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?
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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:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2XY3AvVgDns

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

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PDT0m514TMw

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.
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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?)
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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.
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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.)
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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.
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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.
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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?
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Spoiler alert: not all movies succeed.

In any given year, the bombs will outnumber the blockbusters, much to the dismay of the companies fronting the cash (and that doesn’t even count all the movies that “lose money” on paper). American treasury bonds may no longer be AAA gold-plated, but you better believe they’re a safer bet than financing a movie — just ask every pro athlete who went bankrupt investing their multi-million dollar advance into a pet motion picture project. But not everybody who watches their investment wither and die at the hands of unforgiving reviewers and uninterested audiences is willing to just walk away. For these investors, there is recoupment by litigation (and entertainment lawyers everywhere rejoiced!).

Consider the financiers of the movie Free Style, who filed a lawsuit last week in hopes of salvaging their investment in the box office bomb. Unsurprisingly, the suit names the producers as defendants, alleging that they made misrepresentations about the marketing budget and the scope of the movie’s release. More interestingly, though, the financiers are going directly after star Corbin Bleu (of High School Musical fame, for those of you without tweenage daughters), alleging that he failed to honor an agreement to provide interviews to promote the film. As a result, say the money men, after they loaned $8.57 million, the movie only earned $1.3 million from all sources including foreign distribution and DVD sales. (If you’re thinking that’s not so bad, chew on this: the movie earned only $463 on opening weekend in the United States. Yes, 463 dollars, no zeros added. The investors might have been better off selling their collectible Barbies on eBay that weekend.)

Since you’ve likely never heard of the movie (case in point?), here’s a synopsis: “High School Musical’s Corbin Bleu trades in his dancing shoes for a helmet in this family film. InFree Style, young Cale (Bleu) gives his all in his effort to be on the Grand National Motocross racing team, while his mother (Penelope Ann Miller), sister (The Game Plan’s Madison Pettis), and girlfriend (Sandra Echeverria) cheer him on.”

I’ll give you a moment while you toggle over to Netflix to add the DVD to your queue. You’re welcome.

So, having taken the unusual step of suing the star of their film, what hurdles do the investors face in proving their case against Bleu?
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For the past six months or so, my life has been all about poop. You see, my daughter and her friends have entered into a charming phase in which no opportunity to make a poo, pee or fart joke goes unmissed. (This morning’s latest gem, about a Kenmore commercial touting large capacity refrigerators: “Mom, did you hear? They said: ‘We put more in so you get more out’ — hah… they put more food in so you can ‘get more out,’ in poop, get it?” Sigh.)

At first we tried to put a lid on this toilet humor; but now we just, um, go with the flow. (Gah, it’s contagious!) My husband has frankly adopted the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” approach, serenading my daughter and me with an obscure Bobby Bare country song that used to play on a.m. radio when he was growing up in Montana. I think even you city folk will get a chuckle out of the lyrics to “Bathroom Tissue Paper Letter.” Case in point:

When I got home this evening about a half past ten
And found she wasn’t waiting so I let myself on in
I headed for the icebox to get myself a beer
And found that little note that said my baby wasn’t there.

There was a bathroom tissue paper letter hanging on the wall
She said I just can’t take no more and you can have it all
I’m taking what good sense I’ve got and leaving you behind
And you can take this letter and wipe me from your mind.

C’mon, funny, right? I know — some of you may be feeling a bit sorry for my family and me, mired in, well, excremental humor as we seem to find ourselves lately. But we don’t need your pity. As it turns out, recent trademark news has given me cause to hold my head up high; my daughter, poopy puns and all, can now follow in the footsteps of none other than the esteemed judges of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

In a suit brought in 2009, toilet paper titan Georgia-Pacific claimed that the trademarks it registered in the quilted diamond pattern used on rolls of “Quilted Northern” had been trashed by competitor Kimberly-Clark, who in 2008 redesigned its premier brand of TP — Cottonelle — using a similar quilted design. Last week, the Seventh Circuit flushed Georgia-Pacific’s trademark claims down the, well, you know. The Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s finding on summary judgment that Georgia-Pacific’s quilted diamond design was functional and therefore not entitled to trademark protection. And it did so in a hilarious opinion by Judge Terence Evans riddled with, you guessed it, potty puns.
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