Legislation

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?


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If you’ve ever had the opportunity to travel through the great southern states of America, you will learn two things.  First, southern hospitality is real — no, the nice man asking “how is your day, miss?” is not going to ask for money or steal your purse.  And second, people really do make moonshine in their backyards.  If you had any doubt about that, then you haven’t seen Discovery Channel’s Moonshiners, a can’t-make-this-stuff-up series in its second season that “tells the story of those who brew their shine — often in the woods near their homes using camouflaged equipment — and the local authorities who try to keep them honest.”  There’s a ton more to learn about the South, but as I learned as a first-year law student in Nashville, Tennessee, nothing is as romantic as the tradition of moonshining (except, perhaps, the barbecue — maybe another post).

While an old classmate and I were reconnecting recently — reminiscing about the potency of the good ol’ Tennessee and whisky and wondering exactly what “keeping a moonshiner honest” actually entails — it hit us:  why not sell legal moonshine from Tennessee over the internet?  Just imagine the market boom, as trendy Angelino hipster homebrewers would throw mixology parties showcasing the wonder brew.  But how easy would it be to legally sell moonshine to Yankees and Angelinos?  Well, as I soon discovered, aside from the fact that making unauthorized moonshine in your backyard is highly illegal and dangerous (and in no way endorsed by the author), there is a serious patchwork of state and federal laws that any moonshiner who wants to go straight must contend with.


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My daughter has always been squeamish about eyeballs.

Ask her to name the scariest movie of all time?  Who Framed Roger Rabbit, of course.  She saw it once (and only once) at the age of four, and the scene near the end, in which the flattened Judge Doom re-inflates himself and reveals the malevolent Toon lurking beneath his popped-out prosthetic eyeballs, scarred her for life.  And so, our family will always fast-forward past the melting of Nazi agent Toht in Raiders of the Lost Ark, decline to mourn the loss of Mad-Eye Moody inHarry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, Part I, and just steer clear of the absolute abomination that is Large Marge in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.

I mention all this so that you will understand the sense of abject horror and dread I experienced when, several weeks ago, I drove to work down Motor Avenue and found myself face to face with a giant, eerie nun, her face as white as alabaster, crying (or bleeding?) black liquid from alien-like eyes.  It was a (thoroughly disturbing) billboard for American Horror Story: Asylum looming over the entrance to Fox Studios.  Adjacent to our beloved dog park.  Big as the Times Square Jumbotron.  I knew my daughter would freak out, and freak she did.

She insisted that I call the studio and demand that the billboard be removed immediately, which gave us the perfect opportunity to discuss that little thing called the First Amendment.  Once I got going, she quickly went from billboard-ed to bored, and ultimately resolved to cover her eyes with a sweatshirt if I would simply shut up.  But the issue stuck with me.  As an attorney, I’m comfortable with the fact that First Amendment expression should not be unduly chilled by a ten-year-old with a (perhaps unreasonable) eye phobia.  But the mom in me took umbrage at this offensive (or at least unsettling) billboard content.  Should Fox have the right to upset my kid on a daily basis in its attempt to bring more “eyeballs” to its advertisers?


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Sure, most of America might be abuzz about how poor NFL refereeing definitelymay or may not have swung the outcome of this week’s showdown between the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks on Monday Night Football.  But this week, the NFL doesn’t have a monopoly on sports-and-games fairness scandals (even if its scandals might have the most effect on Vegas betting linesand home fantasy football leagues everywhere).  That’s because of a new case that will surely rock the (narrow, quirky, cloistered) world of game show and trivia nerds everywhere.

So here’s a trivia question for you:  what happens when producers of a game show tell two contestants there will be no trick questions on the show, and then throw something that might be considered a “trick question,” causing those contestants to blow $580,000 in potential winnings?  Do the contestants:

(A)  Quietly retreat to their homes and try never to look at the chain of excoriating comments on the YouTube video of their defeat.

(B)  Launch an inspiring grassroots campaign on the Internet to get a second run on the show.

(C)  Reevaluate their personal choices and embrace new lives of monastic asceticism, untempted by the siren’s call of game show winnings.

(D)  Sue.

If you guessed D, congratulations!  You win…the rest of this article.  So can two contestants who lost it all on TV win it back in the courtroom?

Before we answer that question, you must understand:  I’m a particularly qualified expert to opine on this subject.  Sure, the law degree is nice, but lots of people have those.  I, on the other hand, have particular insight on the question of what happens when you, oh, I don’t know, lose a half-million dollars in winnings (give or take) in the span of about 4 minutes in front of a national network primetime audience.  So I think these plaintiffs can take it from me when I say, Run from this lawsuit.  Run like the wind.


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The right of publicity — the legal doctrine that protects the right of celebrities to control and profit from their names, likenesses, and other aspects of their identities — is a familiar topic here at Law Law Land.  But it can be a more complicated subject than we sometimes give it credit for.  Unlike copyright and trademark law, which are (mostly) defined by federal statutes that provide for consistent nationwide rules, the right of publicity is exclusively a creature of state law.  And, thanks to the patchwork of inconsistent and often confusing state laws that have evolved over the years (with heavy influence and lobbying from the heirs of particularly valuable/merchandisable celebrities, like Elvis Presley and Albert Einstein), its application to the dearly departed can get pretty quirky.  For example:

Are you a celebrity who died as a California resident?  Great — your heirs can exclusively exploit your name and likeness for another 70 years!  Oh, were you actually a New York resident when you died?  Just kidding, then, your heirs are totally out of luck, and unauthorized t-shirts with your face will be hitting stores shortly.  That is, unless, your heirs sue in Washington or Indiana, which purport to apply their right of publicity laws to any individual, regardless of whether the celebrity’s state of domicile recognizes the right.  Unless, of course, the federal courts decide that those laws are unconstitutional (a conclusion reached by a Washington district court in a 2011 case involving Jimi Hendrix; the Ninth Circuit will be making its own ruling soon).  And even among those states that expressly recognize a post-mortem right of publicity, there is broad disagreement about the length of protection afforded, the retroactivity of the statutes, and a whole host of other issues.  Got it?  Don’t worry, nobody else does either.

