Tuesday, July 26, 2011

What's Your Verdict...

Being in an Advanced Entertainment Law class, many things have come to light that I had no idea happened behind the legal and entertainment scenes. I took a listen to two podcasts from Gordon Firemark – Entertainment Law Update Podcast. The podcasts are hosted by Gordon Firemark, who is an attorney representing artists, writers, and directors. Also, Tamera Bennett hosts and represents clients in legal matters in trademark and copyright law. Below are some stories and cases that were discussed:

Episode 20:
Mattel® v.  MGA Entertainment
There has been a retrial concerning the Bratz dolls franchise and ownership of the dolls. The federal jury has ruled that Mattel® had misappropriated trade secrets from MGA Entertainment and Mattel® was ordered to pay $88.5 million dollars. The court ruled that Mattel® was NOT the owner of the copyrights of the sketches of the dolls. The first district court jury ruled in 2008 giving Mattel® $100 million dollars for the ownership of the early sketches. A man by the name of Carter Bryant, who is the designer of the dolls, came up with the idea back in 1999 while working for Mattel®. He sold the drawings to MGA Entertainment while on a “leave” from Mattel®. The appeal ruled in favor of the opposing company arguing that Bryant was on a “break” from Mattel® and they did not own the rights of the dolls. It came as a complete surprise that the appellate court decided to favor MGA Entertainment.

This is a tricky case, because the appeal ruled the total opposite than the district court. Both lawyers stated that they can foresee another appeal to clarify in detail who had ownership. In my opinion, Carter Bryant could be in suit for non-disclosure (not sure if Mattel® has this contract), because he went back to work for Mattel® after he sold the designs of the dolls to MGA Entertainment. In my business plan, I want a non-disclosure for all employees while they are employed and that would extend a short time after they leave my company. This, hopefully, will avoid any similar issues and steer clear of litigation.

Visual Artist Rights
The Seventh Circuit Court of Chicago, Illinois rejected that a landscape artist’s rights of integrity was violated. The city changed Chatman Kelly’s artistic garden in Brant Park. Wild Flower Works was a living, elliptical flower bed planted in 1984 and Kelly had a grant to plant by the Chicago Parks department. The district transformed Kelly’s ellipses into rectangles and cut down the square footage of the flower beds. Kelly had his living designs copy written under the visual arts right which protected his flowers from being changed without his consent. But the courts ruled that the art was a living form and not a fixable tangible medium of expression and ever changing, which meant that it would not be covered under the visual artist copyright of 1990. So Chapman Kelly was ruled NOT the author and it originates in nature and not in the mind of the gardener.

Both attorneys were shocked at the courts decision based on nature (flower beds) not being an applicable visual art. They stated concern because of Disney’s annual arrangements that bring so many tourists to view the Disney characters formed by flowers. I was shocked by the ruling as well and still wonder what the gardener could have done to protect his work. Chatman Kelly’s work had existed for 19 years without any disturbance and now the work is able to be transformed by the city’s parks department.

Episode 11:
Bryant v. Media Right and Orchard
Bryant made a deal with Media Right to distribute two specialty records entitled Songs for Dogs and Songs for Cats.  Media Rights was to be the sole distributer for the physical discs in exchange for 20% royalty of all sales. Media Right licensed Orchard to distribute the records digitally without Bryant’s consent. From the 2002 to 2008 the albums grossed $12.14 from the physical product, and $578.98 in digital copies. Bryant claimed copyright infringement on both Media Right and Orchard claiming statutory damages for each of the 20 songs totally $3 million dollars. The court ruled that each album (2 albums) was counted as one work  of art and did not acknowledge copyright infringement on 20 tracks. The district court also ruled Media Right NOT to be a willful infringer and Orchard innocent of infringing. Also, no attorney fees were awarded but granted the minimum amount for infringing on each album ($200) as well as $1,000 in damages for each album. So Bryant was awarded $2,400 total damages for his claim against Media Right.

This relates to my business plan because I want to represent independent artists who may be looking for distribution deals. I was unaware of the fact that albums accounted for one work of art. The attorneys both brought up an interesting question of how would a compilation album claim copyright infringement because it would contain several artists with their own copyrights. 

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Firemark, Gordon (Host). (2011, May 11). Tattoos & Topiaries [Episode 20]. Entertainment Law Update. Podcast retrieved from http://www.entertainmentlawupdate.com/

Firemark, Gordon (Host). (2010, May 24). Hot News [Episode 11]. Entertainment Law Update. Podcast retrieved from http://www.entertainmentlawupdate.com/page/2/


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