Grumpy Cat Wins $710,001 Copyright Lawsuit Against Grenade Beverage

By Joseph Mandour on January 30, 2018

Orange County – Back in 2012, a Snowshoe Siamese cat named Tardar Sauce became an Internet sensation through photos of the cat’s signature grumpy expression. Tardar Sauce is now infamously known as Grumpy Cat. The cat’s owner, Tabatha Bundesen, created Grumpy Cat Limited to create business opportunities for the cat. The following year in 2013, Grenade Beverage paid $150,000 and signed an agreement to use the cat’s image on its ‘Grumpuccino’ iced coffee.

Shortly after, Grenade started using the cat’s image on other products including t-shirts and other beverages. Grumpy Cat Limited claimed that these uses were not authorized, and so in 2015 Grumpy Cat Limited sued Grenade Beverage for exceeding the agreement and committing copyright infringement. Grenade Beverage responded with a countersuit, stating that Grumpy Cat Limited had not held up its side of the agreement. Grenade Beverage explained that part of the agreement was that Grumpy Cat Limited would promote the coffee by making the Grenade Beverage brand present on Grumpy Cat’s social media.

Grenade Beverage’s attorney pointed out that the product was only promoted 17 times and that Grumpy Cat’s appearance on a Fox News show to promote the coffee was a “disaster” because Grumpy Cat’s people did not refer to the agreed talking points they were given. Allegedly, Grumpy Cat Limited had also told Grenade Beverage that Grumpy Cat would co-star with Jack Black and Will Ferrell in an upcoming movie, which never happened. Grumpy Cat did, however, star in her own Christmas movie that earned a 5 out of 10 star rating. Apart from negotiating movie deals, Grumpy Cat Limited also donates to shelters that help save animals.

Grumpy Cat was present during the January trial, but was not there for the final verdict. The California Jury ended up siding with Grumpy Cat Limited. Grumpy Cat Limited had initially asked for $600,000 in damages but were awarded $710,001 for copyright and trademark infringement, along with a $1 nominal damage fee for breach of contract.

Though not painful, Grumpy Cat’s face is said to be caused by an underbite and feline dwarfism. Regardless, the six-year-old Tardar is an incredible feline. She has her own business, a massive fan base, has travelled th... Read the rest

Spotify Faces $1.6 Billion Copyright Lawsuit Regarding Music Licenses

By Joseph Mandour on January 11, 2018

Orange County – The new year is bringing in with it the first significant reform of music licensing rules in decades. Streaming services like Spotify are continuing to gain in popularity as consumer purchase less Compact Discs. Spotify is now facing three lawsuits alleging that it has failed to pay artists for the music it streams.

Most recently, the Swedish streaming company has to deal with a new larger copyright lawsuit from Wixen Music Publishing. Wixen Music Publishing filed a lawsuit in California federal court that alleges Spotify is using Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’,” the Doors’ “Light My Fire,” and several thousands of other songs without a license.

The plaintiff is seeking an award for $1.6 billion in damages. The complaint states that, “Spotify brazenly disregards United States Copyright law and has committed willful, ongoing copyright infringement,” and also suggests that twenty-one percent of the 30-million songs on Spotify are perhaps unlicensed.

Spotify was contacted for a request to comment, but has yet to respond. Spotify continues to challenge plaintiff’s authority as to whether Wixen Music Publishing has been authorized by its clients to take action. To defend the lawsuit, Spotify may claim that streaming does not include reproduction nor distribution rights under United States Copyright law.

As a result, USA lawmakers have made a point to begin reforming music licensing. In late December, Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) introduced the Music Modernization Act which would end the “notice of intent” process that’s currently in place.

A database would instead have to publicly identify songs and alleviate the way that digital services struggle to identify and locate co-authors of each of the tens of millions of copyrighted songs. Under the proposal, digital services like Spotify would fund a Mechanical Licensing Collective that would be granted blanket mechanical licenses — the rates would resemble market value giving songwriters and publishers audit rights.

The proposal has earned a buy-in from the Digital Media Association, a trade organization which represents Apple, YouTube, Amazon, and Spotify. However, it may take more than this to get Congre... Read the rest

Rapper Rick Ross’ Revives Copyright Lawsuit Against LMFAO

By Joseph Mandour on November 20, 2017

Los Angeles – Last week Miami rapper Rick Ross appealed a 2016 ruling that dismissed his copyright lawsuit about alleged similarities between his song “Hustlin” and Los Angeles duo LMFAO’s song “Party Rock Anthem.” LMFAO is made up of Redfoo (Stefan Gordy) the youngest son of Motown founder Berry Gordy, and Sky Blu (Skyler Gordy) who is Stefan’s nephew.

