Media Law Prof Blog

Editor: Christine A. Corcos
Louisiana State Univ.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Tracing the Origins of a Potter Lawsuit, Or, Was NBC Too Font Of Harry?

Here's another Harry Potter lawsuit, this time involving NBC Universal and its use of some typeface on Harry Potter merchandise. While fonts are not copyrightable, software is, and this lawsuit, filed by P22 Type Foundry is over whether the software here was impermissibly used in the creation of the merchandise (for example, whether NBC's people simply used it as is, or whether they reproduced by tracing it, or copying it freehand). More here from the Hollywood Reporter, analysis from Stephanie Rabiner at Findlaw.

July 15, 2011 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Phone Hacking Repercussions Continue

More fallout from the NOTW phone hacking mess-- Les Hinton, who was head of News International during much of the questionable activity at News of the World, has now stepped down from his current post as CEO of Dow Jones. Current NewsCorp head Rebekeh Brooks resigned earlier today. Here's a link to the text of her resignation letter. Meanwhile, Rupert Murdoch has begun attempting damage control by issuing apologies to the family of young murder victim Milly Dowler.

July 15, 2011 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Watch It, Girl

From the Chronicle of Higher Education, a piece on why the University Press of Kansas changed the title and cover of a forthcoming book from That Girl to Those Girls. If That Girl reminds you of a certain tv series starring Marlo Thomas (pre-Phil Donahue), well, yes, that's the reason for the changes. It seems Ms. Thomas trademarked the phrase a while back. Clever Girl, That!

July 14, 2011 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Eleventh Circuit Dismisses Invasion of Privacy Suit In "COPS" Case

The Eleventh Circuit has upheld a lower court's dismissal of a plaintiff's suit against Fox Broadcasting, Turner Broadcasting, and Langley Productions for intrusion and public disclosure of private facts after she was filmed during an episode of COPS and the film segment was broadcast.

Said the Court:

Spilfogel's second amended complaint alleged that the COPS broadcast publicized her "eccentric reactions and behavior in stressful situations." Specific facts about her that were disclosed include: that she was upset with her daughter, that she keeps her cell phone in a plastic bag in her purse and uses the phone with the bag on it, and that she had a trunk full of items that she wanted to give to hurricane victims but these donations had not been accepted. Spilfogel offers very little explanation for why any reasonable juror could find these particular facts are private and how such a juror could deem their revelation offensive. No such explanation is readily apparent to this court.

Spilfogel relies on Baugh v. CBS, Inc., 828 F. Supp. 745 (N.D. Cal. 1993), to support her allegations, stating that right to privacy cases are "very fact sensitive" and the fact patterns are "markedly" and "striking[ly] similar." Plaintiff fails to explain whether, and to what extent, the California legal regime that Baugh was decided under and Florida law are similar. Regardless, there are critical factual differences between that case and this one. Baugh called the police to report an instance of domestic violence in her home. She was recorded in her home as she relayed deeply personal information regarding her marriage and health. The Baugh court noted the difficult and complex nature of domestic violence and stated that Baugh had "a legitimate interest in maintaining the integrity and dignity of the[] family unit." ... In contrast, Spilfogel was recorded on a public street discussing the details of a traffic stop for running through several stop signs and driving without working tag and head lights on her vehicle. Spilfogel trivializes the difference between a conversation about the specifics of an instance of domestic violence and a conversation about traffic violations. As discussed above, no material information regarding the intimate details of the family unit were recorded in the instant case, nor did Spilfogel allege to the district court that any information regarding her health or well-being was disclosed. The facts of the two cases could hardly be more different.

Spilfogel failed to allege the disclosure of any facts that a reasonable juror could deem private and offensive. Thus, the district court was correct to dismiss her complaint for public disclosure of private facts.


Spilfogel's second allegation is that Defendants intruded upon her seclusion. Under Florida law, this tort requires intrusions "into a 'place' in which there is a reasonable expectation of privacy." ...For liability to attach, the offender must be guilty of "physically or electronically intruding into one's private quarters." Id. Because the alleged facts state that the recording occurred on a public street, Spilfogel has not pled facts adequate for a finding that Defendants' intruded upon her seclusion.

Plaintiff fails to produce any meaningful support for her argument that the public street on which the recording occurred was a private place. Spilfogel cites the Supreme Court case Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648, 99 S. Ct. 1391, 59 L. Ed. 2d 660 (1979), for the proposition that not all Fourth Amendment protection is lost when a person leaves their home or enters their car. Unfortunately for Plaintiff, this is a far cry from establishing that Florida law deems a city street a private place for the purposes of the law of invasion of privacy. In fact, Spilfogel cites to no Florida cases whatsoever in support of her intrusion upon seclusion claim. Instead, she cites to the definition of the tort in the Second Restatement and to various Alabama cases. These authorities carry minimal weight in this case because the Florida Supreme Court has explicitly stated that its intrusion tort is narrower than Alabama's. Ginsberg, 863 So. 2d at 162 (distinguishing between Alabama and Florida's versions of the law on the basis of Alabama's adoption of the Restatement's reliance on "private activities" while Florida requires intrusion into "private quarters").

