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right of publicity

The R.T. Davis Milling Co.’s Aunt Jemima brand of self-rising pancake mix was a big hit at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, thanks in part to the efforts of Nancy Green, the first of a series of women hired (after auditions) to promote the established brand, which had been named after a vaudeville tune of the day. (It is now owned by Pepsico’s Quaker Oats subsidiary.) Green’s popularity in the role won her a lifetime contract with the company which ended with her death in 1923, but now, reports the Louisville Courier-Journal]:

a lawsuit claims that Green’s heirs as well as the descendants of other black women who appeared as Aunt Jemima deserve $2 billion and a share of future revenue from sales of the popular brand.

If courts are to take statutes of limitation seriously, it is hard to see why such a suit does not deserve sanctions. If on the other hand courts are to begin ignoring statutes of limitation, Quaker might want to check into the packaging on its round box of breakfast oats, lest the heirs of William Penn (1644-1718) get any ideas. (& Debbi Baker, San Diego Union-Tribune; Amy Alkon, Advice Goddess)

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“A federal judge in Southern California on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit that John Wayne Enterprises filed against Duke University in North Carolina. …The university objected last year when Wayne’s heirs tried to register the name ‘Duke’ to market bourbon and other alcoholic beverages.” [AP, earlier]

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“…a list of motifs Tanikumi claims were taken from her book like: two sisters, open doors or gates, and a moon setting….A Disney spokeswoman responded to her claim, saying, ‘This is beyond ridiculous, she needs to let it go.'” [WAFF]

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  • “Kanye West Sues Coinye Altcoin into Oblivion” [CoinDesk]
  • Not new, but new to me: animated riff on Hindu “Ramayana” saga winds up in public domain because of inability to clear copyright on songs of Jazz-Age vocalist Annette Hanshaw [Nina Paley, "Sita Sings the Blues"]
  • “Update: Supreme Court Issues Two More Patent Law Rulings” [WLF; Limelight and Nautilis]
  • On copyright, more litigious not always better: “The Authors Alliance vs. The Authors Guild” [Alex Tabarrok quoting Virginia Postrel]
  • “Thwarting ‘patent trolls': Not as easy as it sounds” [Michael Rosen, AEI] “Trolls and Trial Lawyers Should Curb Their Enthusiasm Over Patent Reform Timeout” [Cory Andrews, WLF]
  • “I realized that receiving a patent really just meant that you bought a lottery ticket to a lawsuit” – [Elon Musk, Tesla; Brad Greenburg, Concurring Opinions]
  • Ready for Hillary is latest political campaign to fire off takedown demand against satirical product [Paul Alan Levy]

“Former Panama dictator Manuel Noriega, 80, filed a lawsuit in California yesterday against video game publisher Activision Blizzard Inc., alleging that Call of Duty: Black Ops II portrays him as ‘a kidnapper, murderer and enemy of the state.'” [Adrianne Jeffries/The Verge, New York Post, L.A. Times] Citing the mess that is California “right of publicity” law, Eugene Volokh writes that such a suit is “crazy, but unfortunately possible.”

In general it’s actionable to claim, without a Hollywood celebrity’s consent, that he or she recommends or endorses your fashion item. But what about merely asserting, accurately, that the character played by the celebrity wore the item in a movie? Or publicizing a picture taken in a public place of the celebrity shopping for one’s product or at one’s store? Lawsuits filed on behalf of actresses Sandra Bullock, Katherine Heigl, and Halle Berry may help shed light on the question. [Mike Masnick, TechDirt]

Sony Pictures has decried the suit as frivolous:

In Midnight In Paris, Gil Pender, the disillusioned Hollywood screenwriter played by Owen Wilson, says, “the past is not dead. Actually, it’s not even past. You know who said that? Faulkner. And he was right. And I met him, too. I ran into him at a dinner party.” The rightsholder[s] say the slightly paraphrased quote could “deceive the infringing film’s viewers as to a perceived affiliation, connection or association between William Faulkner and his works, on the one hand, and Sony, on the other hand.”

David Olson, a professor of law at Boston College (and no relation), disputed the notion that a license was needed just because the movie was intended to make a profit. “Commercial use isn’t presumptively unfair” he said. He said no one watches “Midnight in Paris” as a substitute for buying “Requiem for a Nun.” [Deadline.com, Washington Post]

P.S. “Is the complaint written in Faulknerese?” [@jslubinski]

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A federal judge “found that EA’s right to use the likeness of [former Rutgers quarterback Ryan] Hart was protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution and this right ‘outweighs’ Hart’s right to control the use of his name and likeness.” [GamePro]

