June 17, 2005
Cert Petition Filed in Grosso v. Miramax
The Hollywood Reporter is reporting that a cert petition has been filed in the case of Grosso v. Miramax. Jeff Grosso is a screenwriter whose work The Shell Game had been seen by executives at Miramax. Although Miramax did not use his script, it later made a film which Grosso thought closely resembled his work. While it upheld the dismissal of his infringment of copyright claim, the 9th circuit had held that Grosso's state law claim for breach of implied contract was not preempted--thus the district court's dismissal of his suit was improper. Read the 9th Circuit's opinion here. Read the Hollywood Reporter story here. (limited access; access to the full story requires subscription).
June 16, 2005
Runaway Bride Inks Deal
"Runaway bride" Jennifer Wilbanks and her fiance, John Mason, have sold the rights to their stories to ReganMedia, a New York based company. Wilbanks' attorney, Lydia Sartain, told reporters that Wilbanks had lost her job and needed to make some money to pay the bills, but according to reports, some officials in Wilbanks' home town of Duluth, Georgia are upset. Legislatures have tried unsuccessfully through "Son of Sam" laws to prohibit convicted felons from profiting through such deals. However, Willbanks pled no contest to a felony. She received a sentence of community service and probation. Read a FoxNews report here. A Denver Post article is here.
He's Ready for His Closeup
Mark Felt has closed a deal with Tom Hanks and Universal. Variety is reporting that the studio, Hanks and his partner Gary Goetzman have bought the Felt family's and John O'Connor's rights and are going ahead with a picture deal that will presumably make a big-screen flick out of the Vanity Fair piece, Felt's memoir and Felt and O'Connor's upcoming book. See the Variety account here.
June 15, 2005
Arrests in Newsday, Hoy, Circulation Fraud
NPR, Newsday, and other media are now reporting that two Tribune-owned papers, Newsday and Hoy, have apparently been reporting wildly inaccurate circulation figures since 2002. Today the federal government unsealed an affadavit alleging exactly how the fraud was carried out: three of the Tribune Company's former employees are accused of putting together a complex plan involving the destruction of newspapers, kickbacks, and false statements to independent auditors. Read the affadavit here. Read the NPR story here. Read a story in Newsday itself here.
Federal Appeals Court of Canada Considers File Sharing Case
File sharing via peer to peer (P2P) networks is just as contentious an issue in Canada as it is in the U.S. as the case of BMG Canada et al. v. John Doe et al. makes clear. This ruling, handed down by Canada's Federal Court of Appeal on May 19, considers several important issues, including whether an ISP must turn over the names of anonymous users of its services without a court order and whether those anonymous users are infringing the copyright of creators of musical works when they download recordings via the net.
June 14, 2005
Texas Appellate Court Reverses Trial Court; Finds for Media Appellants in Defamation Case
In Associated Press v. Boyd, the media appellants challenged the denial of summary judgment motions in a defamation suit brought by an attorney over published articles that summarized the attorney's alleged involvement in an ongoing matter being investigated by the SEC. "Neither article expressly stated the SEC lawsuit against Boyd was a civil proceeding or that the SEC does not prosecute criminal violations of federal securities laws." The attorney filed a defamation suit against the media involved "alleging the gist of the articles gave the false impression that the SEC was criminally prosecuting [him] for securities fraud by making untrue representations, omitting material facts and misleadingly justaposing events."
Boyd argued that the entire import of the articles implied that he was being "criminally prosecuted by the SEC for securities fraud". Said the court, "[a] publication can convey a defamatory meaning by omitting or juxtaposing facts, even though each individual statement considered alone might be literally true or nondefamatory....A plaintiff alleging defamatory based on an article as a whole must provde the article's "gist" or "sting" is false and defamatory....In such a case, the plaintiff may recover even if the discrete facts are literally or substantially true, provided they are published in such a way that they create a substantially false and defamatory impression by omitting material facts or justaposing facts in a misleaing way."
According to the appellate court, what creates the "sting" of the articles was not the omission of "whether it was a criminal or civil proceeding" but the accurate information relating to the investigation of his activities. "Here it is undisputed that Boyd had been accused of the unlawful conduct of participating in securities fraud. The forum in which those accusations were made, be it criminal or civil, did not materially affect the sting caused by the accurately reported allegations of Boyd's participation in a fraudulent scheme."
Based on its reading of the articles in question, the court reversed the finding of the trial court. Read the opinion here.
