In a recent decision, a California appellate court upheld a lower court holding in favor of Paramount Pictures against a private equity source of financing for a slate of the studio’s films. Continue reading »
Looking back at a year that featured the most commercially successful Olympic Games and Super Bowl in history, 2012 was certainly a big year for the sports marketing industry. It was also a big year for legal issues in the sports marketing industry. Here’s a rundown of five sports marketing legal developments we watched with interest: Continue reading »
Last month, Sony Computer Entertainment America LLC (“Sony”) filed a complaint in federal court in California against Wildcat Creek, Inc. (“Wildcat Creek”) (a company of which Jerry Lambert is President), and the Bridgestone tire company, alleging Lanham Act violations, unfair competition, breach of contract, tortious interference and misappropriation for the use of Sony’s “Kevin Butler” character in Bridgestone’s “Game On!” co-promotion with Nintendo. Continue reading »
A controversial federal rule on the preservation of electronic documents pending litigation has just been adopted by a New York State appellate court in Voom HD Holdings LLC v. Echostar Satellite LLC, 2012 NY Slip Op. 00658 (App. Div. 1st Dep’t Jan. 31, 2012), a dispute between a television programming provider and a direct broadcast satellite television service. The Voom decision represents the first time a New York appellate court has followed the rule articulated in Zubulake v. UBS Warburg LLC, 220 F.R.D. 212, 218 (S.D.N.Y. 2003), in which the federal district court stated: “Once a party reasonably anticipates litigation, it must suspend its routine document retention/destruction policy and put in place a litigation hold to ensure the preservation of relevant documents.” As Voom demonstrates, this may require in-house and outside counsel to put litigation holds in place even before litigation actually begins – or face the consequences. Continue reading »
It was only last week that we posted on the Ninth Circuit’s May 4th decision in Montz v. Pilgrim Films & Television — an important idea submission case holding that an implied-in-fact contract was not preempted by the Copyright Act. We wrote then that the preemption debate was sure to continue. We just didn’t realize how soon — and with a different result.
In Forest Park Pictures v. Universal Television Network, Inc., a production company and two affiliated individual plaintiffs alleged they developed the characters, concepts, themes, and story lines for a TV series titled “Housecall.” The show was to be based on the experiences of a doctor who relocates to Malibu to make housecalls on the rich and famous. Plaintiffs said they pitched the show to USA Network which rejected the idea. And so they were upset to find, four years later, that USA Network was distributing “Royal Pains”— starring Mark Feuerstein and Henry Winkler — about a doctor who relocates to the Hamptons to become a doctor to the stars.
In their case brought in federal court in New York, the plaintiffs advanced the usual idea submission claim: they said they had an implied contract with the network defendants to receive payment for the use of their idea. (It was not clear to us why the plaintiffs eschewed a copyright claim.) The defendants, like other studios and distributors before them, argued the alleged contract claim was superseded or “preempted” by the federal Copyright Act. (Section 301 of the Copyright Act of 1976 preempts state claims when the creative work is within the subject matter of copyright and the state law grants legal or equitable rights that are equivalent to any of the exclusive rights within the general scope of copyright.)
Not surprisingly, the plaintiffs asked the court to apply California law, which — as we noted in the “Ghost Hunters” decision — has been favorable to writers and agents claiming misappropriation of ideas unveiled in pitch meetings. But the district court said that whether a federal law preempts a state law claim is a federal question — a finding that meant federal law applied.
Citing Second Circuit preemption cases, the court next found that the claim to protect characters and story lines was within the subject matter of copyright. Moreover, the breach of an implied contract to be paid for the use of “ideas or materials” for a television series was ”equivalent to the exclusive rights protected by the copyright law.” The court dismissed the claim and with it, the lawsuit.
Pitch meetings are the red blood cells of the entertainment world, transmitting the ideas and concepts that help to build films, TV shows, plays and other creative work. But pitch meetings can also become the petri dishes where legal disputes grow. And how writers, agents, producers and studios handle scripts and treatments – and the ideas behind them — has been at the core of a long line of so-called idea submission lawsuits. A recent Ninth Circuit decision seems certain to join the pantheon of notable idea submission cases. Continue reading »