Hollywood Docket: HBO Escapes Lawsuit Over 'Luck' Horse Deaths

New entertainment law developments including a trial against MP3Tunes, a Harper Lee settlement, a Michael Jordan appellate victory and a lawsuit targeting Ain't It Cool News.

Barbara Casey, who worked as the director of production in the American Humane Association's film and television unit until she was let go after complaining about alleged horse mistreatment on HBO's Luck, has dropped legal claims against the cable network and series producer Stewart Productions.

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Casey first filed her lawsuit on Dec. 31, 2012, and alleged that her ex-employer had wrongfully terminated her, and that HBO and Stewart had aided and abetted a cover-up months before the series starring Dustin Hoffman was canceled. After a judge expressed doubt whether such an aiding and abetting claim was proper, Casey filed an amended complaint that discussed how her former employer looked the other way or covered up animal abuse on such productions as the Life of Pi, War Horse and The Hobbit.

The plaintiff attempted to put some focus on AHA's relationship with HBO, and how executives at the animal rights group allegedly reaped special favor in Hollywood, but HBO continued to insist that Casey wouldn't ultimately prevail in showing some form of secondary liability over her termination.

The dispute was headed to an anti-SLAPP hearing in May, and if Casey lost, she would not only lose her claims against HBO and Stewart, but she might have faced the possibility of paying defendants' legal bills.

Instead, on Feb. 14, Casey filed papers to dismiss claims against HBO and Stewart with prejudice, meaning that a lawsuit can't be revived. The lawsuit is only partially dismissed. Casey's wrongful termination claim against AHA continues. Attorneys for the parties weren't immediately available to comment.

"We did not pay any money and there was no settlement," an HBO spokesperson tells The Hollywood Reporter. "We did agree not to pursue a claim for legal fees."

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In other entertainment law news:

  • On Tuesday, a big music-industry trial is scheduled to commence in New York. Capitol Records and other record companies and music publishers are suing MP3Tunes and its founder Michael Robertson for alleged direct and contributory copyright infringement on the defunct locker storage service. The trial is significant because it represents one of the first copyright cases to go before a jury after an appeals court offered some clarity in Viacom v. Youtube about what is needed to prove liability on the part of an Internet service provider. The judge in the MP3Tunes case is letting the trial determine whether, among other things, the defendant willfully blinded itself and had red-flag knowledge of copyright infringements on the MP3tunes network. Since MP3Tunes has declared bankruptcy, another important facet of the coming trial will pertain to whether the plaintiffs can show Robertson is vicariously liable for infringements on MP3Tunes.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee has settled a lawsuit against a hometown museum she accused of exploiting her trademark and personality rights. The undisclosed settlement comes after a judge in the case rejected a bid to dismiss the case with rather strong language directed at the museum's lawyers.
  • Music producer Teddy Riley has settled a breach-of-contract lawsuit that claimed he was owed 25 percent of Lady Gaga's song "Teeth." A confidential deal was made with Gaga along with her company, Team Love Child LLC, and Interscope Records. Riley has also settled a copyright infringement case against his daughter and EMI over the same song. According to the original lawsuit, Taja Riley claimed a songwriting credit and partial ownership of a song after coming to a false understanding that she was being gifted it from her father.

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  • Michael Jordan has prevailed in an appeal with entertainment and media industry implications. The former basketball superstar sued a grocery store over a full-page advertisement that congratulated Jordan on being inducted into the Hall of Fame. Jordan contends that the advertisement was merely a pretext to advertise the company's own business. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a trial court by deciding that the advertisement was commercial speech with less First Amendment protection. As a result, Jordan's lawsuit asserting rights of publicity and trademark misappropriation over a "Congratulations" advertisement continues at a trial court. Here's the full ruling.
  • BWP Media, otherwise known as Pacific Coast News, has filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against news site Ain't it Cool and its proprietor Harry Knowles. BWP is a highly litigious celebrity photo agency that has brought numerous copyright lawsuits over the past couple of years. The lawsuit against Ain't It Cool alleges that photos were used without license. The subject of the photos appears to be Will Ferrell and Christina Applegate on the set of the latest Anchorman film.

Twitter: @eriqgardner