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Hollywood Docket: NBCU Wins Oksana Baiul Lawsuit

A roundup of entertainment law news including a victory for Universal Music, a lawsuit against David Letterman's production company and the resolution of USTA's "Venus and Serena" litigation.

Oksana Baiul Headshot - P 2013
Oksana Baiul

NBCUniversal has prevailed on summary judgment in a lawsuit brought by Olympic gold medalist Oksana Baiul.

She filed a $5 million complaint in early 2003 on the grounds that the media giant had promoted her appearance at a televised skating event when in fact, she wasn't participating.

NBCU didn't actually produce the event. Instead, it sold broadcast time to a company called Disson Skating, which had discussions with Baiul but couldn't lock down the appearance. Nevertheless, in February 2012, the NBC Sports communications department put out a press release that said she would be one of the headliners in the televised show.

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On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest ruled that Baiul can't support her Lanham Act, likeness and misrepresentation claims because she couldn't tie the press release to NBC's commercial activities. The press release was limited to the media, NBC played no role in selling advertising, and there wasn't evidence that the press release was used in commerce to promote programs on NBC in the interest of driving ratings and scoring bigger advertising revenue.

The judge also says that Baiul hadn't identified anyone who bought a ticket with the expectation that she would be appearing, hadn't presented evidence about who picked up the press release or who saw it, and so forth. Her claimed damages are knocked as charitably "speculative." Here's the full opinion.

Baiul is still pursuing in a separate lawsuit agents, managers, producers, coaches, accountants, and networks who allegedly robbed her of tens of millions of dollars in a 20-year conspiracy.

In other entertainment law news:

  • UMG has won a lawsuit over Aliados De La Sierra, a very successful Duranguense musical group. The lawsuit came from Gilberto Diaz Moreno, a representative of the band who sought to collect royalties and then obtained a trademark for the band's name and then sued the label for infringement. In an opinion on Thursday, a judge dismisses the claim because of no evidence presented of consumer confusion. What's more, the judge granted UMG's cross-claim for cancellation of the plaintiff's Aliados mark based on the fact that Diaz never used the mark on CDs in commerce as he indicated he was doing to the Trademark Office. Here's the opinion.
  • Worldwide Subsidiary Group, an outfit that collects secondary rights royalties, is suing Worldwide Pants, the production company behind David Letterman's late-night CBS show. The plaintiff says it was told by Worldwide Pants that there was no cable retransmission royalties due on The Late Show and that its services were no longer needed. But the plaintiff says it has collected and accounted for over $1.8 million. Letterman's company has not been hit with a $500,000 breach-of-contract claim. Here's the complaint.
  • A lawsuit over the documentary Venus and Serena has come to an end. Last June, the United States Tennis Association sued the filmmakers for allegedly using unauthorized footage in their film about the rise of tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams. The lawsuit not only raised the issue of copyright fair use, but also the question of what exactly the filmmakers had agreed to when being granted access to the US Open. Some believed that the lawsuit stemmed from a desire by the USTA to protect its image from a scene of an infamous Williams tantrum. Then, there was the possibility that the USTA was looking to protect a $770 million contract that gave exclusive television rights to ESPN. Whatever the reasons, the parties are no longer fighting. On Wednesday, they informed the court of a voluntary withdrawal. Terms of any settlement haven't been detailed.