Hollywood Docket: 'Simpsons' Music Settlement; ABC's 'Pink Slime' Hearing

A roundup of entertainment law news including Al Jazeera's lawsuit, a possible Mark Boal deposition and a development in the "Happy Birthday" copyright battle.
"The Simpsons"

The American Federation of Musicians has come to terms with 20th Century Fox and NBC Universal to end a stand-off over music from The Simpsons used on a roller coaster attraction at Universal Studios Theme Park in Hollywood.

The union sued last October, contending that a 2010 agreement with the musicians guild disallowed "new uses" of music recorded for TV shows, According to the original complaint, Universal's argument was that Simpsons roller coaster music fit the definition of being a "promotional" exception to the new use restrictions.

After a year in court, the two sides have reached a settlement agreement. Papers were filed to dismiss the lawsuit earlier this month. Terms aren't known, and NBCU declined comment.

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In other entertainment law news:

  • ABC News will get its next chance to beat a billion-dollar defamation lawsuit over its "pink slime" reports on Dec. 17. The news organization is being sued by Beef Products Inc., a South Dakota-based boneless-lean-beef giant, which claims that hundreds of "false and misleading" statements about its product caused it close three plants and lay off 650 workers. ABC has responded with a First Amendment defense, and in June, a federal judge transferred the dispute to a state judge to decide. A hearing will be held on ABC's motion to dismiss.
  • In August, Al Jazeera America filed a lawsuit against AT&T for dropping the news channel, but the nature of the contract dispute was shrouded in some mystery thanks to a heavily redacted complaint. Several news organizations objected to this, and a Delaware judge recently ruled that there wasn't any "good cause" for either of the parties to treat confidentiality over the public's right of access. In the ruling, the judge gave examples of Al Jazeera going too far with the black-outs and ordered a largely unredacted filing. The media companies express concern about revelations impacting business negotiations and have chosen to appeal. This week, the judge allowed the information to remain private while the appeal is handled.
  • The access that Zero Dark Thirty filmmakers got to classified government information has been the subject of several court battles already. It's also of interest to lawyers for terrorism suspects. One attorney representing a defendant being tied to September 11 attacks, reportedly the basis for a character in the film being tortured, is demanding to be allowed to question the film's writer, Mark Boal, about what the CIA told him. A hearing on the request has been scheduled.
  • The judge overseeing a challenge to Warner/Chappell's grip on the "Happy Birthday" song copyright wants to first address the issue of the copyright's validity before any focus is given on whether the music publisher committed fraud. In a ruling, U.S. District judge George King stayed many of the claims to focus on the plaintiff's allegation that a song traced back to 1893 is in the public domain. The judge also decided to apply the Copyright Act's three-year statute of limitations rather than a longer term under state laws. If the case isn't dismissed, the decision could potentially save Warner millions of dollars in collected license fees older than three years.