Month: February 2014

American Gangster: fight, in court, will rage on

Charles “Chaz” Williams, known as the man who  robbed a string of banks in the 1970’s, escaped prison, and went on to manage some of hip-hop music’s biggest acts, is seeking to claim his gangster status from cable networks. Black Entertainment Television (“BET”) created a documentary series called American Gangster, where it reflected on the life and times of some of American’s most notorious criminals. The series lasted three seasons. A season two episode, called Chaz Williams Armed and Dangerous, was about Williams’ life as a bank robber in Queens, New York. Williams himself had created a story about his life and registered it with the copyright office. He filed a $20.5 million law suit against BET and others for copyright infringement on his copyrighted story about his own life. He claims BET copied fictional aspects, which he made up, from his protected life story. Williams alleges BET and A&E are liable for airing the American Gangster episode and Netflix, Apple and Amazon are liable for distributing the episode to their customers.  The networks sought dismissal, arguing that the episode was based on historic facts, which are not copyright protected. However, a federal court in New York found that Williams has sufficiently alleged a copyright infringement action because his expression of his historical facts are copyright protected and he has shown, even slightly, that the defendants may have copied such expression. This is enough to overcome a motion to dismiss. Thus,...

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When Bing Crosby wives duel, No. 2 wins

A tale of Hollywood love has ended in a cat fight from the grave — this clawing concerning the right of publicity by booming baritone Bing Crosby, the legendary music, film, television and radio superstar. His relationship with Dixie Lee — the beautiful blonde actress who was born Wilma Wyatt and was the singing start of “A Fine Romance” — lasted more than two decades and resulted in four children before her death in 1952. He later remarried, this time to the stunning brunette actress Kathryn Grant, with whom he stayed until his death in 1977. They had three children. But as happens in Hollywood, a battle has ensued between Crosby wife No. 1 as represented by Wilma’s Trust, and wife No. 2 — with the latest development in the long-running legal saga occuring recently in the appellate courts. In 1996, Wilma’s Trust sued Kathryn and HLC Properties Ltd., which was hired to protect Bing’s estate, for the trust’s share of income derived from his and Wilma’s community property. The suit was settled in 1999 with the parties agreeing to release Kathryn and HLC from any future known or unknown claims pertaining to additional sources of community property. Then, in 2008, the California legislature amended California Civil Code Section 3344.1 to allow a deceased celebrity, who died before Jan.1, 1985, to transfer the right of publicity by contract or by will or...

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Brother-sister battle over name sees new light

As the famous psychic Van Praagh perhaps predicted, he can pursue claims of trademark infringement, false designation of origin, and unfair competition against his sister for using their same  last name as she seeks to build business touting her extrasensory talents — or so was the divination of a federal district court on Long Island, N.Y. Since 1994, James Van Praagh has used  his name and surname in conjunction with his spiritual medium services. He has produced TV’s Ghost Whisperer show, tangled with legendary broadcast host Barbara Walters, appeared on numerous television shows, written books, and has become a well-known practitioner of his craft. In 2010, his sister Lynn began using the last name “Van Praagh” as she promoted herself with similar services, even trying to ride the coat-tails of her famous brother by touting on her website that her siblings are known to have gifts. Of course she long had gone by the name Lynn Gratton, since she was married in 1970, so had she desired to make it as a spiritual medium on her own, she had other name options, other than relying on the family moniker of her famous brother. In 2012, he trademarked use of his full name “James Van Praagh.” He claims to have an unregistered mark for “Van Praagh” and under New York law that is all he needs for a dilution claim....

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Optioning a life story? Tap these online tips

The trend in entertainment in recent years has been for movies to be based on actual people and actual events, consider such titles as Fruitvale Station, Lone Survivor,and Wolf on Wall Street .  As Variety notes: “filmmakers agree that the jump in numbers (from eight to seventeen) is due to several factors, including audience tastes, studio responsiveness, filmmakers’ determination and the social-media world we now inhabit.” Gordon Firemark, an entertainment lawyer and Southwestern Law School Alumni and adjunct, discusses “How to Option a Person’s Life Story,” in his online video series entitled “Asked & Answered.”  He touches on the function of such deals and provides  tips on avoiding pitfalls which could result in lawsuits, such as Chuck Wepner vs. Sylvester Stallone over “Rocky“; Rick Appling vs. Bryon Allen Entertainment over the rights to Sammy Davis Jr.’s life; and Sarver vs. The Hurt Locker LLC et al. because the movie “Hurt Locker” was based Iraq war veteran Master Sgt, Jeffrey Sarver’s own life story within the Army bomb...

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Hollywood’s ever-changing, a legend observes

Hollywood is a surprising and always changing place, Bob Broder, a legendary talent agent and Entertainment lawyer, told an engaged audience at Southwestern Law School during a recent appearance. Broder long has specialized in representing television’s leading writers, directors and producers, working now with Chuck Lorre Productions, assisting the firm’s chief in the development and production of television series and other creative projects, including Two and a Half Men, The Big Bang Theory, Mike & Molly and Mom. Broder, in a conversation with Steven Krone, the director of the Biederman Institute, said he never intended to be in the...

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