Spilfogel fails to state facts upon which a reasonable juror could find that the taping of her conversation with the police officer in a public street amounted to an intrusion into her "private quarters." Florida law explicitly requires an intrusion into a private place and not merely into a private activity. Spilfogel voluntarily placed herself in a public place where she did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

The case is Spilvogel v. Fox Broadcasting, 39 Med.L.Rptr. 1977 (2011). The opinion is labeled "DO NOT PUBLISH."

July 14, 2011 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

More On the News Corp Debacle

After resisting the idea of appearing before a House of Commons committee, Rupert and James Murdoch now say they will appear. Meanwhile, their media empire now faces investigation from the FBI on claims that some News Corp employees may have tried to hack into the cell phones of Sept. 11 victims. British police have arrested former NOTW executive Neil Wallis, and the former owners of the Wall Street Journal now regret selling the paper to Mr. Murdoch.


The Guardian provides a timeline of recent law enforcement events affecting the NOTW here.

July 14, 2011 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Working For the NOTW

From the Hollywood Reporter: A former News of the World reporter gives us a behind-the-scenes look at the tabloid.

July 13, 2011 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Murdoch Ends Quest To Buy BSkyB

Rupert Murdoch's NewsInternational is no longer in the running to purchase the broadcasting company BSkyB. This news comes as the Murdoch empire is under fire for the phone hacking scandal that is apparently spreading from the newly closed News of the World to other papers owned by Mr. Murdoch's media conglomerate. More here from BBC News, here from CNN.

July 13, 2011 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Rupert, James Murdoch Asked To Appear Before House of Commons Committee To Explain Phone Hacking Practice

NewsCorp's Rupert Murdoch, his son James, owner of the shuttered News of the World, and Rebekah Brooks, CEO of News International, have received a request to appear before a House of Commons Select Committee to explain the culture that gave rise to pervasive hacking and other questionable behavior at NOTW. While the House might not be able to compel Rupert and James Murdoch, who are American citizens, to appear, Ms. Brooks is British, and the House could issue an order for her to appear. Meanwhile, reports are surfacing that other papers owned by NewsCorp may have practiced phone hacking, including the Sunday Times.  

July 12, 2011 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Judge Drops Direct Copyright Infringement Claim From MPAA Lawsuit Against Hotfile

A federal judge has dismissed a copyright infringement claim filed by the MPAA against Hotfile, but is allowing a claim of secondary infringement to proceed. The MPAA had alleged that Hotfile induces consumers to download films and tv episodes copyrighted by MPAA members, simply by making its site so easy to use.


"In less than two years Hotfile has become one of the 100 most trafficked sites in the world. That is a direct result of the massive digital theft that Hotfile promotes. Everyday Hotfile is responsible for the theft of thousands of MPAA member companies‟ movies and TV shows - including movies still playing in theaters - many of which are stolen repeatedly, thousands of times a day, every single day," said Daniel Mandil, General Counsel & Chief Content Protection Officer for the MPAA. "The theft taking place on Hotfile is unmistakable. Their files are indeed „hot,‟ as in „stolen.‟ It‟s wrong and it must stop." (from the MPAA press release, dated Feb. 8, 2011).

July 12, 2011 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Monday, July 11, 2011

Reel Lawyers

From the Blog of Legal Times, news of a movie that takes a critical (as in uncomplimentary) look at trial lawyers. InJustice is set to debut on the Reelz Channel tonight, July 11, at 10 p.m., 9 Central time.

July 11, 2011 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

"Head of the Class" Creators Suing Talent Agency Over Alleged Side Deal, Unpaid Profits

Michael Elias and Richard Eustis, who created the late 1980s hit "Head of the Class" are suing talent agency Creative Artists Agency, alleging that CAA had a private deal with Warner Brothers to receive profits from the studio, while Mr. Elias and Mr. Eustis have received nothing. The show, say the two creators, should have garnered them 50 percent of net profits.

July 11, 2011 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Newly Unemployed NOTW Reporters May Have Cause of Action

From the Guardian: News of the World reporters who are now unemployed because of the paper's recent demise may be able to sue if they cannot find new jobs. Experts in UK employment law cite a 1997 ruling, Malik v. Bank of Credit and Mahmud v. Bank of Credit, which deals with the "stigma" that the appellants felt after their employer went under.

July 11, 2011 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Goodbye To the News of the World

The New York Times has this history of the (News of the) World and analysis of the effect of the British tabloids on politicians who have dared to criticize their behavior. Will media ethics change now that Rupert Murdoch has shuttered NOTW? Will its death have a sting?

July 10, 2011 | Permalink | TrackBack (0)