Celebrities took home a series of legal victories in recent weeks. Here’s a round-up:
No rip-off: Actor Sacha Baron Cohen won dismissal of a copyright infringement lawsuit alleging that a scene from his 2009 film Brüno ripped off a lawyer-turned-scriptwriter.
John Musero, who left a career as an in-house attorney at Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc. more than a year ago to pursue a screenwriting career, sued Cohen, director Larry Charles and two production companies, claiming that a scene in Brüno came from his script.
In the scene, Brüno dons a Velcro suit and gets stuck to a curtain and some clothes, then falls onto a fashion runway only to get arrested. In Musero’s script, the character wears a Velcro suit and gets stuck to rabbit food, attracting rabbits, cats and a waiter, then falls into a pool.
Musero claimed that the production company behind Brüno rejected his script in 2008.
U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson in Los Angeles ruled on Monday that the scene was not protectable because, among other things, “a character who wears a suit that starts sticking to everything around him will inevitably try to ‘unstick’ himself and, in the process, fall and cause mayhem.”
Musero’s lawyer, Stephen Doniger of Doniger/Burroughs in Culver City, Calif., disagreed.
“I think the judge was incorrect in his analysis that Velcro sticking to everything logically follows from the idea of wearing a Velcro suit,” he said. His client, he added, was considering his options.
Cohen’s lawyer, Lincoln Bandlow, a partner in the Los Angeles office of Kansas City, Mo.-based Lathrop & Gage, could not be reached for comment.
Satire, not parody: Don Henley and two other musicians announced on Aug. 5 that they had settled a copyright infringement lawsuit with California Republican Chuck DeVore over his campaign’s use of the songs, The Boys of Summer and All She Wants to Do Is Dance.
DeVore, a member of the State Assembly who recently lost his bid for his party’s nomination for the U.S. Senate, had asserted fair use of the songs in political ads containing parody versions called The Hope of November and All She Wants to Do Is Tax.
U.S. District Judge James V. Selna entered partial summary judgment for Henley and his co-plaintiffs in June, ruling that the campaign had infringed on Henley’s copyrights, although not willfully.
The Boys of Summer narrator’s “supposed disappointment and disillusionment with the 1960′s politics is merely echoed, rather than critiqued or ridiculed, by the November narrator’s disappointment with [President] Obama’s post-election performance,” Selna wrote.
As for All She Wants to Do Is Tax, the song is satire, not a parody, because it “may mock political views that Henley allegedly supports, but that is insufficient justification for appropriating Henley’s works,” he wrote.
The plaintiffs included Mike Campbell, a founding member of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers who co-owns the copyright to The Boys of Summer, and Danny Kortchmar, a songwriter and beneficial owner of the copyright to All She Wants to Do Is Dance. Also named as a defendant was Justin Hart, director of Internet strategies and new media for DeVore’s campaign.
Henley’s lawyer, Jacqueline Charlesworth, of counsel in the New York office of Morrison & Foerster, was not available for comment. In a prepared statement, Henley said: “My colleagues and I brought this lawsuit to protect our music from being taken and used, without permission, to promote someone else’s agenda. It was not a question of political ideology, but the right of artists to control the use of the works they create, and protect their livelihoods.”
A lawyer for DeVore and Hart, Christopher Arledge of One LLP in Newport Beach, Calif., did not return a call for comment.
La Toya’s bankrupty: U.S. Bankruptcy Judge James Peck in New York ruled for La Toya Jackson on Aug. 5 in rejecting a motion to reopen her Chapter 11 case. Jackson filed in 1995 and emerged from bankruptcy in 1999.
A trust representing four unsecured creditors who were receiving monthly royalty payments from Jackson had not received any of the money because the distributions had all gone to administrative expenses, according to court records. The creditors’ trust had sought to extend its terms beyond the expiration date of March 31, 2011.
“Undoubtedly the most valuable assets held by the Trust are the rights to receive royalties associated with intellectual property created by La Toya Jackson as an artist and a performer,” Peck wrote. “Her fame is well recognized. The Debtor dedicated to the Trust the right to receive those royalty payments for a term of years, not in perpetuity.”
Gary Torrell, a partner at Los Angeles-based Valensi Rose who represents Jackson, said the judge had agreed with his argument that it “would be unfair for Ms. Jackson to take more of her royalties because of things that were beyond her control.”
Seth Lieberman, a lawyer at New York’s Pryor Cashman who represents the creditors’ trust, said his client was disappointed in the decision and was evaluating its options.
Amanda Bronstad can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.