Beitchman & Zekian Blog

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Archive for entertainment law

Contractual Arbitration Clauses…Or How Charlie Sheen Got Kicked Out of Court and Into Private Dispute Resoltuion

The events in Charlie Sheen’s life have become very public, for better or worse.  Regardless of your opinion of what is going on with him, the latest legal maneuverings by his attorneys and those of his opponent have provided a topic for this blog and information that is important for anyone who has ever or will ever sign a contract.

Very few people read the agreements they are signing from start to finish, and in neglecting to do so they do not know what the terms of the agreement are when it comes to dispute resolution.  Most people assume that if the contract is breached, there will be a lawsuit; this is generally the case, however more and more parties are including arbitration clauses in the deals.  What this means is that instead of taking a dispute to court and letting a judge and/or jury decide who is at fault and who is not, it goes to a private service and they assign it to an arbitrator – usually a retired judge or attorney – who acts as the decision maker.

The pros of working with an arbitration service is that the matter is private (court proceedings are public record) and it’s supposed to be on a faster schedule.  This may or may not be true as it can take the same amount of time to arbitrate as it would to litigate.

The cons are primarily the cost.  The parties must pay for the administrative services as well as the fees to the arbitrator who is the decision maker.  This can amount in to the tens of thousands of dollars and if one party can’t pay, the others have to pony up that share.  Additionally, unless it is decided prior to the arbitration in the agreement, the parties may not have any true procedural rules as you do in court.  Further, the arbitration fees and costs do not include your attorney’s fees which will also start to add up.

Now, if you, like in Charlie’s case, decide to file a lawsuit in court when you have an arbitration clause, the opposing party will likely file a Motion to Compel Arbitration – or basically a request to send the case to arbitration per the agreement.   So, if you don’t think you want to pay a lot of money to a private company for something that you can submit to the court and not have to pay all the extra fees, you would do well to contact a lawyer at the outset to review your contract before you sign it.  Forewarned is forearmed.

Protecting Your Work – What Copyright Registration Can Do For You

I have represented writers for a very long time in different capacities – at an agency, as a manager, and most recently, as a lawyer.  The one thing that always comes up is whether they should copyright their work and my answer is always, “Absolutely!”

There are 2 kinds of copyright protection – common law and statutory copyright.  Common law states that any work created is immediately protected by copyright laws and the creator is the sole owner.  Thus, if the work is infringed upon, the creator can demand that the infringer cease and desist their infringing use.  Damages may be awarded, but only the creator’s actual damages.

Now, many writers ask me about the “poor man’s copyright:” basically mailing yourself your screenplay, manuscript, or artwork to get a postmark date on it and keeping it in the sealed envelope.  This is a good idea, but it will only prove that your work existed as of the date postmarked.  The above common law copyright will still apply.

Another thing that I get asked is whether registering your screenplay with the Writer’s Guild affords any protection.  The answer is yes and no.  Registration with the WGA does not provide you with any legal protection per se – it is not a law.  It can, however, provide you with confirmation of the date the work was created and if you are submitting your work, it may make producers more comfortable in taking a submission.

The statutory copyright is much more effective in that the Copyright Act provides for certain statutory damages.  It also provides elements which help prove infringement (or protects against it, depending on what side of the infringement you are on).

A statutory copyright registration is fairly inexpensive in relation to the protection it provides and I suggest that clients register their works as soon as possible.  But, if you cannot afford it, or did not file the registration and your work is being infringed upon, you may still have a viable case for copyright infringement.

Also bear in mind that registering your script with the WGA provides a 5 year registration and you must renew it every 5 years.  A copyright is good for the life of the author plus 75 years.  Additionally, while this post focused on scripts and written works, all kinds of works can be protected from statutes to computer code, drawings to jewelry or fabric designs.

If you have a work that you would like to protect, please contact our office at (818) 986-9100 and our intellectual property associates can assist you in order to register your work or evaluate your infringement case.

Robert Evans & PTC Announce Financing of SecretStone Project

As reported by the Daily Variety (http://bit.ly/cvYnKq), Robert Evans Company and Pacific Transmedia Corporation announced the backing of Sean Stone’s directorial debut, SecretStone.

Written by Stone and Alexander Wraith, the storyline revolves around a group of filmmakers who are shooting inside a haunted psychiatric hospital famous for its radical treatment of patients. They quickly discover they are not alone.  Sean will be directing his father, Oliver Stone, in a cameo for the film which also features a cameo from screen legend Monique Van Vooren.

The film is produced by Giulia Prenna and Kaila York, and Executive Produced by Henri Kessler of PTC.  Production Legal being handled by Michelle Seañez of Beitchman & Zekian, PC.

Case Comments – Cybersquatting

Lahoti v. Vericheck, Inc., 586 F.3d 1190 (9th Cir. 2009) – the decision against the defendant for bad faith adoption of domain name vericheck.com was affirmed, based in part on defendants prior acts of cybersquatting where the defendant was ordered to transfer domain names obtained in bad faith.  The Court reasoned that defendant’s prior failed defenses against cybersquatting made it unlikely that the defendant legitimately believed his use of the vericheck.com domain was lawful or amounted to fair use in the present case.

The Lahoti decision is significant to all persons whose domain name has been held hostage by cybersquatters, whether celebrities, corporations, fashion brands, sports figures, or small businesses, because it allows a plaintiff to establish that a defendant’s prior acts of cybersquatting, even when dealing with unrelated domain names, not only supports a showing of bad faith registration, but may invalidate any safe harbor defense the infringer could potentially have asserted, i.e., that he/she believed and had reasonable grounds to believe that the use of the domain name was a fair use or otherwise lawful.

In plain English, if a Defendant has unsuccessfully defended against allegations for cybersquatting in the past, it is less likely that the Defendant will be able to defend a subsequent litigation by trying to convince a Court that he believed his use of the domain was protected  as a fair use or in any other way lawful.

Welcome…

Welcome to the Beitchman & Zekian blog!  Without repeating too much of what you can find on our website (www.bzlegal.com), here are our basic stats:  we’re a 5 attorney boutique firm that focuses our practice on civil/commercial litigation, entertainment law, business/corporate law, intellectual property, and real estate law.

What this means to our readers is that we will bring to you interesting and useful information on topics about and relating to the above subjects.  Are you a writer? Tune in to see what our IP attorney has to say about copyrighting that script or manuscript.  Are you about to start your own business?  Our corporate attorney will point out the differences between an LLC and corporation and our IP attorney may discuss the benefits of trademarking your brand.

If you’d like to see a topic covered, leave a comment and we will address it as soon as we can tear ourselves away from our cases.