Media & Entertainment Litigation
Our Media and Entertainment Litigation practice counsels and represents industry participants in an array of entertainment industry-related matters, including business disputes. Our experience ranges from antitrust, trademark and copyright disputes to litigation over format rights, idea submission, defamation, invasion of privacy, right of publicity, profit participation, royalty payments, vertical integration claims, and the interpretation of recording, film, distribution and talent contracts.
We represent businesses and individuals involved in nearly every facet of the entertainment industry, from film studios and production companies to television networks, record labels and live music producers, video game producers, publishers, talent agencies and performers. Our clients have included studios and production companies such as Warner Bros. Entertainment, NBCUniversal, The Walt Disney Company, Pixar, Wingnut Films and Lucasfilm; television networks and producers such as ABC, CBS, NBC, Nickelodeon, MTV Networks and Mark Burnett Productions; videogame publishers such as Activision, Take-Two and Electronic Arts; and music-related entities such as Universal Music Group and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
Though we often resolve disputes through negotiation and settlement, we are also known nationwide for our ability to handle more contentious matters in litigation or arbitration. As technological change transforms the industry, our team is at the forefront of the latest issues to emerge in entertainment litigation. We regularly handle cases involving issues with little settled law, establishing important precedents in state and federal courts. Our clients also benefit from the knowledge and experience of partners throughout the firm, including lawyers who have particular expertise in technology matters. In this regard, our team has counseled clients in cutting-edge litigation involving the exploitation of content in new media.
In addition to representing clients in disputes, we counsel them to identify potential risks and avoid protracted legal problems. For example, we regularly work with television network clients to vet concepts and treatments for reality television programs and prevent potential civil and criminal law exposure. We also advise studios and production companies over the course of the development, pre-production and production stages of major motion pictures.
Representative recent and pending litigation includes:
- Lenhoff Enterprises, Inc. v. United Talent Agency, Inc. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal secured by Irell in the trial court of an antitrust and business tort lawsuit brought against its client United Talent Agency and another large talent agency, International Creative Management Partners. A boutique talent agency filed the suit in the Central District of California alleging that the “packaging deals” employed by UTA and the largest talent agencies violate the provisions of the Sherman Antitrust Act and that UTA conspired with these other large agencies to exclude smaller agencies from co-packaging arrangements.
- Stuntman, Inc. v. Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. Successfully defended Warner Bros. in a major entertainment industry class action alleging that participants in Warner Bros. and MGM motion pictures were improperly paid royalties on the exploitation of motion pictures in various home video formats including DVDs, videocassettes and electronic downloads.
- Santana et al v. Take-Two Interactive Software. Secured a dismissal with prejudice of a biometric privacy class action for Take-Two Interactive, publisher of the NBA 2K basketball video games. Game players alleged violation of Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act from the use of their photographs to create customized avatars, which were shared with third parties when playing in multiplayer mode. They sought hundreds of millions of dollars in damages for the class. The case has been cited in biometric privacy cases against other media and technology companies.
- Disney Enterprises Inc. v. Phase 4 Films, et al. Successfully prosecuted, on behalf of Walt Disney Pictures, a trademark infringement action of Disney's rights in the motion picture, "Frozen."
- Jason West and Vince Zampella v. Activision Publishing, Inc., and related cross-actions. Represented the world's largest electronic game company in an interrelated series of lawsuits relating to the development of the best-selling “Call of Duty” series of video games.
- In re Hulu Privacy Litigation. Successfully defended consolidated putative class action cases involving the Video Privacy Protection Act (VPPA) and related privacy statutes, and the allegation that the defendant knowingly disclosed personally identifiable information about its users. Defeated class certification and obtained summary judgment on liability. The case was one of the first in which the VPPA has been applied to digital video streaming services.
- Turner and Turner v. Evan Spiegel, Robert Murphy, and Snapchat. Successfully defended co-founders of Snapchat and their company against right of publicity and California Civil Code section 3344 (name and likeness) claims for use of plaintiffs’ photographs in connection with Snapchat app.
- Wingnut Films, Ltd. v. New Line Cinema Corp., et al. Represented Wingnut (a company of director Peter Jackson) in litigation with New Line Cinema concerning royalties from home video exploitation of the tremendously popular The Lord of the Rings movie franchise.
- Mark Bethea et al. v. Mark Burnett, et al. Represented Mark Burnett, Donald Trump, NBC and others in a copyright infringement action in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California concerning who came up with the idea for The Apprentice. Plaintiff Mark Bethea claimed to have created a show called CEO which was to star Donald Trump that he allegedly submitted to Burnett's company. After discovery (including a deposition of Donald Trump, defended by an Irell associate), the court granted summary judgment in favor of defendants on the copyright claim.
