Articles Posted in Entertainment & Sports Law

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In this copyright infringement suit, plaintiffs challenged the district court's determination that defendants’ verbatim use of a portion of Abbott and Costello’s iconic comedy routine, "Who’s on First?," in the recent Broadway play "Hand to God," qualified as a non‐infringing fair use. The court concluded that defendants’ entitlement to a fair use defense was not so clearly established on the face of the amended complaint and its incorporated exhibits as to support dismissal. In this case, defendants' verbatim use of the routine was not transformative, defendants failed persuasively to justify their use of the routine, defendants' use of some dozen of the routine’s variations of “who’s on first” was excessive in relation to any dramatic purpose, and plaintiffs alleged an active secondary market for the work, which was not considered by the district court. The court concluded, however, that the dismissal is warranted because plaintiffs failed to plausibly plead ownership of a valid copyright. The court found plaintiffs' efforts to do so on theories of assignment, work‐for‐hire, and merger all fail as a matter of law. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "TCA Television Corp. v. McCollum" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a composer and music producer, filed a copyright suit against Sony, Razor Sharp Records, and Dennis Coles, a/k/a Ghostface Killah, to enforce plaintiff's claimed ownership rights in the "Iron Man" theme song. The district court determined that plaintiff failed to present sufficient evidence to rebut the presumption that Marvel was, in fact, the copyright owner. Therefore, the district court dismissed plaintiff's New York common law claims for copyright infringement, unfair competition, and misappropriation on the basis that those claims were preempted by the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. 101 et seq. The court held that, although the district court properly determined that defendants had standing to raise a “work for hire” defense to plaintiff’s copyright infringement claim, the district court erred in concluding that plaintiff failed to raise issues of material fact with respect to his ownership of the copyright; the district court properly dismissed plaintiff’s state law claims as preempted by the Copyright Act; the court vacated the district court’s summary judgment ruling with respect to plaintiff’s Copyright Act claim and remanded for further proceedings; and the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's state law claims. View "Urbont v. Sony Music Entm't" on Justia Law

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The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (DMCA), 17 U.S.C. 512(c), establishes a safe harbor which gives qualifying Internet service providers protection from liability for copyright infringement when their users upload infringing material on the service provider’s site and the service provider is unaware of the infringement. Plaintiffs filed suit against Vimeo alleging that Vimeo is liable for copyright infringement by reason of 199 videos posted on the Vimeo website, which contained allegedly infringing musical recordings for which plaintiffs owned the rights. In this interlocutory appeal on certified questions from rulings of the district court interpreting the DMCA, the court concluded that the safe harbor of section 512(c) does apply to pre-1972 sound recordings, and therefore protects service providers against liability for copyright infringement under state law with respect to pre-1972 sound recordings, as well as under the federal copyright law for post-1972 recordings. Therefore, the district court’s grant of partial summary judgment to plaintiffs with respect to Vimeo’s entitlement to the safe harbor for infringements of pre-1972 recordings is vacated. The court also concluded that various factual issues that arise in connection with a service provider’s claim of the safe harbor are subject to shifting burdens of proof. Because, on a defendant’s claim of the safe harbor, the burden of showing facts supporting a finding of red flag knowledge shifts to the plaintiff, and the district court appears to have denied Vimeo’s motion for summary judgment as to a number of videos on this issue based on a test that would improperly deny service providers access to the safe harbor, the court vacated the denial of Vimeo’s motion for summary judgment on that issue. The court remanded for reconsideration and further proceedings. Finally, the court rejected plaintiff's argument that the district court erred in its ruling in Vimeo’s favor as to plaintiffs’ reliance on the doctrine of willful blindness. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Capitol Records, LLC v. Vimeo, LLC" on Justia Law

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The NFL suspended New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for four games because of his involvement in a scheme to deflate footballs during the 2015 AFC Championship Game. After Brady requested arbitration, League Commissioner Roger Goodell, who served as arbitrator, entered an award confirming the discipline. The district court vacated the award based on the reasoning that Brady lacked notice that his conduct was prohibited and punishable by suspension, and that the manner in which the proceedings were conducted deprived him of fundamental fairness. The court concluded that the Commissioner properly exercised his broad discretion to resolve an intramural controversy between the League and a player. In their collective bargaining agreement, the players and the League mutually decided many years ago that the Commissioner should investigate possible rule violations, should impose appropriate sanctions, and may preside at arbitration challenging his discipline. In this case, the court concluded that Brady received adequate notice that deflation of footballs could lead to suspension, the Commissioner's decision to exclude testimony from NFL General Counsel fits within his broad discretion to admit or exclude evidence and raises no questions of fundamental fairness, and there is no fundamental unfairness in the Commissioner's denial of notes and memoranda generated by the investigative team where the collective bargaining agreement does not require the exchange of such notes. The court concluded that the Association's remaining claims are without merit. Accordingly, the court reversed the judgment of the district court and remanded. View "NFL Mgmt. Council v. NFL Players Ass'n" on Justia Law

