Q&A: How Do I “Dis-Attach” a Producer from My Project?

Q: How binding is a letter of intent? Nearly eight years ago, I signed a one-paragraph agreement in which I allowed a producer to attach himself to my original screenplay and shop it around. He found no takers and hasn’t submitted the script anywhere for at least five years. Now I’m thinking of reviving the project, but would prefer to do so without the producer’s involvement. Do I have any further legal or moral obligation to him? I would like to add that no money exchanged hands; the producer never actually optioned or bought my screenplay.

A: A true letter of intent is as binging as your To Do list, or at least it should be. You intend to do the things on your To Do list, but if you don’t do them you won’t get sued. The only way a letter of intent is legally binding is if it’s not truly a letter of intent. It’s not what you call something, it’s what it is. You can have a piece of paper called a letter of intent that actually contains a binding agreement or you can have something called a binding agreement that actually contains no agreement at all but just a list of non-binding things the parties intend. It seems like you have something called a letter of intent which actually contains your agreement to attach a producer to your screenplay. Continue reading the full story . . . »


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Pampered Pups, and the Laws That Love Them

With this year’s Fashion’s Night Out just days away, I can’t help but think of Alexander McQueen, whose tragic suicide last year deprived the fashion world of one of its greatest talents. McQueen had no children, but made sure his dogs were well taken care of by leaving over $80,000 in his will for the care of Juice, Callum, and Minter. (Nope, I didn’t make up those names.) McQueen also left money to his housekeepers, siblings, nieces and nephews, and charities (including two animal welfare charities — McQueen was clearly an animal lover).

But Alexander McQueen is hardly the first high-profile figure to decide that nothing says “I love you, Fido” like a massive trust fund. And, in most of the United States, the law is specifically equipped to make sure that these pampered pups are taken care of long after their owners have gone to that great dog park in the sky. Continue reading the full story . . . »


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Q&A: How Do I Safely Name My New Production Company?

Q: My friends and I recently formed a production company that we plan to use to produce straight-to-DVD movies. We really like the name we picked and think it’s really distinctive. When we formed the company, we had to do a name search with the California Secretary of State. Luckily no identical name came up so I think we’re free to use the name without having to worry about some other company who’s using the same name, correct?

A: Incorrect. To ease the blow of this blunt, negative answer, let me first congratulate you on trying to stump the lawyers, whether you meant to or not. While your question sounds entertainment-y, it’s actually more a question about intellectual property law, and, more specifically, trademark law. Our moms read this blog (and probably make up 50% of our readership); are you trying to make us look bad in front of our moms?! Continue reading the full story . . . »


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In My Opinion, Twitter Sucks (But They Can’t Sue Me for Defamation for Saying So)

I don’t like Twitter. There, I said it. I know, I know, it’s so revolutionary, it’s bridging social gaps, it’s God’s gift to the information age, blah blah blah. That’s all well and good, but as far as I’m concerned it’s just an outlet for self-righteous blather. As if the whole world needs to sit up and hear about what YOU think about foreign policy or what YOUR opinion is about the new Britney Spears album. If I want your opinion, I’ll ask for it, but don’t be surprised if I don’t, because I probably don’t care.

Not only are most tweets nothing but pompous drivel, they are boring. Boring and utterly pointless. Take this random tweet I just found, after about one second of looking, for your reading pleasure: “Going to have a normal day today. A little cleaning, kids are playing outside, and maybe the park. Nothing too ambitious. I think we all need it.” Awesome.

Now, you probably think I’m a bitter cynic. You probably don’t like me. That’s your opinion and you’re entitled to it (but please, in the name of all that is holy, don’t tweet about it). And at this point, maybe your natural inclination is to say, “OK, James, but what makes you so special that I, dear reader, should care about you? After all, isn’t this whole article just a big long diatribe about your personal opinion?” Well, maybe a little. But it’s my article, so deal with it. Besides, it’s supposed to be ironic, so it’s funny, like a joke. More importantly, there’s a very real legal issue brewing beneath the surface here.

Lately, there has been a rash of defamation lawsuits based on allegedly defamatory tweets. This is not surprising given Twitter’s meteoric rise in popularity. For a recent example, look no further than the lawsuit just brought by Notifi Records CEO, Ira DeWitt, against former New Edition singer Johnny Gill for alleged defamation on Twitter. The singer is alleged to have attacked the reputation of DeWitt and her company by tweeting that she was “deranged” and “f**king nuts,” that Notifi was a fake company, and that she had a “hard on” for the producer of an unreleased Gill single.

There is no doubt that Mr. Gill’s alleged tweets aren’t very nice. But are they actionable as defamation? Probably not. Continue reading the full story . . . »


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When Not to Immediately Register Your Trademark

It might seem axiomatic that whenever you develop a new product or service you ought to immediately register a trademark or servicemark to ensure marketplace protection. And I’m not talking about trademarking “That’s Hot” or “You’re Fired!” I’m talking about real, useful stuff. Like Oxyclean.® Or Chia Pet.®

(Fun fact of the day: you can only use the ® symbol if your mark is registered with the USPTO. Otherwise you are stuck using the ™ symbol, which is just a claim of ownership over a mark.)

Most of the time, promptly registering a trademark is a good idea — not only does it help you establish rights in your own mark, it gives you early warning if you’re going to wind up in a dispute (and ample opportunity to change your mark before you invest too much time, money, and heart into it). But not always. For a good example of the latter situation, just look at the current dispute between ZeniMax Media, the publisher of a series of role-playing games called The Elder Scrolls and forthcoming game entitled The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and Mojang, creator of the popular game Minecraft, and forthcoming game entitled, Scrolls. Continue reading the full story . . . »


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Married to J-Lo: Gravy Train or Dead End?

Remember the good old days when Jennifer Lopez made headlines for harmless things like bold fashion choices and a semi-legendary backside? These days, though, it seems like J-Lo makes news less for her talents as an actress/singer/Paula Abdul replacement, and more for her divorces. In the midst of swirling gossip about the demise of her marriage to Marc Anthony, J-Lo has been battling in court, trying to stop her first husband, waiter-turned-chef-turned-professional celebrity-ex/litigant Ojani Noa, from selling the rights to a series of home videos made during their short-lived marriage. (This is, in fact, the second time Noa has tried to sell rights to the story of his ill-fated marriage to the Puerto Rican starlet; apparently, a permanent injunction and a $500,000 damages award didn’t teach him a lesson).

Some quarters of the Internet were no doubt crushed to hear that, unlike last time, Noa is now reportedly hawking home videos of a rather G-rated variety. And while the newest headlines about J. Lo’s ongoing battle with Noa vaguely trumpeted a J-Lo victory, behind the A-list names in the headline (or rather, the one A-list name and the ex-husband of the A-list name) was a legal issue only a lawyer could love — whether the dispute between Lopez and Noa would have to proceed via private binding arbitration or in court (Lopez succeeded in pushing the case to arbitration, shielding any salacious tidbits that might come out of this nasty battle from public view). But of course, the idea of the public release of celebrity home videos (whether G or XXX rated) always piques the interest of our voyeur culture.

Of course, J-Lo is in a better position than many celebrities trying to keep their private lives private, in that her long and sordid legal history with Noa has created a paper trail of contractual agreements between the two on which she can now rely (more on that later). But putting aside the quirkier aspects of the Lopez/Noa dispute, the general question remains: can a famous celebrity like J-Lo stop a gold-digging ex from profiting off home videos made during the relationship? Continue reading the full story . . . »


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