Who Owns Cute Girls in Pink Coats on Daddy’s Shoulders?

The Beatles crossing Abbey Road.  A nurse and sailor kissing in Times Square as the end of World War II is announced.  An African vulture patiently waiting for a starving toddler to die.  The 1968 Olympics Black Power salute.  Jack Ruby shooting Lee Oswald.  Rose and Jack on the bow of the Titanic (or, for movie fans of a different era, maybe Marilyn Monroe’s white dress billowing as she stands over a subway grate).

Iconic photographs capture an image and immortalize it.  Once seen, forever remembered.  Pictures worth a thousand words.  Other poignant clichés.  The point is, a photograph can take everything a historical moment symbolizes and preserve it for eternity — or at least until you accidentally throw out the pictures while moving, or maybe leave them unattended in your storage locker until you die.  (And if you haven’t seen the above photographs — other than the storage locker ones — stop reading this blog and look at them now or risk forever being a cultural ignoramus.)

Now think of a photograph of a little girl wearing a pink coat sitting on her father’s shoulders outside a church clutching a palm leaf.  Unless you spend a lot of time studying FBI manhunt posters, this photograph does not immediately spring to mind.  But it has one trait that the above photographs do not:  it was the subject of a recent lawsuit by its photographer against Sony Pictures, which used a photograph featuring a little girl wearing a pink coat sitting atop Eric McCormack’s shoulders in a television movie.  So, are these two photos “substantially similar,” such that the image on the right infringes the copyright in the image on the left?

According to Sony Pictures — and, now, the Boston-based federal Court of Appeals for the First Circuit — the answer is no. Continue reading the full story . . . »


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This Is Our Super Bowl Blog Post. Now Come and Get Us, NFL!

[In honor of Super Bowl XLVII — because everyone knows that Roman numerals make everything very distinguished and significant — we're bringing back one of our most-read, and most personally-favored posts.  Enjoy your SUPER BOWL PARTY, everyone.]

Unless you live here, I’m assuming you’re aware of a little football game taking place this weekend between the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens.  (And maybe, just maybe, you might have heard something — but probably nothing original — about that whole Harbowl storyline.  Well here’s a little-known wrinkle about it.)

I’m as excited as anyone for the game, which is why, this Sunday, I might try to find a local bar hosting a Super Bowl party. But I’ll probably be out of luck, unless I’m willing to go to a “Big Game” party instead. And if I’m feeling spendthrift — the always-confusing word that sounds like “thrifty” but actually means “profligate” — I might try to pick up a new flat-screen TV at a Super Bowl sale. But unless I’m willing to settle for one of those ubiquitous “Big Game” sales, I’ll probably be forced to stick with what I’ve got.

Every year, while every sports yak in America is obsessing over Super Bowl scouting reports, every business in America is trying to capitalize on the game. But most of them aren’t using the words “Super Bowl” to do so, and the reason is fairly obvious: the phrase “Super Bowl” is trademarked by the NFL, which is famously protective of its intellectual property. Moreover, the privilege of using the phrase “Super Bowl” in advertising is one of the valuable rights bestowed by the NFL upon its advertisers and promotional partners — which gives the NFL extra incentive to keep freeloaders from poaching the phrase (thereby diminishing its value to potential paying promotional partners).

But what if the NFL is wrong? What if I really could check out the Super Bowl party at my favorite watering hole without them being subjected to the threat of legal doom?

Guess what, folks: I can. Continue reading the full story . . . »


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Why Skip Bayless Should Probably Focus on the Super Bowl and Shut Up About This Whole “Kaepernicking” Trademark Application

So last week, I was on my 173rd consecutive hour of consuming blog articles, news stories, tweets, posts, video interviews, transcripts of interviews, analyses of transcripts of interviews, and opinions on the analyses of transcripts of interviews about Manti Te’o and his imaginary dead girlfriend, when I noticed that something else critical happened in the world of sports.  OMG OMG OMG!  Did you hear that Colin Kaepernick, NFC champion quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers and flat-billed hat enthusiast, recently “trademarked” his signature, tattooed-biceps-kissing touchdown celebration now known as “Kaepernicking?”

Wait, WHAT?!  Does this mean that when I finish this blog, Colin is telling me I can’t celebrate by jumping up from my desk and kissing my beautiful biceps?  Have you seen my biceps?  It’s hard for me to look down at them and not kiss them!  It’s like I have Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Chastain staring up at me from each bicep, lips pursed, like some insane Popeye fever dream.

In my panic, I poured through the incomprehensibly large number of stories about this.  But then I had a thought.  No, not “What am I doing with my life?”  No, not even “What is everyone at ESPN doing with their lives?”  No, my thought was “Wait wait… I’m a lawyer, damn it!  I actually know what all of this means!  These guys don’t!Continue reading the full story . . . »


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The Lakers Beat the Who?

