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Hollywood Docket: Kanye West Is 'Stronger' in Appeals Court Win

A roundup of entertainment law news including Wilt Chamberlain's family attempting to stop a movie, a lawsuit over an A&E show, and Viacom's "subjective" bonus awards to top executives.

Kanye West Friedrich Nietzsche - P 2011
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Kanye West has convinced the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals to buy his Friedrich Nietzsche defense and affirm the dismissal of a copyright lawsuit that alleged he stole his 2007 hit song "Stronger" from another songwriter.

Vincent Peters sued the hip hop artist, claiming he sent a copy of his own "Stronger" to John Monopoly, a business manager and close friend of West. In a decision on Monday, the appeals court finds that while Peter may have alleged that West had an opportunity to copy his song, the plaintiff hasn't supported his contention that the songs shared enough similarity.

To counter Peters' accusations, West turned to Nietzsche, saying that maxims derived from the 19th century German philosopher couldn't be used to support an allegation for copyright theft.

West not only gets help from Nietzsche, but in the 7th Circuit ruling, he also gets an assist from Kelly Clarkson.

"Although the fact that both songs quote from a 19th century German philosopher might, at first blush, seem to be an unusual coincidence, West correctly notes that the aphorism has been repeatedly invoked in song lyrics over the past century," says the opinion by Judge Diane Wood. Then, citing this link about Clarkson's song "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)", the judge adds, "Notably, an even more recent popular song—one that held the top spot in the Billboard Hot 100 chart at about the same time as oral argument in this case—also shares this key feature with both West’s and Vince P’s songs."

Judge Wood was similarly unimpressed with alleged similarities in the use of Kate Moss in the lyrics -- "analogizing to models as a shorthand for beauty is, for better or for worse, commonplace in our society" -- and the use of a particular rhyme pattern -- "Vince P cannot claim copyright over a tercet."

In other entertainment law news:

  • The family of Wilt Chamberlain, one of the greatest basketball players ever, is looking to stop a movie about the integration of Lawrence, Kansas, where Chamberlain once played for Kansas University. Filmmaker Kevin Willmott reportedly entered into a contract with Chamberlain's family in 2003 to do a film on Chamberlain's Kansas years, but the option expired. Now, Chamberlain's family says that publicity rights protect Chamberlain's image from being used in the film while the filmmaker is saying that Chamberlain is only one of the characters in this historical film. “Our entertainment lawyer told us we didn’t need the rights,” says Willmott. “It’s an ensemble film. Wilt’s not the main character, so it’s no longer necessary to buy the rights.”
  • Roy Colbert, a Los Angeles gang mediator, is fighting with A&E Television Networks and Ice-T, alleging in a new lawsuit that they breached an implied contract to compensate him for the idea of a show about making peace among rival gangs. A&E's The Peacemaker is said to be derived from the idea -- then called "Banging Peace" -- that he pitched Ice-T's manager Chris Smith. The lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court.
  • A Viacom stockholder is suing the company and its top executives for awarding more than $36 million in "subjective and discretionary" bonuses to Sumner Redstone, Philippe Dauman, Thomas Dooley and others from 2008 to 2011. According to a lawsuit filed in Delaware federal court, Viacom has breached provisions of the tax code and Treasury Department regulations whereby companies can allegedly only take tax deductions on more than $1 million in compensation payments to employees when such awards are "based on pre-established, objective performance goals which have been pre-approved by the stockholders." The plaintiff is seeking damages of more than $36 million as well as an injunction on the company's latest incentive program. Viacom says in a statement that the complaint "is filled with inaccuracies, and completely fails to make a valid claim for a variety of substantive and procedural reasons."
  • Stan Lee Media Inc. is back with a new appeal before the 9th Circuit over a district court's dismissal of a lawsuit that challenged the sale of the Conan the Barbarian character. SLMI contends that during the company's bankruptcy about a decade ago, insiders concealed conflicts of interest to take assets out of the bankruptcy estate while shareholders received nothing. SLMI has pursued such claims in various cases over the years without much luck. In the latest appeal, SLMI claims the district court judge erred by not taking as true their allegations at the preliminary stage, considering inadmissable evidence, and failing to permit discovery, among other reasons given for reversal.

E-mail: eriq.gardner@thr.com; Twitter: @eriqgardner