Just ask the lawyers for the estate of Marilyn Monroe, whose recent unsuccessful right of publicity lawsuit could be “Exhibit A” in renewed effort to enact a federal right of publicity law.


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For the most part, employment law may appear to lack the glitz and glamour of the entertainment legal issues we usually cover here at Law Law Land.  But what the field might miss in star-studded premieres and ritzy award shows, it more than makes up for in amazingly entertaining fact patterns involving fascinating forms of employee misbehavior.  And sometimes, just sometimes, the wacky world of California employment law intersects with the wacky world we call Hollywood.  Today’s case-in-point involves an entertainment company, a complaining employee with a colorful nickname for his boss, a termination, and — of course — a lawsuit.

Rewind for a moment to 2008 — a year in which America said goodbye to Heath Ledger, hello to Barack Obama, and, depending on one’s political persuasion “You betcha” or “Dear God why?” to Sarah Palin.  And that year, our plaintiff, Andrew McDonald, was a creative director at a visual post-production studio called RIOT.  Defendant Ascent Media Group subsequently merged RIOT with Method Studios, after which Method Studios’ creative director Alex Frisch was named director of creative visual effects and became McDonald’s boss.  Then things got interesting.


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Time to panic?  The Internet is about to change dramatically.

Ever since Al Gore invented the Internet (or so I’ve heard), users have relied on a limited number of top-level domains, or “TLDs.”  A top-level domain is the end portion of a web address — e.g., .com, .net, .org, .biz, .gov, or, everybody’s newest, favorite, and most scandalous TLD, .xxx.  Last year, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (“ICANN”) — a non-profit corporation/venue for nerds to rule the world that manages most TLDs, IP addresses, and basically anything that involves the interwebs — approved the creation of new TLDs called generic top-level domains, or “gTLDs”.  In announcing that move, ICANN cited the need to increase competition and choice in the world wide web (because we know that there certainly isn’t enough competition and choice in the entire Internet).  Any legal entity may apply to create and manage a gTLD.  And that’s why, as people are finally starting to realize, things might start getting a little crazy(er) on the Internet.


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If you’re like me, every once in a while, you see an adorable-looking dog and just say to yourself, “Oh dogs, gotta love ‘em.”  And, if you’re like me and live in Los Angeles, you occasionally follow that by saying to yourself, “What the…?!  Can that adorable-looking dog really be standing in the middle of this [department store/market/restaurant]?”  Singer/reality star/(alleged) plastic surgery cautionary tale Aubrey O’Day recently brought that question to the front of many people’s minds, with her decision to allow her dogs to sit on the tables at local brunch spot Toast reportedly triggering a city Health Department investigation.

Don’t get me wrong, I am an avid animal lover.  I even wanted to be a vet in high school, when I was trying to “find” myself.  But anytime I see a starlet with a pink-clad Chihuahua (or three) sticking out of her purse, I can’t help but ask how pets have managed to become people’s latest accessory, going almost everywhere with their owners (if the word “owner” makes you cringe, I apologize in advance, but that’s a legal term and not intended to hurt the feelings of any animals reading this blog).   And aside from people’s disapproving glares, are there any limits to where your favorite celebrities (and you) can bring their pets?


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It appears I’ve found a blogging niche:  the seedy, salacious, saucy legal topics everyone is too scared (or maybe smart) to write about.  (And this topic doubles as a nice relief from the usual “holiday shopper gets mauled in battle over the last available Let’s Rock Elmo“ headlines.)  Colleges, universities and businesses spent this holiday season shopping for a special kind of XXXmas gift — the gift of a good name.

On December 6, 2011, the new domain extension .xxx was gobbled up by the most unusual suspects, with more than 55,000 new names registered within the first 24 hours.  The .xxx top level domain (TLD) was designed — prepare to be shocked here — exclusively for adult entertainment content.  But ICM Registry, which is operating the new TLD, also opened up registrations to other organizations looking to protect their trademarks from scandalous misuse — or from those nefarious “cybersquatters” who might be looking for a buck NOT to put the domains to no good (like the brilliant entrepreneur who, in the wonder years of the Internet, operated WhiteHouse.com as a porn site (the real website is WhiteHouse.gov).

In other words, the Internet’s new red light district is open for business to those who were naughty OR nice this Christmas.  But are the nice kids who come to the new .xxx marketplace late going to be at the mercy of the fast movers on the naughty list?


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The first time I saw Dakota Fanning’s now-infamous ad for Marc Jacobs’ new Oh Lola! fragrance was on the back of a Cosmopolitan resting in the hands of my 19-year old baby sister. My immediate reaction was “OMG…is that Dakota Fanning?! No way she’s grown up that fast!” Then my gaze shifted to the circus-caliber trait that Dakota and I happen to have in common (no, it’s not our shocking good looks) — double-jointed elbows. (God, I love it when celebrities are weird like me.)
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