The Beastie Boys (Photo: Michael Morel)
They may be beautiful and talented (it’s in the eye of the beholder) but they’re not immune to legal woes. That especially goes for intellectual property disputes, which represent the bulk of our annual survey of celebrities caught up in the legal system.
FIGHT FOR YOUR RIGHT
Toy company GoldieBlox Inc. and the Beastie Boys had a very public back-and-forth over a video ad featuring a rewritten version of the rap group’s song, “Girls.” Goldieblox filed for a declaratory judgment in November, claiming the Beasties had “threatened” it with legal action. After an exchange of open letters, the company agreed to remove the song from the ad. But on Dec. 10 the Beasties sued anyway, claiming they were the latest victims of Goldieblox’s “systematic infringement of intellectual property.”
Robin Thicke’s pop smash “Blurred Lines” was not such a hit with Marvin Gaye’s family. The singer’s children claimed the song plagiarized their father’s 1970s hit “Got to Give It Up.” Billboard magazine reported that Thicke’s team offered the Gaye family a six-figure sum to preempt an infringement suit, but the family went ahead and filed anyway. Thicke and his collaborators countered with a suit of their own, claiming that “being reminiscent of a ‘sound’ is not copyright infringement.”
Lady Gaga was unsuccessful in her attempt to dismiss a suit brought by a former personal assistant. Jennifer O’Neill sought $380,000 in unpaid overtime wages, alleging that Gaga placed her on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with responsibilities like sleeping in Gaga’s bed and getting up in the middle of the night to change DVDs. The singer ultimately settled in advance of a November trial.
The Velvet Underground and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts settled a suit over the rights to the most enduring image associated with the Lou Reed-fronted band: a banana. The foundation had planned to license the iconic pop art banana design for bags, cases and sleeves for Apple products. The band sued, claiming exclusive use of the design for licensed merchandising.
Attorneys for celebrity chef Paula Deen cited the Supreme Court’s landmark Hollingsworth v. Perry ruling to bolster their defense against racism and sexual harassment allegations. They quoted Chief Justice John Roberts’ observation that Proposition 8 defenders lacked standing because they hadn’t suffered “a concrete and particularized injury.” The Deen suit, filed by a white person, was dismissed in August.
NOT SO SUPER
English-Sri Lankan rapper-singer M.I.A. was sued for $1.5 million after giving the cameras the middle-finger salute during her solo spot in Madonna’s halftime show at the Super Bowl. The National Football League claimed she intentionally breached an agreement to keep her performance in line with the “goodwill and reputation” of the NFL. The rapper-singer scoffed via YouTube, noting Madonna’s provocative chorus line of cheerleaders during the performance.
Pop singer Rick Springfield was sued by a concertgoer at the 2004 New York State Fair, who claimed lasting injuries after Springfield allegedly slipped and fell on her during the show. A mistrial was granted after comments on social-media sites appeared to corroborate the plaintiff’s story, just as the jury was set to deliberate.
Sisters Kourtney, Khloe and Kimberly Kardashian promoted QuickTrim on television and through Facebook and Twitter. Plaintiffs in an endorsement class action alleged that the ads made false and unsubstantiated claims that users would lose excess weight, and that the Kardashians came to “personify the product.” The judge threw out the suit, saying he was “reluctant to serve as a parking lot for this case.”
US AGAINST THE MUSIC
Madonna was sued over authorship of her hit, “Vogue.” The plaintiffs claimed the song featured a horn sound from a ’70s song they owned called “Love Break.” But “Vogue” producer Robert “Shep” Pettibone said he cowrote the plaintiffs’ song and also worked on its recording. The judge ruled in favor of Madonna and Pettibone.
Shadrach Winstead, author of “The Preacher’s Son — But the Streets Turned Me Into a Gangster,” claimed that 50 Cent, a/k/a Curtis Jackson, used plot lines and dialogue from his book in “Before I Self-Destruct,” a 2009 CD and DVD. The court disagreed, calling gang life marked by death and prison a common theme not subject to copyright.
Four years into the five-year arbitration between Thomas Kinkade Co. and dealers Nancy and David White, it was discovered that the dealers’ lawyer was secretly sending live hearing transcript feeds to a former Kinkade employee who replied with instant messages of proposed cross-examination questions. Such a revelation led the Sixth Circuit to call the arbitration “a model of how not to conduct one.”
— Compiled by Richard Binder