Author: Jennifer C. Duval

SW alum blasts porn trolls with legal phasers

A Southwestern Law School alum has helped hammer from the bench some notorious practitioners of what the blogosphere calls copyright trolling — the so-called Prenda porn cases in which a group of lawyers bought up rights to some online blue works, then sought mass infringment claims against their online viewers, all in hopes of embarrassing them sufficiently to settle for small sums that started to rack up to a lucrative and nefarious enterprise. U.S. District Judge  Otis Wright, a Southwestern alum, slammed the lawyers for their conduct in an order that fines them, says they will be referred to the appropriate bar groups for discipline, disbarrment and sanctions — and the key players in the case now will be subject to recommended criminal conspiracy probes by the FBI. The judge, by the way, displays a wry touch with his blistering order, (online copy courtesy of ArsTechnica) replete with Star Trek references and crafted in a way to maximize the sting against what His Honor clearly sees as lawyers who give a bad name to the profession.  As reported by various media (see here and here), the Prenda ploy, as the judge details it, involved lawyers creating a shell company to buy up copyrights to porn, then filing a raft of individual court actions against its suddenly red-faced online viewers, who were offered the chance to settle infringement claims for...

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Online tips to stay out of entertainment law woe

It’s a fiction based in fact: Yes, in Los Angeles, many waiters, taxi drivers, physicians, lawyers and others are wannabe authors of screenplays. The phones ring off the hook with daily calls from aspiring script writers trying to run down leads from every reporter in town who digs up, writes and gets published in some kind of fashion a decent human interest yarn. And the local court files are filled with true stories of disputes launched when an unknown slips her unsolicited manuscript in a weird setting to a Tinsletown mogul. The law can be a jungle to navigate and Entertainment Law is its own gnarly beast. And too often writers and Hollywood creatives can find themselves on the wrong side of a cease-and-desist letter or a more serious legal claim, which entertainment lawyers must ride in to the rescue with tedious or expensive work to try to resolve. So how  can Hollywood hopefuls stay one step ahead of a real legal or courtroom calamity? How about through some online advice from Mark Litwak, a seasoned, Beverly Hills Entertainment Lawyer who has provided legal services or represented producers on more than 100 feature films. On his blog  Entertainment Law Resources, Litwak has laid out useful tips to help artists avoid infringing on the rights of others. He touches on portraying fictional characters, using care about people who can be identified, defamation,...

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Widow, laywers may smart from court’s rip

When the late singer-songwriter Abrim Tilmon Jr. (left) wrote his 1974 tune, You’re Getting a Little Too Smart, he laid down a message that a bunch of folks — including, now, his widow and her appellate attorneys — might have taken judicial note of. The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has rejected legal moves under Federal Rule Civil Procedure 60(b) by the composer’s widow, Janyce Tilmon-Jones, to overturn default judgments in a copyright suit brought by Bridgeport Music and other assignees against a rapper and some recording labels for the unauthorized use of samples of Smart. Further, finding her litigation to be “frivolous and utterly without merit,” the appellate judges ordered Tilmon-Jones and her counsel to split Bridgeport’s damages and costs in the case, sums to be determined. This case has some history: Tilmon, a member of the Detroit Emeralds, wrote his song in 1974, when it was registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. In 1976, he assigned rights to the song to Bridgeport Music, which in 1998 filed a second copyright application for it. In 1997, a trial court determined, rapper Rashaam A. Smith used an unauthorized sample of the tune in his work You and Me. An employee of Bridgeport Music, in 2004, sought a copyright renewal, asserting she was the authorized agent of Tilmon-Jones. And in 2005, Bridgeport, Southfield Music and Westbound Records obtained default...

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Pre-’72 tunes get less groovy for online services

Richard Nixon still was president and Gordon Liddy was just proposing a plan involving a Democratic office in a complex called Watergate. Don McLean (American Pie) and Michael Jackson (Ben) had hit tunes and HP introduced the first hand-held scientific calculator. The Godfather was fresh, HBO had just launched as a commercial cable network, lava lamps were hot and so were bell-bottoms for men. That was all so 1972. But the New York State Supreme Court of Appeals has just brought that year back to the fore in its much awaited ruling favoring Universal Music Group over Escape Media group, owner of the music streaming service, Grooveshark. That decision underscores that timing is everything and tunes from the early Seventies and before may become a slam for operators of online services. Universal’s original suit claimed copyright infringement by the music streaming site and a key legal issue became Grooveshark’s hosting of unlicensed music recorded before 1972. Before that year — when Bobby Fischer became a chess king and Hurricane Agnes an East Coast killer — there effectively was no “safe harbor” for later-developed online services. The Digital Millenium Copyright Act, which took effect in 1998, provides protections for services like Grooveshark, YouTube and SoundCloud against copyright infringement claims on music recordings made after Feb. 15, 1972. If Congress had wanted to extend that shield even earlier, it would expressly have done so,...

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Why it pays to read fine print on YouTube site

If you post on an online service and tap a snippet of another’s content and you do so to provide a critique or commentary of it, well, legal minds might argue that’s fair use, right? But what if a copyright challenge and take-down notice crops up, well, to whom would you appeal and what kind of response might be equitable — shy of litigation? John McKelzey’s struggles with YouTube over a hip-hop review he put on a video channel he created there, as reported by Daily Dot then by Mashable, not only raises intriguing issues of law, it also provides a reminder: Nothing’s free. And, ultimately, big business interests can trump others. Two years ago, McKelzey, of New Jersey, had what he thought was a legal video removed from”Werner von Wallenrod’s Humble Little Hip Hop Vids,” his self-created collection or channel of multimedia reviews of hip-hop albums, on YouTube. The company told him his work violated the site’s terms of use because it included material from Eric B. and Rakim’s album, Eric B. for President. McKelzey was confused because he thought his review was defensible as a fair use. As the 1961 Report of the Register of Copyrights on the General Revision of the U.S. Copyright Law says, his was an activity in which there were “quotation of excerpts in a review or criticism for purposes of illustration or comment.” He saw...

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