In what seems to be a rite of passage for up-and-coming comedians, Golden Globe® nominee Amy Schumer was recently accused of “joke theft” by a series of fellow comedians. All puns aside, “joke theft” can be a serious matter and allegations of the same have negatively affected the careers of many comedians, including Denis Leary, Carlos Mencia, and Dane Cook. While few jokes are truly original anymore, the blatant lifting of an entire comedic performance from another often subjects the alleged thief to public shaming. In the case of a comedian with the status of Amy Schumer, that shaming can be high-profile. Many have already taken to YouTube to create comparison videos.
But is joke theft a stand-alone basis for a legal claim of copyright infringement?
Yes, yes it can be. Please allow me to explain…
Metallica has always had a love-hate relationship with its fans. Beginning with its controversial decision to film a music video for the first time for the anti-war song “One” and continuing with the shift from heavy metal thrash to more “commercial” rock songs on the Black Album, Metallica has routinely challenged the expectations of the public.
More famously, on April 13, 2000, Metallica inflamed the good nature of its fan base by suing Napster in federal court for copyright infringement, racketeering, and unlawful uses of digital devices, among other causes of action. As part of this lawsuit, Metallica identified over 300,000 individual users who allegedly copied and unlawfully acquired digital copies of Metallica’s songs through the Napster peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing service. These users were “temporarily” banned as a result of Metallica’s investigation and lawsuit. Not surprisingly, Metallica faced a severe public backlash for attacking its purported fans through lawsuits and allegations of copyright infringement. It even inspired a classic South Park episode.
Metallica is accordingly well-known to be litigious. They will strongly enforce trademark rights and all of their copyrights, when necessary. This often does not sit well with music fans that view the band as entitled and out-of touch millionaires. This leads to the most recent unfavorable public relations snafu by Metallica.
On December 30, 2015, Metallica’s lawyers sent a cease-and-desist letter to a Canadian tribute band performing under the name “Sandman.” Why did Metallica go after a tribute band? How is this different from the Napster case?
On January 12, 2016, the National Football League approved by near unanimous vote the re-location of the Rams from St. Louis to Los Angeles. Los Angeles has not been home to an NFL team since the Rams and the Raiders both left after the 1994 season. In addition to the Rams, the San Diego Chargers also have the option to move to Los Angeles before the 2017 season, which seems likely. The Los Angeles Rams are back in business. NFL Hall of Fame running back (and fellow SMU Mustang!) Eric Dickerson seems pleased with the news:
Not surprisingly, the Los Angeles Rams Football Company, by way of the St. Louis Rams LLC, has already taken steps to ensure that the LOS ANGELES RAMS trademark rights are active and the federal registration has been renewed. But there remain other trademark issues that arise from this news of relocation.
Copyright is the exclusive domain of humans. So says the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Oh, and the U.S. Copyright Office, too. A recent appeal made on behalf of haplorhine primates everywhere has failed to extend the law to allow monkeys to be the authors or owners of copyrights in the United States. How and why are we even talking about this? Because in 2011, a monkey in Indonesia took a selfie. The monkey even smiled for the camera!
The resulting images created a firestorm for copyright law when the owner of the camera began publishing the monkey’s pictures and asserting copyright claims against others. On September 22, 2015, PETA filed suit on grounds that the camera owner and his publishing company were infringing the monkey’s copyrights. As if that lawsuit was not bizarre enough, it did set the stage for one of the more amusing Motions to Dismiss ever filed in federal court. Nevertheless on January 7, 2016, Judge Orrick granted the Motion to Dismiss and held that a monkey cannot be the owner or author of a copyright.
While the monkey, now known as “Naruto,” may not be able to enforce any copyrights, it does raise interesting legal issues to address and consider.
Two trademark applications have recently caught my attention. Both involve NFL players and their offhand comments that have become accidental catchphrases. I highlight these two as a means of underscoring the recent trend among athletes to seek to register trademarks of all kinds. Most of these marks, unfortunately, have limited commercial value and a short lifespan for relevance among the consuming public. While I am a champion for protecting your trademark rights, these two particular applications strike me as nothing short of absurd.
Please allow me to explain…