Hollywood Docket: 'Straight Outta Compton,' 'The Good Lie,' Andy Warhol's Prince

A roundup of legal developments including a judge's response to California's document demands from IMDb.
'Straight Outta Compton'

A federal judge is allowing Greenberg Traurig to continue to represent Universal in former N.W.A manager Jerry Heller's defamation lawsuit over Straight Outta Compton.

After Heller died last year, his heirs brought a motion to disqualify Greenberg Traurig because one of its partners, Joel Katz, once advised Heller upon the release of Ice Cube's "No Vaseline."

Greenberg Traurig responded that any conversation by a transactional attorney a quarter century ago was not substantially related to Heller's claims of being defamed by the N.W.A biopic. The law firm further argued that nothing exchanged was confidential, that the disqualification motion came after substantial delay and that Greenberg Traurig had implemented an ethics wall to ensure that Katz would be screened from the ongoing litigation.

The latter note is sufficient for U.S. District Court judge Michael Fitzgerald.

According to the order on Friday, "Assuming without deciding that Katz received confidential information in the 1992 or 1993 meeting with the Hellers and Klein, the Court concludes that Greenberg Traurig has met its burden to show that an effective ethical screen has prevented Katz and Smith from sharing any confidential information with the attorneys litigating this action."

In other entertainment law news:

— Dozens of Sudanese refugees are the beneficiaries of a settlement over The Good Lie, a 2014 film starring Reese Witherspoon. The lawsuit was filed back in February 2015 by an outfit representing various survivors of starvation, disease and militia attacks in Darfur. The refugees gave interviews to those making the film. They alleged being shortchanged promised compensation. In March 2016, a judge came to an extremely provocative decision that allowed the lawsuit to proceed upon the opinion that the refugees had stated a cognizable claim for protection against continuing infringement of their copyrighted material. What exactly was copyrighted? Possibly the telling of their personal stories in response to interview questions. The case will go no further, however. A judge in Georgia was informed of a settlement resolving claims. 

— Photographer Lynn Goldsmith is now asserting counterclaims in a copyright dispute with the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. In April, Warhol's heirs went to court aiming for declaratory relief that the pop artist's 1984 image of the late pop star Prince was protected by fair use and that any potential copyright claims were barred by the statute of limitations and the doctrine of laches. Now, Goldsmith has detailed her own claims by taking issue with the cover of a May 9, 2016, special Prince tribute magazine. Goldsmith alleges that the Foundation knew or should have known that Vanity Fair's use of her photograph back in 1984 was expressly licensed for one-time use as an artist's reference for illustrative purposes, and that any further use would require a new license. She asserts that changes made to her photograph are minimal and constitute an improper derivative. Here's the cross-complaint and a look at what's at issue:

— California isn't faring particularly well in a lawsuit over the state's new law requiring IMDb to take down age information upon request from entertainment professionals who use the subscription version. California believes the law is necessary to help prevent age discrimination in the entertainment industry, but a judge enjoined enforcement of the law upon IMDb's First Amendment challenge. The litigation has now moved past the initial phase. California demanded records from IMDb about the posting of age information. "[T]he government's discovery requests are more than annoying," wrote U.S. District Court judge Vince Chhabria in response last week. "They're disturbing. The government seems to presume that, having failed to present any colorable argument or evidence in support of the notion that its speech restriction is actually necessary to combat age discrimination in the entertainment industry, it may now simply go fishing for a justification by imposing obligations on the party seeking to defend its First Amendment rights. ... Restrict speech first and ask questions later, the government seems to say. This ignores the First Amendment's heavy presumption against restricting speech of this kind. If there is no reasonable basis for believing a speech restriction is necessary, the government cannot impose one and then hope a justification materializes in discovery."

— Finally, a fond farewell to The Wall Street Journal Law Blog, which, after 11 years and more than 20,000 posts, announced it would no longer be publishing new posts. A fellow member of the ABA Journal's Blawg Hall of Fame, the WSJ Law Blog has been home to excellent legal analysis over the years and we're sorry to see it go. Run by Ashby Jones, Joe Palazzolo and others, the legal blog was one of eight blogs shut down on Monday in a restructuring. 

Meanwhile, THR, ESQ will be celebrating its 10th anniversary as a blog in October.