By many accounts, “Happy Birthday to You” is the most popular and well-known song in the English language and has been so for years. This is a reality that has been very lucrative for Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., the company which has been enforcing a copyright on the song since its acquisition of Birch Tree Ltd. in 1998. That purchase brought with it six copyrights registered with the U.S. Copyright Office which protect musical arrangements for that song.
These copyright protections generate about $2 million in revenue every year for Warner/Chappell, making them very lucrative copyright holdings. The company enforces the copyright against film and entertainment productions of all kinds, exacting a thousand dollars or so from groups that often don’t have the resources to stake the large legal battle that would ensue by refusing to pay and incurring the possible $150,000 penalty that could be applicable under the terms of the Copyright Act of 1976.
However, one production company has decided to take this battle to the courts in the hopes of overturning what it feels are misappropriated copyright protections. If the court decides in favor of the plaintiff, Warner/Chappell could be ordered to return all copyright licensing fees it has collected for the past three years.
Recently I was driving around between appointments and flipping through radio stations on Sirius XM. I came across a song that at first I thought was the summer hit by Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams – Blurred Lines. But that wasn’t the song at all, rather is was Marvin Gaye’s Got to Give it Up. I knew it would only be time before reading about some kind of settlement between Marvin Gaye’s family and Thicke/Williams, but Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams suing the family of Marvin Gaye, asserting that they are not infringing the copyright in Got to Give it Up would be hilarious if it weren’t so utterly ridiculous. See Federal Complaint filed in Williams v. Bridgeport Music Inc.
First, there is absolutely no doubt from a legal perspective that Thicke and Williams are infringing the work of Marvin Gaye. You can verify this for yourself by listening to the two songs. The similarity is overwhelming.
Phil McGraw photographed for the cover of Newsweek magazine by Jerry Avenaim.
Dr. Phil McGraw’s company, Peteski Productions (Peteski), recently filed a lawsuit against Gawker Media (Gawker) for copyright infringement. It appears that Deadspin.com (Deadspin), which is owned by Gawker Media, posted portions of the doctor’s exclusive interview with the man behind the Manti Te’o girlfriend hoax online before the show actually aired in various parts of the country.
Deadspin originally broke the story, including the hoaxster’s catfishing scheme; however Dr. Phil was given an exclusive interview with hoaxster, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo. Dr. Phil’s interview with Tuiasosopo was a two-part episode, with a cliff-hanging first episode. But Deadspin took away Dr. Phil’s thunder (and seemingly lowered his ratings) by showing the “answer” to the cliffhanger online prior to Dr. Phil airing in most markets.
In a recent brief ruling, Manhattan Federal District Court Judge Jed Rakoff dismissed Edward White’s lawsuit against legal research companies LexisNexis and Westlaw. An opinion had not been issued at the time of the ruling; however, the judge noted that the reasons for his dismissal would be set forth at a later date.
In February of 2012, Edward White and Kenneth Elan (both of whom are attorneys) filed a class action complaintagainst Westlaw, which is owned by Thomson Reuters Corp., and LexisNexis, which is owned by Reed Elsevier, PLC, claiming that the companies actively participated in “wholesale unlawful copying of attorneys’ copyrighted work, bundled those works into searchable databases, and sold access to those works in the form of digitized text and images for huge profits.” White’s and Elan’s plan was to represent two specific classes of attorneys–those who had registered their works with the U.S. Copyright Office (as White had) and those who had not (as in the case of Elan). A few months later, though, Judge Rakoff threw out Elan’s claim, stating that “completing registration or pre-registration is a prerequisite to filing a claim.”
In the fight over artistically designed fabric, Topson Downs of California, Inc., Target Corporation and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has prevailed against Meridian Textiles Inc.
On October 7, 2011, Meridian Textiles filed a copyright claim against Topson Downs, Target and Wal-Mart (collectively called Defendant in court documents), claimed the used fabric designs that are solely theirs. The claim was related to 4 separate fabric designs: a zebra stripe pattern, a burnout pattern, an animal print pattern and a lace design.
Meridian Textiles is a L.A. based company which works directly with garment manufactures who are in need of printed fabric. To obtain the artwork for the fabric, Meridian creates original graphic designs or buys the exclusive rights to original artwork from art studios and artists.
In their claim against the retail stores, Meridian stated that between the years of 2008 and 2009, their in-house designer Myoung Chung had created originals of the designs in question, named Subject Designs in the claim. They stated that they “owned all the rights in the Subject Designs, and applied for, and received, copyright registrations for each of the Subject Designs. After creation of the Subject Designs, Plaintiff offered samples of the designs to numerous customers in the apparel industry, including Defendant.”
There’s something to be said for old school cool. The original Batmobile from the 60’s television show, with sleek design and red detailing, is going up for auction later this month. Unfortunately, in the midst of this superhero coolness, the Batmobile namesake owners are doing battle over replicas of this very car.
