Achtung Spidey! Broadway Lawsuit Set for Court

Bono as the Fly Cleveland 1992, by Wikimedia user Steve Kalinsky, licensed by Creative Commons

“I have run, I have crawled, I have scaled these city walls…”

Spider-Man has always been much more familiar with spandex suits than lawsuits.  The Broadway play ‘Turn Off the Dark’ is slinging across headlines after the old co-writer and musical director Julie Taymor is suing over copyright infringement.  She is seeking compensation up to $1 million after being terminated after the show suffered from freak injuries and other mishaps.  It was believed that a decision could be reached, however sources claim the final stumbling block was creative control over Marvel’s web-head himself.  U2’s Bono and The Edge, who are the show’s composers, are also set to appear for the court date in New York, officially set for May 28. Read more

Happy Day for Former Sitcom Cast

Uncopyrighted publicity photo from Happy DaysQueue the jukebox: the ol’ gang just got an increase in allowance.

Happy Days actors Anson Williams, Don Most, Marion Ross, Erin Moran, and the estate of the late Tom Bosley have settled with CBS and Paramount over a contract dispute from April, 2011.  Potsie and co. believed they had not received proper royalties for the sales of Happy Days merchandising that used their images, including comic books, T-shirts, and trading cards.  (Yes, nearly three decades after Happy Days aired its last episode, they still make comic books and trading cards with the characters.)  The actors’ contracts included clauses that gave 5% of proceeds from any merchandise holding their image and 2.5% if they’re shown as a group, but they claim that CBS and Paramount never included merchandise figures in revenue statements provided to the actors.  CBS and Paramount’s counterclaim was that, under a separate agreement with the Screen Actors Guild, the companies were allowed to use images from the show to promote sales of DVDs without paying the actors any extra royalties.

Read more

Melissa Etheridge Gives Up Half Her Royalties in Divorce Settlement

Turns out gay divorce is pretty much just as acrimonious as straight divorce.  In 2010, Melissa Etheridge, a singer/songwriter, split from her longtime actress wife Tammy Lynn Michaels.  The two married in 2003, though not explicitly legally.  It was a “commitment ceremony”, which is really more like a party and doesn’t set any legal claim to marriage.  The two registered themselves in a domestic partnership with the state of California, which carries a different set of rights and obligations than marriage.  Michaels gave birth to a set of twins in 2006, further cementing their bond.  They unfortunately missed the deadline to get married legally in the short period of time when California permitted gay marriage in 2008, which would have made this much less business-like.  However, since their breakup in 2010, the two have been in a contentious divorce-like fight about the dissolution of their partnership, which was finally resolved yesterday.  And if you thought business partnerships were rough, just imagine it when children and spite are involved.

Read more

Sony BMG Settlement Indicates Need to Define Digital Royalties

A record player, by Flickr user "Ferrari + caballos + fuerza = cerebro Humano", licensed via Creative Commons
A thing of the past – music companies want to sell digital music as if it were still analog.

I’ve written before that music companies need to adjust to changing times.  Today, Sony BMG settled a suit with a group of several musicians concerning digital distribution.  The gist of it is this: the royalties that go to artists are different if the transfer of a song is considered a sale or a license.  12-20% of a sale goes to the artist, while 50% of a license does.  A sale means that the copyright holder has given some ownership rights to the purchaser (e.g. with a CD or record, where the purchaser owns a copy of the album and can resell that copy at some point).  A license means that a purchaser has the right to listen to the song, but the copyright holder still retains all ownership rights.  Digital distribution services like iTunes and Amazon’s music download service have been treating digital versions of songs transferred via the internet as sales rather than licenses.  This lawsuit challenged that definition — the artists alleged that online distribution is more like a license than a sale, and therefore they are owed more money.

The settlement of this case for $8 million may influence more artists to sue.  If more artists sue, music distribution services may need to change their royalty calculation to a licensing system to protect themselves from greater losses in litigation.  Last year, Eminem famously won a similar suit, though it was mainly based on his contract and not the idea of licensing in general.  It was considered a precedent in copyright law, but since then the debate has been mostly quiet.  Hopefully, the music industry will begin to shift its digital rights management and become more open to change and paying artists a fair share of their work.  However, considering it’s an industry that sold over $6 billion worth of digital music last year, I can understand their reluctance to even a small shift in royalty fees.

Read more: