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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.

Fashion Statement or Trademark Infringement?

Many art forms and cultural industries have some form of regulations and protection for artists and creators. Fashion, however, is an industry where copyright and trademarks is not as clearly defined, hence the proliferation of knock offs and copy-cat lines from Couture houses to discount stores.

In 2008 Christian Louboutin registered a trademark for shoes with red soles. Recently, fashion house Yves St Laurent started selling also selling shoes with red soles. Believing that their trademark prevented this type of conduct Christian Louboutin launched a lawsuit in New York against YSL for trademark infringement and sought an injunction prohibiting YSL from continuing to sell their red-soled shoes.

The question before the court was whether or or not the red-soled shoes served a fashion function or was a legitimate trademark?

The verdict? The court ruled that in the fashion industry, color serves ornamental and aesthetic functions which cannot be trademarked.

YSL may continue to sell their shoes; fashion and intellectual property will continue to be an unsettled area of the law.