Seattle sports fans recently rejoiced when the Maloof family announced that they have (finally) agreed to sell their stake in the Sacramento Kings to a Seattle-based investment group that (spoiler alert) intends to move the team back to the Emerald City.  Considering how well the former Seattle SuperSonics are doing as the new OKC Thunder, coupled with the fact that the Seahawks recently blew what could have been the most amazing comeback in recent memory, who could possibly deny Seattle’s sports fans this fantastic opportunity?

For starters, there are the Sacramento Kings’ fans, who fully appreciate the irony of Seattle trying to poach an existing team while still bemoaning the fact that their Sonics team got poached by Oklahoma City.  Rest assured that Kings fans will stop at nothing to keep the team in “Cowbell Kingdom,” if for no other reason than to continue persisting in their ridiculous fantasy that a “rivalry” exists between the Kings and the Lakers.  (Of course, what’s really going on is an all-too-obvious ploy to support the struggling cowbell industry, which the rest of America — except for maybe The Bruce Dickinson — will just never understand).  Leading the Cowbell Kingdom movement is former Phoenix Suns superstar and now-mayor of Sacramento, Kevin Johnson, who not only has a political science degree from U.C. Berkley, but also blew my 12-year-old mind back in 1994 when he posterized Hakeem Olajuwon.

Just one day after this week’s announcement of the sale, mayor KJ warned Seattle fans:  “Don’t celebrate too early.”  Because if KJ gets his way, the Kings will be staying in Sacramento (and the cowbell industry will be saved).  Such a result would not only devastate the hopes and dreams of Seattle NBA fans, but would also totally obviate all of the hypothetical legal stuff I may or may not eventually get around to discussing later in this article. Continue reading the full story . . . »


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To Be Judged Not By the Color of Their Skin, But By the Content of Their Legal Briefs

[Ed. Note:  In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we'd like to re-run one of our favorite seasonal blog posts, thereby honoring Dr. King's legacy not only as a visionary and civil rights leader, but also as a copyright litigant.  Don't judge us; we're lawyers, we can't help ourselves.]

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

These words will be heard many times this week as we celebrate the birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. They are, of course, from King’s famous 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech. But as you celebrate his life and listen to his words, ask yourself this question: have you ever heard the whole speech? Not just the key excerpts that will be repeatedly broadcast on the news, but the entire, seventeen-minute address as it was given to a crowd of 200,000 in front of the Lincoln Memorial?

Ever wonder why it’s not shown on TV more often?

The answer, my friends, is copyright. Because while Dr. King may have dreamed of a world without racism, even he wouldn’t dare to dream of a world without lawsuits.

Yes, in addition to being a noted clergyman and civil rights leader, Dr. King was a copyright litigant. Continue reading the full story . . . »


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A Law Law Land Correction (and a Litigant Speaks!)

An interesting footnote to last week’s post, revisiting our “5 Cases to Watch” for 2012.

Last week, I wrote that while talent manager Rick Siegel’s legal war with his former client — which had since morphed into a crusade against California’s Talent Agencies Act writ large — was over, the fight had been taken up by Siegel’s colleagues at the National Conference of Personal Managers, which, in November 2012, brought a direct constitutional challenge against the Talent Agencies Act in federal court.  As part of my preview of the case, I noted that the case “may still be a long shot — anytime someone tries to claim that a law violates the Thirteenth Amendment’s prohibition on slavery, you have to raise your eyebrows a little.”  But this week, I received a reader correction from Mr. Siegel himself, who writes:

Ken,

The 13th Amendment claim isn’t about slavery.

The 13th Amendment of the United States Constitution states in part:  “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

So to be constitutionally compliant, the benefit of one’s labor can only be voided should there exist: (1) a statute stating that such labor was criminal; and (2) a finding been forfeited must have been found duly convicted of that crime.  Every other California occupational licensing scheme where one loses the right to contract has statutory notice that the unlicensed engagement of activity is a criminal offense and makes that engagement either misdemeanor or felony, the TAA expressly states that per § 1700.44(b) that no TAA violation can be considered criminal.  As the action can’t be seen as criminal, the penalty violates the 13th Amendment.

The original post has been revised to refer to “involuntary servitude” instead of slavery.  Lawyers for the State of California, the Association of Talent Agencies, and celebrities who just like being able to not pay their estranged personal managers may, of course, disagree with Mr. Siegel’s interpretation of the Thirteenth Amendment, but let it never be said that Law Law Land doesn’t strive to be fair and precise in its snark.

As for me, I’m just psyched to have gotten (politely) called out by a celebrity of recent history in California law.  Can’t wait for Kim Kardashian to email the blog next!


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