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Media & Entertainment Litigation

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Irell & Manella LLP has established one of the nation’s premier entertainment litigation practices.  With over 60 years' experience representing entertainment clients, our expertise is diverse and deep, spanning issues involving trademark, copyright, 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.  Our entertainment litigators have earned distinguished and unmatched reputations among the judiciary, the firm’s clients, and their peers in the legal community, for their innovative and creative approach to litigation.  In addition, as a full service firm, we regularly draw on the expertise of attorneys in other departments to assist our clients, including our well-recognized patent litigation department.

Irell & Manella’s broad base of entertainment clients, including some of the major players from Hollywood to Silicon Valley, is a testament to our expertise and reputation.  Representative clients have included studios and production companies such as Paramount Pictures, NBC/Universal, 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, THQ, and Electronic Arts; and music-related entities such as Universal Music Group and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

Our creative approach allows us to handle litigation and legal matters on the forefront of entertainment law.  Irell & Manella regularly handles cases involving subject matter with little settled law, establishing important precedents in state and federal courts.  For instance, Irell & Manella successfully represented Dastar Corporation in groundbreaking Lanham Act litigation before the United States Supreme Court and also successfully represented MCA Records before the California Supreme Court in a case that established that the attorney-client privilege does not survive the death of an individual.  In addition, Irell & Manella has a vibrant litigation practice concerning reality-based programming, recently highlighted by the successful defense of Mark Burnett Productions, NBC Universal, and Donald Trump against claims of copyright infringement for their renowned show The Apprentice.  Irell & Manella also has an extensive practice in the burgeoning field of video games, representing leading videogame publishers Activision, THQ, and EA Mobile in a variety of licensing and contractual disputes.  Our attorneys have also handled a number of cutting-edge disputes arising from the exploitation of content in new media.

Irell & Manella’s entertainment attorneys also provide significant pre-litigation counseling to the firm’s clients.  Irell & Manella regularly assists our clients in analyzing a wide variety of complex legal problems and in evaluating litigation risks.  For instance, a number of Irell & Manella’s television network clients have recently involved the firm in vetting concepts and treatments for reality television programs so as to identify and avoid potential civil and criminal law exposure.  We have similarly counseled several studios and production companies in the course of the development, pre-production, and production stages of major motion pictures.  The ingenuity, drive, resourcefulness, and creativity of Irell & Manella’s attorneys frequently enable the firm’s clients to avoid protracted legal battles altogether and, when litigation is necessary, to achieve their litigation goals with minimal disruption to the business and in a manner consistent with their business objectives.  Many of our entertainment litigators have been recognized by various legal publications as among the nation's preeminent entertainment litigators.

Representative recent and pending litigation includes:  

Wingnut Films, Ltd. v. New Line Cinema Corp., et al.  Irell & Manella represented Wingnut (a company of director Peter Jackson) in litigation with New Line Cinema concerning royalties from home video exploitation of the tremendously popular Lord of the Rings movie franchise.  

Mark Bethea et al. v. Mark Burnett, et al.  Irell & Manella represented Mark Burnett, Donald Trump, NBC, and others in a copyright infringement action in 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 & Manella associate), the court granted summary judgment in favor of defendants on the copyright claim. 

Sander/Moses Productions, Inc. v. NBC Studios, Inc., Los Angeles Superior Court.  Irell & Manella represented NBC Studios, Inc.  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.  Irell & Manella 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 & Manella’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.  Irell & Manella represents 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.  Irell & Manella 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 & Manella successfully negotiated a favorable global settlement of all claims against the defendants.

Activision Publishing, Inc. v. Spark Unlimited, Inc.  Irell & Manella represents Activision in litigation against videogame developer Spark Unlimited related to the development of the popular World War II-based videogame 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.  Irell & Manella 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).  Irell & Manella successfully represented EA Mobile during a several week 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.  Irell & Manella 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.  Irell & Manella represents 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. Irell & Manella represents 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.  Irell & Manella 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 fifteen 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.  Irell & Manella represented TiVo Inc., 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 non-infringement on both bases.  A unanimous panel of the Federal Circuit affirmed the judgment in its entirety.

Martin Ransohoff Productions, Inc. v. Paramount Pictures Corporation.  Irell & Manella 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.  Irell & Manella 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.  Irell & Manella 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.  Irell & Manella represents 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.  Irell & Manella 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.   

Fox/UTV Holdings, Inc., KCOP Television, Inc., UTV of San Francisco, Inc., and WWOR-TV, Inc. v. Paramount Pictures Corporation and UPN.  Irell & Manella represented Paramount Pictures Corporation and UPN in this breach of contract action in which plaintiffs, each of which is a UPN affiliated station, claimed they were entitled to more than $100 million in affiliate compensation under alleged “most favored nations” provisions in their affiliation agreements.  Paramount and UPN filed cross-claims for breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, and negligent misrepresentation in April 2004 and, in June 2004, moved for summary judgment on all causes of action asserted by plaintiffs.  The case settled just prior to the hearing on Paramount’s and UPN’s summary judgment motion.

World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. v. JAKKS Pacific, Inc., et al.  Irell & Manella represents 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 & Manella 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.  Irell & Manella 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 1950's, 1960's, and 1970's, 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.  Irell & Manella represents 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.  Irell & Manella 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 & Manella 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 & Manella 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, in February 2005, 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 tried in the Superior Court over three weeks beginning in late September 2005, and resulted in a court decision in 2006 naming MCA as the prevailing party in all material respects.

News Limited v. Australis Holdings Pty. Ltd.  Irell & Manella 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 & Manella 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.  Irell & Manella 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.  Irell & Manella successfully defended Walt Disney Pictures and Television and Pixar against allegations of copyright infringement arising from the successful animated motion picture Monsters, Inc.