Entertainment Law – Know the Legal Ramifications

When it comes to business, I say that there are two very important topics to be fully aware of and practice on a continual, almost religious, basis—finance and law. I believe that they are vital cornerstones to the success of a business. If they are not placed in the foundation of your business empire and managed properly, that figuratively speaking empire will come crashing down quickly. However, today I would like to focus more on the law side, particularly entertainment law and the legal liabilities that are associated and/or exposed within the industry.

I reviewed several court cases that have been conducted recently in the past year or less. Three of those especially stood out to me and how they affect, not only my business, but also many others within the entertainment industry. Those three cases are:

Harney v. Sony Pictures Television Inc. LLC – Decided January 7, 2013

Stephen Slesinger, Inc. v. Disney Enterprises, Inc. –Decided December 21, 2012

In the Harney v. Sony case, Harney attempted to sue Sony for using a photograph that closely resembled one that he took and became famous amongst the media. The photo that Harney took was of a guy who just came out of a church with a small girl sitting on his shoulders. It turned out that the guy in the photo with the little girl was actually a con artist, going by the name Clark Rockfeller, at that time. His real name was actually Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter. Gerhartsreiter was wanted for child abduction and the photo that came across all media was that of Harney’s. Later, Sony decided to make a documentary about Gerhartsreiter. Sony made and used a photo in the documentary that, again, closely resembled Harney’s. However, Sony used actors and had various significant differences in their creation. Moreover, Harney felt that Sony violated the laws pertaining to federal copyright infringement and filed suit.

In the Slesinger v. Disney case, we can find more disputes over copyrights, royalties, contract breach, and trademark infringement. Basically, Steven Slesinger was granted the rights to the Winnie-the-Pooh character from A.A. Milne, back in 1930. Slesinger signed over the rights to Disney at one point in time, but then felt Disney was not fulfilling their agreement by underpaying royalties due. This went on for decades in state and federal courts. Disney was recognized as the authorized owner to the license and trademarks of the Winnie-the-Pooh character, so Slesinger’s proceeding was barred. It was granted a summary judgment, dismissing the case due to collateral estoppel.

And last, but not least, there is the case of Howard Entertainment v. Kudrow. The last two court opinions went over topics such as copyright and trademark law, but now we are going to switch it up a bit to look more at contract breaching and evidence.

Scott Howard, of the later established Howard Entertainment, Inc., filed against actress Lisa Kudrow for compensatory damages relating to an oral agreement made between the two parties for Howard to be Kudrow’s personal manager, back in 1991. During the time Kudrow was becoming more popular and had a breakthrough with the hit show “Friends,” Howard was still Kudrow’s personal manager and provided his professional services. However, Kudrow later decided to terminate the agreement made between Howard and she. Howard felt that he still deserved to receive compensation after such termination of a contract, whether oral or written, for services rendered during the time he was Kudrow’s manager. To strengthen Howard’s case, an industry expert in entertainment, Martin Bauer, was obtained and provided his declaration for evidence. The expert testimony was to prove custom and usage within the entertainment industry, but there was a concern with lack of foundation.

(If you’d like to read the full case documents, just click on the case links above. You can also search for more opinion summaries under Entertainment Law at FindLaw.com.)

I hope that you can now see how important laws are in business, or even how crazy cases can be or become. We all have rights to protect us personally and professionally, and can see how this affects people and businesses every single day. Some of these cases can go on for years or decades. When people or businesses feel their rights have been violated, they will take action—some going completely off the beaten path and to higher extremes. Depending on how strong of case you have or how firmly you believe that some type of judgment shall be made in your favor, it is going to take time, energy, and money. Be prepared!

With that being said, I feel it is ever so important for anyone, whether you’re a business or not, to know the legal ramifications you are dealing with. For instance, now that I have studied more about copyright law, I have become more aware of certain copyright infringements. Taking extra precautions to the photos, materials, and/or content I use for my businesses, blogs, websites, videos, publications, et cetera. Protect yourself and your business as much as possible. Because the more successful you become, the more you become exposed to liabilities. Not saying this is always the case, but it is often that others will come after you if you have more to lose.

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