Recently, Actor/Musician Jared Leto, through his company Sisyphus Touring, Inc., filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against celebrity gossip/entertainment news company TMZ. The Plaintiff alleges in the Complaint that TMZ used video footage of Jared Leto in his home music studio, in which Mr. Leto allegedly critiqued various Taylor Swift songs and otherwise uses profanity. The Complaint alleges that the Plaintiff has filed an application to copyright the video footage and that TMZ obtained the footage without Plaintiff’s consent or authorization. Plaintiff alleges the Defendants obtained the video footage from a former videographer hired by the Plaintiff. Plaintiff and the former videographer allegedly informed Defendants that Defendants should not post the footage because the videographer did not own it. Nonetheless, according to the Complaint, Defendants posted the video footage online anyways.
The Plaintiff’s Complaint asserts a cause of action for copyright infringement. The Plaintiff also alleges that the infringement was willful, which has the potential to subject the Defendants to enhanced and/or treble damages if the Plaintiff is successful. Please contact our office if you have any questions regarding the information in this article.
Daniel Devine, Esq.
Santucci Priore, P.L.
Jury Rules that Pharrell and Robin Thicke “Blurred Lines” Infringed Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up”
After deliberating for two days, a California jury awarded $7.36 million in damages to Marvin Gaye’s family, finding that the best selling song of 2013, “Blurred Lines” infringed on the Marvin Gaye classic “Got to Give It Up.” The lawsuit stems from a 2013 preemptive suit from Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke, who sought a declaratory judgment that their song did not infringe on the Gaye chart topper. Gaye’s children, who inherited the copyright from their father countersued, and included the record company Universal Music Group and Clifford Harris Jr. (professionally known as T.I.).
The week long trial featured testimony from both Pharrell and Robin Thicke. Pharrell testified that he was inspired by music from that time but that the song was completely original. Interestingly enough, the jurors never heard the Marvin Gaye song during trial. U.S. District Judge John Kronstadt granted Pharrell and Thicke a motion in limine to preclude the Gaye family from playing “Got to Give it Up”. Managing partner of Santucci Priore, P.L., Michael Santucci says this is because Marvin Gaye only owned a copyright for the musical composition and not the recordings of the song. Santucci says that prior to 1972 sound recordings were not eligible for copyright protection. The judge ruled that the jurors could only consider what was listed on paper and filed at the Library of Congress.
Copyright is a form of protection provided to the authors of “original works of authorship.” It provides protection for the “original and creative expression of an idea which is embodied in a tangible medium.” The test for originality? The work must have “more than a de minimis level of creativity.” For a song, two different copyrights can be obtained – one for “musical composition” and the other for “sound recording.”
As this case demonstrates, the penalties for infringing a copyright are severe. A copyright owner may receive actual damages, profits, statutory damages, and willful infringement damages. There are three necessary elements that the Plaintiff must prove for copyright infringement – (1) Plaintiff owns a valid copyright (2) Defendant actually copied Plaintiff’s work and (3) Defendant’s work is substantially similar to Plaintiff’s work. This can be proven through either direct or circumstantial evidence.
To prove their damages, the Gaye family gave everyone a rare insight into how much money a hit song makes. Accountants testified that Thicke made $5.6 million, Pharrell made $5.2 million, T.I. made $700K, and another $16 million was split between the record label and publishing company. The jury found that the infringement was not willful.
While copyright lawsuits are common, it is very rare to see them go to trial. Most settle, like the recent suit between Sam Smith and Tom Petty. It will be interesting to see how this impacts future music copyright infringement cases. As always, stay tuned.
Paloma Z. Coelho
Santucci Priore, P.L.
Actor Frank Sivero has filed a lawsuit against the creators of “The Simpsons,” alleging that Louie, a minor character in the hit cartoon series, is based on his interpretation of the character Frankie Carbone in the 1990 mobster film “Goodfellas” directed by Martin Scorsese.
The lawsuit filed Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court claims Sivero “is the originator of the idea and character of Louie.” The Simpsons co-creator Matt Groening, 21st Century Fox and Fox Television Studios are named as defendants in the case.
The lawsuit claims that in or around 1989, Sivero was living in an apartment complex in Sherman Oaks, California, and was a neighbor of writers for the show. Sivero claims that during this time, they “saw each other almost every other day” and that the writers “knew he was developing the character he was to play in the movie Goodfellas.”
“The Simpsons’ continued use of Sivero’s image and likeness for commercial purposes are all done without Sivero’s consent and without compensating Sivero,” the lawsuit continues, adding that the actor “continues to suffer severe financial damages in the form of lost income.” Sivero wants a share of the profits derived from the show and has asked for an award of $250 million in damages.