Hollywood Docket: Warner Bros. Sued Over Batcycle Royalties

Adam West Batman Still - H 2016
Courtesy of Photofest

Adam West Batman Still - H 2016

The guy who designed the Batcycle for the 1960s TV series Batman died on July 2. This bit of information comes from a lawsuit filed Friday in Arizona federal court.

According to the complaint, Richard Korkes designed the Batcycle for the old show and assigned rights to Twentieth Century Fox Television in exchange for a share of merchandising profits. When Warner Bros. announced in 2012 that it was going to launch a new merchandise line based on the 1960s series, Korkes is said to have contacted his "close friend" David Kaufman to look into the matter. Together, Korkes and Kaufman allegedly entered into agreements with each other that assigned Batcycle proceeds.

Kaufman appears to have had no luck contacting Fox's legal department for answers, but according to the lawsuit, Korkes stumbled upon a copy of the old Batcycle contract under his kitchen sink in January 2015. Last month, the two hired a law firm to look into merchandising royalties.

Now, days after Korkes passed away, comes a breach-of-contract lawsuit against Warners, Fox and others. Kaufman, claiming to be a third-party beneficiary to the old Batcycle contract, is accusing the defendants of failing to pay Korkes his proper share of earnings from merchandising. Here's the full complaint.

Warner Bros. had no comment.

In other entertainment law news:

— Speaking of Warner Bros.' merchandise division, it has settled charges from the Federal Trade Commission related to payments to online "influencers" like PewDiePie to report positive gameplay videos. According to the FTC, its complaint stemmed from a 2014 online marketing campaign designed to generate buzz for the release of Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, a fantasy role-playing game loosely based on The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Under a proposed order, Warner Bros. will be barred from misrepresenting marketing campaigns as independent opinions or experiences of impartial video game enthusiasts. Warners also has agreed to make disclosures in the future.

— In April, we reported that ReDigi, a seller of "used" digital works like MP3s, had agreed to a stipulated judgment with Capitol Records to avoid a trial in a civil lawsuit. The development potentially paved the way for an appeal exploring interpretation of the "first sale" doctrine under copyright law and the legality of selling second-hand digital works. One thing not reported back then was that ReDigi had stipulated to $3.5 million in damages. On Friday, Capitol sought permission to register the final judgment in other jurisdictions so as to aid collection efforts. The defendant noted, "Defendants have filed a Notice of Appeal, but have not posted a bond to secure the damages provided for in the Judgment pending appeal."

— Does a recent decision from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals criminalize the sharing of Netflix passwords? Some are reading that conclusion into the opinion out last week in United States v. Nosal, which dealt with a company's ex-employee who used log-in credentials of a current employee to access the company's trade secrets. The appeals court ruled 2-1 that this constituted a violation under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Judge Stephen Reinhardt, writing in the minority, wrote, "This case is about password sharing. People frequently share their passwords, notwithstanding the fact that websites and employers have policies prohibiting it. In my view, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act does not make the millions of people who engage in this ubiquitous, useful, and generally harmless conduct into unwitting federal criminals."

— We've been closely following whether the U.S. Supreme Court will review the battle between the NCAA and its athletes over compensation from exploitation of their likenesses in broadcasts and videogames. With billions of TV money on the line, this is certainly a big case for the entertainment industry no matter what, but it will be even bigger if the high court agrees to hear the broader question of whether the First Amendment protects a speaker against a state-law right-of-publicity claim based on the realistic portrayal of a person in an expressive work. A brief filed, though, late last week from the athletes tells the justices to just focus on the antitrust issues involved in forcing student-athletes to sign over rights. The case is "a singularly inappropriate vehicle for exploring potential First Amendment issues," they say. Here's the entire brief.