Hollywood Docket: Tivo Patents; 'Innocence of Muslims' Update; WME v. Geraldo

A roundup of entertainment law news including more on the "Queen of Versailles" arbitration.
"Innocence of Muslims"

DVR pioneer TiVo Inc. has experienced great success in pursuing patent infringers, but the company will have to pay millions of dollars to one patent holder thanks to an appellate ruling on Monday.

In 2003, TiVo made an exclusive licensing deal with the family of Eric Goldwasser for a patent covering a video recorder and playback device. As part of the agreement, the Goldwassers got 40 percent of money recovered in patent litigation as well as royalties on DVRs manufactured by TiVo.

As the deal was being made, TiVo filed a lawsuit against EchoStar for infringing its DVR patents. After many years in court, TiVo collected about $600 million in settlement money from EchoStar.

Thereafter, TiVo and the Goldwassers went to arbitration over whether part of the settlement money should go to the family. A majority of arbitration panelists agreed the Goldwassers should get something. At federal court, TiVo attempted to overturn the arbitration award, but a judge said the ruling wasn't irrational. TiVo was ordered to fork over about $3.5 million.

On Monday, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the verdict, finding "the construction of EchoStar’s settlement payment as the functional equivalent of revenue subject to a royalty payment obligation is consistent with a determination that the payment obligation arose at the time of manufacture."

In other entertainment law news:

  • The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals recently denied an emergency stay of the order that requires Google to remove Innocence of Muslims from YouTube. Google continues to push for a rehearing. The appellate circuit is now taking amicus briefs from pretty much everyone. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and many media groups have already expressed their intention to support Google. As for actress Cindy Lee Garcia, deemed to be able assert a copyright interest in her performance in the film, she's getting assistance from Charles Harder, an attorney who has represented Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Clint Eastwood and others. In a letter (see here), Harder writes, "Any person who believes in justice would agree that she should have a viable cause of action against the production company, and also anyone who distributes or publishes the film, at the very least to obtain an injunction to stop the distribution of her performance in the film ..."
  • The Queen of Versailles filmmaker Lauren Greenfield recently prevailed at arbitration in a defamation claim brought by David Siegel's Westgate Resorts. The arbitrator ruled there wasn't anything defamatory about describing the film as a "rags-to-riches-to-rags story." There was another ruling in arbitration, though, where Siegel met with more success. Greenfield brought a counterclaim over the validity and enforceability of "Life Story Releases" and sought damages for Siegel entering into a reality television series contract with a third party. The arbitrator determined the Life Story Releases aren't valid, and although Siegel's appearance in the film may have been authorized by a separate Appearance Release, the arbitrator says the filmmaker hasn't proven damages with respect to Siegel's other entertainment project. Here's the ruling. Siegel's attorney believes the ruling will allow his client to pursue a TV show unencumbered by obligations to Greenfield.
  • "I haven't seen Geraldo in 25 years," said a New York judge. "When I first knew him as Jerry, we used to play football together." And so began a court hearing last month between William Morris Endeavor and Geraldo Rivera. The talent agency claims it is owed commissions on more than $1 million for work done on Fox News since 2010. Rivera, on the other hand, says that he doesn't have a written contract with WME and that any oral arrangement is unenforceable by New York’s Statute of Frauds. At the hearing, WME's lawyers explain to the judge what sorts of agreements its clients sign as well as the custom and practice of the entertainment industry. There's even some talk about how the relationship between Rivera's agent Jim Griffin and Fox News chief Roger Ailes isn't so great and how the TV host has to handle certain issues himself. "I don't think this case is a slam dunk," says the judge, deferring a ruling for a later time. Read the full transcript.

Email: Eriq.Gardner@THR.com
Twitter: @eriqgardner