In April 2016, the Florida court ruled that Rick Ross’ copyright registrations for the song had several errors making them invalid. Without valid registration with the U.S. Copyright Office, a copyright lawsuit cannot be filed in federal court. Back in 2016, U.S. District Court Judge Kathleen M. Williams stated that, “Because Plaintiffs do not hold a valid copyright registration and because Plaintiffs have not established either legal or beneficial ownership of the exclusive right to prepare derivative works for Hustlin’, Plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment is denied and this case is dismissed.”

Ross has now asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Miami to revive his claims that LMFAO ripped off his song with their lyrics, “everyday I’m shufflin’”. Ross’s argument to the Court of Appeals is that his copyright registrations are valid despite errors since there was no intentional fraud or cover-up in the song’s registration process.

Judge Kathleen Williams cited several cases that noted short phrases are not copyrightable in holding that the three-word phrase “everyday I’m hustlin’” from Ross’ 2006 song “Hustlin’” are not sufficient for copyright protection. There have been other lyrics that the courts have found not subject to copyright protection, such as “fire in the hole,” “so high,” “get it poppin’” and many other simple, short phrases.

Judge Williams states that even if the phrase was copyrightable the plaintiffs fail the intrinsic test. The average person would not confuse “everyday I’m shufflin’” with the musical composition of “Hustlin.’” without reference to either song “Party Rock Anthem” and “Hustlin’”. So, the average person would not recognize the “everyday I’m shufflin’” phrase as being adopted from ‘Hustlin.’ when used in relation to merchandise as was done he... Read the rest

Eminem Wins Copyright Lawsuit Against New Zealand Political Party

By Joseph Mandour on October 31, 2017

Los Angeles – A judge recently held that a New Zealand political party infringed on Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” copyright when it used a song that sounded very similar to Eminem’s hit. The song was used in a 2014 election advertisement. The judge awarded Eminem’s publishing company $415,000 after deciding that the song the National Party purchased from a stock music library was substantially similar to Eminem’s song.

The infringing song’s title is labeled as “Eminem-esque” which likely did not help the defendant. “Lose Yourself” received the 2003 Academy Award for Best Original Song and is one of Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Hip-Hop Songs of All-Time.

The advertisement for National Party Candidate Steven Joyce aired more than 100 times and the songs publisher, Eight Mile Style, was awarded damages plus interest from June 28th, 2014. Additional damages were not granted because the court ruled that the New Zealand political party did not act irresponsible by using the song and did make an attempt to seek out professional, commercial, and media advice.

The National Party purchased the song they used in their advertisement from a company called Beatbox which secured its license from music library Labrador. The New Zealand political party is considering taking action against the supplier and licensors. Copyright lawyers representing Eight Mile Style want to use this outcome as a public service announcement and a warning to sound-alike music producers and clients worldwide.

A representative for Eminem stated that he played no role in the court case, but any monetary settlement he receives from the case will be donated to hurricane relief and he encourages the publishing company to do the same.

In The New Zealand Herald it was reported that some of the National Party members were aware of the two songs’ similarities. One email that was revealed in trial was a member questioning how they can be confident they aren’t ripping Eminem off. The email states as follows, “I guess the question we’re asking, if everyone thinks it’s Eminem, and it’s listed as ‘Eminem-esque,’ how can we be confident that Eminem doesn’t say we’re ripping him off?”

The hearing that launched in May has becom... Read the rest

Banana Suit Costume Sparks Scary Halloween Copyright Lawsuit

By Joseph Mandour on October 4, 2017

Orange County – Banana suit costumes are a popular favorite for Halloween, and it turns out there’s big money in them. Enough so that Kmart and Rasta Imposta are entrenched in a copyright lawsuit over a banana suit which is a registered U.S. copyright.

For nearly a decade since 2008, Kmart has been purchasing costumes from costume manufacturer Silvertop Associates which does business as Rasta Imposta. However, this year Kmart and Rasta Imposta failed to reach an agreement on payment terms resulting in Kmart choosing to use another vendor to fulfill banana suit orders. It was soon after this that Rasta Imposta noticed Kmart selling a replica of Rasta Imposta’s banana suit.

Rasta Imposta began selling its banana suit in 2001 and received a copyright registration for the design in 2010. The banana suit is one of the company’s most successful costumes and they license out the design every year. In the lawsuit, the complaint states, “Kmart is not free to simply appropriate Rasta Imposta’s intellectual property for its own business advantage without Rasta Imposta’s consent.” Thus far Rasta Imposta has not commented on how many banana suits it sells each year.

There are many different variations of banana suit costumes such as unpeeled bananas, half peeled bananas, jumpsuits, hoodies, and even zombie bananas. Rasta Imposta’s copyright would only protect the specific design or designs that it filed for and it would only have a claim against a manufacturer that created a substantially similar design. Copyright registration protects original works of authorship and apparel and costumes can be protected.

