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Legal Issues Roundup

We’ve been busy planning a panel discussion for the end of November, and have missed out on sharing interesting news in culture industries law. Here’s a roundup of some of those stories:

  • Streaming: Netflix announced multiple content deals, expansion into the UK, and yet its share price dropped after 800,000 subscribers left the service. Facebook and Universal have joined forces to make ‘Facebook Social Cinema’ available to users in Australia and the UK. Viacom claims copyright infringement by YouTube.
  • Music: Syl Johnson is suing Kanye West and Jay-Z for their illegal sampling of “Different Strokes”.Rihanna has settled with photographer David LaChapelle over the uncleared use of his photographs as an influence in scenes from the video for “S&M”. Four members of the British band UB40 have declared bankruptcy, and their assets, including royalties, will be seized to pay off debts.
  • Occupy Wall Street and the art world.
  • Books: A former marine is suing Washington Post reporter Steve Fainaru, claiming defamation, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of nervous distress as a result of his portrayal in the book, “Big Boys Rule: America’s Mercenaries Fighting in Iraq.” Barnes and Noble bookstores have stopped selling DC Comics graphic novels after DC Comics made an exclusive deal with Amazon for digital sales.
  • TV: Former “Happy Days” stars claimed fraud by CBS over alleged unpaid royalties, but the Court found in favour of CBS and is only permitting the stars to move forward on a breach of contract claim.
  • Trademarks: The San Francisco Giants are in a battle over their logo, which the team never officially trademarked and is now owned by Gogo Sports Inc. The creator of building-block game “Minecraft” has won an interim injunction in a legal dispute over trademark of the name “Scrolls” for a game.

English Publisher Releasing Julian Assange’s Memoir Without His Approval

British publishing house Canongate announced yesterday that they would be releasing the “unauthorized autobiography” of Julian Assange, Wikileaks founder.

Julian Assange's Unauthorized Biography

According to the Associated Press, Assange initially agreed to allow the book to be published, but later changed his mind and told the publishers he did not want the book released. Canongate, owner of the rights to the book, stated they believed his story was one worth sharing, and believed the book would humanize Assange and “ultimately do him some favours.”

The decision to publish the book against Assange’s wishes, however, came down to the basics of contract law. Assange tried to cancel his contract but since he did not repay the advance he was given by Canongate upon selling the rights to his memoir they continued with publication. Assange says he was forced into the deal to pay his legal fees and he never wished for the book to be published.

While Canongate has decided to go ahead with publication the American publisher Knopf, who bought the rights from Canongate, has cancelled the contract to publish the book.

Source: Globe and Mail

Canadian Writer Sues Critic and Wins £65,000 in Libel Damages

The London High Court recently ruled for UK-based Canadian writer and sociologist, Sarah Thornton in a lawsuit over a “spiteful” book review of the non-fiction bestseller Seven Days in the Art World. Thornton was awarded £65,000 (around $101,178 CAD) for libel. The crux of the case fell on false allegations made by Daily Telegraph critic Lynn Barber claiming that she had never been interviewed by Thornton despite being listed as an interviewee in the book. But in fact, she had.

Sarah Thornton, author of Seven Days in the Art World

An extra £15,000 in punitive damages were added for malicious conduct. As the judge explained:

A reviewer is entitled to be spiteful, so long as she is honest, but if she is spiteful, the court may more readily conclude that misstatements of fact are not honest, since spite or ill will is a motive for dishonesty.

See the Financial Times for an in depth article on the case, and Canadian Art for a 2009 interview with Thornton on her book.

Source: VoCA