- Sander/Moses Productions, Inc. v. NBC Studios, Inc. Represented NBC Studios. After a two-week trial, the jury returned a complete defense verdict on the plaintiff’s breach of contract claim for contingent compensation arising out of an executive producer agreement for the television program Profiler. NBC Studios’ victory is one of the first jury trials on a contingent compensation claim based on issues arising from vertical integration of media companies. Sander/Moses Productions had claimed approximately $1.5 million in accrued damages and sought a significant amount of future contingent compensation based upon the plaintiff's revised contingent compensation formula.
- Dastar Corporation v. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, SFM Entertainment LLC, and New Line Home Video, Inc. Represented Dastar Corporation in the United States Supreme Court. In one of the most important Lanham Act opinions issued by the court in recent years, the court ruled 8-0 in favor of Irell’s client Dastar. The case concerned videos based on Dwight D. Eisenhower’s written account of the allied campaign in Europe during World War II.
- Roaring Entertainment, Inc. v. American Broadcasting Companies, Inc., et al. Representing ABC in a copyright, trademark and idea submission lawsuit regarding the television series American Inventor.
- Steiner, et al. v. ABC, Inc., Worldvision Enterprises, Inc., et al. Represented Worldvision Enterprises Inc. and several other defendants in this copyright class action. Plaintiffs, a putative class of musical composition and sound recording owners, sued the producers and distributors of the daytime television series General Hospital, All My Children and One Life To Live, alleging that over 26,000 of plaintiffs’ copyrighted musical compositions and sound recordings had been synchronized and reproduced in those series without appropriate licenses and seeking statutory damages of up to $150,000 for each work. Irell successfully negotiated a favorable global settlement of all claims against the defendants.
- Activision Publishing, Inc. v. Spark Unlimited, Inc. Representing Activision in litigation against videogame developer Spark Unlimited related to the development of the popular World War II-based video game Call of Duty: Finest Hour. The case includes claims of breach of contract and fraud by both parties.
- JAMDAT Mobile Inc. v. Jamster International Sarl, et al. Represented JAMDAT Mobile Inc., a leader in the growing industry of applications for mobile phones, with game titles including Bejeweled!, Tetris and Lemonade Tycoon, against Jamster International Sarl, and its parent companies, VeriSign, Inc. and Jamba! GmbH. JAMDAT alleged trademark infringement for the defendants’ use of the mark JAMSTER! in connection with the sale of games, ringtones and wallpapers for mobile phones. The parties ultimately reached a settlement before trial.
- NuvoStudios v. EA Mobile (formerly JAMDAT Mobile). Successfully represented EA Mobile during a several week-long arbitration trial, defeating plaintiff's claims that EA Mobile had improperly failed to pay royalties for sequels to certain mobile phone games.
- Threshold.TV, Inc. v. MTV Networks Enterprises, Inc., et al. Represented MTV Networks, MTV Networks Enterprises Inc. and Viacom Inc. (collectively, the “MTVN Defendants”) in a lawsuit involving MTV's hit television series The Osbournes. The plaintiff asserted that it first suggested to Sharon Osbourne the idea for the series, that it and the Osbournes had a contract regarding any television program featuring Ozzy Osbourne and that The Osbournes series violated plaintiff's rights. The complaint asserted claims against the MTVN Defendants for intentional interference with contractual relations, intentional interference with prospective economic advantage and negligent interference. All claims against the MTVN Defendants were dismissed with prejudice.
- David Kohan, et al. v. NBC Studios, Inc., NBC Universal, et al. Representing NBC Studios and NBC Universal. Plaintiffs David Kohan and Max Mutchnick, the former writers and executive producers of the television series Will & Grace, filed a profit participation lawsuit against NBC Studios and NBC Universal and brought claims for breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty and various other tort theories.
- National Music Marketing, Inc., et al. v. Universal Music Group, Inc. et al. Representing UMG in this lawsuit filed by various companies and individuals in the independent promotion business of seeking to secure radio airplay for music recordings. The plaintiffs accuse UMG of conspiring with other major record labels to fix the prices paid for independent promotion services and of taking various actions to prevent radio stations from dealing with plaintiffs, thus putting them out of business. The complaint includes claims for racketeering, antitrust violations, breach of and interference with contract and various other torts, and seeks damages of $100 million.
- TiVo Inc. v. EchoStar. Represented TiVo, the developer of the first commercially available digital recorder and leader in developing and licensing the technology that allows television viewers to control their viewing experience. TiVo sued EchoStar for patent infringement, asserting TiVo's patent covering digital video recording systems. After a two-week jury trial—and with only two hours and 15 minutes of deliberations—the jury concluded that EchoStar had willfully infringed TiVo's patent on its "time warp" technology for digital video recorders and awarded TiVo $74 million in damages.
- Pause Technology LLC v. TiVo Inc. Represented TiVo, both in the district court and on appeal. Pause sued TiVo for patent infringement, accusing TiVo's popular and highly regarded digital video recorders. After a combined claim construction and summary judgment hearing, the district court ruled on two constructions—both in favor of TiVo—and granted summary judgment of noninfringement on both bases. A unanimous panel of the Federal Circuit affirmed the judgment in its entirety.
