Led Zeppelin, Spirit and a Bustle at the Ninth Circuit

The U.S. copyright community will look back on 2018 as an important year for music copyright law. Appellate decisions in music copyright cases are rare. However, this year we’ve seen two important opinions from the Ninth Circuit. In March the Ninth Circuit upheld a jury verdict that found that Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke’s 2012 recording of “Blurred Lines” infringes Marvin Gaye’s 1976 composition of “Got To Give It Up” (see my blog post, “Blurred Lines at the Ninth Circuit,” here).

Now, in October, the Ninth Circuit has issued an opinion in Randy Wolfe’s copyright case against Led Zeppelin.* The jury in that case found that Led Zeppelin’s 1971 recording of Stairway to Heaven did not infringe Wolfe’s composition copyright in the 1968 song Taurus (recorded by Spirit).** However, the appeals court found that the judge made several errors during the trial, requiring that the case be retried.*

*[note] Randy Wolfe (aka Randy California) died in a drowning accident in 1997, and his estate is represented by a trustee named Michael Skidmore, the named plaintiff in the case.

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Disney v. Redbox, Redux

by Lee Gesmer on September 28, 2018

Disney v. Redbox, Redux

Can Disney prevent a commercial business – in this case Redbox – from reselling Disney’s movie download codes?

At first the answer was “no.”

My earlier post on this case* highlighted the California federal district court’s February 2018 opinion concluding that the language on Disney’s box-top packages failed to create a contract that would prevent Redbox from purchasing and reselling Disney movie download codes. However, I predicted that “Likely, in the future Disney will correct its ‘box-top license’ to make it legally enforceable . ..”

*To get the background facts of this case please read the initial post

Disney did just that when it released its Black Panther combo packs. Disney’s new packaging states that “Digital code redemption requires prior acceptance of licence terms and conditions. Codes only for personal use by recipient of this combination package or family member.” A warning elsewhere on the package states that “The digital code contained in this package may not be sold separately and may be redeemed only by the recipient of this combination package or a family member.… Read the full article

A New Era In Massachusetts Noncompete Law

by Lee Gesmer on August 12, 2018

A New Era In Massachusetts Noncompete Law

The Massachusetts Legislature has attempted to pass legislation regulating noncompete agreements every year since 2009. This year, it finally succeeded. The new law, which Governor Baker signed on August 10, 2018 and which is effective October 1, 2018, makes important changes to the body of Massachusetts non-compete “common-law” that has evolved over decades in the courts.

Here are the highlights of the new law.

Not Retroactive. The law is not retroactive. Any noncompete entered into before October 1, 2018 (for convenience I refer to this as “2018”) is unaffected. This means that, as a practical matter, there will be two bodies of law: judges will apply the “old” court-made common law to pre-2018 agreements, and the new statute, along with the common law that is unaffected and therefore remains in place,  to agreements entered into after 2018.

Formalities. For a non-compete to be enforceable the employer must follow certain procedural formalities.Read the full article

Attorney's Attempt to Circumvent CDA Fails Before California Supreme Court

The Communications Decency Act (CDA) is a federal law that protects online publishers from liability for the speech of others. The CDA gives online platforms the right to publish (or decline to publish) the ideas and opinions of users without the threat of being held liable for that content or forced to remove it.

However, people who are defamed online will sometimes go to extreme lengths to try to force online publishers to remove defamatory content posted by users. A notable First Circuit case that I wrote about recently illustrates how a lawyer attempted, unsuccessfully, to obtain copyright ownership of several defamatory posts and then force Ripoff Report to remove the posts. (See: The Copyright Workaround and Reputation Management: Small Justice v. Ripoff Report).

A California attorney tried something similar in Hassell v. Bird, a case decided by the California Supreme Court on July 2, 2018. In that case a lawyer (Dawn Hassell) sued a former client and the author of a Yelp review (Ava Bird) over a review that Hassell claimed was defamatory.Read the full article