Hollywood Docket: Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman Loses Cybersquatting Dispute

3. Philippe Dauman
Dorothy Hong

President and CEO of Viacom

Dauman has focused the company on film franchises (like Transformers) and invested in new shows and research to refocus select networks. As a result, Paramount Pictures and MTV have seen a creative resurgence, and ratings and advertising revenue at the networks unit, which contributes most of the firm's financials, have been on the up. And Viacom shares have been one of the best performers among entertainment biggies.

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What's the difference between Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman and actress Julia Roberts?

The answer comes this month from the World Intellectual Property Organization, asked to address Dauman's challenge to a "domain name broker" who registered philippepierredauman.com.

According to a ruling earlier this month, representatives of Viacom received messages inquiring whether they had any interest in the domain. The individual who had registered the domain said he was "building an ad-based TV system ... with the intention to distribute content in China and India ... like an Aereo-based system."

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Viacom didn't fall for the bait. Instead, Dauman went before a WIPO arbitration panel. He has lost.

The arbitrators says that as a top executive at one of the biggest media companies, Dauman's "fame is undeniable," but also says that having a famous name is not necessarily sufficient to show unregistered trademark rights.

In the ruling (read here), the arbitrators say that Dauman has to show that his name serves as an identifier of goods or services.

"An actor, author, performer, sports star, politician, or other person whose livelihood turns on personal recognition meets this criterion almost by definition," says the ruling. "The interested public buys a book because it’s written by Jeanette Winterson, admission to a movie because Julia Roberts or Isabelle Adjani is performing, or a football jersey because it bears Dan Marino’s number."

But Dauman's name doesn't serve such purpose. As a result, he can't prevail in his cybersquatting case. The domain at issue currently directs to a Bing search for "Netflix."

In other entertainment law news:

  • Sycamore Pictures has filed a breach-of-contract counterclaim against investors in Terrence Malick's Voyage of Time. In July, the investors alleged that they had raised $3.3 million only to see Malick become too distracted on other work. Now, Malick's company says the lawsuit was "pretext... in an attempt to justify its wrongful termination" of a financing and production agreement. The counterclaim (read here) says that Sycamore has met its contractual obligations and had assembled a rough draft of the picture. The plaintiff is accused of concocting its story to cover-up running out of funds.
  • A federal judge in the nation's capital is allowing a terrorism victim's heirs suing the Palestinian Liberation Organization to compel the BBC into handing over unedited footage from Arafat Investigated. Esther Klieman, an American, was killed in Israel in 2002, when individuals opened fire on a public bus. Her family is alleging the PLO's liability through financial and weapons support for the gunmen. The family is seeking more information, and in response to a subpoena, the BBC originally got a magistrate judge to quash it based upon a rule that protects nonparty individuals from having to travel more than 100 miles to attend a deposition. The rule doesn't protect documents, though, and a federal judge has weighed in, saying the documentary's interviews "go to the heart of plaintiffs' theory of liability."
  • A viral Peanuts-Smiths mashup has drawn a takedown notice. Lauren LoPrete started a Tumblr page where Peanuts characters like Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and Lucy were seen with dialogue bubbles containing lyrics from the '80s rock band The Smiths. For example, Lucy is shown crying, "I wear black on the outside 'cause black is how I feel on the inside."  Universal Music, publisher of songs by the band, wasn't happy, and caused Tumblr posts to be removed. LoPrete's lawyers have filed a counternotice with Tumblr and are arguing that the work is transformative fair use of copyright.
  • The production company behind NBC's The Voice, which pulled off an upset on Sunday by winning an Emmy for best reality TV competition show, is being sued for allegedly stealing the idea for the show. Talpa Media is being brought to a California court by Michael Roy Barry, an Irish citizen who claims to have pitched the idea for a program entitled Voice of America,  "a singing talent show... where the contestants are judged solely on their voice," on tvwritersvault.com. The plaintiff is citing viewership records of his pitch on the website, which allegedly point to a company whose rights were purchased by Talpa through bankruptcy proceedings. Barry is demanding millions in lost profits.