Friday, November 29, 2013
Five-time Tony Award-winning Broadway star Julie Harris died in August at age 87. Friends and former employees are now stirring up some drama over her estate. They claim minor soap-opera actress Francesca Rubino “wormed” her way into Harris’ life, took control over Harris’ medical and business affairs, and kept Harris away from her son, Peter Gurian.
Harris named Rubino co-executor of her estimated $10 million estate. Rubino stands to make up to $200,000 in commissions in addition to the $50,000 she inherited outright and the ten items of Harris’ tangible personal property she is permitted to select. Although Harris left the bulk of her estate to Peter, she included an unusual codicil that says Peter will receive nothing if he were harass Harris or any of her friends. It just so happens that Rubino took out a harassment prevention order against Peter three years ago. Because of this order, Peter had no contact with his mother in the last three years of her life even though he lived right next to her.
Peter claims his mother’s will and codicil were the product of undue influence and that his mother lacked testamentary capacity to make them. Rubino claims these accusations are merely rumors circulated by disgruntled former employees.
See Michael Riedel, Battle of Wills After Julie Harris’ Death, New York Post, Nov. 22, 2013.
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
A recent settlement with the estate of Kevin McClory could signal the return of Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the 007 archvillain often seen stroking his white cat.
McClory was the creator of the iconic villain and his terrorist organization SPECTRE. He was also the co-writer for the 1965 movie “Thunderball,” which involved him in a fifty-year-long legal dispute over the movie rights. His estate settled with studio MGM and production company Danjaq, opening up the possibility that Blofeld will return to the big screen.
See 007 Settlement Hints at Evil Blofeld’s Return, NewsOK, Nov. 15, 2013.
Friday, October 25, 2013
As I have previously discussed, the children of Jack Kirby recently sued Marvel, claiming their father died without receiving proper payment for his work. A federal judge upheld Marvel’s copyright claims and the 2nd Circuit affirmed, finding Kirby was an “employee for hire” who worked within the scope of Marvel’s assignments.
The New York City federal Court of Appeals has denied the estate of Jack Kirby a panel rehearing or, in the alternative, a rehearing en banc.
See Hugh Armitage, Jack Kirby Estate Denied Marvel Copyright Appeal, Digital Spy, Oct. 23, 2013.
Wednesday, October 9, 2013
Bill Dedman, a NBC News investigative reporter and co-author of the Huguette Clark biography Empty Mansions, recently said he’s been having conversations about a feature film depicting the life story of the copper heiress.
Although nothing definite has been agreed upon, between her reclusive stay in a New York hospital, the heated battle over her estate, and the upkeep of her empty mansions, there may be enough drama and intrigue here to warrant a movie.See Barney Brantingham, Huguette Clark—the Movie?, Santa Barbara Independent, Oct. 7, 2013.
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Late celebrity photographer Bert Stern is famous for snapping provocative photos of Marilyn Monroe shortly before her death as well as shots of Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, and Truman Capote. His three adult children and much-younger wife are now in Manhattan Surrogate’s Court fighting over his $10 million fortune.
The dispute centers around two wills: one signed in 1997 which divides his estate between his children and a foundation and the other signed in 2010 which pours all his assets into a private trust controlled by wife, Shannah Laumeister. Stern’s children are demanding to examine the attorney who wrote the 2010 will and its witnesses.
Stern died a few months ago at age 83. Laumeister, 44, secretly married Stern in 2009.
See Julia Marsh, Marilyn Photog’s Inheritance Fight, New York Post, Sept. 23, 2013.
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
In Marvel Characters, Inc. v. Kirby, the four adult children of Jack Kirby sued Marvel, claiming their father died without receiving proper payment for his work.
Jack Kirby was known as Marvel president Stan Lee’s “best artist,” co-writing such iconic titles as “Spider-man,” “X-Men,” “The Fantastic Four,” and “The Incredible Hulk.” A federal judge upheld Marvel’s copyright claims, finding Kirby had signed an agreement designating him as Marvel’s “employee for hire.”
The 2nd Circuit affirmed, acknowledging Kirby had more creative leeway than most Marvel freelancers but still worked within the scope of Marvel’s assignments. While Kirby may have created his own characters and plot lines, the court found his partnership with Marvel is what induced his creations.
See Lorraine Bailey, Marvel’s Win Against Kirby Heirs Affirmed, Courthouse News Service, Aug. 9, 2013.
Andrea Farkas (2014 J.D. Candidate, Texas Tech University School of Law) recently published an article entitled, I'll Be Back? The Complications Heirs Face when Terminating a Deceased Author's Online Copyright Licenses, 5 Est. Plan. & Cmty. Prop. L.J. 411 (Summer 2013). Provided below is the introduction to her article:
In the 1930s, two high school students created a character with superhuman strength and abilities. In their youth and naivety, these two students exchanged Superman and all of their rights to the character to a corporation in return for $130.