Other companies such as Target, Walmart, and Bed Bath and Beyond have their own banana suit costumes. Kmart could argue that its banana suit is sufficiently different from to Rasta Imposta’s banana suit and could possibly find other similar banana suits to claim that Rasta Imposta’s protection is very narrow. Kmart is also likely to try to invalidate Rasta Imposta’s banana suit copyright registration if it can find evidence that it i... Read the rest

Conan O’Brien “Joke” Copyright Infringement Lawsuit Proceeds to Trial

By Joseph Mandour on May 18, 2017

Los Angeles – Late night television host Conan O’Brien, his writing staff, and Time Warner apparently will have to defend themselves at trial in federal civil court in the coming months. The popular television show “Conan” has been accused of stealing three jokes from a blog.

The jokes were allegedly stolen from the blog of freelance comedy writer, Robert “Alex” Kaseberg in 2014 and 2015. Last Friday, U.S. District Court for the Central District of California Judge Janis Sammartino ruled that the case can proceed to trial.

Stealing jokes is a serious accusation in the world of comedy. In his deposition, Conan O’Brien himself admitted that, short of murder, stealing a joke is the worst thing a comedian can do. The case has very serious reputational costs associated with it. O’Brien and his team will likely want to avoid being branded as joke thieves, and will want to settle out of court if there is a real chance of losing the case.

On the other hand, suing for copyright infringement of jokes is extremely rare. Part of the reason for this is that the comedy industry has its own inter-community policing norms to resolve such issues without involving the courts. Another reason is that it’s extremely difficult to prove ownership of a joke. In this case, the jokes in question were about news and current events. According to one judge, jokes based on these topics only have “thin” copyright protection. For the plaintiff to win the case several criteria must be met. Apart from proving ownership of the joke, the plaintiff must prove that the jokes are substantially similar. There must also be proof that the defendant had access to the joke.

The three jokes at issue relate to jokes about Tom Brady, the Washington Monument and a joke about Caitlyn Jenner. Each was posted to Kaseberg’s twitter account and then shortly thereafter similar jokes were delivered by Conan O’Brien on his show. Due to how serious a charge joke-theft is within the comedy industry, any settlement out o... Read the rest

Eminem Sues New Zealand Governing Body for Copyright Infringement

By Joseph Mandour on May 10, 2017

San Diego – United States rap star, Eminem, is suing the current New Zealand ruling political party for copyright infringement. The dispute is over a campaign ad that the conservative National Party ran during the country’s 2014 election.

Representatives from Eminem’s Detroit based music publishing company, Eight Mile Style, claim that the music that underscores the ad is clearly from Eminem’s international bestselling track “Lose Yourself,” which was featured in the popular motion picture 8 Mile. Eight Mile Style copyright lawyer, Gary Williams, insists that the use of the song is a clear breach of copyright.
New Zealand claims that it purchased the backing-track used in the ad from a library created by Beatbox, a production music company. Beatbox is a popular service that features music similar to famous tracks, while being different enough to avoid copyright infringement.

The title of the track is “Eminem-esque” and it features the same insistent driving rhythm as “Lose Yourself,” but without any of the words. When this case was initially filed in 2014, Steven Joyce, a New Zeland based law maker, stated that he felt the use of the track was “pretty legal,” and went on to claim that Eminem was taking advantage of the fact that New Zealand was in an election season.

In a series of e-mails that were exchanged during the New Zealand campaign, one staff member expressed concern over the copyright issue. One e-mail points out that everybody who listens to the track assumes it is Eminem and the title of the track is “Eminem-esque.” The e-mail goes on to question the legality of using the song and whether they were in breach of copyright. Williams claims this e-mail shows it is “utterly clear” that the National Party knew it was ripping off Eminem.

Eminem and Eight Mile Style view “Lose Yourself” as the most successful song of the rapper’s career. They do not often grant permission for people to use the song for advertisement. They claim the song is so popular that when it is used it can command millions of dollars. Representatives of Eminem claim that their objection to the national party using the track is not political.

The trial began on Monday, May 1, 2017. Eminem is suing for a currently non-disclos... Read the rest

“We Shall Overcome” Copyright Lawsuit Moves Forward

By Joseph Mandour on November 28, 2016

constitution-flagLos Angeles – A judge in New York last week ruled in favor of allowing a copyright lawsuit challenging the copyright of “We Shall Overcome”. The song is a civil rights anthem and protest song. The lawsuit claims that lyrics in the song have been taken from other songs, such as African-American spirituals, and thus the copyright was never valid.

