Hollywood Docket: Rolling Stone Source Deposition; 'Frozen' Lawsuit Chilled; Univision Sued Over 'Machete'

A roundup of entertainment law news, including a copyright infringement claim against the late Biggie Smalls, Eminem and Rita Ora over the phrase "Party and Bullshit."
Associated Press
University of Virginia

Rolling Stone’s now-infamous source “Jackie” could be deposed for 10 hours in the University of Virginia dean’s lawsuit against the magazine over its since-retracted article telling the story of the woman’s alleged gang rape at a UVA fraternity.

Typically there is a seven-hour time limit for depositions, which is split equally by plaintiff and defense counsel. Attorneys for UVA Dean Nicole Eramo say, in this case, that won’t cut it.

Eramo is suing Rolling Stone for defamation because the article claims she “attempted to cover up and conceal the supposed gang rape of a college student … in order to protect the University’s reputation,” according to court documents filed Tuesday.

“Given Jackie’s central role in the case, the sheer volume of her communications with Rolling Stone, the need for Plaintiff and Defendant to substantively and extensively question Jackie, and the anticipated contentiousness and difficulty of taking the deposition, there is good cause for a modest extension of the seven-hour time limit,” Eramo’s attorney Elizabeth M. Locke writes in the motion. “If Jackie and/or her counsel are as uncooperative as they have been thus far in the discovery process, a mere 3.5 hours of questioning will be insufficient.”

Eramo’s attorneys also requested that Jackie confirm by stipulation and/or testimony certain high-level facts “that have already been publicized by the Charlottesville Police Department and innumerable media outlets” to streamline questioning and show sensitivity to Jackie per her counsels’ claim that questioning her about the details of her alleged sexual assault would be traumatizing.

“Plaintiff thus proposed that Jackie stipulate and testify to certain facts that did not require such specific questioning about the details of her sexual assault — for example, that the description of Jackie’s supposed gang rape published by Rolling Stone was false, and that Jackie was not in fact sexually assaulted at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity on September 28, 2012,” Locke writes. “This attempt at compromise was flatly rejected.”

In other entertainment legal news:

— Walt Disney Company can chill, now that a judge has dismissed an author’s copyright suit over Frozen. Muneefa Abdullah says the animated mega-hit copied her story The Snow Princess, but a Los Angeles federal judge on Monday granted Disney’s motion to dismiss with prejudice. In a decision that includes thorough recaps of both the nine-page story and 102-minute film, Judge Stephen Wilson focuses solely on whether the two works are substantially similar. “Plaintiff’s alleged similarities only amount to mischaracterizations of the works or scenes a faire to fairy tales such as princes, princesses, castles, magical powers, love, betrayal and a protagonist who seeks to conceal a characteristic form the public,” Wilson writes. In his analysis, Wilson digs deep into what constitutes “magical ice powers,” compares an anthropomorphized dove to a troll shaman and explains that a difficult journey up a mountain is “a generic plot point common in countless literary works from The Lord of the Rings to Shrek.” The judge summarizes the differences between the genre-staple-filled stories by writing, “At its core, The Snow Princess is a short story about an evil mountain witch who abducts a princess, and a pair of princes who rescue her. Frozen is a full-length film about a princess who learns to control her powers through self-acceptance and love, and a celebration of sisterhood.” In June, Disney settled a separate Frozen copyright case brought by the creator of an animated short film.

— A founding member of the spoken-word group The Last Poets claims a host of music icons and record labels have repeatedly infringed on his copyright in the 1968 song “When the Revolution Comes” and its hook “Party and Bullshit.” Abiodun Oyewole is suing the estate of The Notorious B.I.G, Rita Ora, Busta Rhymes, Eminem, Roc Nation, Sony/ATV Music and a host of other artists and record companies for copyright infringement. Oyewole claims the infringement started in 1993 when Christopher Wallace, better known as The Notorious B.I.G, wrote the 1993 song “Party and Bullshit” with defendant Osten Harvey Jr. and sampled his song. Ora’s 2012 song “How We Do (Party)” and “Calm Down,” a 2014 collaboration between Eminem and Rhymes, also exploit Oyewole’s copyright, according to the lawsuit. Oyewole believes he’s entitled to at least $24 million in damages and is seeking a temporary restraining order to keep defendants from collecting or expending proceeds connected to the phrase “Party and Bullshit” until this dispute is resolved. 

— A Utah-based indie filmmaker is suing Univision and Robert Rodriguez’s El Rey Network for copyright infringement over Machete and Machete Kills. Gil Medina claims the Danny Trejo-led flicks copy from a film he made with the actor a decade ago. Medina says he met Trejo in 2004 and envisioned the actor could anchor a “vigilante action feature film franchise.” So he wrote a script, ITN Flix financed it and by the fall of 2005 they had a rough cut of a film called Vengeance starring Trejo. (Watch the trailer here.) Medina says he gave a DVD of the film to Rodriguez who passed on the idea, according to the complaint, but in 2010 Machete hit the big screen and Medina found it a little too familiar. The two films not only share Trejo as the lead, but also center on a law enforcement official who “takes ‘vengeance’ on the bad man who killed his wife and daughter ... by searching out the villains through information obtained on the streets” and end with a scene “between a priest and a bad man.” Medina’s copyright infringement claim includes not only the copying of his work but also the distribution of the allegedly infringing works. 

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