on to you for that failed bank robbery attempt. I’m talking about the lawsuit recently filed by Johnny Devenanzio… (If you are wondering who this Johnny fellow is, don’t worry, you are not alone.)

For those of you who are not MTV reality show devotees, let’s get you up to speed. Johnny got his start on the Real World Key West, a “true story…of eight strangers…picked to live in a house…work together and have their lives taped…to find out what happens…when people stop being polite…and start getting real.” Johnny then appeared on The Challenge — which used to be called The Real World-Road Rules Challenge, at least back when anyone I know cared about The Real World, or Road Rules, or any kind of challenge that might pit the two against each other — and he continued to make a fool of himself on numerous The Challengespin-offs (all of which involved copious amounts of alcohol, the occasional fist fight, and a fair amount of stupidity). These shows portrayed Johnny as an arrogant, scheming meathead who likes to stir up drama, earning him the nickname “Johnny Bananas.” (Ironically, you can also hire Johnny to give lectures on alcohol awareness, humility, and conflict resolution. That sounds like a great idea…)

Now, let’s get to the lawsuit. With a little help from lawyer Stephanie Ovadia (yes, the same lawyer who represented our beloved Lindsay Lohan in some of her most entertaining lawsuitsever), Johnny is suing the people behind the hit HBO series Entourage (R.I.P.). The lawsuit is based on a storyline involving a fictional cartoon called Johnny’s Bananas in which Kevin Dillon’s character, Johnny “Drama” Chase, lends his voice to a cartoon ape, aptly named Johnny, who tends to go “bananas” when things don’t go his way. Angered by this storyline (and likely upset after his lawyer pointed out that he has a striking resemblance — both mentally and physically — to an unattractive, hot-headed cartoon ape), the real-life Johnny is now claiming that HBO is trying to capitalize on a nickname that he “is solely responsible for creating.” (Apparently Johnny needs to brush up on his Chicago mobster trivia, as he’s not the only “Johnny Bananas” around.)

In his complaint, Johnny seeks an injunction to bar HBO, Time Warner Cable, and Entourage creator Doug Ellin from (a) distributing or broadcasting Entourage’s final season in any way, shape, or form, and (b) manufacturing and selling Johnny’s Bananas merchandise. Johnny also seeks compensatory and punitive damages for the tremendous emotional distress he suffered as a result of Entourage’s “offensive and disparaging” use of his nickname. Does Johnny have a shot at victory? Continue reading the full story . . . »




10, 9, 8…Lawsuit? The Blow Up Over Beyoncé’s “Countdown” Choreography

About a year ago, I wrote my very first blog regarding copyright protection for choreography. In that post, I explained that even though dance is one of the world’s oldest art forms, the legal framework around copyright protection for choreography is still one of the least developed around. And, as our loyal readers will recall, the combination of law nerd/ex-dancer in me affectionately wished for the day that we would see a courtroom battle over choreography theft. Unfortunately for Beyoncé, the countdown may be over. (Cheesy pun intended.)

Most of you had probably never heard of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, a Belgian contemporary dance choreographer. That is, until the recent release of Beyoncé’s “Countdown” video. Almost immediately following the release of “Countdown,” Beyoncé faced allegations that she stole the choreography featured in her video from two of De Keersmaeker’s contemporary works, Rosas danst Rosas (1993) and Achterland (1990). While Beyoncé admits that De Keersmaeker’s works were “one of the inspirations used to bring the feel and look of the song to life,” her official statement — no doubt vetted by a team of lawyers — was careful not to admit that she (or, more appropriately, her team) actually copied De Keersmaeker’s choreography. Thanks to YouTube and those of you out there with way too much time on your hands, however, we can analyze De Keersmaeker’s claims for ourselves and determine whether “Countdown” crosses the line between inspiration and imitation.

First, take a look at Beyoncé’s “Countdown” video:

 

And then take a look at De Keersmaeker’s works featured in this split-screen comparison:

 

Yeah, that’s kind of hard to explain away.

Although De Keersmaeker claims that she is neither upset nor honored that Beyoncé copied her dance moves, she made a point to say that “there are protocols and consequences to such actions, and I can’t imagine [Beyoncé] and her team are not aware of it.” Is De Keersmaeker right about those consequences? That is, does Beyoncé’s “Countdown” video infringe De Keersmaeker’s copyright in her choreography? Let’s recap some of the things we have learned here at Law Law Land. Continue reading the full story . . . »




Do They Serve Damn Fine Coffee in a Breastaurant?

Okay, mind association-game time. If I say “Twin Peaks,” what immediately leaps to mind? Poor, murdered Laura Palmer, earnest Special Agent Dale Cooper, lumberjacks, log ladies and one-armed men, right? Oh, and Hooters, of course.