Plaintiff argues that the other songs have been in the public domain, so “We Shall Overcome” is not original and it should also be in the public domain. The lawsuit was filed earlier this year against the Richmond Organization and Ludlow Music which are the entities that have controlled the use of the song since the 1960s. For example, the film “The Butler” paid $100,000 for the right to use the song in the movie. The production team from the movie has since joined the lawsuit.

The Richmond Organization and Ludlow Music say that all the royalties from “We Shall Overcome” go to the Highlander Research and Education Center. The center uses the proceeds to preserve civil rights documents. They also use the money for promotion of art and research in the African-American community. As a result of the judge’s ruling, the Ludlow Music company will have to take legal action to defend its rights to the song.

The lyrics of “We Shall Overcome” have changed over the years. Since its 1960 copyright registration, verses have been changed along with a few of the lyrics. Pete Seeger recorded his own version in 1963 and obtained a copyright for it, at the time claiming that it was sufficiently original, which would merit its own copyright.

“We Shall Overcome” has been an anthem and protest song since its creation back when slaves were legal. In the 1940s, African-American protestors sang the song on the picket lines in the southern United States. It was used over and over during the civil rights movement beginning in 1959, and continues to be used in recent years during vigils in response to gun violence.

Although the decision m... Read the rest

Donald Trump Jr. Tweets a Skittles Copyright Infringement

By Joseph Mandour on October 6, 2016

candy-skittlesOrange County – Donald Trump Jr., son of Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump, recently posted a controversial Tweet. The image is a white bowl full of rainbow-colored Skittles. The text in the photo says, “If I had a bowl of skittles and I told you just three would kill you, would you take a handful? That’s our Syrian refugee problem.”

Trump added his own text with the photo that reads: “This image says it all. Let’s end the politically correct agenda that doesn’t put America first. #trump2016.” Comparing Syrian refugees to deadly Skittles has put Trump in hot water.

Trump faced intense backlash on social media after he posted the image and his take on the Syrian refugee crisis. Some have compared it to a nod to white supremacy dating back as far as Nazi Germany and anti-semitism. It even gained a response from Wrigley, the owner of Skittles: “Skittles are candy. Refugees are people. We don’t feel it’s an appropriate analogy. We will respectfully refrain from further commentary as anything we say could be misinterpreted as marketing,” the company said in a statement.

Now the Skittles image from the original Tweet has been removed at the request of the photographer due to copyright infringement issues. Ironically, the photographer who took the photo is a refugee himself. UK-based photographer David Kittos immigrated to the United Kingdom with his family in 1974 after fleeing the Turkish occupation of Cyprus. When they arrived in the UK, Kittos was six years old.

Kittos filed a takedown notice under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in order to have the image removed. “The image of a bowl of Skittles is mine and has always been set as “ALL RIGHTS RESERVED” in my Flickr library,” Kittos wrote. “It was copied and is being used WITHOUT my permission. I have never been contacted by Donald Trump Jr. or any representative about the image, before or after it was used in the Tweet.”

Kittos goes on to say: “This was not done with my permission,” he ... Read the rest

Father Sues for Copyright Infringement After Live-Streaming Baby’s Birth

By Joseph Mandour on September 29, 2016

baby-toesSan Diego – It seems each day more people are willing to share ever more personal things on the Internet. Along these lines, in May of this year Kali Kanongataa a California resident used Facebook to live stream his wife giving birth. After portions the live stream ended up on television and publicized on the Internet, he sued ABC and Yahoo for allegedly infringing his copyright by displaying the video.

The day after the live stream, ABC’s “Good Morning America” ran a short segment about the live stream and showed a brief excerpt from the video that was up loaded by Mr. Kanogataa which had been widely viewed online since this airing. The clip also appeared on Yahoo, which has a partnership with ABC.
Mr. Kanogataa explained to People magazine that he has family in the Polynesia island Tonga and by using Facebook Live he was hoping to easily share the birth of his son with them and other family members who were not able to be present. He expressed he never expected it to been seen by the public at large. “There’s a lot of negative stuff on Facebook and so I thought this would be positive,” he reportedly told People magazine in May.

He alleges in a complaint filed in federal court in Manhattan that “Good Morning America” and Yahoo never obtained his permission to show the video, which he registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. “Defendants infringed plaintiff’s copyright in the video by reproducing and publicly displaying the video on the GMA Website, Yahoo Website, and on GMA,” he alleges in a petition filed Thursday.

This would not be the first time a main stream media source has been sued for allegedly using material found on a social media outlet without obtaining the proper permissions or license. A freelance photographer, Daniel Morel, who posted one of his photos he captured on the 2010 Haiti earthquake to Twitter, sued Agence France Presse and Getty images for distributing the image without a license. He was awarded $1.2 million after a jury trial.

While both ABC and Yahoo are attempting to defend themselves using “fair use” principles, it will be up to a judge or jury on whether that argument will stand.

... Read the rest
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