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.


Continue Reading

nancy morgan

Picture a sexy young bride, reclining sensuously on the nuptial bed.  Smiling seductively, she lifts her wedding dress — a stretch white mini — to give her new husband a glimpse of the lingerie covering her private parts.

The happy couple.  Fully clothed.Come to think of it, you don’t have to imagine this scenario.  You can see the photograph of pop artist/bride Noelia Monge and her manager/husband Jorge Reynoso in Issue 633 of TVNotas magazine.  (A decidedly less scandalous photo of the happy couple is here on the right.  Sorry, folks, this is a family-friendly blog.)

Didn’t know they were married, did you?  Neither did anyone else — until their hitherto personal wedding photos appeared in the aforementioned gossip magazine, unbeknownst to the couple.

In a case that even federal judges had to admitread like a telenovela, Monge and Reynoso sued publisher Maya Magazines in Los Angeles federal court, alleging copyright infringement and misappropriation of likeness.  The trial court dismissed the claims and held that the publisher had the right to publish the photographs under the fair use doctrine, which provides refuge from infringement claims when the use of copyrighted material is for purposes such as news reporting.

But last month, the Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that TVNotas’ publication of the happy couple’s extra-happy-looking photos was not protected by the fair use doctrine, setting up Monge and Reynoso to claim some damages.  But in a world where celebrities are constantly battling to limit their exposure in the tabloid press, how did Monge and Reynoso win this fight?  And what does it mean for the constant struggle between celebrities and publishers?


Continue Reading

Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream has always been a company with a sense of humor.  As Ben & Jerry’s spokesman Sean Greenwood says, “We just do fun.”  With flavors like “Chubby Hubby,” “Cherry Garcia,” “Phish Food,” and “Imagine Whirled Peace,” who could disagree?  At times, the company has even been accused of having a little too much fun.  Some of its racier-named flavors include “Karamel Sutra,” and, of course, the controversial “Schweddy Balls.”  The latter flavor was inspired by an Alec Baldwin SNL skit and opposed by groups like One Million Moms, which said, “[t]he vulgar new flavor has turned something as innocent as ice cream into something repulsive.”

schweddy_ballsPerhaps attracted to the scent of something innocent and pure being defiled, a North Hollywood pornographer called “Caballero Video,” recently released some stomach-churning titles under the moniker, “Ben & Cherry’s.”  The pornographer’s lascivious exploits include:  Harry Garcia (Cherry Garcia); Boston Cream Thigh (Boston Cream Pie); Chocolate Fudge Babes (Chocolate Fudge Brownie); New York Super Fat & Chunky (New York Super Fudge Chunk); and Peanut Butter D-Cups (Peanut Butter Cup).  The complete list of saucy titles (including those too racy for even this blog to reprint) is available in this court order.  And of course, pictures of the films’ bawdy packaging that couples the traditional pastoral Ben & Jerry’s theme with NSFW pictures are available for those who “have learned to work the Google on the Internet machine.” (Note:  That link points to the IMDB page for Blades of Glory, not pornography.  What kind of blog do you think this is?)

Now, Ben & Jerry’s has filed suit in New York federal court against Caballero Video, alleging federal trademark dilution, federal trade dress dilution, federal trademark infringement, federal trade dress infringement, federal unfair competition, common law unfair competition, dilution and injury to business reputation, and deceptive trade practices.  The Court has already issued a temporary restraining order, ordering Caballero Video to stop offering the 10 allegedly infringing titles, remove all online mention of the X-rated films, and stop using the trademarked Ben & Jerry’s packaging — at least until a final decision is rendered in the case.

But did the Court err in issuing the temporary restraining order?

 
Continue Reading

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.


Continue Reading

 Q: A producer has offered to option my script.  I’m just starting out so the numbers are pretty low (it’s a 12 month option for $1,000 with a purchase price of the WGA scale).  I’m cool with that but have one problem with it:  what happens if she turns around and sells the option to a studio for a lot of money?  I think that’s what she plans to do.

A:  Pat yourself on the back, my friend.  You just spotted an issue that is often overlooked in standard option agreements.  To answer this, let’s talk a little background.


Continue Reading

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

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

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

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

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