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Week in Review

By Martha Nimmer

Notorious Sampling

Even though rapper Notorious B.I.G. passed away almost two decades ago, his estate may face a copyright lawsuit for his sampling of a 1974 song by soul singer Leroy Hutson and Michael Hawkins. Now, hoping to get ahead of such a suit, the estate of the Notorious B.I.G.--born Christopher Wallace--has filed its own suit in California federal court, seeking declaratory relief that the song "The What" on the album "Ready to Die" does not infringe Hutson and Hawkins' song, "Can't Say Enough About Mom." The estate's lawsuit also accuses Hutson of copyright misuse for "threatening legal action with alleged knowledge of no real infringement."

What sets this case apart from others is that Wallace admitted sampling the 1974 song. The plaintiff's estate, however, appears untroubled by this past revelation, arguing that the sampling is de minimis and fair use, "as only 'two nonsequential tones' were used, adapted, modified and supplemented." Additionally, any infringement claims would be time-barred, according to the plaintiffs.

The Biggie song at issue, "The What," was written in 1994 by the deceased artist, Osten Harvey Jr. (known as Easy Mo Bee) and Clifford Smith (known as Method Man). Harvey produced the song, and the plaintiff's suit states that he "sampled the final 1.9 seconds of 'fade-out' from the defendant's song -- a faint 'wah-wah' sound which oscillated between high and low frequencies." On "The What," the song excerpt is said to have been "transposed" to match an E-flat minor tone. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the song's "low-end frequencies were removed, and the high-end frequencies were chopped into short and bass tones."

As there is no dispute over whether sampling occurred in "The What," the judge hearing the suit will be left to decide what amount of sampling is permissible.


Stolen Snowman?

An animator who claims that Disney copied "original elements" of her snowman character for its movie and trailers for the hit film "Frozen" is not, in the words of "Frozen" soundtrack artist Adina Menzel, going to "let it go." Earlier this week, animator Kelly Wilson sued the Walt Disney Company and its affiliates for copyright infringement in California federal court.

"Frozen", Disney's $1 billion animated hit, tells the story a young girl and her friends who save their kingdom from eternal winter. In contrast, Wilson's 2D animated movie tells the story of "an average Joe snowman" who loses his nose -- made out of a carrot -- and must retrieve the nose before it is eaten by hungry rabbits. The majority of Wilson's complaint focuses on a teaser trailer for "Frozen" and its similarities to her brief film. According to the artist's complaint, the June 2013 teaser for "Frozen" is "substantially similar to 'The Snowman', and it is almost identical to the original element of 'The Snowman', including but not limited to: the plot, themes, dialogue, mood, setting, pace, characters and sequence of events." Specifically, Wilson claims that the Disney trailer uses the same plot -- a snowman who has lost his carrot nose -- but instead of rabbits, the snowman must keep a moose from eating the nose. Wilson claims in her suit that Disney took the idea from her during the 54th San Francisco International Film Festival in 2011 after she won "Youth Work Honorable Mention" for "The Snowman". Notably, her film competed against a short film created by a Pixar Animation Studios employee; Pixar is a subsidiary of Disney.

Wilson seeks a share of profits as well as attorney's fees.


Trouble in the Jersey Shore

MTV's controversial reality television show, Jersey Shore, is no stranger to legal trouble. Now, add to that list a class action lawsuit from a former video editor on the series. In his suit, filed on Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court, video editor Philip Pucci accuses 495 Productions, the producer of Jersey Shore and other reality shows, of unfair business practices, failing to pay for overtime work and failing to comply with minimum wage laws. According to the complaint, Pucci worked as an assistant editor for 495 Productions from October 2012 through February 2013. He claims that he was paid "$1,250 per week and was only paid overtime if he worked more than 60 hours in a single week."

The suit goes on to describe what it calls "a pay scheme" that forced "non-exempt employees to accept a flat salary for 60 hours of work a week." Essentially, the suit avers that the pay scheme was "positioned as 40 hours plus overtime," but it turned out to be a fixed salary for every employee in Pucci's situation, regardless of the number of additional or overtime hours worekd. According to the suit, this scheme was set up "in order to make it falsely appear the defendants pay scheme complies with California overtime laws." Pucci goes on to allege that the number of employees in the class are "so numerous" that it was not "feasible" to identify all of them by the time the action was filed. At least 100 other employees of 495 Productions were subject to the unlawful pay scheme, the complaint states.


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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on April 5, 2014 8:21 AM.

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