Due to various commitments and time constraints, Film Esq. will become dormant for the forseeable future. I hope the information here has been of use to you. The site will remain available in its current form as long as reasonably possible.
On a more positive note, the Film Esq. Twitter account will definitely remain active. Twitter has proven to be a valuable tool for keeping track of what is happening in the legal field. The brevity and quickness of the format is simply more suited to my current workflow. If you aren’t currently following the Twitter account, I hope that you will do so soon. I also encourage you to check out my business site at rdp-pllc.com. Thank you.
Every March, the city of Austin, Texas hosts the South by Southwest (SXSW) Conferences & Festivals. This year’s dates are March 8th through March 17th. There are three components: Music, Film, and Interactive. The combined events attract thousands of peoplefrom all across the world. One little known aspect of SXSW is the many opportunities that the event provides for lawyers. Here is a brief lawyer’s guide to SXSW
In addition to a small number of law-oriented panels, SXSW offers an extensive continuing legal education (CLE) program. Attorneys who purchase a SXSW badge can also complete up to 13 hours of CLE. The number of CLE courses one can access depends on the type of badge purchased. For example, the Music badge provides access to 8 hours of CLE; Film provides 2 hours while Interactive provides 3 hours. Check the SXSW website for a more specific breakdown. The quality of the CLE program is quite good. One of the reason for the quality is that the program draws upon the pool of experienced industry lawyers who are already present at the festival. Younger lawyers might be interested in the SXSW Film Mentor Sessions in which newcomers can have one-on-one discussions with people experienced in the industry. Lawyers usually participate as mentors.
In the near future, I am finally going to post some notes from the SXSW 2012 CLE program. I will also post updates about the 2013 program as more information becomes available.
Rimowa is a Germany company that makes luxury travel cases. Their products have been featured in numerous movies such as Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and Transformers. The company’s Topas brand attache case was also used by Nick Fury, played by Samuel L. Jackson, in the recent Avengers movie. Rimowa owns a federal trademark on the Topas. According to Rimowa, Marvel Entertainment failed to obtain a license for using the case in the film. In addition to depicting the case in The Avengers, Marvel is also planning to release a Blu-Ray box set—Marvel Cinematic Universe: Phase One - Avengers Assembled Box Set—that comes in a case that resembles the Topas.
Thus, on August 1, 2012, Rimowa’s lawyers filed a complaint (see the PDF below) in the United States District Court for the Central District of California that alleged: 1) federal trademark infringement; 2) federal designation of origin; 3) federal trademark dilution; 4) trademark infringement under California law; and 5) unfair competition under California law. Rimowa is seeking an injunction to stop Marvel’s use of their mark as well as damages.
On August 3, 2012, Electronic Arts filed a complaint (see the PDF below) in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California against Zynga for alleging a single count of infringement under sections 17 U.S.C. § 106 et seq. and 17 U.S.C. § 501 of the Copyright Act. Electronic Arts’ complaints claims that Zynga’s online Facebook game The Ville infringes its copyright in The Sims Social. Electronic Arts is seeking remedies in the form of actual damages and an injunction to remove The Ville from Facebook.
Anyone familiar with Zynga will know that the company has been previously sued for intellectual property infringement. One of the more prominent cases was The Learning Company v. Zynga (see the PDF below). On May 18, 2011, The Learning Company sued Zynga for in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts for : 1) federal trademark infringement; 2) trademark dilution; 3) false designation of origin; and 4) unfair competition under the laws of various states. The subject of the suit was The Learning Company’s video game The Oregon Trail and Zynga’s attempt to launch a similar Facebook game called Frontierville’s Oregon Trail. Although the case is still pending, the parties reached an agreement in which Zynga would stop using the phrase “Oregon Trail” in connection with Frontierville until the case is concluded.
Musician Josh Homme is suing ex-Kyuss bandmates from for, among other things, trademark infringement. In a March 9, 2012 complaint filed in the District Court for the Central District of California, Homme, who is now mostly known as the leader of Queens of the Stone Age, claims that ex-Kyuss members Brant Bjork and John Garcia filed federal trademarks on KYUSS and KYUSS LIVES without consulting Homme or Kyuss bassist Scott Reeder. Homme’s complaint, which is linked at the bottom of this post, states that original members of the group had a partnership agreement and trademarks that prohibited Bjork and Garcia from using the trademarks.
