We recently discussed a new trend in celebrity copyright litigation on our YouTube channel and podcast (The Briefing on YouTube). Specifically, we discussed celebrities taking a stand and defending copyright claims brought by photographers against celebrities who reposted photos on their social media accounts. Two specific celebs who have taken a stand are

The Supreme Court recently denied petitions for certiorari in two of the most highly watched intellectual property cases before the Court. Those cases were Jack Daniel’s Properties Inc. v. VIP Products LLC and The Moodsters Company v. Walt Disney Company. Both cases were on petition from the Ninth Circuit and are summarized below for your convenience.

I.          Jack Daniel’s Properties, Inc. v. VIP Products LLC

In Jack Daniel’s Properties, Jack Daniel’s sued the maker of a dog toy, known as the Bad Spaniels Silly Squeaker, that was comedically modeled after the Jack Daniel’s Old. No. 7 bottle. The toy was a clear parody, but Jack Daniel’s alleged that the toy infringed its intellectual-property rights. VIP Products argued that their use wasn’t infringement because the toy was an expressive work entitled to First Amendment protection under Rogers v. Grimaldi. The district court rejected the argument and found VIP Products had infringed Jack Daniel’s trademark/trade dress.
Continue Reading Supreme Court Update: SCOTUS Denies Review of Two Highly Watched IP Cases

One of the last books written by Dr. Seuss, “Oh, The Places You’ll Go” is one of the bestselling books during graduation season each year.  The copyright for this book, like all of the works of Dr. Seuss, belongs to Dr. Seuss Enterprises, LP, which issues licenses for the creation of new works under the Dr. Seuss brand.  It also works closely to oversee licenses of its work, which it carefully vets.  As any parent (and even non-parent) knows, there are tons of Dr. Seuss-licensed works such as toys, video games and books.

In 2016, a group attempted to produce and market a book that would be a “mash up” of Dr. Seuss’ “Oh, The Places” and Star Trek, in which the crew of the USS Enterprise would be sent through the world inhabited by the characters of “Oh, The Places You’ll Go!”  A “mash up” is essentially a work that is created by combining “elements from two or more sources,” such as having specific movie characters inhabit a literary world, etc.

The plan was to create a new work called, “Oh The Places You’ll Boldly Go,” a play on words from the old Star Trek series that the crew was “boldly going where no man had gone before.”
Continue Reading It’s No “Fair Use” Trying to Parody Dr. Seuss

In the past few years there has been a number of libel claims based on an unfavorable portrayal of a real person in either a television program or motion picture that is based on real life events.  To name a few, there is the currently pending Mossack Fonseca & Co., S.A. et al v. Netflix Inc., which is based on the streamer’s portrayal of Panamanian lawyers in the feature The Laundromat which was about the “Panama Papers” leaked documents scandal, and there is also the currently pending  Fairstein v. Netflix, Ava Duvernay and Attica Lock involving a defamation claim over the portrayal of Linda Fairstein, a former NYC prosecutor, in the Netflix series, When They See Us which was about the trial of the Central Park Five.  There was also the now resolved Green v. Paramount Pictures that was discussed in a previous article, and there was the false light claim made in Olivia De Havilland v. FX Networks LLC over De Havilland’s portrayal in the FX docudrama Feud: Bette and Joan.

These cases are primarily based on a claim of defamation, usually liable which is a written defamation.  In California, libel is defined by Civil Code Section 45 as “a false and unprivileged publication by writing, printing, picture, effigy, or other fixed representation to the eye, which exposes any person to hatred, contempt, ridicule, or obloquy, or which causes him to be shunned or avoided, or which has a tendency to injure him in his occupation.”  In most states, libel is defined similarly.  In order to establish libel, a plaintiff will have to establish: that the statements were defamatory; that the statements were published to third parties; that the statements were false; and that it was reasonably understood by the third parties that the statements were about the plaintiff.
Continue Reading “Inspired By” Characters in Movies and TV – Defamation Lawsuit As a Spinoff