Justia Entertainment & Sports Law Opinion Summaries

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's action alleging copyright infringement by the Disney movie Inside Out of plaintiffs' characters called The Moodsters. After plaintiff developed The Moodsters, anthropomorphized characters representing human emotions, she pitched to entertainment and toy companies around the country, including The Walt Disney Company. The panel held that, under DC Comics v. Towle, 802 F.3d 1012 (9th Cir. 2015), lightly sketched characters such as The Moodsters, which lack consistent, identifiable character traits and attributes, do not enjoy copyright protection. Furthermore, under Warner Bros. Pictures v. Columbia Broad. Sys., 216 F.2d 945, 950 (9th Cir. 1954), The Moodsters are chessman in the game of telling the story. In this case, the panel applied the alternative "story being told" test and held that The Moodsters as an ensemble are no more copyrightable than the individual characters. Finally, the panel held that the district court did not err in dismissing plaintiff's claim for an implied-in-fact contract where plaintiff was required under California law to do more than plead a boiler-plate allegation, devoid of any relevant details. View "Daniels v. The Walt Disney Co." on Justia Law

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After a seaman's hands were injured on a commercial fishing vessel out on the Gulf of Mexico and he ultimately loss some of his fingers due to infection, he filed suit against the vessel's owner and the production company that was filming a reality TV show on the vessel. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's grant of summary judgment to the production company, holding that the production company was not liable under the Jones Act because plaintiff was not an "employee" or a "borrowed servant" to the production company. The court declined to construe the borrowed servant doctrine in the maritime context to impose a duty upon passengers and observers on a vessel to undertake acts inconsistent with the orders of the vessel's captain. The court also held that the production company was not liable under maritime tort law because there were not genuine issues of material fact as to whether the production company had a "special relationship" with plaintiff, the production company's rescue attempts were grossly negligent, and the production company acted negligently in taking charge of a "helpless" person. View "McHenry v. Asylum Entertainment Delaware, LLC" on Justia Law

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The estate of guitarist Randy Wolfe filed suit claiming that Led Zeppelin copied portions of Taurus, a song written by Wolfe and performed by his band Spirit, in Led Zeppelin's opening notes of Stairway to Heaven. The en banc court affirmed the district court's judgment after a jury trial in favor of Led Zeppelin, holding that the 1909 Copyright Act, which does not protect sound recordings, controlled its analysis. In this case, Taurus was an unpublished work registered in 1967. Because the deposit copy defines the four corners of the Taurus copyright, the en banc court held that it was not error for the district court to decline plaintiff's request to play the sound recordings of the Taurus performance that contain further embellishments or to admit the recordings on the issue of substantial similarity. The en banc court also held that plaintiff's complaint on access was moot. The en banc court affirmed the district court's challenged jury instructions; rejected the inverse ratio rule, overruling circuit precedent to the contrary; and held that the district court did not err in its formulation of the originality instructions, or in excluding a selection and arrangement instruction. Finally, the en banc court affirmed the district court with respect to the remaining trial issues and its denial of attorneys' fees and costs to Warner/Chappell. View "Skidmore v. Zeppelin" on Justia Law

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Higgins refereed an Elite Eight game of the NCAA Basketball Tournament in 2017. The close contest between the Kentucky Wildcats and the North Carolina Tar Heels ended when the Tar Heels scored with less than a second on the clock. Kentucky’s coach thought the referees, Higgins in particular, had disfavored his team. Higgins’ roofing business suffered losses after he became the target of an online campaign orchestrated by Kentucky fans who pinned the loss on Higgins. Higgins sued Kentucky Sports Radio and some of its contributors, alleging that their post-game coverage incited the harassment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the case. The First Amendment safeguards the radio station’s right to comment on Higgins’ performance and the fans’ reactions to it, even it "might have exercised their First Amendment rights more responsibly." Kentucky Sports Radio commented on a matter of public concern. Speech that does not “specifically advocate” for listeners to take unlawful action does not constitute incitement. Kentucky Sports Radio knew or should have known, the volatility of the situation but the station did more to fan the flames of discontent than to extinguish them. "The Constitution protects that choice. A conscience must do the rest." Merely repeating potentially false reviews generated by other users may be in bad taste but cannot by itself constitute defamation. View "Higgins v. Kentucky Sports Radio, LLC" on Justia Law

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The provision of adequate protective netting in a perceived zone of danger behind home plate (or for field-level seating along the first- and third-base lines between home plate and the dugouts) increases safety and minimizes the risk of injury to spectators without altering the nature of baseball as it is played today in professional and college ballparks. The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's judgment entered in favor of US Baseball after sustaining without leave to amend US Baseball's demurrer to the first amended complaint of a 12 year-old who was seriously injured by a line drive foul ball while watching a baseball game sponsored by US Baseball. The court held that plaintiff's proposed second amended complaint stated causes of action for negligence and premises liability against US Baseball. In this case, plaintiff adequately alleged duty and breach, and any issue of "open and obvious danger" could not be resolved on demurrer. Accordingly, the court remanded with directions to the trial court to vacate its order sustaining US Baseball's demurrer without leave to amend and to enter a new order sustaining the demurrer and granting plaintiff leave to file a second amended complaint. View "Summer J. v. United States Baseball Federation" on Justia Law