That’s right, I said Hooters, in all its scantily-clad-waitress-hiring, chicken-wing-serving glory. You see, Hooters of America has got its lingerie all in a bunch over a rival chain of “Twin Peaks” restaurants. (Their slogan? “Eats, Drinks, Scenic Views.” You can’t make this stuff up, people; not even David Lynch is that good.) The Twin Peaks business model, apparently, involves scantily-clad waitresses serving chicken wings in a mountain-themed restaurant. Hooters claims that when a former executive left Hooterville to join Twin Peaks-operator La Cima Restaurants (yep, as in “mountain top”), he took with him a stash of highly confidential, sensitive Hooters business data that La Cima then used to create the Twin Peaks restaurant model. A nasty B-cup battle is now brewing (ok, maybe a D cup, but I’m all about the alliteration) in Georgia federal court over this purported trade secret violation.

Call me crazy, but for something to be a trade secret, doesn’t it need to be, um, secret? Seriously, is there anyone over 18 on the planet who doesn’t know the “secret” to Hooters’ success? We’re not talking about the formula to Coke here. Does “boobs and beer” qualify as a highly classified trade secret these days? (Victoria may beg to differ, but what does she know?) Continue reading the full story . . . »




Thank You, Steve Jobs

It’s not even news anymore to report that yesterday, the world lost a visionary and a true inspiration — Steve Jobs. Personally, I was devastated by the news. Although I didn’t know Steve Jobs personally, I nevertheless feel a sense of personal loss now that he has passed. Why am I so saddened by the death of someone I never knew?

Maybe it’s because I’ve been an Apple guy ever since I played my first computer game on my neighbor’s Apple IIe. I bought my first Macintosh computer in 1987 (a Mac Plus with a single floppy drive and no hard drive). Even through the dark years after the company stupidly fired its heart, soul and creative genius, I was still an Apple guy and tried to convince everyone else that Macs were the best computers around. Back then, people thought I was crazy (not one of the good “Crazy Ones” Apple highlighted in this classic ad to revive the company in the late 90s, just a real crazy one). Thanks to Steve Jobs, nobody calls me crazy anymore — well, at least not because of my love of Apple products.

But I’m clearly not alone in feeling that sense of personal loss. The Internet is already rife with comparisons of Steve Jobs’ loss to the deaths of rock stars like John Lennon and Elvis. Why? Maybe it’s because Steve Jobs is largely responsible for changing so much about how we live our lives. Continue reading the full story . . . »




In Defense of Lindsay Lohan (But Not of Her Legal Claims)

I love Lindsay Lohan. Really, I do. I think she’s funny, smart, and an all around good time waiting to happen. Sure, as an actress, she’s had her share of ups and downs. But who hasn’t? As a singer…well…mostly just downs. She’s also been unrelentingly stalked by paparazzi for the entirety of her adult life, getting caught in far more than her share of compromising moments in the process. Well I say, leave Lindsay alone! If I had cameras following me since before I started shaving, I can assure you, it would not be pretty either (riotously entertaining, yes, but not pretty). So I try to cut Lindsay a lot of slack. But man, oh man, is her latest escapade testing the limits of my adoration.

Fresh off settling her lawsuit against E*Trade for a Super Bowl ad featuring a “milkaholic” baby named Lindsay and threatening (via Momager Dina Lohan) to sue the producers of Glee for some off-color Lohan-based Spanish lessons, Lindsay recently filed suit against rapper Pitbull for using her name in his song “Give Me Everything.” The offending lyric in question: “Hustlers move aside, so I’m tiptoein’, to keep flowin’ / I got it locked up like Lindsay Lohan.” Frankly, it is difficult to fully convey the absurdity of this lawsuit. Nevertheless, my enduring loyalty demands that I try.

Holding my nose and looking a little deeper, I see there are two claims apparently being made here: defamation and right of publicity. (From the outset, I should note that Pitbull’s stated defense of  “I thought it would be helping [her] career and keeping [her] relevant”doesn’t fly.) But let’s parse each claim and see if there’s any chance that my hero will succeed. (Spoiler Alert!!! No, there is not.) Continue reading the full story . . . »




The Law of Ideas 101: Court Rules Disposable Diaper Case Stinks and Needs to Be Tossed

Last Friday, a federal district court in Michigan dismissed the complaint of Richard Pollick, the alleged creator of “diaper jeans,” i.e., disposable baby diapers designed to look like jeans (truly, an invention on par with the piano key neck tie). Pollick registered a copyright for his “Diaper Jeans artwork” in February 1981 and sent the design to Kimberly-Clark Corp. later that year. Kimberly-Clark Corp. eventually started selling Huggies “Jeans Diapers,” and Pollick filed a lawsuit.

Amazingly, this is the second bathroom-related infringement lawsuit to cross our path at Law Law Land in the last few months, proof that you are never truly safe, even on the comfort of your own commode. Unfortunately for Pollick, however, the court took one whiff of his claim and tossed it, ruling that “a simple visual comparison shows that not only are the diapers not substantially similar, they are substantially different….”

Let’s take a look at the evidence. Continue reading the full story . . . »




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