IP/Internet Transactions

CDAS Partners Briana C. Hill and Benjamin Jaffe Named Co-Chairs of the Entertainment and the Digital Media & Technology groups, respectively.

Briana Hill, Co-Head of the Beverly Hills office of Cowan DeBaets Abrahams & Sheppard LLP, joins Fred Bimbler and Simon Pulman in leading the firm’s Entertainment group, which includes televison (traditional to broadband), streaming, film, new media, talent, theatre and podcasting. The group assists clients with their entertainment projects through early development, the solicitation of investment, production and ultimate distribution, securing all necessary rights and negotiating agreements with top-tier talent.

Ben Jaffe joins Joshua Sessler in leading the Digital Media & Technology group that represents top digital talent, including game developers and distributors, digital agencies, production houses, broadband video networks, mobile app developers, podcasters and social media ventures. The group provides counsel to a wide range of social media, transmedia and mobile plays that are using emerging software and hardware technologies to create, develop and distribute content in new ways.

Top Five List: Protecting Your Podcast (and You)

By Scott J. Sholder

Although podcasts have been around in one form or another since the early aughts, their ubiquity and popularity has skyrocketed in recent years.  Apple, Spotify, Pandora, Google, and Stitcher, among other platforms, have changed the game when it comes to distribution, variety, and access.  Wildly popular programs like Serial, Pod Save America, My Favorite Murder, and The Daily have set the standard for content excellence across the news and mystery genres, while The Joe Rogan Experience, Comedy Bang! Bang!, WTF with Marc Maron, and Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend are leading the way in the comedy space.

If you want your dulcet tones to break into the digital airwaves and bring your audience information or entertainment and laughs (or maybe all three), you will of course need solid distribution and top-notch content.  But you also need legal protection both for you and for your content.  While podcasting may seem straightforward enough to not warrant the involvement of a lawyer, there’s more to it than you might think.  Here are five things to do to protect yourself and your content when entering the world of podcasting.

  1. Form a Company:  You may have already done this, but setting up a company, whether a corporation, partnership, or LLC, is a smart first step in becoming a content provider.  Apart from tax implications (which your accountant can explain to you), the corporate form creates a shield around you to protect your personal assets from certain forms of liability (for instance, breach of contract), limiting legal exposure to the assets of the company where it can be said that the company is the liable party.  The corporate form may not protect you from torts such as defamation and copyright infringement if you (intentionally or not) slip up in your individual capacity, but the company can still potentially absorb the exposure for torts it is deemed to have committed.  You may also want to use a corporation or LLC to hold your intellectual property (more on IP below) or “loan out” your services as talent, which can be helpful from a financial standpoint (again, talk to your accountant).  Setting up a company can be simple enough to be a DIY project but might become more complicated, requiring professional advice, depending on the arrangement you want and if you have multiple shareholders or members.  But it’s generally not that expensive and could save you headaches in the long run.  Once you’ve formed your company, make sure that you assign any existing contracts to the company (an attorney can help you with this as well), and that future contracts are in the name of the company – not your own name.

  2. Obtain Copyright and Trademark Protection:  To protect your original content, you should apply to register copyrights in that content.  While ideas and concepts are not copyrightable, the tangible expression of those ideas is, including scripts, sound recordings, skits or sketches, songs, and even, in some instances, individual jokes.  If the content is original to you (i.e., not simply copied from someone else) and is in a “fixed” medium of expression, you can apply to register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office.  The application process is more straightforward than the trademark process (discussed below) and the basic fees are reasonable; the bar to obtaining a registration is also pretty low in that “originality” for copyright purposes requires only minimal creativity, and it is far less likely that another copyright owner will challenge your application.  While it may seem onerous to register each episode of a podcast – especially if you release episodes more than once a week – there are ways to potentially streamline the process and keep costs down, and copyright counsel can be helpful in this regard.  Registering copyrights will also help you if your podcast one day moves into other media, such as television or a published book.

    Have a clever name for your podcast?  You should consider applying for a trademark registration.  If you offer goods or services (including entertainment services like podcasts) using a name, logo, or short phrase as a source indicator, you may be eligible for federal trademark protection through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.  Simply using the word, phrase, or logo “in commerce” is enough to give you some rights to enforce against infringers, but registration gives you more rights and enhanced damages if someone tries to rip off your mark.  It’s important to note, though, that there are filing fees and other expenses involved in applying to register a trademark (and in maintaining a trademark once it is registered), and during the application process other trademark owners have a chance to challenge your mark if they think it is too similar to theirs.  The application process is also more complex than applying to register a copyright and it is usually advisable to seek legal counsel to help ensure your mark is not “blocked” or otherwise rejected. 

