Articles Posted in Legal Decisions

A CONTINUING REMINDER OF THE NEED FOR STRONG ADVISORSRoger Clemens

Roger Clemens must feel like he’s under siege these days. Once certain that he’d be elected to the baseball hall of fame, Clemens is now on trial for the second time on perjury charges for lying about his supposed use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). (Clemens’ first trial ended in a mistrial when prosecutors showed a video that had previously been ruled inadmissible.)

I previously wrote about Clemens and his predicament well before his indictment and first criminal trial. My first post was about how much a celebrity’s reputation is worth and whether suing for defamation is an appropriate strategy to defend that reputation. I updated that first post about the crucial decisions on how to defend celebrities and their reputations when the judge dismissed most of Clemens’ claims in his civil lawsuit for defamation against his former trainer.

Since then, Clemens was indicted and now is undergoing his second trial on federal perjury charges for allegedly lying to Congress in his testimony about the use of PEDs in baseball. After the jump, I’ll discuss how a celebrity’s reputation, and perhaps his freedom, depends on the quality and strength of the advice he receives from his representatives and friends.
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STAR OF SUPER BOWL XLVI HALFTIME SHOW FOUGHT FOR “MATERIAL GIRL” TRADEMARK RIGHTS IN CLOTHING

Before her appearance at the Super Bowl festivities this weekend, singer/songwriter Madonna was locked in a battle over the trademark “Material Girl” with a clothing manufacturer who has been manufacturing clothing under that name for almost 15 years. In 2010, Madonna’s company and retailer Macy’s began to sell a line of clothing under the “Material Girl” name. The clothing manufacturer sued Madonna and others.

In a motion for summary judgment last summer, the company defendants claimed that Madonna obtained a trademark over the phrase “Material Girl” as a result of her hit song of the same name and related sales of goods and merchandise with that name

After the jump, I’ll summarize the court’s analysis and describe why I believe that Madonna should be afforded trademark rights to “Material Girl” as a result of the popularity of her song and her public persona as the quintessential “Material Girl.”
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DC COMICS DEFEATS MOTION TO DISMISS COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT CLAIMS OVER BATMOBILE REPLICA CAR KITS

DC Comics, publisher of the original Batman comic strip, filed a lawsuit against the manufacturer and seller of vehicle modification kits that allow a consumer to create his or her own “Batmobile.” The original Batmobile (pictured on the right) was an integral part of the 1960s television series based upon the DC comic books. “Gotham Garage” sold kits allowing consumers to build and own a replica of the iconic Batmobile. DC Comics sued, alleging that the replicas infringe upon their copyright to the Batmobile.

After the jump, I’ll discuss the motion to dismiss proceedings before the Honorable Ronald S.W. Lew in the Central District of California. I’ll also provide some insight into the business replica Batmobiles and the potential implications of Judge Lew’s ruling upon the auto industry and car design.
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STUDIO WINS ENTERTAINMENT LITIGATION RELATING TO “CARS” FRANCHISE

The studios behind the “Cars” motion picture franchise ended their July with a bang — winning their litigation in Los Angeles federal court over the creation of the franchise. Cars II Movie PosterLast Wednesday, July 27, 2011, Judge Valerie Baker Fairbank of the US District Court for the Central District of California in Los Angeles dismissed all claims against the Walt Disney Company, Pixar and studio-related companies filed by a plaintiff who claimed that the highly successful “Cars” films were based upon his copyrighted screenplay and treatment.

Plaintiff Jake Mandeville-Anthony alleged that Disney/Pixar and the other defendants infringed upon his copyrights in two prior works and that the studios owed him compensation for using his materials based upon an implied contract. Mandeville-Anthony’s pursuit of damages against these studios came to an abrupt end with Judge Fairbank’s order dismissing his entire case on the pleadings.

After the jump, I’ll discuss the issues raised by the claims in this case and the import of the court’s decision dismissing the case at such an early stage.
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THE IMPORTANCE OF A STRONG LAWYER-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP

The lawyer-client relationship can — and should — be among the most intimate relationships — grounded in mutual trust and respect, with open and honest communication. A client comes to the lawyer with a problem — the lawyer learns all of the facts and charts the course to a solution — and both are on the same page as they work together towards the resolution of the problem. However, as with any other personal relationships, it’s no surprise that lawyers and clients can hit rough patches in their journey — even when the relationship is a “good” one. This post is about examples of what can happen when the lawyer-client relationship deteriorates into an adversarial one.

There are many factors to consider when deciding whether to file litigation. I’ve previously touched on certain “downsides” to such litigation — the potential that the litigation will spiral out of control or that the litigation will result in unintended consequences and embarrassing disclosures. This post is about the downside to strategic litigation choices — including the decision to file a lawsuit in the first instance — and how those choices can affect, positively or negatively, the strength of any lawyer-client relationship.

