This blogger knows a little something about name changes, since I am in the process of changing from my maiden name to my married name (and still receiving almost daily emails saying “Rachel who???”). As I learned in the days leading up to the wedding, in California, when you get married you have a few options as far as changing your name. The wife can take her husband’s last name, the husband can take his wife’s last name, or both people can change their last name to some combination of the two. (I lobbied halfheartedly for “Wilchie,” but no dice.)

Outside of the marriage context, however, formal name changes must be done in court. While this certainly allows for more variety and creativity in the selection of a new name, the statutory name change process is more intricate. Among other things, it requires publishing notice of the requested name change in the newspaper for four weeks, ostensibly to give potential creditors and interested government officials an opportunity to discover any nefarious attempts to avoid them by changing one’s name. (L.A. Laker Ron Artest’s name change to “Metta World Peace” — really — was initially delayed by outstanding parking tickets.) Apparently, it hasn’t occurred to any enterprising legislator to revise the law to allow name-changers to Tweet their new names, or post them to Facebook or Google+.

Even in the absence of a formal name change, you can always ask people to call you whatever you desire, a request that lawyers have jargonistically dubbed a “common law” name change. (For example, I’ve told my colleagues who can’t deal with my new last name that they may now refer to me as “The attorney formerly known as Wilkes.”) But even in Hollywood, the land of self-invention and reinvention — where celebrities name their children after everything from fruit to superheroes — there is still a limit as to what people can legally call themselves. Just ask cannabis activist, convicted felon, perennial candidate for New Jersey political office, and Los Angeles transplant Robert Edward (“Ed”) Forchion, Jr., who learned firsthand last month that the sky’s not the limit when it comes to statutory name changes in California, when the Second Appellate District affirmed the denial of his petition to change his personal name to the name of his website, NJweedman.com.
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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.
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Last week, KROQ’s Kevin & Bean interviewed Castle actress Stana Katic, who is starring in a new movie called For Lovers Only. The film is a “sexy love story set in Paris” and was “shot in the spirit of the French New Wave” (which sounds to me like a blend of smooth jazz, a Monet painting, and a nude beach).
The fascinating thing about the film is that it was produced by just five people. The small crew drove around France in one car using a handheld camera, and would haphazardly discover new filming locations (ironically, quite similar to the formula for a Jackass movie, though those are more “shot in the spirit of the American love of men being struck in the groin”). So although the script may have been rehearsed the night before, the location was often “TBD.”

Evidently unaware of the contingent of fascinated entertainment lawyers in the audience, Katic never discussed whether the film’s five-person crew obtained clearances or releases for anything or anyone they may have incidentally filmed. But from her description of the production, it seems possible — maybe even likely — that they didn’t. The film is currently available only through iTunes or at European film festival screenings. But although that whimsical approach to filmmaking may make for great promotional interviews on the radio, it could present a problem when filmmakers start looking for major worldwide distribution.
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Sadly, “shocking” racist or bigoted celebrity tirades no longer make for shocking news. Even if the Constitution can’t protect them in the court of public opinion, celebrities like Mel GibsonMichael Richards, andTracy Morgan are lucky enough to live in America, where the First Amendment protects them from legal consequences for the absurd things that come out of their mouths. John Galliano, on the other hand? Not so lucky. He could face jail time for his recent anti-Semitic and racist rants.

The former creative director of French fashion house Christian Dior was arrested in February for allegedly shouting anti-Jewish and racist insults at a couple at a bar in Paris. He also allegedly exchanged slaps with the couple. Galliano was immediately fired from his position at Christian Dior and ostracized from the fashion community. Shortly after the incident, Galliano ended up in rehab (which is now apparently a cure for everything from alcoholism to racism to not being able to stop once you pop). In court, Galliano claimed that he was an alcoholic and drug addict, and that these addictions caused him to make the racist rants (of which he supposedly has no memory). Galliano is being charged with making “public insults based on origin, religious affiliation, race or ethnicity” — a type of prohibition which was widely adopted throughout Europe in the aftermath of the Holocaust — and could face up tosix months in prison.

Although Galliano is, in practice, unlikely to see a jail cell even if he’s convicted, the fact that it’s a possibility at all is more-than-mildly perplexing to us Americans who are used to having free reign to make comments like that — usually either on a stand-up stage, while being arrested for something else, or on Fox News — without the threat of prosecution. So when can you go to jail for speech in America?
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What do you get when you mix a racy photo, alleged computer hacking, Twitter, and a Congressman named Weiner? (Besides Jon Stewart’s debut as an R&B producer.) That’s right, faithful readers, you get a smorgasbord of 21st century legal issues, and an example of why privacy is harder to keep than ever. You also get a great reason to think twice about what you save on your computer. And you get the joy of what is undoubtedly the best name for a scandal since “DickiLeaks.”

You’ve probably heard about Congressman Anthony Weiner, and the tough week he’s had. To recap, Weiner’s hard drive was “hacked” and a bulging photo (labeled “package.jpg”!) was sent to a college student from his Twitter account. Then the interwebs started chirping and the politician non-denial denials started (“I can’t say with certitude” [that it isn’t my bulging crotch making the Internet rounds]). Then the conservative bloggers found some absurd photos of Weiner showing off his pecs in front of framed photos of his family. And before you know it, we’ve got tearful televised confessions (“The picture was of me, I sent it”), and voila, a new word is seared into the American collective consciousness: Weinergate! It’s hard not to feel both bad for and perplexed by Weiner, even if he isn’t exactly the first New York Congressman to get caught sending racy pics this year. But I can also only feel so bad about any situation that results in one of my coworkers walking into a department meeting and announcing, “I can’t get enough Weiner!”

