Hollywood Docket: Radar Online Beats Suit from 'American Idol' Alum on Appeal

Plus, Viacom beats a lawsuit over 'Love & Hip Hop' and sanctions are threatened in a suit over Bob Marley hits.
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Corey Clark's "fall from American Idol stardom" is an issue of public interest and Radar Online should have prevailed in its efforts to beat a defamation suit the singer filed in response to a story about his battery arrest, the 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled Wednesday.

The decision overturns an L.A. Superior Court ruling that denied Radar protection under the state's anti-SLAPP statute, which bars lawsuits arising from the exercise of free speech. The lower court had found that the statute did apply, but also that Clark showed a probability of success on his claim — and it's the second part that the appellate court disagreed with.

By way of background, Clark was a contestant on American Idol in 2003 and was kicked off the show after news surfaced that he had been arrested on suspicion of battering his younger sister. The charges were dismissed, but Fox removed him from the competition anyway for failing to disclose the arrest. 

The fight with Radar began in 2013, after Clark approached the site offering an exclusive interview to disprove the battery allegations against him and the reason he was booted from the show. After several days of interviews and document reviews, Radar didn't finalize the deal and Clark gave his exclusive to Rumor Fix. Later, Radar included Clark's battery arrest in a roundup of the "35 Biggest Idol Controversies."  

Clark sued for libel and invasion of privacy and Radar responded with a special motion to strike the complaint under California's anti-SLAPP statute, arguing that the singer couldn't prove the statements were false, the article was privileged and, as a public figure, he would have to prove Radar acted with actual malice. 

The court denied the motion, finding Clark had proven a probability of success on his claims relating to one statement: a header that read "Corey Clark Disqualified After Beating Up Sister."

In overturning the ruling, the appellate court found that Clark failed to make any argument regarding his ability to succeed on the merits of his case. "Clark therefore utterly failed to satisfy his burden to state and substantiate a legally sufficient claim," states the opinion. "On this basis alone, the anti-SLAPP special motion to strike should have been granted."

The opinion doesn't stop there, though. The appellate panel also found that the article at issue was not defamatory.

"The trial court erred in analyzing the publication in fragments and focusing solely on one phrase," states the opinion. "Irrespective of the slight miswording of the initial phrase, the substance of the article is accurate and true." (Read the full opinion here.)

In other entertainment legal news:

— Viacom has won summary judgment in a copyright lawsuit that alleges Love & Hip Hop is a rip-off of a proposed show called Hip Hop Wives, which was filed by the ex-wife of rapper DMX, Tashera Simmons. She, Trisha Lum and Nickie Davis claim they pitched the show to VH1 executives and their project was canned during development only to be copied without them later. While access to the work was conceded, U.S. District Judge Dean Pregerson found that their one-page treatment for the show was largely made of unprotectable elements. "[M]any of the concepts described in the treatment are general tropes from the saturated market of reality television programming," writes Pregerson. "In addition to the general scenes a faire utilized in reality television shows focusing either on groups of wives or the lives of artists in the hip hop industry, the factual biographies of the cast members selected for the Treatment are not entitled to copyright protection." Further, Pregerson found that even if the treatment contained protectable elements "no reasonable jury could conclude that the two works are substantially similar." (Read Pregerson's full order here.)

— UMG Recordings is asking the court to hold a conference to address its motion to dismiss a lawsuit involving two of Bob Marley's hits. Allan Cole sued in September, claiming that he only recently discovered he doesn't own the copyright to "War" and "Natty Dread," which he co-wrote in the '70s. Cole says he only found out in May when he retained a lawyer to transfer half of his rights to the family of former Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie. UMG says not only are the claims barred by the statute of limitations because the works have been registered in the name of Tuff Gong Music since the mid 1970s, but also that UMG doesn't have any interest in the underlying composition of the works. UMG attorney Andrew Bart also asked U.S. District Judge Vernon Broderick for leave to file a motion for Rule 11 sanctions against Cole's attorney. (Read the letter in full here.)

— The daughter of legendary late radio host Casey Kasem says an elder abuse documentary she co-produced is being held ransom by her counterpart. Kerri Kasem is suing Cameron Glenar and Rose Street Productions for breaching their deal to produce and sell a low budget documentary about the elder abuse epidemic that, in part, tells the story of her experience with her father's widow. She says the original goal of the film was to raise awareness of the issue and funds for her non-profit Kasem Cares — but Glenar got greedy. "In no uncertain terms, Glenar told Kasem Cares that if it wanted the Documentary 'bad enough,' Kasem Cares would have to pay Glenar $100,000," states the complaint. "Upon information and belief, Glenar and Rose Street have shelved the Documentary, hoping that the mere passage of time will force Kasem Cares to pay Glenar a ransom for the Documentary footage." She's seeking a declaration that she owns the footage, an injunction to keep Rose Street from shutting her out of the project and damages.

— Latham & Watkins, a firm involved in several of Hollywood's biggest cross-border deals, is expanding its presence in Asia. The firm announced on Monday it has hired Lex Kuo as counsel in the its Hong Kong office. Kuo, a Berkeley law school alum who is fluent in both Mandarin and English, will advise international clients on cross-border financing, development, production and distribution deals. “At a time when Chinese entities are making unprecedented investments in media and entertainment ventures, Lex adds notable experience and astute industry insights to our global entertainment, sports and media team," says Joe Calabrese, global chair of Latham's entertainment group. "He has worked in the industry in Greater China both as an in-house executive and an outside advisor, which brings valuable perspective and on-the-ground capabilities for clients in the region.”

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