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.


Continue Reading Employment Law 101, Hollywood Edition, Part II: No Clowning Around

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.


Continue Reading Why You Should Care That .Com Can Be .Anything

After being barred from going after opposing quarterbacks in 2012, Jonathan Vilma is now going after the biggest bounty of them all — NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell.  Last week, Vilma sued Goodell for defamation based on Goodell’s accusations that Vilma participated in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty program.

As any self-respecting sports fan (or anyone else who doesn’t live here) knows by now, the NFL recently discovered that Saints coaches and players created a system by which the players would receive monetary bonuses for knocking opposing players out of a game with injury.  (And you know a scandal is serious when it gets its own Wikipedia page.)  Goodell claims Vilma was at the center of that program, going so far as to promise $10,000 of his own money to anyone who knocked Brett Favre (and later Kurt Warner) out of a playoff game.  Vilma insists that he did not take part in the bounty program, that he never offered money to his teammates to take out Brett Favre or Kurt Warner and that Goodell had no reasonable basis on which to make those allegations.  Vilma seeks unspecified damages for the harm to his reputation caused by Goodell’s statements.

As my regular readers (somebody must read this stuff, right?) should know by now, I’m a football fan, so the idea of an NFL player suing the almighty Roger Goodell is fascinating stuff.  Since becoming commissioner in 2006, Goodell has become the judge, jury and executioner regarding player (and coach) misconduct.  Players who get in trouble must go meet with Goodell (presumably to kiss the brass ring, or maybe just something that rhymes with the “brass” part) and then await his punishment without any rules or guidelines on how that punishment will be administered.  But don’t worry:  if the player (or coach) believes the punishment is unjust, he can always appeal to — guess who? — Goodell.  Although Goodell has, on occasion, reduced a player’s punishment, it happens rarely and there is little explanation of why.  (Doesn’t really seem fair to me, but I’m just a Bills fan…and Bills players never do anything wrong…  Or, in recent years, right.)  It’s safe to assume that more than one NFL player out there (like Goodell’s BFF James Harrison) would offer a chunk out of his salary to have someone take Goodell down a peg or twelve.

So, the real question for us here at Law Law Land is:  does Vilma stand any chance of winning and forcing Goodell to change his ways?  Probably not.  Here’s why.


Continue Reading The NFL’s Biggest Bounty?

I think it’s pretty clear that the legal world does not always jibe with the real world (and especially not The Real World: Cancun).  Take capitalization for instance.  In the real world, it doesn’t mean much.  In fact, based on what I’ve seen on Twitter and in hip wedding invitations, I believe the “art” of capitalization has been completely lost by our society (and, of course, neither of our presidential candidates is brave enough to tackle the topic).  In the bizarro world of the law, however, capitalization is a detail that can prove to be of paramount importance.

This was a lesson recently learned the hard way by King of All Media Howard Stern – if you consider losing a $300 million bonus the “hard way.”


Continue Reading A Stern Warning: Words Do Matter

Let’s play a game.  It’s called Guess-Who-the-Trademark-Owner-Is.  (I wanted to call it “Guess Who,” but didn’t want to risk confusing you with products/services of Hasbro or The Guess Who.)  Wait!  Don’t stop reading yet!  This will be fun.¹ Sort of.²

Here is the game.  Imagine you walk into a supermarket to get some food for a party.  Once inside the supermarket, you are uncontrollably lured to the deli counter by the siren call of fried chicken.  You look down at the chicken deciding what type to purchase for the party.  You settle on the “Chipotle Spicy Fried Chicken,” because you want to impress your friends by showing them that you can handle spicy food.  (Sadly, deep down, you know that chipotle isn’t really that spicy and that your friends know this too.  Who are you kidding anyway?)

Now, guess what company cooked up the delicious looking Chipotle Spicy Fried Chicken that you selected (right side of the picture below)?

one

After you guess, continue reading to find out whether you win a prize or not.

 
Continue Reading “Spicy” Trademark Lawsuit of the Month

Q:  I was wondering if you could help me with a problem I am having with the rights to a short story.  I have been in touch with the relevant owners of the copyright and they have been told by the author’s estate they are not allowed to do anything with the rights to the story.  However, what I am wanting to do with the story is not a direct adaptation — but more of an “inspired by.”  What I am wanting to do is a 60 minute TV one off.  The only thing I am desperate to hang on to is the short story’s “twist” and elements of the central dilemma. Where would I stand with moving ahead with different character names, different structure, but retaining the twist and profession of the central character from the short only – crediting only “inspired by”?

A:  Copyright law doesn’t protect ideas – it protects the expression of ideas.  This is a simple concept in theory, but applying it to a particular situation could be challenging.  For several excellent, definitive, and thought provoking discussions of this topic, please see our blog


Continue Reading Q&A: Can I Create a Film That’s “Inspired By” a Short Story Without Acquiring the Rights?

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?


Continue Reading No Dogs on the Table, Please

Q:  I am a young filmmaker in Australia.  I have been chasing the film rights to a book written by an American author.  I have gone through the various publishers and have finally been given the name of the agent who represents the author in the States.  I am interested in knowing if the film rights to the authors book are available, and if they are, I want to know the correct pathway to go down to purchase them.

A:  To find out if the film rights are available, all you need to do is ask the agent (but you also need to do a lot of other things described at the end of this blog).  Assuming the rights are available and owned by the author, the next step is to negotiate the deal with the agent on behalf of the author to option the film rights.  (If the agent is a tough negotiator, you can try to cut him out of the equation and deal directly with the author; that’s a risky strategy that can backfire.  But don’t worry, there are other books available.)  And if you make the deal, the final step is to document the deal in an option agreement.  You could actually purchase the rights, as you suggest in your question, but it’s unusual to do so — the typical way to go about this is to option the rights.

 
Continue Reading Q&A: How Do I Track Down and Acquire Film Rights to a Book I Want to Adapt Into a Movie?

On a Saturday night in September, I took my wife to the first ever “Call of Duty” convention, hosted by Activision Blizzard inside a hangar on the old airfield where Howard Hughes built the Spruce Goose. Did I tell her ahead of time that I was taking her to a nerd convention where the only food available would be burgers and fries from a recreated fictional in-firstgame restaurant called “Burger Town?” No way! I told her I was taking her to a Kanye West concert! Which was kind of true.Kanye was the “big performance” at the end of the geekfest (which explains why increasingly better looking people started showing up as time went by). Unfortunately, even Kanye’s harem of near-naked dancers could not distract from the utter awfulness of Kanye’s performance. Worst. Concert. Ever. (And yes, he did have an I-am-a-Greek-god theme going on in the background.)


Continue Reading Do Those Copyright Lawsuits Which Do Not Kill Kanye West Only Make Him “Stronger?”

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?


Continue Reading It’s a Merry .XXXmas for the Most Unlikely Players in the Internet’s Newly Minted Red Light District