  3. Obtain Necessary Licenses, Releases, and Permissions:  If you are using third-party content (playing audio clips or music, reading from a script or a book, etc.), you should make sure you have permission to do so from the owner of the copyright.  Despite popular misconceptions, there is no magic percentage that you can use without consequence (e.g., 8 measures of a song, 30 seconds of a comedy bit, 5% of a book) and the question of whether something is “fair use” is complex, gray, and extremely fact sensitive.  The best practice is to make sure you have a license (whether written or oral) to use content that is not exclusively yours or seek out content from royalty-free libraries or that can be used under Creative Commons licenses.  And when that content includes the voice or other identifying aspect of a third party, you’ll need to get that person’s permission as well, separate from the necessary copyright permissions.  A person’s voice is part of their “right of publicity” which is distinct from copyright and generally (with some exceptions) requires permission to use.

    If you have guests appear on your podcast, make sure they sign an appearance release that allows you to use their names and likenesses (e.g., voices) including for commercial, advertising, and promotional purposes and that releases you from liability for the ways in which guests’ names and likenesses are used.  While the best practice is to get written permission, you can also secure this consent verbally by having the guest read a brief script on air.  There are special considerations when dealing with minors that are beyond the scope of this article, and in such situations, it is best to consult a lawyer familiar with minor talent. 

  4. Vet Your Content and Read Your Contracts:  Related to number 3, if you are using third-party content (assuming you have permission), you should make sure that content doesn’t infringe anyone else’s rights.  Issues in the podcasting space, especially in comedy, usually arise in the context of defamation.  For example, if you source a clip of another comedian’s latest standup special and that comedian makes a defamatory statement about another identifiable person, you may be liable for re-publishing that defamatory statement.  The best practice is to review content before using it and consult a lawyer if you have concerns about any piece of content. 

    Also, if you sign any contracts, whether to acquire or license content, or for a third party to distribute or host your own content, read them before you sign them.  If you sign a contract you normally are bound even if you haven’t read it, so always understand what you are signing before you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.  When licensing third-party content, make sure you’re indemnified in case the person who provided you with the content didn’t have sufficient permission to do so, and when reviewing terms set out by hosting platforms, know who controls your RSS feed; typically, the host will control it for the period they host it, but unless your content is exclusive to one platform (for instance, Spotify), the platform should not own the stream or the content.  And note that in many jurisdictions, an email agreement is considered a binding contract – so be careful what you agree to via email.  Usually the best time to engage an attorney is when an offer is initially made to you – even if it takes the form of an email as opposed to a formal contract.  There are obviously more issues that may arise than just these, so don’t sign away your rights unknowingly!

  5. Get Errors and Omissions Insurance:  Many insurance companies offer E&O insurance for media and entertainment companies (such as AXIS Capital, AXA XL, QBE, and OneBeacon) and getting coverage is a smart idea particularly given how much litigation arises out of media and entertainment properties.  Media insurance policies often cover copyright and trademark claims, contract claims, defamation claims, and other risks that commonly arise in the media and entertainment space.  While this may seem like an unnecessary cost, especially for an individual or small business, those who make their living in media and entertainment should seriously consider it – and as the podcast business becomes more mature and sophisticated, insurance is increasingly being required in connection with certain forms of distribution.

Chambers USA 2018 Ranks Partners Lackman and Wolff as Top IP Attorneys; Recognizes Two Cowan, DeBaets, Abrahams & Sheppard LLP (CDAS) Practice Groups

Cowan, DeBaets, Abrahams & Sheppard LLP is delighted to announce that partners Eleanor M. Lackman and Nancy E. Wolff and both CDAS’s Entertainment and IP, Copyright and Litigation Practices have been recognized by Chambers and Partners in the Chambers USA 2018: America’s Leading Lawyers for Business guide.

Eleanor M. Lackman

Nancy E. Wolff

This is the fifth consecutive year Ms. Lackman and the second consecutive year Ms. Wolff have been ranked in the Chambers USA guide. They are both among just 41 New York lawyers ranked in the field of “Intellectual Property: Trademark, Copyright & Trade Secrets – New York.”

“Impressed sources” told Chambers that Ms. Lackman is “an absolutely incredible trademark litigator” and added: “She is very practical and always seems to make the right call.” She also has notable experience handling copyright matters, often advising clients across the media and entertainment industries.

Chambers describes Ms. Wolff as “very well-known and well-respected.” She receives plaudits for her expertise in a range of complex copyright matters and is highlighted for her particular skill across the photography and visual art industry.

CDAS’s Entertainment Practice was awarded a regional designation of “Noted Firm” in “Media & Entertainment: Film, Music, Television & Theater – New York” for the third consecutive year, while the Firm’s IP, Copyright and Litigation Practice received a  “Noted Firm” designation in “Intellectual Property: Trademark, Copyright & Trade Secrets – New York” for the second consecutive year.

The annual guide ranks law firms and lawyers based on in-depth interviews with clients and lawyers, technical legal ability, professional conduct, client service, commercial astuteness, diligence, commitment, and other qualities most valued by the client.

