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From pirates to politicians to evolving ‘right of publicity,’ entertainment attorneys navigate an ever-evolving legal landscape.
Studios v. Anonymous Film Pirates
Piracy continues to be the No. 1 issue keeping studio executives up at night. This year, a new legal tactic has emerged: Copyright owners have been cramming hundreds, if not thousands, of anonymous alleged file-sharers into single lawsuits. By suing John Does, studios can then subpoena Internet service providers for identifying information, which is generally followed by a demand letter to settle for a small sum or face follow-up litigation. Voltage used this strategy to combat illegal downloads of The Hurt Locker, and Nu Image employed it for The Expendables. In the past 18 months, the federal courts have exploded with copyright litigation, with more than 150,000 individuals being sued.
Musicians v. Politicians
It’s as familiar as kissing babies: A Republican employs a famous song on the campaign trail and the music’s author threatens a lawsuit. Michele Bachmann enraged Tom Petty by playing “American Girl.” Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist apologized to David Byrne for using “Road to Nowhere,” and California senate candidate Chuck DeVore settled a claim by Don Henley over “Boys of Summer.”
The Rise of Arbitration
It’s not just Charlie Sheen whose legal beefs are being hashed out in an office tower rather than a courtroom. The recent trend toward mediation and arbitration has accelerated, with everyone from Harvey Weinstein and Ryan Kavanaugh to all the major studios being ordered to work things out in private. Chalk it up to deal lawyers inserting more arbitration clauses in contracts. “Plus, in Hollywood, most people have ongoing relationships that they want to preserve,” says ADR Services neutral Denise Madigan, who recently settled a major studio profits case after a marathon 41-hour negotiating session.
Agents v. Clients
There’s been an uptick in legal squabbling between talent agents and managers and their clients. In the past year, UTA sued Tori & Dean producer World of Wonder and American Pie screenwriter Adam Herz for commissions. Mariska Hargitay sued WME, claiming it was trying to collect for seasons of Law & Order: SVU after she left the agency. The Collective sued actor Orlando Jones and his manager when they departed for a rival company.
The “right of publicity” was born in 1953 from an effort by baseball players to prevent a trading card company from exploiting their fame. Now nearly two dozen states have passed laws allowing famous people to protect their likenesses, and courts have seen an increase in boundary-pushing cases attempting to expand these rights. An Iraq war veteran claims the Jeremy Renner character in The Hurt Locker was improperly based on his likeness. The band No Doubt is suing a video game publisher over avatars that look like them. A 1950s girl group is trying to shut down a Broadway play that partly tells their story. And Humphrey Bogart’s family is suing over a Bogart couch.
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