This suit was filed a few months ago but it has just recently come under the Film. Esq. radar. On November 2, 2011, Carlton Douglas Ridenour (aka Chuck D of the musical group Public Enemy) filed a class action suit against UMG Recordings, Inc. (UMG) for various claims including breach of contract and violations of California and New York’s unfair competition statutes. The factual basis for the claims arises from UMG’s alleged underpayment of artist royalties for digital downloads and ringtones under their standard master recording agreements. The complaint is available in PDF format at the bottom of the post.
In a lawsuit filed on December 13, 2011 in the United States District for the Central District of California, Army vet Gerald Morawski filed various contract and fraud claims against Lightstorm Entertainment and James Cameron for allegedly using his ideas to make the the Avatar movie. In 1991, Morawski, who has worked in the visual effects industry, sold Lightstorm a set of images for James Cameron’s art gallery. He alleges that he entered discussions with the company to make a film called Guardians of the Eden. The detailed descriptions of the film contained in the complaint sounds strikingly similar to Avatar. Of course, the validity of his claims is an entirely different matter. Although Morawski’s illustrations were included as exhibits in the complaint (see below), they do not appear in the electronic document posted by the federal courts.
Entity Productions, the company behind the music group Midnight Syndicate, is suing Psychopathic Records and the horror-rap group Insane Clown Posse (ICP) for copyright infringement. A copy of the full complaint can be downloaded from the link at the bottom of this post. The suit, which was filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern Division of Ohio on October 31, 2011, claims that two separate Insane Clown Posse albums – Mirror Mirror and Tales From the Lotus Pod — contain excerpts from various Midnight Syndicate recordings and compositions. The alleged infringement goes back as far as 2009.
The complaint goes as far to say that some ICP tracks are simply Midnight Syndicate recordings with overdubbed vocals. The complaint claims a total of 14 copyrights were infringed (7 compositions and 7 recordings). As such, the requested statutory relief is $2,100,000 ($150K per infringement) and a permanent injunction against further use of the recordings and compositions.
According to their website, Midnight Syndicate creates “Halloween music and gothic, horror, fantasy soundtracks for the imagination.” The group has created instrumental music for television, film, video games, haunted houses, and other musicians.
Yesterday’s post about a wave of patent suits against film companies is actually part of a broader assault by Patent Harbor, LLC . Additional research shows that Patent Harbor, LLC filed a complaint entitled Patent Harbor, LLC v. Dreamworks Animation SKG, Inc, et al on May 9, 2011. The complaint contains claims against 41 (!) film companies, including various CBS Films, After Dark Films, Focus Features, HBO, and Miramax. The source of the claims is the same: U.S. Patent No. 5,684,514 ( “Apparatus and Method for Assembling Content Addressable Video.”)
On October 13, 2011, a Fort Worth, Texas company called Patent Harbor, LLC filed patent suits against various DVD and Blu-Ray companies, including Lion’s Gate Films, Warner Brothers Pictures, and The Criterion Collection. PDF versions of the complaints can be downloaded from links at the bottom of this post.
Per the current trend in patent litigation by holding companies, the suits were filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas (Tyler Division). Corporate disclosure statements included with each complaint indicate that a Delaware company named Brandel, LLC is the sole owner of Patent Harbor.
The suits allege that the companies violate U.S. Patent No. 5,684,514. The 514 patent, which was issued on November 4, 1997, is entitled “Apparatus and Method for Assembling Content Addressable Video.” The essence of the claims is demonstrated in the following language from Patent Harbor, LLC v. Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
“Upon information and belief, Warner Bros.’s authoring or manufacture of the DVD and Blu-Ray discs, including, but not limited to, exemplary movie License to Wed, with their content-addressing features (e.g. illustrated chapter/scene selection) along with the authoring equipment, and/or sale of the authored discs, on behalf of others and/or itself, infringe one or more claims of the ‘514 Patent. Upon information and belief, Warner Bros. either performs the authoring, manufacturing, and/or distribution or directs and controls the authoring, manufacturing, and/or distribution through contract. (emphasis added)
Note that the boilerplate complaints contain virtually the same language, including a version of the paragraph presented above. I intentionally highlighted the language about “illustrated chapter/scene selection” to point out how potentially broad these claims are. Film Esq. will be closely following these cases so look for updates in the near future.