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Amey Nelson brought a negligence claim against Stefani Kaufman, the Idaho Falls Anytime Fitness, and AT Fitness, LLC. Nelson was using a weight machine at the Idaho Falls Anytime Fitness under the direction of Kaufman, a personal trainer, when Nelson injured a metacarpal bone in her hand. Nelson filed suit alleging that Kaufman had improperly instructed her on the machine’s use, which caused her injury. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Kaufman, holding that Kaufman was an express or apparent agent of Anytime Fitness and therefore released from liability under the terms of the Member Assumption of Risk and Release form Nelson signed when she joined the gym. Nelson unsuccessfully moved for reconsideration, and appealed. The Idaho Supreme Court determined Nelson did not waive her appeal by failing to expressly challenge the district court's finding of an express agency relationship. The Court determined the district court erred in granting summary judgment to Kaufman on the basis that Kaufman was an express agent of Anytime Fitness. Further, the court erred in apply the apparent agency doctrine defensively to find Kaufman was covered by the specific terms of the Membership Agreement. With judgment reversed, the Supreme Court remanded the case back to the district court for further proceedings. View "Nelson v. Kaufman" on Justia Law

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In the GM/Ford action, AARC filed suit under the Audio Home Recording Act (AHRA) for alleged violations of the Act. A second, substantially similar lawsuit was filed by AARC against FCA and Mitsubishi. The district court consolidated the GM/Ford action and the FCA action. At issue in this appeal are the issues regarding the coverage of the AHRA. The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's judgments, holding that a digital audio recorder is covered by the AHRA only if it can make a "digital audio copied recording" that is also a "digital musical recording" as that term is defined by the Act; because it is undisputed that the hard drives in appellees' devices do not contain only sounds, they do not qualify as digital musical recordings and, therefore, the devices do not qualify as digital audio recording devices subject to the Act; and the court rejected AARC's partition theory and held that, at least where a device fixes a reproduction of a digital musical recording in a single, multi-purpose hard drive, the entire disk, and not any logical partition of that disk, is the "material object" that must satisfy the definition of a "digital musical recording" for the recording device to qualify under the Act. View "Alliance of Artists and Recording Companies, Inc. v. Denso International America, Inc." on Justia Law

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Sony, the Estate of Michael J. Jackson, and MJJ Productions appealed from the superior court's order partially denying their motion to strike under the anti-SLAPP statute. Plaintiff alleged that defendants marketed a posthumous Michael Jackson album in violation of the Unfair Competition Law (UCL) and the Consumers Legal Remedies Act (CLRA). Plaintiff also brought a fraud claim against the Cascio Defendants, alleging that they knowingly misrepresented to defendants that Jackson was the lead singer on the three tracks at issue. Upon reconsideration in light of FilmOn.com Inc. v. Double Verify Inc. (2019) 7 Cal.5th 133, the Court of Appeal held that its prior opinion was correct. In the prior opinion, the court held that plaintiff's claims against defendants arose from conduct furthering defendants' right of free speech in connection with a public issue, and that plaintiff did not show a probability that her claims under the UCL and the CLRA would succeed because the claims concern noncommercial speech that is not actionable under those statutes. The court largely adopted the prior opinion, except that it revised the discussion of the first step of the anti-SLAPP procedure to take into account the FilmOn decision and its application to the circumstances of this case. The court held that defendants' challenged statements were sufficiently connected to an issue of public interest to warrant anti-SLAPP protection. In this case, the representations that plaintiff challenged did not simply promote sale of the album, but also stated a position on a disputed issue of public interest. View "Serova v. Sony Music Entertainment" on Justia Law

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Two former players for the St. Marys (Ohio) Memorial High School Football Team brought claims for federal Title IX violations and state-law intentional infliction of emotional distress against their coach, Frye. The players claim that Frye harassed them by using numerous derogatory terms—most notably, the term “pussy”—with the intent to insult (and presumably to motivate) the two in front of their teammates. The plaintiffs also sued the school board, superintendent, and athletic director for failing to address Frye’s conduct. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. As a matter of decency, Frye’s conduct was distasteful and offensive to many but as a matter of law, his conduct did not constitute sex-based discrimination, in violation of Title IX, nor was it conduct intolerable in a civilized society, in violation of Ohio tort law. Frye did not make sexual advances or act out of sexual desire. Frye was not motivated by general hostility to the presence of men. Frye did not treat men and women differently in a mixed-sex environment. View "Lininger v. St. Marys City School District Board of Education" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of class actions in MDL brought by plaintiffs against boxers and promoters, alleging that defendants concealed a pre-existing injury to boxer Emmanuel "Manny" Pacquiao, and that plaintiffs would not have purchased tickets to watch the fight had they known of the injury. The panel held that spectators who were disappointed in a sporting event did not suffer a legal cognizable injury. The panel also held that plaintiffs essentially got what they paid for -- a full-length regulation fight between two boxing legends. In this case, Pacquiao’s shoulder condition did not prevent him from going the full twelve rounds, the maximum number permitted for professional boxing contests. View "Alessi v. Mayweather" on Justia Law