Hollywood Docket: Tower of Power vs. Warner Music; Sirius XM vs. SoundExchange; CBS vs. Trekkies

Digital downloads, monopoly conspiracies and the battle over a lost "Star Trek" script top the legal issues facing the entertainment industry this past week.
Sirius XM Radio is suing SoundExchange and the American Association of Independent Music for conspiring to monopolize copyrights.

R&B group Tower of Power has joined the legion of legacy bands and musicians suing over digital royalties. The group has filed a class action lawsuit against the Warner Music Group for treating digital downloads as "sales" instead of "licenses" and as a result, underpaying musicians their royalty share.

The complaint was filed on Tuesday in California federal court.

Founding band members Emilio Castillo and Stephen Kupka allege that "the prevalence of Music Download sales by Music Download Providers means the Defendant's continued, improper accounting of royalties owed has deprived Plaintiffs and the Class Members of tens of millions of dollars in royalties."

Among the other musical acts that have filed similar claims on the digital royalty front are The Temptations, Toto, Kenny Rogers, Sister Sledge, Peter Frampton, Rob Zombie, Rick James, George Clinton, Gary Wright, Graciela Beltran, Knack, Chuck D, and F.B.T. Productions.

In other entertainment & media law news this week:

  • Sirius XM Radio is suing SoundExchange and the American Association of Independent Music for conspiring to monopolize copyrights from the recording industry. The satellite radio giant wishes to make direct deals with rightsholders and is alleging that it is being forced into too high royalty fees for music on broadcasts by an industry-wide boycott against direct dealing. Legal observers also believe that the outcome of this lawsuit could impact the licensing rates for webcasting.
  • CBS has reportedly made Trekkies very unhappy by blocking a planned web production of an unused script for the 1960's Star Trek TV show. The script, "He Walked Among Us," was archived in a California university for decades before a copy popped up at a NY Pulp Fiction Expo in October. CBS sent a cease-and-desist after plans to adapt it, and the network says it is now "considering opportunities to offer licensed copies of the work."
  • Inselberg Interactive is claiming a patent over the idea for a live theater cordoned off for people who wish to live tweet the performance. The patent, though, is for a method of giving spectators an interactive device whereby they enjoy interactive audience participation, leading skeptics to question whether the company has really locked down the invention of "tweet seats." Inselberg is nevertheless demanding that a Connecticut theater company using "tweet seats" license its platform.
  • A judge recently denied a motion made by an attorney for James Best, who played Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane on the Dukes of Hazzard TV show. The actor is suing Warner Bros. over merchandising royalties, and recently objected to answers given by the defendant in interrogatories as being "evasive and incomplete." Charles Oswald, Best's lawyer, recently demanded documents from the defendants, which resulted in 822 pages of documents being turned over. But that wasn't good enough for Oswald, who wrote a brief with sections titled, "Hiding Behind Hollywood Accounting" and "Hiding Behind a Counterfeit License to Commit Fraud," and quoting Wikipedia, singer Neil Young, and an old Dukes of Hazzard episode as authorities. U.S. District Court Judge David Cayer scolded the lawyer for using "language and references that are wholly inappropriate" and warned the attorney against including such material in future pleadings. And, he denied the motion to compel the document request.

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