Beitchman & Zekian Blog

Legal Information in Plain English

Archive for films

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.

Lindsay Lohan’s Sentence – Unusally Harsh or Business as Usual?

With the latest starlet in trouble with the law being sentenced to jail time, many people are misinformed as to the possible sentences given in DUI cases.  Some think she’s getting off easy, others too harsh.  Below is a basic primer regarding the possible sentences when dealing with a DUI case in California.  Please note, however, that each case, prosecuting attorney, judge, and defendant is different and plea offers and sentences differ from case to case.

A first time DUI offense carries penalties of 96 hours to 6 months in jail and a fine of $390.00 to $1,000.00 plus penalty assessments and fees (which can triple the fine).  The DMV usually imposes a 6 month license suspension.

A second DUI within 10 years of the first carries a jail term of 90 days to 1 year in jail and a $390.00 to $1,000.00 fine plus penalty assessments and fees (which, again, can triple the fine).  The DMV will impose a 2 year license suspension.

Reckless driving caries 5 to 90 days in jail or $145.00 to $1000.00 fine or both.

In Lindsay’s case (and when a defendant hires an attorney to handle their case), she entered into a plea agreement and in exchange for her plea (and avoiding trial), was ordered to attend alcohol classes.  It is typical when a plea agreement is reached that the above sentences are adjusted to reflect the same.   Probation is usually ordered and the jail time is suspended in some cases.  The Court decides what conditions to apply and, if the defendant complies completely (not substantially as it seems that Lindsay was coached to say again and again), then the terms of the probation are deemed met and, if jail time was suspended at the outset, it is then usually completely waived.

All in all a 90 day sentence, of which, according to all accounts, she will serve about 25%, is not harsh, it is not outrageous or unfair.  It is what happens when you do not do exactly what the Court orders, when and how it orders you to do it.  The system did not “fail” Lindsay, as her father stated, Lindsay failed herself.  Defendants do this often and believe that the Judges will just shrug and say, “Good try” when they explain why they did not fulfill their obligations to the Court, but this is not the case.  There are statutory requirements that must be met and, generally, when a judge orders a defendant or party to do something, he or she expects their order to be followed to the letter – it is not open to interpretation.

So, if you find yourself on the wrong side of the law, a word to the wise is: hire attorney to help you navigate these perilous waters and listen to your attorney.  Do as they say and do as the court says.  Otherwise you too may find yourself in the same situation as Lindsay did this week.

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.