Of course, at this point, we all know that Weiner’s initial explanation for the sudden proliferation of his groinal region on the Internet — that his Twitter account was “hacked” — was as bogus as it sounded. But what if we lived in a magical world where a politician’s initial explanation for a totally inexplicable scandal was actually true? Let’s look at what anti-hacking laws say Weiner could have done. (Besides resigning, hiding out for a year, then taking a cushy job on cable news).

(Note: not covered here are potential claims for copyright infringement based on the unauthorized distribution of the photo itself, a favorite theory in the ever-popular celebrity-trying-to-block-a-sex-tape segment.)
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This isn’t a rhetorical or philosophical question, nor is it the proper response to a clue on Jeopardy! In fact, it may soon be decided in a court of law.

On March 18, 2011, Apple Inc. filed a complaint in federal court against Amazon.com over Amazon’s “unauthorized use of Apple’s APP STORE™ trademark.” Apple claims that Amazon has been unlawfully using the term “APP STORE” in connection with Amazon’s “Appstore Developer Portal” and “Angry Birds Rio” software. Of course, what this is really about is that Apple is annoyed by Amazon’s “Appstore for Android” — whose name bears a certain resemblance to Apple’s own iTunes App Store.

Phones with Google’s Android operating system are a major competitive concern for Apple. The obvious solution to this would be for Apple to take advantage of its marketing juggernaut and already superior market share to beat out Android in the marketplace. But there are no lawyers involved in that, rendering it totally un-American. So instead, Apple has followed in the proud footsteps of luminaries like Donald Trump (tried to trademark “you’re fired!”), Paris Hilton (tried to control the phrases “that’s huge” and “that’s hot”), and Subway (claimed to own the word “footlong”), by going to court to claim trademark rights in the phrase “APP STORE.”
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Monday brought two interesting developments in the never-ending saga of people trying to pry shares of Facebook from Mark Zuckerberg. First, the lawsuit that spawned the uber-successful film The Social Network — and a damn fine blog post about the same— seemingly came to an end. (I assume Zuck clicked “Like” next to the story.) And second, the lawsuit that will inevitably spawn The Social Network IIsuddenly got a lot more interesting. (And maybe now Facebook will take those long-standing calls for a “Dislike” button more seriously.)

“At Some Point, Litigation Must Come to an End. That Point Has Now Been Reached.”

First, something the wunderkinds at Facebook can party about. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the attempts of Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss (not-so-affectionately referred to as the “Winklevii” in the movie) to set aside a settlement agreement which purported to resolve their claims against Facebook. Apparently, the Winklevii will have to live with $165 million (based on current estimates). And although Judge Alex Kozinski’s opinion rejecting their appeal isn’t nearly as sexy and exciting as Aaron Sorkin’s depictions of the heated depositions during the case — all in favor of just having Sorkin write real life for the rest of us, say aye — there are some legal concepts worthy of note, as well as a few choice samples of judicial snark. [Ed. Note: Aye.]
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Q: I want to make an independent film about a video game character by mixing the original storyline and characters with my own ideas. I didn’t know if I needed to obtain permission or rights to make it even though its going to be non-profit. I just want to be able to put it on YouTube and stuff. Thanks!

A: Your gracious author is wondering if you somehow stumbled upon his Xbox Live Gamertag and discovered that when he’s not faithfully answering legal questions or playing the role of human punching bag for his two young children, he’s sneaking off to his man hovel (i.e., his living room after everyone’s gone to bed) to play Halo 3 online with his similarly maturity-stunted friends. This mild addiction to a videogame has lead to an introduction to the world of guerilla videogame cinema known as “Machinima.”
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You may not know it to look at me, but I have a very macabre sense of humor. I adore the books of Edward Gorey and, in particular, The Gashlycrumb Tinies, a spot-on and (for those who are into tragic juvenile demise) hilarious parody of children’s ABC books in which each of the rhyming couplets recounts various unusual ways in which children have met ghastly fates: “A is for Amy who fell down the stairs. B is for Basil assaulted by bears. C is for Clara who wasted away. D is for Desmond thrown out of a sleigh…” (Not that I’m ever bored at work, but I’ve had a photocopy of “N” posted on my computer for years: “M is for Maud who was swept out to sea. N is for Neville who died of ennui.”)

I’m also a huge fan of Shockheaded Peter, a nightmarish and (again, for those who love young children meeting ironic fates…should my own daughter be concerned by this?) hilarious spectacle/stage production based on a 19th Century German book of children’s cautionary tales by Heinrich Hoffman, in which rude and naughty children all meet gruesome, yet well-deserved ends. Take, for example, “Fidgety Phil,” the tale of a boy who refuses to sit still at the dinner table and is impaled by cutlery when he pulls off the tablecloth at dinnertime. Or “Snip Snip,” in which an incessantly thumb-sucking boy bleeds to death after an evil tailor cuts off his thumbs (his mother reacts simply by saying toldya so!). The last line of virtually every song concludes with the matter-of fact sentiment: “And he was DEAD.” “And she DIED.” The end. You can imagine what happens in “The Dreadful Story of Harriet and the Matches”…

Well, remember the Troubling Tale of the Two-Steppin’ Toddler? No, it isn’t in the Second Act of Shockheaded Peter, but it certainly qualifies as a Litigation Cautionary Tale in my book.

This Dreadful Story — or, as it is more commonly known in legal circles, the Lenz v .Universal case — began with a dancing baby. We’ve covered this ground before, but let’s review the highlights:
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