Nancy E. Wolff Named to 2018 Managing Intellectual Property’s “Top 250 Women in IP” List

Cowan, DeBaets, Abraham’s & Sheppard LLP (CDAS) Partner Nancy E. Wolff has been selected for inclusion in Managing Intellectual Property’s (IP) “Top 250 Women in IP” list.

The special publication recognizes female practitioners in private practice who have performed exceptionally for their clients and firms in the past year.

Managing IP explains that these leading female practitioners have been selected from the general “IP Stars” list, which will be officially announced next month. The list is based on information obtained during the research for this year’s edition of “IP STARS.” The research was concluded in February to 2018.

See the full list here: THE TOP 250 WOMEN IN IP (2018)

CDAS Client Alert: Federal Trade Secrets Law Provides Potent New Tool For Businesses In Online & Digital Media Space

Yesterday President Obama signed the Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016 (“DTSA”), the culmination of several years of bipartisan efforts to federalize trade secret protection, placing it alongside the federal copyright, trademark, and patent statutes.  The DTSA – an extension of the Economic Espionage Act of 1996 – should be significant, generally, to businesses concerned about protecting competitively sensitive information from misappropriation by former employees, industrial spies, and foreign nationals.  It should prove particularly useful to those in the online and digital media space as an important tool in the prevention and remedying of the theft of software-based products.  The DTSA has strong support from the software industry, including from Microsoft, IBM, Adobe, Micron, and the Software Information Industry Association.  Here are three key takeaways from the passage of the DTSA:

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CDAS Attorneys Appointed to 2016-2017 INTA Committees

Cowan, DeBaets, Abrahams and Sheppard LLP Partner, Eleanor M. Lackman, and Associate, Joshua Wolkoff, have been appointed to International Trademark Association (INTA) committees for the 2016-17 term.

Ms. Lackman will serve on the International Amicus Committee. The committee provides expertise concerning trademark and other IP-related laws to courts and trademark offices around the world through the submission of amicus curiae  briefs or similar filings.

Mr. Wolkoff will serve on the Young Practitioners Committee. The committee develops services and programs specifically designed for young practitioners who wish to advance their careers in the trademark field.

Copyright Trumps Right of Publicity – Permitting Display and Download of Basketball Photographs (Maloney v. T3Media, Inc.)

The U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in Maloney v. T3Media, Inc. recently held that state right-of-publicity claims brought by former college basketball players complaining of photographs licensed of their likenesses without consent warranted dismissal with prejudice pursuant to California’s anti-SLAPP statute, which prohibits suits aimed at inhibiting free expression.  Members of the 2001 NCAA Division III champion Catholic University basketball team sued T3Media, a cloud storage, hosting, and digital licensing service, alleging violations of their rights of publicity when photographs of the players from the NCAA championship were displayed and made available for licensing on T3Media’s website.

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Fan, Foe or Free-Rider: CDAS Defeats Cybersquatter that Sought to Capitalize on Celebrity Client’s Famous Name

Case Highlights Benefits of Trademark Protection and Potential Risks in Posing as a Fan Online

A growing and unsettling trend in the legal field of domain name disputes is the prevalence of domain registration for bad faith purposes, such as to bait the public into thinking that there is an association between a website operator and a famous brand or person.  Recently, Cowan DeBaets Abraham & Sheppard LLP (“CDAS”) brought a complaint under the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (“UDRP” or “The Policy”) which demonstrated the potential pitfalls of this trend. In Sofia Vergara v. Domain Administrator, Fundacion Private Whois / Domain Admin, Whois Privacy Corp. / Guy Bouchard, WIPO Case No. D2014-2008, Sofia Vergara (“Ms. Vergara”), represented by CDAS, prevailed before the World Intellectual Property Organization (“WIPO”) Arbitration and Mediation Center, due to the demonstrated bad faith conduct of Fundacion Private Whois / Domain Admin, Whois Privacy Corp. / Guy Bouchard (collectively, Respondent) in their registration of the domain name www.sofiavergara.org (the “Domain Name”).

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Newly Announced CDAS Partner Doug Jacobs Featured on Broadcasting & Cable

Following today’s earlier announcement that Former General Counsel of A&E, Doug Jacobs, was joining the firm as a Partner, Mr. Jacobs had an opportunity to speak with Jon Lafayette, Business Editor at Broadcasting & Cable, about the transition. Mr. Jacobs touched upon the current state of the Television Business, as well as the future of the business as it relates to new technology and developments.

You can find the full article here.

Shifting Injunction Standards in Copyright, Trademark Cases

Note: This blog is cross-posted from Law360.com with permission from Portfolio Media, Inc.

For decades, obtaining an injunction in a copyright or trademark case was simple: Show success on the merits (or likely success on the merits, at the preliminary injunction stage), and injunctive relief was usually automatically yours. Then, in 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in a patent case called eBay Inc. v. MercExchange LLC, which upended the standard for obtaining injunctive relief in patent cases. Around 2010, appellate courts began to apply eBay to copyright cases; the past few months have seen the first instances of appellate courts’ application of eBay to cases under the Lanham Act.

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