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August 30 roundup

by Walter Olson on August 30, 2011

  • “He coulda been a credenza”: actor’s estate sues over unauthorized “Brando” furniture line [The Daily via Balko] “Motorcycle Gang Sues Over ‘My Boyfriend’s A Hell’s Angel’ T-Shirt” [CBS-LA]
  • EEOC decries employer discrimination on the basis of applicants’ criminal records, recommends curbing background checks [WSJ Law Blog, FastCasual, Hyman, Greenfield] Bill in San Francisco would make felons a protected class in jobs, housing [Fox]
  • Why are Obama officials intent on reducing due process protections for those accused of campus sexual misconduct? [Silverglate, WSJ; Philadelphia Magazine, Samantha Harris/NY Post, Ciamarella, Daily Caller (AAUP objects to plan); links at SAVE] A contrasting view [Roderick Hills, Prawfsblawg]
  • 9th Circuit rejects Bluetooth class action settlement to which Ted Frank’s CCAF objected [Fisher, NLJ, Frank]
  • Lawyer who represents jogger in product liability suit expects to file more actions claiming Skechers sneakers responsible for falls [BLT]
  • Part of a balanced breakfast: “Why the lawsuit against Nutella is bunk” [Nadia Arumugam, Slate] Update: Judge denies motion to dismiss [Russell Jackson]
  • Experts agree it’s OK to nominate Overlawyered for an ABA “100 Best Legal Blogs” slot here.

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July 29 roundup

by Walter Olson on July 29, 2011

  • Don’t: “Lawyer Disbarred for Verbal Aggression to Pay $9.8M Fine for Hiding Cash Overseas” [Weiss, ABA Journal]
  • Loser-pays might help: “Dropped malpractice lawsuits cost legal system time and money” [Liz Kowalczyk, Boston Globe]
  • “Kim Kardashian and the Problem With ‘Celebrity Likeness’ Lawsuits” [Atlantic Wire]
  • Kim Strassel on the Franken-spun Jamie Leigh Jones case [WSJ]
  • Peggy Little interviews Prof. Lester Brickman (Lawyer Barons) on new Federalist Society podcast;
  • Worse than Wisconsin? “Weaponizing” recusal at the Michigan Supreme Court [Jeff Hadden, Detroit News]
  • New York legislature requires warning labels for sippy cups [NYDN]

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June 27 roundup

by Walter Olson on June 27, 2011

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A spokeswoman for the baseball team said there was “no proof” of the woman’s claim. “This is a wonderful country,” said [Alice] McGillion, “where anybody can sue for anything, even when the allegations are over 70 years old.” [NY Post] More: Unbeige (on possible evidence for claim).

Also on sports logo law: “Can I legally get myself tattooed with a pro sports team’s logo?” [Cecil Adams, The Straight Dope]

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February 21 roundup

by Walter Olson on February 21, 2011

  • Estate of Anna Nicole Smith may sue over opera based on her life [Daily Mail via Surber, other Daily Mail]
  • Maryland Department of Environment: yep, we put tracking devices on Eastern Shore watermen’s boats [Red Maryland]
  • Trial lawyers’ federal contributions went 97% to Dems last cycle [Freddoso, Examiner]
  • $6.5 million for family abuse: unusual sovereign-exposure law costs Washington taxpayers again [PoL]
  • Canadian court: no, we can’t and won’t waive loser-pays for needy litigants who lose cases [Erik Magraken]
  • CPSC considers mandating “SawStop” technology [Crede, background]
  • Gun groups alarmed over ATF pick [Chicago Tribune]
  • Jury blames hit-run death on wheelchair curb cut [four years ago on Overlawyered]

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It’s resulted in a life-size lawsuit: “Bruce McCandless, the NASA astronaut pictured small and floating in space above the Earth, is now suing Dido, Sony Music, Arista Records and Getty Images for using his picture.” [Eriq Gardner, THR Esq.; Bruce Carton, Legal Blog Watch]

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The plaintiffs said to avoid embarrassment, they consented to the broadcast of their extreme beer-pong skills only in Denmark. Unfortunately, the ad went viral. [THR, Esq.]

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On Super Bowl Sunday, E-Trade ran one of their annoying talking-baby commercials; this one featured a blond baby named “Lindsay” (the 380th most popular baby-girl name in 2008) that another baby calls a “milk-aholic.” This, says 23-year-old Lindsay Lohan, was a violation of the rights to her “name and characterization”; she’s sued in Nassau County, New York state court, and is asking for $100 million. The advertising agency says Baby Lindsay was named after someone on the ad team. [lawsuit via TMZ; NY Post; Reuters]

Commenter Richard Nieporent reminds us of the similar Spike Lee vs. Spike TV silliness.

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Under a proposed bill in the New York legislature, the owners of (say) Marilyn Monroe’s estate would be entitled to prevent the use of her persona in advertising for many years to come. [Trademark Blog]

The famed test pilot and sound-barrier-breaker continues to obtain courtroom traction for some debatable legal theories: “U.S. District Judge Frank C. Damrell dashed AT&T’s hopes of avoiding a trial in a decision that inexplicably grants a historic achievement the same legal protection as an artistic work or a consumer product.” [Matthew Heller, On Point News; earlier here and here]

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