- Martin Ransohoff Productions, Inc. v. Paramount Pictures Corporation. Won summary judgment on behalf of Paramount Pictures in this breach of contract and fraud action in which veteran movie producer Martin Ransohoff claims that he entered into an oral agreement with Paramount’s president to finance production of a film starring Morgan Freeman.
- THQ Inc. v. The Tetris Company LLC. Represented THQ, one of the nation’s largest video game companies, in a dispute concerning THQ's development of a Tetris game for the Nintendo DS handheld gaming system.
- Gary R. Compton v. Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group, Inc., Touchstone Pictures Music & Songs, Inc., Jerry Bruckheimer, Michael Bay, and Randall Wallace. Secured summary judgment on behalf of Disney and the producer, director, and writer of the motion picture Pearl Harbor in this copyright infringement suit. Plaintiff alleged that Pearl Harbor was copied from a script he had submitted to the talent agencies CAA and ICM, which represented the individual defendants, Jerry Bruckheimer, Michael Bay and Randy Wallace.
- The Music Force LLC, et al. v. Viacom Inc. and MTV Networks, a division of Viacom International Inc. Representing defendants in this copyright class action. Plaintiffs, a putative class of musical composition and sound recording owners, allege that defendants have reproduced and displayed copyrighted works owned by plaintiffs in television shows and television commercials, including, without limitation, Making the Band, Real World, I Love the 80s, Driven, Dismissed and Behind the Music, without prior permission or authorization.
- Knockout Events Inc. v. Cloudbreak Entertainment, et al. Successfully defended Mark Burnett and a number of related individuals and entities against “idea submission” claims brought in an arbitration regarding the creation and development of the NBC/ESPN series The Contender.
- World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. v. JAKKS Pacific, Inc., et al. Representing THQ in a multifaceted lawsuit (including antitrust, RICO, Robinson-Patman Act, commercial bribery and other claims) arising out of the alleged bribery of two of WWE's licensing agents in connection with WWE's award of a videogame license to a joint venture between THQ and JAKKS Pacific. Irell achieved dismissal of WWE's antitrust and Robinson-Patman Act claims and is currently seeking dismissal of WWE's RICO claims.
- Steiner v. CBS Broadcasting Inc. Obtained summary judgment on behalf of CBS in this breach of contract action in which plaintiffs, composers of background music for various episodic television series airing in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, alleged that CBS has failed to pay royalties for synchronization licenses of the compositions in connection with the release of the television series on videocassette and DVD.
- Offley, et al. v. Activision, et al. Representing Activision and other defendants in this copyright infringement case brought by several rap musicians who claim that Activision used their music in the videogame True Crime: Streets of L.A. without their permission and who allege over $40 million in damages.
- HLC Properties, Ltd. and Thomas E. O’Sullivan v. MCA Records, Inc., GRP Records, Inc., and UMG Recordings, Inc. Represented MCA Records and various affiliates in a lawsuit brought by the heirs of Bing Crosby who alleged underpayment of Crosby’s recording artist royalties in an amount exceeding $75 million. Irell successfully moved for summary adjudication on the statute of limitations and on the claims for fraud and breach of fiduciary duty. During the first day of trial, Irell moved to compel the production of various documents the heirs of Crosby contended were shielded by the attorney-client privilege. The Superior Court ruled that no privilege attached. This decision was appealed, and the California Supreme Court upheld the Superior Court’s decision, establishing the important precedent that the attorney-client privilege does not exist after the client’s death. The case was ultimately tried in the Superior Court and resulted in a court decision naming MCA as the prevailing party in all material respects.
- News Limited v. Australis Holdings Pty. Ltd. Irell defended third-party defendants Paramount Pictures Corporation, Universal City Studios Inc. and Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc. against claims for tortious interference with existing and prospective contractual relations, breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract, unjust enrichment, breach of guarantee and punitive damages based upon an alleged campaign to eliminate the third-party plaintiffs from the Australian pay television market. Irell successfully settled the claims following significant document discovery and just prior to the commencement of costly international deposition discovery.
- SimTel Communications, Inc., et al. v. National Broadcasting Company, Inc., et al. Represented NBC in an action in which the plaintiffs asserted alleged claims for invasion of privacy and unlawful recording of private conversations arising out of a three-part hidden camera investigative report featured on NBC's news magazine program Dateline. Shortly before the commencement of trial, the trial court granted NBC's summary judgment motion. In a decision reported at 71 Cal. App. 4th 1066 (1999), review denied, the Court of Appeal affirmed the ruling granting NBC's motion for summary judgment.
- Lori Madrid v. The Walt Disney Company and Pixar Animation Studios, et al. Successfully defended Walt Disney Pictures and Television and Pixar against allegations of copyright infringement arising from the successful animated motion picture Monsters, Inc.
- Daily Journal, 03.2018
- Law360, 04.02.2015
- Santa Monica, CA, 02.09.2016
- Beverly Hills, CA, 03.14.2013