Hollywood Docket: David Letterman's Interns; Lifetime's Killer Movie; BBCA's 'Orphan Black'

Entertainment law news including a lawsuit against AMC for sharing video viewing habits with Facebook
Illustration by: Peter Arkle

Lawsuits from former entertainment industry interns are no longer a trend. They are an epidemic.

The latest is a proposed class action filed by Mallory Musallam on behalf of himself and others similarly situated against CBS Broadcasting and Worldwide Pants, producer of The Late Show with David Letterman.

Musallam alleges that he was employed as an intern in the last few months of 2008 and worked more than 40 hours five days a week. He's now asserting claims that his unpaid internship violated New York's minimum wage and overtime statutes. The complaint filed on September 4 comes from attorney Lloyd Ambinder at Virginia & Ambinder.

“This lawsuit is part of a nationwide trend of class action lawyers attacking internship opportunities provided by companies in the media and entertainment industry," says CBS in a statement. "We pride ourselves on providing valuable internship experiences, and we take seriously all of our obligations under relevant labor and employment laws. We intend to vigorously defend against the claims.”

Among the larger companies facing lawsuits on the internship front are NBCUniversal, Viacom, Marvel Entertainment, Madison Square Garden, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group. The lawsuit against Fox Entertainment over internships on the film, Black Swan, is currently being examined on appeal.

In other entertainment law news…

  • A woman is suing Lifetime and parent A&E over the original movie Happy Face Killer. Daun Slagle says the central character in the film, which is billed as the “true story” of serial killer Keith Hunter Jesperson, is based on her, with a defamatory revision — the character is a prostitute. In her suit filed Wednesday, Slagle outlines the parallels between herself and the character, including that she was the sole survivor of Jesperson’s and “was an attractive young woman.” Due to the similarites, she claims, she has incurred distress and her personal relationships have been damaged. Her complaint (read here), in which screenwriter Richard Matheson and production company Front Street Pictures are named as co-defendants, alleges false light invasion of privacy, emotional distress and misappropriation in addition to defamation. She claims unspecified monetary damages and wants to block all broadcasting and distribution of the film.
  • AMC has been hit with a class-action suit for releasing data on the users of its website to Facebook allegedly without the users’ consent. Ethel Austin-Spearman claims in her Aug. 22 suit (read here) that her personal information and video viewing habits (she watches The Walking Dead) and that of thousands of other users’ are transmitted to the social networking giant. “Nowhere on the website, however, does AMC seek the consent of its users—paying and non-paying alike—to share or otherwise disclose their personal identification information and video viewing records,” her suit reads. She is alleging a violation of the federal Video Privacy Protection Act. Her request of $2500 per violation puts possible damages in the millions.
  • BBC America has fired back against a recent copyright lawsuit, claiming Orphan Black is no clone. The network and production company Temple Street Productions were sued in April by Stephen Hendricks, whose $5-million complaint alleges the hit  drama was appropriated from a screenplay he submitted to Temple Street in 2004. The defendants have now announced their intent to file a summary judgment motion against Hendricks’ complaint, claiming in a court document filed Tuesday (read here) that Orphan Black creators Graeme Manson and John Fawcett had no knowledge of Hendricks’ script when they conceived the show. Both sides have agreed on Nov. 2, 2015 as the start date for a jury trial.
  • The state of Iowa has paid a $2-million settlement to end a lawsuit over its abolished tax credit film incentive program. The program was terminated when a state audit discovered $26 million in improperly issued credits. But Anthony Gudas’ lawsuit claimed that his company, Tax Credit Finance, had invested in four films due to state tax credit contracts. The state settled the claims regarding one film, 2001 Maniacs: Field of Screams, for $225,000 in October 2013. Tuesday's settlement ends the proceedings concerning the other three films, which under the state program would have been eligible to receive $9 million in transferable credits. 
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