Articles Posted in Entertainment & Sports Law

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Eberts is a film producer whose credits include Lord of War (2005) and Lucky Number Slevin (2006). After a string of failed movies, in 2009, he filed for bankruptcy. He was introduced to Elliott, an Illinois novice author who wanted to adapt his book into a movie. Eberts and Elliott formed a limited liability company. Both agreed to invest money. Eberts did not disclose his insolvency. Over the next year Elliott wired $615,000 to accounts controlled by Eberts. Eberts applied only 10% of that money toward the movie; he paid his father and bankruptcy attorney and spent the rest on personal items like art, furniture, designer clothing, and fine wines. Eberts also solicited and received a $25,000 loan from Elliott for an unrelated project and never repaid it. After Elliott discovered the scam, he filed suit. Later, Eberts pleaded guilty to seven counts of wire fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1343, and three counts of money laundering, section 1957, and was sentenced to 46 months’ imprisonment, the top of the guidelines range. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting an argument that the court failed to consider the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) sentencing factors or Eberts’s mitigation arguments, but based the sentence on unsupported facts. View "United States v. Eberts" on Justia Law

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Slep-Tone has filed more than 150 suits under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1051, challenging the unauthorized copying and performance of its commercial karaoke files. In addition to the registered Sound Choice trademark, Slep-Tone claims ownership of distinctive trade dress, consisting of typeface, style, and visual arrangement of the song lyrics displayed in the graphic component of the accompaniment tracks; a display version of the Sound Choice mark; and the style of entry cues that are displayed to signal when singers should begin to sing. Slep-Tone alleges that it has used this trade dress for decades and that it is sufficiently recognizable to enable customers to distinguish a Slep-Tone track from a track produced by a competitor. The pub operators own hard drives containing allegedly illegitimate “bootleg” copies of Slep-Tone tracks and, allegedly, are improperly “passing off” the copies as genuine Slep-Tone tracks. The district court dismissed claims of trademark infringement, reasoning that the complaint did not plausibly suggest that the unauthorized use of Slep-Tone’s trademark and trade dress is likely to cause confusion among customers as to the source of any tangible good containing the tracks, a prerequisite to relief under either cited section of the Lanham Act. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Slep-Tone’s real complaint concerns theft, piracy, and violation of Slep-Tone’s media policy rather than trademark infringement. View "Phoenix Ent. Partners, LLC v. Rumsey" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff produced the motion picture The Merry Gentleman, which was released in 2009. Despite some critical acclaim, the film was a commercial flop, for which the plaintiff blames Michael Keaton, the film’s lead actor and director. It filed a breach of contract action against Keaton and Keaton’s “loan-out company” that he uses for professional contracting, alleging that Keaton failed to timely prepare the first cut of the film; submitted an incomplete first cut; submitted a revised cut that was not ready to watch; communicated directly with Sundance Film Festival and threatened to boycott the festival if it did not accept his director’s cut instead of the producers’ preferred cut; failed to cooperate with the producers during the post-production process; and failed to promote the film. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Keaton, agreeing that the plaintiff failed to produce evidence from which a reasonable trier of fact could find that Keaton’s alleged breaches caused the damages sought: all $5.5 million spent producing the movie. View "Merry Gentleman, LLC v. George & Leona Prods., Inc." on Justia Law

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The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department participated in a reality television program, The Shift. The film crew followed homicide detectives investigating a deadly 2008 home invasion. Police eventually arrested Hart, in the final episode of the program’s first season. After Hart spent nearly two years in jail awaiting trial, the charges were dismissed. The Shift’s audience was not informed. Hart sued detectives and the city under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming that he was arrested without probable cause and that the lead detective made false or misleading statements in her probable cause affidavit for his arrest. The court rejected all claims before trial. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, but noted “many troubling aspects of IMPD’s investigation, and this case should warn police departments about having their detectives moonlight as television stars.” A reasonable trier of fact could not find that police lacked probable cause to arrest Hart. Nor could a reasonable jury find that the lead detective made false or misleading statements in her affidavit. Four surviving witnesses from the home invasion separately identified Hart as one of the men who attacked them. None of the police had any reason to doubt these identifications when they arrested Hart. View "Hart v. Mannina" on Justia Law

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Fortres develops and sells a desktop management program called “Clean Slate” and holds a federally-registered trademark for use of that name to identify “[c]omputer software used to protect public access computers by scouring the computer drive back to its original configuration upon reboot.” When Warner Bros. Entertainment used the words “the clean slate” to describe a hacking program in the movie, The Dark Knight Rises, Fortres experienced a precipitous drop in sales of its software. Fortres sued, alleging that the use of the words “clean slate” in reference to the software in its movie infringed its trademark in violation of Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1114, 1125, and Indiana unfair competition law. The district court dismissed, reasoning that Fortres had not alleged a plausible theory of consumer confusion, upon which all of its claims depend, and that Warner Bros.’ use of the words “the clean slate” was protected by the First Amendment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed without reaching the constitutional question. Juxtaposed against the weakness of all the other relevant factors, the similarity of the marks is not enough to establish confusion. Trademark law protects the source-denoting function of words used in conjunction with goods and services, not the words themselves. View "Fortres Grand Corp. v. Warner Bros. Entm't, Inc." on Justia Law

