Hollywood Docket: Led Zeppelin's Legal Fees; Whitney Houston's Emmy

Led Zeppelin 1976-Robert Plant and Jimmy Page -Photofest-H 2016
Warner Bros./Photofest

Led Zeppelin won its copyright fight in June when a jury found "Stairway to Heaven" was not substantially similar to a song it had been accused of ripping off, "Taurus" by Spirit, but the man who sued says he shouldn't have to pay the band's attorneys fees.

Michael Skidmore runs the estate of Randy Wolfe, who composed "Taurus" as a teenager in late '60s. Skidmore's attorney Francis Malofiy says the "British rule" of loser pays doesn't apply. Warner/Chappel requested almost $800,000 to cover attorneys' fees and costs. Malofiy says the band and the record labels have "almost unlimited funds" while the Randy Craig Wolfe Trust is "a small charity with nominal funds" and awarding fees would not serve the interests of the Copyright Act.  

That the jury found the members of Led Zeppelin had access to "Taurus" is proof the lawsuit was not objectively unreasonable, Malofiy argues.

Further Malofiy argues that the controversial "Blurred Lines" copyright case was "highly" similar and, there, the judge decided a fee award was not appropriate. He says the motion for fees doesn't address the relevant standards and instead amounts to "misguided, baseless, and irrelevant personal attacks" on him. 

Malofiy drew more than 100 sustained objections during the course of the trial. The motion for fees addressed this behavior, calling into question his resistance to discovery and misrepresentation of evidence during trial. Malofiy, meanwhile, describes this as "good faith advocacy" and says an award of fees would "leave attorneys in fear that they could later be punished for good faith argumentation."

This comes on the heels of a Pennsylvania appellate panel's decision to uphold a suspension of Malofiy's law license, which he's also currently fighting. 

In other entertainment legal news:

— Viacom has won the latest round in its legal battle with MGA Entertainment, after a California federal judge granted partial summary judgment in the media giant's favor. Viacom sued MGA, which is best known for its Bratz toy line, for breach of contract in December. The two companies entered a co-financing agreement to launch Nick Jr. series Lalaloopsy, but MGA didn't pay what it promised. Both parties moved for summary judgment, but U.S. District Judge Manuel Real sided with Viacom, finding there is no genuine issue of material fact. "The overwhelming evidence establishes that Viacom substantially performed its obligations under the Co-Fi Agreement, and thus, MGA was unentitled to withhold its $3.5 million minimum-payment guarantee," Real writes. Real also granted Viacom summary judgment on two claims relating to multi-million-dollar advertising sales agreements with third parties for which he found MGA financially liable. A hearing on the remaining claims at issue is set for Aug. 15.

— Whitney Houston's 1986 Emmy statuette is no longer at the center of a lawsuit, as the Television Academy has dropped its case against Heritage Auctions. The Academy sued in June to block the sale of Houston's Emmy for "Saving All My Love for You," claiming its sale would undermine the prestige of the award. Plus, Emmy winners don't actually own the statuettes. They're loans, not gifts. A California federal judge was convinced enough, and issued a temporary restraining order to halt the item's auction. A settlement is probable, but the details as to why the TV Academy dropped the suit and who currently possesses Houston's statuette are unclear. Representatives have not yet commented.

— Stevie Wonder is one step closer to settling a lawsuit with the widow of his former lawyer. Susan Strack sued in February 2015, claiming the singer owed her late husband Johanan Vigoda millions. Strack says Vigoda negotiated a 6 percent fee of Wonder's revenues "forever," which transferred to his heirs, and the blind artist agreed to the terms after being read them aloud. According to a joint status report filed with the fourt, the parties entered into a binding short form settlement following mediation. "Given the complexity of the rights at issue," they're still finalizing the long form version of the agreement, which was revised earlier this month and they say is nearing completion. They've asked the court to stay proceedings for two months while they hammer out the remaining details.

— It pays to be the general counsel to Hollywood's top companies. Above The Law posted a list of the 10 highest paid corporate attorneys in the country, based on data from subscription-based Corporate Counsel, and half of them are in the entertainment biz. Walt Disney's Alan Braverman ranked No. 1, with an estimated $11.4 million in take-home pay for 2016. 21st Century Fox's Ferson Zwiefach, came in at No. 3, Apple's Bruce Sewell at No. 5, Discovery Communications' Bruce Campbell at No. 6 and CBS' Lawrence Tu at No. 7 — each is set to bring home more than $5 million this year.