Supreme Court Lifts Injunction on Cochran's Former Client, Ruling It An "Overly Broad Prior Restraint on Speech"
With a majority opinion written by Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, the Supreme Court has lifted an injunction granted by a California trial court and upheld by the 2d Appellate District of California to the late Johnnie Cochran, finding that "as written, [it] now amounts to an overly broad prior restraint upon speech, lacking plausible justification." According to the syllabus provided by the Court, upon hearing the facts presented, "a California trial court found that petitioner [Ulysses] Tory, assisted by petitioner Craft and others, had inter alia, falsely claimed that Cochran owed him money, picketed Cochran's office with signs containing insults and obscenities, and pursued Cochran while chanting similar threats and insults, in order to coerce Cochran into paying Tory money to desist from such libelous and slanderous activity....The court permanently enjoined petitioners and their agents from, among other things, picketing, displaying signs, and making oral statements about Cochran and his firm in any public forum."
Cochran died shortly after the case was heard, but the Court considered that the case was not moot, since the injunction remained in effect. "Nothing in its language says the contrary. Cochran's counsel tells us that California law does not recognize a `cause of action for an injury to the memory of a deceased person's reputation,'...[b]ut counsel adds that `the [i]njunction continues to be necessary, valid and enforceable.' The parties have not identified, nor have we found, any source of California law that says the injunction here automatically becomes invalid upon Cochran's death, not even the portion personal to Cochran."
The Court declined the invitation to consider whether the First Amendment allows the issuance of a permanent injunction in defamation cases when the plaintiff is a public figure or whether the injunction here was improperly drawn when first written. It simply decided that "the injunction, as written, has now lost its underlying rationale. Since picketing Cochran and his law offices while engaging in injunction-forbidden speech could no longer achieve the objectives that the trial court had in mind (i.e. coercing Cochran to pay a "tribute" for desisting in this activity), the grounds for the injunction are much diminished, if they have not disappeared altogether."
The Court allowed the substitution of Mrs. Cochran for Mr. Cochran as respondent and remanded the case to the California courts. Read the opinion here. Justices Thomas and Scalia dissented.
Julie Hilden writes concisely about the case in an April 12, 2005 column. Read her piece here.
June 13, 2005
Canadian Judge Bans Publication of Internet Addresses
The Globe and Mail reports that a British Columbia judge has issued a publication ban on the reporting of Internet addresses in order to preserve a defendant's right to a fair trial under Section 11 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Publications bans are a common method of limiting pre-trial publicity and publicity during trials, but since the advent of the Internet seem to have had less and less impact as interested Canadians check websites for news of high-profile trials. While Canadian media generally respect publication bans, non-Canadian media, particularly U.S. journalists, do not, and have been notorious for publishing information about such proceedings. The latest high-profile trial in which U. S. media outlets provided such news was the Gomery case.
Census of Law Professor Bloggers
This morning's PrawfsBlawg has an interesting census of the current law professor blogging population. They report that 103 law professors currently blog; we have 24 law professors who blog as part of our Law Professor Blogs Network.
PrawfsBlawg notes that of the 103 law professor bloggers, 80.6% (83) are male and 19.4% (20) are female. The comparable numbers for the 24 members of the Law Professor Blogs Network: 62.5% (15) male and 37.5% (9) female.
Here are the law schools with the most law professor bloggers:
Law Schools with Most Law Prof Bloggers
Number of Bloggers
DC Circuit Affirms District Court; Uruguay Round Act Constitutional
Plaintiffs Luck's Music Library and Moviecraft had challenged the constitutionality of section 514 of the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (URAA) which "establishes copyrights of foreign holders whose works, though protected under the law where intitially published, fell into the public domain in the United States for a variety of reasons--the U. S. failed to recognize copyrights of a particular nation, the copyright owner failed to comply with formalities of U. S. copyright law, or, in the case of sound recordings "fixed" before February 15, 1972, federal copyright protection had been unavailable." The plaintiffs objected that "copyright laws that remove works from the public domain `do not provide significant incentives for new creations', instead rewarding stagnation or disincentives to create new work (the argument advanced in Eldred) and argued that the statute violated the Copyright and Patent Clause of the Constitution. The district court dismissed and the plaintiffs appealed.
Upon hearing this argument, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reasoned that although changes in legislation would not affect "the structure of incentives for works already created," it would affect the incentives for those considering future creations. "All else equal, the expected benefits of creating new works are greater if Congress can remedy the loss of copyright protection for works that have falled accidentally into the public domain."
The plaintiffs also advanced other arguments, which the court failed to accept, including that Congress had never authorized giving copyright to works already in the public domain. But the court indicated that under two statutes (the Act of 1919 and the Act of 1941) the Congress had done exactly that.
Read the entire opinion here.