Monthly Archives: December 2007

007: License to sue … or be sued!

I love legal battles. Especially silly ones. That was the sentiment from New York Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman in a case recently brought against former James Bond Actor Sean Connery. In a recent AP Story, Justice Friedman “barred both sides from filing any more lawsuits without her permission, saying they “have engaged in a ‘slash and burn’ litigation strategy.” Wait! Isn’t that what litigation is about?

According to AP, the law suit was filed by Connery’s downstairs neighbor, Burton Sultan, who “calls his neighbor Connery, 77, the antithesis of the suave secret agent he played in numerous James Bond films, branding him “a bully who ignores norms of neighborliness and decency” in the town house they share.”

Apparently, “the sides have clashed repeatedly over the Connerys’ years-long renovations to their part of the six-story, landmarked 1869 town house. The Sultans claim the renovations have subjected them to noise, fumes, leaks and rats, ruining their collection of antique wicker furniture.”

(Read the full story)

Porn producer sues YouTube knockoff*

I have to thank my good friends and colleagues of the First Amendment Lawyers Association for chatting about this trend setting story. In the recent wake of the Viacom lawsuit against YouTube, one of the larges adult entertainment content producers, Vivid Video, is suing the adult content YouTube equivalent, PornoTube, the Los Angeles Times reported yesterday. (Read the article here).

At the core of the controversy, according to the article, is “just how hard a website must work to ensure that users don’t post videos belonging to someone else.” This was the same issue as presented in the Viacom lawsuit.

I firmly agree with the LA Times story that

The law on that matter is unsettled, attorneys said. YouTube and other sites have compromised with some mainstream producers, agreeing to split ad revenue generated while their clips are played.

In an era where internet distribution is becoming much more prevalent, it is important to protect the originators of the work. This notion goes for mainstream Hollywood or the adult entertainment industry.

*I have the LA Times to thank for that headline.

Schooled by Contracts

It really troubles me as an attorney when you do great work for a client and then all of a sudden the client feels that he / she doesn’t have to pay you for your time. I’ve been an advocate for putting contracts in writing for so long. (See Contracts 101: Pitfalls to Avoid in your Entertainment Deals – Part 1 (Introduction); and Part 2) In an industry where people want to make hand shake deals, it is so very important to let business be business and friendship be friendship. When it comes to a business deal, get it in writing. Period!High School Musical actress Vanessa Hudgens is getting a dose of business from her former attorney, Brian Schall for over $150,000.00 in fees he earned while building the young actresses career. E!Online is reporting that

A Los Angeles judge has ruled in favor of Vanessa Hudgens’ former attorney Brian Schall, allowing the lawyer to proceed with his breach-of-contract suit filed against the actress in September, in which he claims he’s owed $150,000 in back commission from the High School Musical star. (Source)

However, Hudgen isn’t going down without a fight. She and her new lawyer (I hope he got a big retainer) are challenging the legal contract because she was only 16 when she signed it. According to the article,

Hudgens’ lawyer, Evan N. Spiegel, cited California’s Family Code in the bid to dismiss the lawsuit, which “provides that the contract of a minor is voidable and may be disaffirmed before [age 18] or within a reasonable time afterward.” (Source)

This is generally a true statement of the law. But in most instances of the law, there are exceptions to every rule. The case with minors contracting, they are typically voidable unless the contract is for necessities in life or are later ratified when the minor turns 18. This is the theory the Judge is hammering at Hudgen and her lawyer. As the article states,

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Tricia Ann Bigelow said in court Wednesday that the debate over the disaffirmation had turned into a “factual issue.” That fact was that the Disney star waited until she was 18 years and nine months old before attempting to void the contract, which cleared the way for the case to proceed to either a motion for summary judgment or a jury decision. (Source)

Aside from the breach of contract claim, Schall is suing Hudgen on an unjust enrichment theory claiming that if the contract is void, he is entitled to recovery based on the reasonable value of his services. This is a tort theory rather than a breach of contract theory that people shouldn’t be allowed to receive free benefits when there is an expectation to pay for the services.

Well, as I mentioned, Hudgen is fighting back and she counter sued Schall for essentially being a bad lawyer. I’ve seen this happen on occasion, which it is why it is so difficult to sue a client over fees. According to E!Online,

Hudgens countered in her own documents that she fired Schall earlier this year after growing weary of his representation, dubbing his services “below professional standards, resulting in a breakdown of their relationship.”

Well, I find that hard to believe, especially when this article reports that “Hudgens earn[d] more than $5 million stemming from her songwriting and recording career and that [Schall] advanced her expenses and costs during the time they worked together.”

Things that make you go hmmmmm….. She made $5 million by the time she was 19 as a result of this lawyer. You tell me if that was below professional standards.

(Read the E!Online Article)

Plump Lips Breach Contracts

The Associated Press is reporting that Teri Hatcher is being sued by the cosmetic company Hydroderm. According to the article,

Teri Hatcher is being told to pucker up and pay $2.4 million to a skin-care products company that says she promoted the wrong lip gloss.

Hydroderm’s lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on Tuesday, claims that a 2005 agreement with ISBE Productions, Hatcher’s production company, stipulated the star of ABC’s “Desperate Housewives” wouldn’t endorse other competing products as part of a $2.4 million endorsement deal. (Source)

According to AP (I’m still trying to get my own copy of the Complaint), the lawsuit alleges that

Hatcher was also promoting CityLips, a lip plumper made by City Cosmetics that competes with Hydroderm’s lip plumper, called Volumizing Lip Serum.

The lawsuit also alleges that Hatcher promoted other products, but doesn’t name them.

Now, exclusive promotion deals are commonplace in many industries; especially in the entertainment industry. If Hatcher did in fact breach the exclusive promotional deal, she could be in big trouble. However, according to her attorney, Alan Wertheimer, the lawsuit is an

“unjustified and public assault on Teri Hatcher’s good name, reputation and celebrity in a transparent and pathetic effort to distract from its own failure to live up to its end of the agreement.”

Wertheimer said Hatcher complied with all of her contractual obligations despite “a frustrating series of changes in the ownership and management of Hydroderm over the last several years.”

Obviously, two sides to every story. Read the full AP story here.

Saltman judgment lives on after Knievel…

I remember when this story about Evel Knievel broke when I was 7 years old. It was back in 1977 (ok, you do the math) and my childhood hero had taken a baseball bat to his PR manager, Shelly Saltman. At that time, Saltman won a $12.75 million in damages against Knievel. Well, according to the Associated Press, he was never able to recover his judgment and he now estimates it to be more than $100 million. (source). Since Knivel’s death a few days ago, it looks like Saltman is out to collect his judgment.

According to Saltman,

“We are going hot and heavy after his estate,” Saltman told The Associated Press after Knievel died Friday at 69. “What he tried to do to me and how it hurt my family, I’m owed that.”

You can read the rest of the story here.