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Hollywood Docket: Superman Legal Fees; Telenovela Infringement; Lionsgate Lawsuit

A roundup of entertainment law news including the expensive battle over Superman rights, a battle over Spanish-language programming and a Fox settlement.

Superman
Timothy A. Clay/AFP/Getty Images

Marc Toberoff, the attorney representing the estates of Superman co-creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, won't have to pay $500,000 in attorney's fees to Warner Bros. in the fight over rights.

Warners' subsidiary DC Comics moved for an award of attorney's fees after winning a big ruling last October that precluded the Shuster estate's attempt to terminate a copyright grant thanks to a 1992 agreement.

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Otis Wright denied the motion.

DC argued that it was "forced" to prosecute a claim that ran counter to its rights.

In coming to a decision, the judge had to analyze whether the litigation commenced over Superman rights was frivolous and objectionably unreasonable.

The judge says that Toberoff and his clients had latitude to advocate their positions, especially given the lack of clarity on termination provisions under the Copyright Act.

"Though Defendants did not ultimately prevail, their argument rested on several different primary and secondary authorities," writes the judge. "Defendants sought to explore the boundaries of a relatively green area of copyright law and did so without traversing the bounds of reasonableness."

Here's the full ruling.

In other entertainment law news:

  • A Florida judge has denied a recent attempt by Telemundo to dismiss a lawsuit from Venezuela-based Latele Television. The lawsuit alleges that Telemundo's Spanish-language telenovela El Rostro is an inappropriate copy of Latele's Spanish-language telenovela Maria Maria. Given the relative rarity of copyright plaintiffs surviving a motion to dismiss in this type of litigation, Latele's victory bears note. Usually, it's terribly difficult to demonstrate "substantial similarity," but it might help when the subject in question is a Spanish telenovela, a genre known for its melodramatic plot twists. A quick taste of what the judge has to say: "While, as Defendants urge, it is true that this plot contains certain ideas that may be considered standard in telenovelas -- a fiery car crash, plastic surgery, mistaken identity, amnesia, and infidelity -- the level and number of similarities in the details, and particularly in the sequence of events, as set forth in both works, removes the similarities from the realm of ideas and propels them into the arena of expression of ideas.”
  • Jon Van Dyke, a writer, has filed a lawsuit against Lionsgate over the forthcoming film, Not Today. According to his complaint, he wrote the script and spent 10 weeks in India as the director and entered into an agreement with a company called Friends Media. He says the budget "mysteriously" and "fraudulently" increased from $650K to $1.8 million and that after filming completed, when he raised the issue of compensation, he was terminated. Lionsgate is said to have acquired an interest in the film and intends to distribute it. Dyke wants a declaration that he's the owner, that Friends has breached an agreement, and that if he's deemed an employee, that Friends has violated various labor laws.
  • Fox Entertainment has settled a lawsuit brought by the widow of an Iraqi and Afghanistan war veteran. Donnice Roberts sued last November, alleging that Fox's NatGeo documentary, Inside Afghan ER, published the image of herself and her two children. She said the images were taken without consent from her late husband's personal laptop computer after his death. She demanded an injunction prohibiting Fox from using military family members' images, names or likenesses for commercial purposes without their written permission. Roberts ended up settling rather than pushing for a judge's ruling. The terms of the deal haven't been made public. According to her lawyer, "Ms. Roberts is pleased with the settlement."