In 2004, the Superman franchise was worth over one billion dollars. When Siegel and Shuster died, they were broke and alienated from the fortune generated by their character.
Thanks to copyright law reforms, however, the two authors’ heirs possess the legal ability to terminate a portion of those grants. The heirs have “another bite of the apple,” so to speak. “In the spirit of Siegel and Shuster’s character Superman,” the heirs exercised this right of termination in 1999 and “have persevered to regain the copyright granted in 1938.”
Fast forward to today. In a new digital world, naive authors and artists transfer their rights by millions through email, blogs, and social media networks like Facebook and Instagram. Not unlike the naive Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, who granted the rights to Superman to Time Warner (then Warner Communications) in 1933, millions of everyday citizens who lack bargaining power and legal finesse lose their valuable copyrights to online giants. However, the Siegels and Shusters of the digital world are not the only victims. The authors of online copyrighted material and their estate planners face complexities when planning digital estates, often leaving a superhuman challenge for an heir seeking to recapture the author’s work.
Many heirs are unaware that they possess such a right at all, not only because of complex user agreements or user naivety, but also because the very nature of certain online technologies, such as email, is still under debate. The Internet presents wide opportunities for exposure, allowing a previously unknown artist to create incredible contributions to the literary, visual arts, or musical industries and become discovered, much like Siegel and Shuster. Like Siegel and Shuster, many authors unknowingly agree to the terms of service prior to publishing such works online—terms of service that usually include provisions that grant or license to the website a user’s intellectual property rights, prohibit transfer or inheritance of accounts, or destroy the right to terminate the grant or license. Most people do not actually read the terms of service when they agree to use an online service.
This comment is divided into six parts. Part II explains the relevant federal copyright laws. This section explains what is subject to copyright protection, defines the right of termination, and explains how copyright law distinguishes between works created before and after January 1, 1978, and those works granted before and after the same date. Part II further explains which copyright-appropriate works are ineligible for reversion to the author or the author’s heirs. Part III examines the property law-copyright law dichotomy on the Internet. Part IV discusses the relevant terms of service that popular social media websites and email providers require in a user agreement. Part V explains why preserving the property rights of digital assets in turn preserves the intellectual property interests in the content. Part VI discusses state, international, and federal attempts (or lack thereof) to adjust law to technology’s rapid evolution. Part VII discusses how cybercrime statutes complicate legal and layman understanding of copyright law on the Internet. Finally, Part VIII explains why addressing these issues is important.
Monday, August 5, 2013
Sherlock Holmes has enjoyed quite the revival in recent years. Recent feature films, a BBC series, and a CBS series are all licensed by the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
However, a recent book by Leslie Klinger comprising new stories about Holmes from modern day authors elicited a letter from the estate demanding licensing fees. Klinger “took the estate to court claiming the copyright on certain story elements had expired and he should be allowed to publish.” A default judgment was entered after no one representing the estate showed. There is still no response as Klinger has requested a judgment rendering the estate unable to collect any more licensing revenue.
See Nick Clark, Sherlock Holmes Mystery: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Estate and the Case of Character Licensing Rights, The Independent, Aug. 1, 2013.
Friday, July 26, 2013
Film director Michael Winner may have had a lavish lifestyle, but his estate has been found to be worth considerably less than expected.
After debts are paid, his £16.8 million gross estate shrinks to £4.75 million. Besides finding out where all that money went, observers are also left to wonder about “who is to benefit from bequests and worries about inheritance tax demands faced by those beneficiaries.”
A friend says, “He loved to spend money and borrowed continually in order to indulge that lifestyle." His executors and lawyers are still trying to untangle all of the loans Winner took out.
See Richard Kay, Michael Winner Leaves Shocking Trail of £12m Debts, Daily Mail, July 25, 2013.
Tuesday, July 16, 2013
As I have previously discussed, the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien sued Warner Bros. and the Saul Zaentz Co. in November 2012, claiming the estate never granted rights to license characters for slot machines and online games in a 1969 agreement. Both companies counterclaimed, contending the estate repudiated earlier grants and were in breach of contract. The companies alleged the estate’s legal challenge cost them “millions of dollars in license fees” from Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit merchandising.
Tolkien’s estate motioned to dismiss these counterclaims as being a mere effort to stifle their legal challenge using pricey litigation. U.S. District Court Judge Audrey B. Collins disagreed with the estate, refusing to dismiss the counterclaims.
See Ted Johnson, JUDGE: Warner Bros. Can Pursue ‘Lord of the Rings’ Dispute with Tolkien Estate, Variety, July 11, 2013.