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The district court issued an injunction prohibiting FilmOn from distributing copyrighted content owned by plaintiffs. On appeal, FilmOn and its CEO, Alkiviades David, appealed the district court's judgment holding FilmOn and David in contempt of the injunction because FilmOn had used its Teleporter technology (“Teleporter System”) to distribute plaintiffs’ copyrighted television programs without plaintiffs’ permission. The court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion when it held FilmOn in civil contempt where FilmOne did not make a diligently reasonable attempt to comply with the Injunction under which it was already required to operate; held David in civil contempt because David both had the power to force FilmOn to comply and failed to take appropriate action within his power to prevent FilmOn from violating the injunction; sanctioned FilmOn $90,000 because the fine was civil in nature where the purpose of the sanction was to coerce FilmOn into future compliance; and awarded plaintiffs attorneys' fees. View "CBS Broadcasting v. FilmOn.com Inc." on Justia Law

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Tyrone Simmons, a writer and performer of hip hop music, filed suit against hip hop producer William C. Stanberry, Jr., rapper 50 Cent, and various corporate entities involved in the production and distribution of the 2007 song, "I Get Money." Simmons alleged that in February 2006 he purchased from Stanberry an exclusive license to a beat and that Simmons therefore owns the right to bar all others from using the beat. Simmons further alleged that 50 Cent's recording of his song employing that beat was publicly released in 2007, violating Simmons' copyright. The court concluded that Simmons' complaint is barred by the statute of limitations because Simmons, although aware of defendants' acts of infringement, waited more than three years to sue. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of the complaint. View "Simmons v. Stanberry" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, the author of "Point Break Live!", filed suit against defendants, asserting claims for copyright infringement, breach of contract, and tortious interference with contract. At issue on appeal was whether an unauthorized work that makes “fair use” of its source material may itself be protected by copyright. The court held, for substantially the reasons stated by the district court that, if the creator of an unauthorized work stays within the bounds of fair use and adds sufficient originality, she may claim protection under the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. 103, for her original contributions. The court also rejected defendant’s challenges to the district court’s jury charge. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Keeling v. Hars" on Justia Law

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This appeal involves a dispute over the copyright in the musical composition “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town." Plaintiffs filed suit seeking a declaration that either a notice of termination served on EMI in 2007 or another such notice served in 2012 will, upon becoming effective, terminate EMI’s rights in the Song. The district court granted summary judgment to EMI, holding that its rights in the Song will subsist through the entire remaining copyright term - which, under current law, is scheduled to expire in 2029 - pursuant to a 1951 agreement that plaintiffs are powerless to terminate. The court concluded, however, that EMI owns its rights in the Song not under the 1951 Agreement but instead under a subsequent contract executed in 1981; and that the 2007 Termination Notice will terminate the 1981 Agreement in 2016.  Accordingly, the court concluded that plaintiffs are entitled to a declaratory judgment in their favor. The court reversed and remanded. View "Baldwin v. EMI Feist Catalog, Inc." on Justia Law

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Defendant, a film director, producer, and editor, appealed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of plaintiff, a film production company, on its copyright and state-law claims related to the film entitled "Heads Up." At issue was whether a contributor to a creative work whose contributions are inseparable from, and integrated into, the work maintain a copyright interest in his or her contributions alone. Determining that the court had jurisdiction over the merits of the appeal, the court concluded that, on the facts of the present case, the Copyright Actʹs, 17 U.S.C. 102, terms, structure, and history support the conclusion that defendantʹs contributions to the film do not themselves constitute a ʺwork of authorshipʺ amenable to copyright protection. The court concluded that a directorʹs contribution to an integrated ʺwork of authorshipʺ such as a film is not itself a ʺwork of authorshipʺ subject to its own copyright protection. Therefore, defendant did not obtain and does not possess a copyright in his directorial contributions to the finished film. The court agreed with the district court that in this case, plaintiff was the dominant author of the film and concluded that plaintiff owns the copyright in the finished film and its prior versions, including the disputed ʺraw film footage.ʺ Finally, the court disagreed with the district court's conclusion that defendant's interference with plaintiff's planned screening and post-screening reception constituted tortious interference under New York law. Rather, the court concluded that the undisputed material facts require judgment as a matter of law in defendantʹs favor. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded with instructions and for the district court to reexamine its award of costs and attorneyʹs fees, and for such other proceedings as are warranted. View "16 Casa Duse, LLC v. Merkin" on Justia Law

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These appeals stemmed from an opinion and order filed in March 2014 which: (1) granted summary judgment to Pandora on the issue of whether the consent decree governing the licensing activities of ASCAP unambiguously precludes partial withdrawals of public performance licensing rights and (2) set the rate for the Pandora-ASCAP license for the period of January 1, 2011 through December 31, 2015 at 1.85% of revenue. In this case, the partially withdrawn works at issue remain in the ASCAP repertory under the plain language of the consent decree. The court concluded that, since section VI of the decree provides for blanket licenses covering all works contained in the ASCAP repertory, it necessarily follows that the partial withdrawals do not affect the scope of Pandora's license. In regards to rate-setting, the court concluded that the district court did not commit clear error in its evaluation of the evidence or in its ultimate determination that a 1.85% rate was reasonable for the duration of the Pandora-ASCAP license. Further, the district court's legal determinations underlying the ultimate conclusion - including its rejection of various alternative benchmarks proffered by ASCAP - were sound. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's orders. View "Pandora Media v. American Society of Composers, Authors & Publishers" on Justia Law