After the jump, two recent lawsuits between lawyers and clients — including one case involving one of my mentors — illustrate the importance of full and open communication between lawyers and clients during any litigation.
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NINTH CIRCUIT OVERTURNS MATTEL’S TRIAL COURT VICTORY AGAINST MGA ENTERTAINMENT IN BATTLE OF THE DOLLSThe Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals filed an opinion today reversing a multi-million dollar verdict and injunction in favor of Mattel, maker of Barbie dolls, against upstart competitor MGA Entertainment which makes the Bratz doll line. The case has garnered much attention as two highly popular doll lines and their manufacturers battled each other in federal court in Los Angeles. Chief Judge Alex Kozinski’s entertaining opinion today likely will have far reaching consequences beyond toymakers — affecting copyright infringement, trademark infringement and constructive trust litigation.

You can read and download Judge Kozinski’s opinion here. More on his opinion after the jump.
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NY FEDERAL JUDGE RULES THAT ALLEGEDLY DEFAMATORY STATEMENTS ABOUT ANNA NICOLE SMITH’S ATTORNEY/COMPANION SHOULD BE PRESENTED TO A JURY

Last Wednesday, on August 12, 2009, a federal district court judge in New York ruled that the defamation case filed by Anna Nicole Smith’s former attorney and companion, Howard K. Stern, against the publisher and author of the book “Blonde Ambition: The Untold Story Behind Anna Nicole Smith’s Death” should proceed to trial against the author, MSNBC investigative reporter, Rita Cosby. Judge Dennis Chin’s decision provides several interesting legal tidbits as well as a glimpse into the media frenzy that followed Smith and her death.

“Blonde Ambition” made several explosive revelations about Smith, Stern, and Larry Birkhead, Smith’s other love interest and father of her baby, Dannielyn. Cosby wrote among other things that (a) Smith caught Stern and Birkhead having oral sex with each other at a party in Los Angeles, (b) Smith remarked that Stern was gay, (c) Smith watched a sex tape of Stern and Birkhead on a regular basis as witnessed by her nannies, (d) Stern regularly “pimped” out Smith to others to have sex with and (e) Stern played a role in Smith’s death. As expected, these revelations made Cosby’s book an instant best-seller. However, also as expected, Stern was none too pleased with the contents of that book — and sued Cosby and her publisher for defamation in New York.

The following are the highlights of Judge Chin’s decision. You can see a copy of Judge Chin’s ruling here.
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ROCKER JACKSON BROWNE SURVIVES REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE’S ANTI-SLAPP MOTION

Jackson Browne’s 1977 iconic song “Running on Empty” is the focal point of a federal court lawsuit which highlights the tension between the First Amendment’s strong protection for political speech and the rights of an artist to control his work. Browne sued the Republican National Committee (RNC), Senator John McCain and the Ohio Republican Party (ORP) because the ORP used “Running on Empty” in a web ad during the 2008 presidential campaign without Browne’s permission. Browne, a well known activist who favors liberal causes and candidates, sued.
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SUPREME COURT MAY CONSIDER WHETHER FEDERAL APPEALS COURT RULING PERMITTING REMOTE DIGITAL VIDEO RECORDERS VIOLATES THE COPYRIGHT ACT

The manner in which we view television programs has changed. The advent of digital video recorders like Tivo means that viewers are regularly “copying” content. While copying for personal use has been upheld by the courts, new technologies allowing cable companies to provide digital video recorders from a remote, central location have given rise to a number of cases across the country.

In August 2008, the Second Circuit considered the issue of whether such a “remote digital recorder” violated content providers’ copyrights. That court reversed a ruling in the Southern District of New York and held that these remote DVRs did not infringe upon the providers’ rights. However, just last month, the United States Supreme Court requested the government to weigh in on the issue — requesting that the Solicitor General submit a brief to express the government’s view of the law.

Should content providers really be complaining about a DVR system which appears to be more secure against piracy? Stay tuned to see if your cable’s DVR will be upheld to be legal.
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JUDGE DISMISSES MOST OF CLEMENS’ CASE AGAINST FORMER TRAINER

In my prior post about protecting celebrities and their reputation, I commented on the defamation lawsuit that Roger Clemens brought against his former trainer, Brian McNamee. Clemens sued McNamee over McNamee’s statements to investigators led by former Senator George Mitchell, as revealed in the infamous “Mitchell Report” concerning drug use in Major League Baseball, as well as statements McNamee made to Clemens’ friend and Yankee teammate Andy Pettitte. As I previously wrote, a defamation lawsuit is a legitimate aggressive course of action to pursue — but one which requires complete assurance that the factual and legal grounds of the case is solid, not just an expensive PR gambit.

On February 12, a federal judge in Houston dismissed the majority of Clemens’ case against McNamee. Given the many embarrassing facts about Clemens’ character and reputation that have been revealed, and now the order which effectively guts Clemens’ case, the Clemens lawsuit is another example of that aggressive strategy gone awry.
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