DC Comics, a subsidiary of Warner Bros., is pushing a lawsuit against California custom paint and auto body shop, Gotham Garage. Owned and operated by Mark Towle of Santa Ana, Gotham Garage specializes in customizing replicas of the various Batman vehicles. To date, Towle has sold two replicas of the original Batmobile, which was designed by a legend in the custom car business, George Barris. The cars have sold for $80,000 and $90,000, and Towle has also sold another replica that was based off the Batmobile version that was featured in the 1989 movie.
This lawsuit started nearly 2 years ago, when Warner Bros. claimed that Towle’s business was violating copyrights and trademarks that are owned by DC Comics. Both sides have been arguing their case, with DC Comics claiming that the copyright protection includes not only the actual Batmobile, but also the overall look and feel of the car.
Yesterday the Copyright Clearance Center, Inc. (CCC), a not-for-profit organization and leading provider of licensing solutions, announced that one of the top patent firms in the United States has signed a five year licensing deal, taking advantage of CCC’s Annual Copyright License. The firm is Oblon, Spivak, McClelland, Maier & Neustadt, L.L.P., which year after year is the top firm in terms of the number of cases filed and handled at the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
“Law firms thrive on the exchange of information,” said Miles McNamee, Vice President, Licensing and Business Development, CCC. “The Annual Copyright License gives Oblon Spivak employees the freedom and flexibility to share content with each other.”
“We think this is a win-win situation for Oblon and CCC,” said Brad Lytle, Managing Partner, Oblon Spivak. “This license allows us to go about our business and focus our efforts on protecting the intellectual property of our clients.”
But why is Oblon taking a copyright license, that is the real question?
Clark Kent and the Daily Planet would have been all over this story. A Los Angeles judge ruled that DC Comics will retail all rights to the news reporter’s super hero secret identity. The battle of wills took place between comic book giant DC Comics and the heirs of Superman co-creator Joe Shuster. They battled to the end, with the heirs wanting more compensation, and with DC Comics stating that the heirs signed away their rights about 20 years ago.
The decision in this case means that DC Comics will retain all the rights to the Superman characters and can continue to use them in books, movies and other entertainment media. It also means that Warner Bros., which owns DC Comics, will retain the rights for use in books, films, television and other various mediums. Given the enormous popularity of movies portraying Marvel superstars such as Iron Man, Thor and the X-Men, keeping the rights to Superman and not interrupting the new Superman movie, which is scheduled for release on June 14, 2013, is a big win for DC and Warner Bros.
The case that set up this battle started in 2010, when DC Comics sued Shuster’s heirs to seek an official ruling that the heirs had lost their rights to reclaim any copyrights to the infamous superhero back in 1992. In a ruling issued on October 17, 2012, U.S. District Court Judge Otis Wright II sided with DC Comics, stating that Shuster had relinquished rights in exchange for annual compensation in the form of pension payments.
In a battle for the superheroes, a federal complaint alleging copyright infringement was filed on October 9, 2012, in the United States Federal District Court for the District of Colorado by a company called Stan Lee Media. The company was started by Stan Lee with his friend Peter Paul, who is now serving time in prison for fraudulent activities regarding this company. Lee wisely pulled out of the company over a decade ago when it failed. According to the complaint, Lee signed over the rights to his famed superheroes to the company Stan Lee Media.
Now, Stan Lee Media has filed a lawsuit against The Walt Disney Company for their production of movies and memorabilia that star Marvel characters such as Spider Man, Captain America and The Avengers. Although The Walt Disney Company has put out many movies based on these super heroes and have also licensed them to other studies to use, the complaint states that the Marvel characters movie audiences have come to know and love are not legally Disney’s to use.
According to the complaint, Disney has generated billions of dollars in profit, and has misled the public into believing that they own the copyrights to the Marvel characters. Stan Lee Media asserts that this is a falsity and they in fact own the rights to the beloved super heroes and are asking for compensation in the billions price range. The lawsuit focuses on the blockbuster movies like “Iron Man,” “Thor” and “X-Men” which Disney has licensed to other movie studios.
October overwhelmingly means one thing in the legal world. No, not Halloween, although to some it may seem just as scary.
Every October the United States Supreme Court breaks its hibernation and starts its new session. Every case heard and decision handed down by the Supreme Court between October 1, 2012 and the end of June 2013 will be a part of the Court’s October 2012 term.
I know I am running a little late, because the Supreme Court heard its first arguments earlier in the week, but I have been planning to make October 2012 Supreme Court month on IPWatchdog.com. This, the first of what will be a handful of SCOTUS related intellectual property articles, is a summary of the most important Supreme Court copyright fair use cases dating back Baker v. Selden in 1879.
Stay tuned for similar articles on trademarks and patents, as well as other Supreme Court related articles I’m sure you will enjoy.