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Batson went to Live Nation’s Chicago box office and purchased a non‐refundable ticket to see a popular band. He later realized that the ticket price included a $9 parking fee for a spot he did not want. Believing that the bundled $9 fee was unfair, he sued on behalf of himself and a proposed class, citing the Class Action Fairness Act, 28 U.S.C. 1332(d)(1), and claiming that Live Nation had committed an unfair practice in violation of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act. The complaint referred to the 2010 merger between Live Nation and Ticketmaster (which was not blocked by the Department of Justice). The district court dismissed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, stating that there are times when consumers must accept a package deal in order to get the part of the package they want. The relevant factors ask whether the practice offends public policy; is immoral, unethical, oppressive, or unscrupulous; or causes substantial injury to consumers. View "Batson v. Live Nation, Entm't, Inc." on Justia Law

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When basketball legend Michael Jordan was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009, Sports Illustrated produced a special commemorative issue devoted exclusively to Jordan’s remarkable career. Jewel Foods was offered free advertising space in the issue for agreeing to stock the magazine in its 175 stores. Jewel submitted a full-page ad congratulating Jordan, which ran on the inside back cover of the commemorative issue. To Jordan the ad constituted a misappropriation of his identity for the supermarket chain’s commercial benefit. He sought $5 million in damages, alleging violations of the federal Lanham Act, the Illinois Right of Publicity Act, the Illinois deceptive-practices statute, and the common law of unfair competition. The district court accepted Jewel’s First Amendment defense, that its ad was “noncommercial” speech with full First Amendment protection. The Seventh Circuit reversed and remanded. Jewel’s ad prominently featured the “Jewel-Osco” logo and marketing slogan, which were creatively and conspicuously linked to Jordan in the text of the ad’s congratulatory message. The ad was a form of image advertising aimed at promoting the Jewel-Osco brand; it was commercial speech and subject to the laws cited by Jordan. View "Jordan v. Jewel Food Stores, Inc," on Justia Law

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Scottie Pippen won six championship rings with the Chicago Bulls and was named to the National Basketball Association’s list of the 50 greatest players in its history. Since he retired in 2004, he has lost much of the fortune he amassed during his playing days through bad investments. He has pursued multiple lawsuits against former financial and legal advisors. The media learned of Pippen’s problems and several news organizations incorrectly reported that he had filed for bankruptcy. Pippen contends that the false reports have impaired his ability to earn a living by product endorsements and appearances. He filed suit, alleging that he was defamed and cast in a false light. The district court dismissed, finding that the falsehoods did not fit any of the categories of statements recognized by Illinois law to be so innately harmful that damages may be presumed and that the complaint did not plausibly allege that the defendants had published the falsehoods with knowledge the statement was false or reckless disregard of whether it was false, as required for a public figure such as Pippen to recover defamation damages. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. View "Pippen v. NBC Universal Media LLC" on Justia Law

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In 1982 Hobbs was working as a photographer on a Russian cruise ship where he had a brief affair with a Russian waitress. Based on the experience, he wrote a song, “Natasha” about an ill-fated romance between a man from the U.K. and a Ukrainian woman. In 1983, he registered his copyright to “Natasha” in the United Kingdom and sent the song to several music publishers, including a company that published songs composed by Elton John and Bernard Taupin. Hobbs’s efforts to find a publisher for “Natasha” were unsuccessful. In 1985, Elton John released his very successful song, “Nikita,” in which a singer from “the west” describes his love for Nikita, whom the singer saw “by the wall” and who is on the other side of a “line” held in by “guns and gates.” Hobbs filed a copyright infringement claim 27 years later. The district court dismissed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, finding that the songs were not substantially similar. The Copyright Act does not protect general ideas, such as a romance between a western man and a woman from behind the iron curtain, but only the particular expression of an idea. View "Hobbs v. John" on Justia Law

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In 2006 a teenager accused Gakuba of kidnapping and raping him. State charges are pending Gakuba sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming that investigating police barged into his Rockford hotel room without a warrant and seized his wallet and other items after obtaining Gakuba’s video rental records from Hollywood Video to corroborate the accuser’s story that he had spent time watching videos in Gakuba’s room. He also sought damages under the Video Privacy Protection Act, 18 U.S.C. 2710. The district court dismissed without prejudice, granting Gakuba leave to amend his complaint if the indictment concluded in his favor. The court advised Gakuba that certain claims would be barred on immunity grounds. The Seventh Circuit vacated. Gakuba’s claims of damages resulting from illegal searches, seizures, and detentions involve constitutional issues that may be litigated during the course of his criminal case. Monetary relief is not available to him in his defense of criminal charges and his claims may become time-barred by the time the state prosecution has concluded, so the district court should have stayed rather than dismissed Gakuba’s civil-rights claims. The court noted that Hollywood Video employees knowingly disclosed his rental information to the police without a warrant. View "Gakuba v. O'Brien" on Justia Law