Hollywood Docket: Prince's Tidal Deal; Bob Marley Film Lawsuit; CBS Radio Win

A roundup of new developments on the entertainment legal front.
TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

In advance of a pretrial conference, the administrators of Prince's estate and the parent company of the Tidal streaming service have outlined the copyright dispute for the judge with new court papers signaling how the late artist's equity ownership may play a factor.

On behalf of Prince Roger Nelson's NPG Records, the lawsuit was filed last November claiming that Tidal was only given an exclusive 90-day license for a newly recorded studio album titled Hit n Run, and that Tidal had committed copyright infringement by putting 15 Prince albums up on the streaming service. The defendants, including Jay Z-affiliated companies, then submitted an answer insisting upon proper licensing and a challenge to the administrator's authority. 

Since then, there's been action in the probate court whereby Comerica Bank has been appointed a personal representative. Also to much fanfare, deals were made to allow many of Prince's recordings to appear on stream on Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora, Amazon Prime, iHeartRadio and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the copyright suit against Tidal remains in the background, and now Aspiro AB, the Swedish co-owner of Tidal, is primed to add more to its defense than just the Hit n Run licensing agreement. Aspiro raises up an Equity Term Sheet dated July 19, 2015 wherein Nelson "became an artist equity-owner of TIDAL and received additional consideration."

The deal, says Aspiro, obligated Prince to grant to Tidal the streaming rights to his catalog of recordings. It figures to be controversial.

"Plaintiffs’ conclusory allegations regarding the propriety of the Equity Term Sheet are unsupported and contradicted by other documentary evidence that Aspiro has produced to Plaintiffs, including a binding Power of Attorney pursuant to which the Equity Term Sheet was signed on Mr. Nelson’s behalf," states Aspiro in court papers.

In other entertainment law news: 

—Bob Marley's estate is being sued by Royal Palm Filmworks, an entity behind a project currently titled Rebels. According to the complaint filed on Friday in California federal court, "Rebels will depict Marley and certain incidents in his life in the context of a transformative fictional and artistic work protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Marley will be portrayed by an actor performing a role. Rebels will not include photos and depiction of Marley when living or actual motion picture photography embodying Marley as a living being."

Royal Palm Filmworks says it gained rights to the life story of Danny Sims, a Marley producer, and claims that the estate is interfering with its use and exploitation of its property. Specifically, the plaintiff says it has been threatened on privacy and publicity grounds as well as its alleged use of Marley copyrights and trademarks. Royal Palm seeks declaratory relief.

—Last June, in one of the disputes over the public performance of pre-1972 sound recordings, CBS Radio was able to prevail by convincing the judge they couldn't be liable for the broadcast of remastered versions that came out after 1972. The decision caught the attention of many entertainment attorneys. Now, the plaintiffs have agreed to dismiss the case and accept a judgment. The decision comes with a right to appeal, but for the moment, the dispute is over.

—Speaking of issues related to pre-1972 recordings, the United States Supreme Court on Monday denied a petition to review a case that examined the issue of whether safe harbors under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act are afforded to internet service providers that expeditiously remove pre-1972 recordings upon notice from the owners. Capitol Records asked the high court in December to hear its case against Vimeo upon a decision from the 2nd Circuit. The case now proceeds at the trial court.

—In Louisiana federal court, Sisung Film Finance alleges that it loaned $825,000 for the film, Killing Salazar, starring Steven Seagal leading DEA agents, and that it is now owed $775,000. The defendants in the action are Industry Releasing Inc. and 24TL Productions Inc.

—Filmula Entertainment was awarded a default judgment in a lawsuit against Aldo Lapietra, who was sued in connection with soliciting investment for The Guardian Project, based on Stan Lee characters for each of the 30 teams of the National Hockey League. A complaint last year alleged that in order to induce Filmula to invest $5 million, LaPietra represented that the project had a fully committed budget of around $9-10 million that was being financed by Radar Pictures' Ted Field. The complaint further contended that LaPietra was obligated to disclose that the project was essentially insolvent at the time Filmula made its investment.

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