Hollywood Docket: Motley Crue's 'Drum Ring' Isn't Stolen Trade Secret
A roundup of entertainment law news including a possible Terrence Malick settlement and "Y.M.C.A." in French.
Motley Crue and drummer Tommy Lee have prevailed in a strange lawsuit that proposed that a drum stunt used on the band's 2011 tour was taken from an onstage "rollercoaster" proposal 20 years earlier.
The plaintiff in the lawsuit was Howard Scott King, who claimed that he had come up with an idea for a "Tommy Lee Loop Coaster." As the complaint described the apparatus: "Lee would play his drums on a platform on wheels which would follow the track until Lee was in an upside down position playing the drums and he would continue playing the drums as the platform followed the track in a complete loop."
King further alleged that in 1991, he worked with an engineering company and agents for the band. He said he delivered a proposal but heard no response. He sued after watching a "drum ring" on the 2011 tour.
Last month, L.A. Superior Court Judge Lisa Cole dismissed the lawsuit.
She ruled that King's idea was not a trade secret "as he failed [to] take reasonable steps to maintain confidentiality, including handing the idea over to Lee, the proposed purchaser, without securing an NDA or any promise not to use the idea without compensation."
The judge also determined that the drum ring was "independently developed" and that King didn't in fact submit the proposal to Motley Crue, represented by attorneys at Miller Barondess.
The decision (read in full here) echoes the famous legal principle that a man who blurts out his idea without having first made his bargain has no one but himself to blame.
In other entertainment law news:
- An investors' lawsuit over Terrence Malick's Voyage of Time could be on the verge of settlement. In July, Seven Seas Partnership sued Sycamore Pictures for breach of contract, alleging that the Oscar-nominated director was supposed to direct two 45-minute Imax films and a 90-150 minute feature-film version of a project portraying the events of our cosmic history. The investors said that Malick had become distracted on other work. Malick's company then filed counterclaims accusing the investors of concocting its story to cover up running out of funds. The parties recently told the judge that they are working diligently to draft a settlement agreement around parameters discussed before the judge at a November hearing. They say there are still "open items," but have proposed scheduling delays with an eye on updating the situation before Jan. 20.
- Another dispute being settled is a class-action lawsuit against Warner Music Group from recording artists who allege they were underpaid on digital downloads. The plaintiffs led by Sister Sledge members objected to music on outlets like iTunes being treated as "sales" instead of "licenses." Because of the distinction, Warner Music shared only 6 to 20 percent of royalties instead of a 50-50 split under a licensing framework, which the artists argued was appropriate with no packaging costs. Warner has submitted a $11.5 million proposed settlement to a judge, minus $3 million for legal fees. The deal would cover artists who opt in with recording contracts with Warner after 2002. First, though, comes a process to submit claims, object to the arrangement and have a judge bless the settlement.
- Thanks to a special provision of copyright law, many song authors are busy sending "termination notices" to publishers with the goal of recapturing rights. This doesn't always happen without controversy. A couple of cases with an international flair: First, Edizioni Curci, an Italian-based entity that is one of the oldest song publishers in the world, is going to court to limit the scope and effect of a termination notice registered on the song popularly known as "Volare." Here's the complaint. Second, Village People songwriter Victor Willis looks headed to trial in his own termination dispute. In May, 2012, a judge allowed him to effectuate termination on songs including "Y.M.C.A." The case has continued over the question of what share he's now entitled to enjoy on the songs. Willis contends that one of the credited co-authors, Henri Belolo, didn't actually contribute to the authorship or lyrics of 24 of the compositions. On Dec. 26, a judge denied summary judgment to the plaintiff song publishers who were arguing that Willis' claims were barred by statute of limitations. The judge says that it is a triable issue whether Belolo expressly repudiated Willis' claimed 50 percent copyright interest many years ago. A jury could soon decide when it was that Willis first learned that Belolo was taking credit for originally writing "Y.M.C.A.," "Macho Man," "In the Navy," and "Go West" in French.
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