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.
Monday, July 29, 2013
Every since leaving The Simpsons in 1993, Sam Simon has been known throughout Hollywood for his dedication to philanthropy. And now that Simon has been living with terminal colon cancer for the past five months, he has revealed a plan to donate the tens of millions of dollars in Simpsons royalties he receives each month to charity.
Simon confesses he doesn’t know how much he has already given to charity, but his contributions to date are staggering. The Malibu-based Sam Simon foundation feeds the hungry with vegan-based foods, rescues stray dogs, and is worth over $23 million. Other charities Simon is affiliated with include PETA, Save the Children, and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Simon also “turned a Malibu spread into a canine haven that rescues dogs from kill shelters and trains them as companions for the deaf.”
See Gary Baum, Terminally Ill ‘Simpsons’ Co-Creator Vows to Give Away Fortune, The Hollywood Reporter, July 25, 2013.
Sunday, July 21, 2013
On Tuesday, July 30th, PBS's Frontline will air "Life and Death in Assisted Living," a behind-the-scenes look into the assisted living industry.
With more and more elderly choosing to spend their final years in assisted living facilities rather than nursing homes, this loosely regulated, multi-billion dollar industry may be putting our seniors at risk. Frontline, along with ProPublica, will examine the operations of America's largest assisted living company and raise questions concerning their drive for profits and lapses in care. Watch online or on air beginning July 30, 2013.
Monday, June 3, 2013
There are discussions about the development of a reality TV show that will be about rich families arguing over inheritance, trust benefits, and other top prizes. The Trust Advisor Newsletter is requesting submissions of family stories from anyone who thinks that a family they know would be a good fit for the show. The submissions will be kept confidential. Additionally, they are seeking trust advisors as well. Producers will follow up on the most interesting stories. People will be given the option to make an appearance on the show to state their case, set the record straight, or mount a defense. One of the goals of the show is to assist families in resolving their issues.
See Scott Martin, Will Wars: America's Next New Reality TV Series Now in Pre-Production-Families Feuding Over Inheritance Injustices Can Sign Up Here To Air Differences To 20 Million Viewers, The Trust Advisor, May 27, 2013.
Tuesday, March 5, 2013
The Crawley family in Downton Abbey suffers from a lack of estate planning. The most obvious estate planning lesson from the show is to diversify your holdings. In the show, the head of the Crawley family invests most of his wife's fortune in a Canadian railway that goes bankrupt).The other tips Wall Street Journal points out are below:
1. Sell the house: The Crawley family tries to find ways to keep control of their sprawling estate. However, in reality, inheriting a house can be more trouble than it is worth and it might be best to sell the property and inherit the cash.
2. Use trusts to protect a family fortune: Dynasty trusts can help protect assets against bad management. Specifically, these trusts can prevent one person from blowing a family fortune. Such a trust may have been able to prevent the Earl of Grantham from putting nearly all of the family's funds into one venture that ended poorly.
3. Set up a medical directive: In Downton Abbey, characters are regularly dying, and this highlights the need for a will and advance medical directives.
Last, don't keep so many secrets as secrets are often detrimental to proper estate planning.
See Glen Ruffenach, 3 Retirement and Estate-planning Lessons From Downton Abbey, The Wall Street Journal, Mar. 4, 2013.
Thursday, September 13, 2012
The Will: Family Secrets Revealed is a show on Investigation Discovery that details what happens to famous people's estates after they die. The third season begins on Thursday, October 18 at 9 p.m. ET and it is set to feature stars such as Ritchie Valens, Jerry Garcia, Gary Coleman, and Tammy Wynette. For more details about each of these episodes, please click here.
See THE WILL: FAMILY SECRETS REVEALED Gets a Facelift For Season Three, Featuring Celebrity Stories and Famous Family Feuds, PR Newswire, Sept. 12, 2012.
Special thanks to Brian Cohan (Attorney at Law, Law Offices of Brian J. Cohan, P.C.) for bringing this article to my attention.
Thursday, February 2, 2012
The proceeds from both policies will go to Cornelius’ ex-wife, Viktoria Chapman-Cornelius, whom Cornelius divorced three years ago after a lengthy legal battle. During the bitter legal battle, both sides alleged domestic abuse.
See ‘Hated’ Russian Ex-Wife of Tragic Soul Train Creator Don Cornelius Set to Get $300K Life Insurance After He Shoots Himself Dead, Daily Mail Online, Feb. 2, 2012.
Saturday, November 5, 2011
Celebrities and athletes have unique estate planning needs. This special class of clientele typically does not have the traditional income stream of an average client since the future earnings of celebrities and athletes are usually projected at very high levels over a short time period. Because of this, estate planners need to utilize different estate planning techniques than are required for the average client.
Protection strategies play a key role in estate planning for celebrities and athletes. One way an estate planner can achieve creditor protection for his client is through the formation of a multiple member LLC in a state with favorable creditor protection laws. The multiple member LLC provides even more creditor protection when it is partly owned by an irrevocable trust.
A beneficiary defective irrevocable trust is another key estate planning tool used for celebrities and professional athletes. The trust will provide more asset and estate-tax protection if the client's parent or other relative establishes the trust. By having someone other than the client establish the trust, the client is treated as the grantor for income tax purposes and can use a Crummey power to withdraw the gift. Pairing a life insurance policy with the BDIT can help protect the client’s family and loved ones should the client pass away.
See Martin Shenkman, Star Power: Celebrities and Athletes Need Tailored Estate Planning to Mminimize the Risks of Being in the Spotlight, Financial Planning, Oct. 1, 2011.
Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse (WealthCounsel) for bringing this article to my attention.