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Should Authors Panic Over ‘Gravity’ Case?

Should Authors Panic Over ‘Gravity’ Case?

By on Feb 2, 2015 in Announcements, Film, News | 0 comments

  Not yet. Excuse me while I brush off a bit of the dust on my keyboard. Now, if you are a creative type or movie buff that hasn’t seen articles with big headlines about Tess Gerritsen‘s suit against Warner Brothers over money she claims is owed due to the production of the film Gravity [I originally linked to the film’s official site, but dislike websites that auto-play sound]. Some blogs aimed at writers and screenwriters have made a larger deal of the impact this could have on future contracts with studios. Why? Well because it looks like if you sell a property to a studio and that studio later gets acquired by another company, the new owner could use your work without having to honor the original studio’s responsibilities. And that would be bad. I just don’t think we’re there, and any talk of precedent (in the important legal sense) is probably extremely premature considering that all we have a is an order based on preliminary motions.   So What’s Going On? The crux of Gerritsen’s position is this: 1) The rights to her book were purchased by the Katja Motion Picture Corp., an arm of New Line Productions, Inc. 2) The contract between her and Katja was guaranteed by New Line, who it was understood would actually be making the movie; she claims that Katja was a wholly-owned subsidiary of New Line that it used to acquire and develop literary property. 3) The movie was in the works with, unknown to Gerritsen at the time, the future director of Gravity attached to direct and he would have been given her book as well as additional material. 4) She created a modified version of the story for production that’s more like the movie than the book initially was. 5) The director and his son sometime later wrote a screenplay that not only is very similar to her novel, including a fidelity to scientific details, but to the additional modifications she produced for Katja. 6) Warner Brothers acquired control of New Line and Katja, and therefor all its rights and obligations regarding her work. 7) A year later the director and son transferred all their rights to their Gravity project to Warner Brothers. 8) Her...

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Sherlock Holmes & The Case For Public Domain

Sherlock Holmes & The Case For Public Domain

By on Nov 3, 2014 in Announcements, Fiction, News | 0 comments

As an attorney with clients concerned about protecting creative works, I am a big fan of copyright law. I especially appreciate the original intent of the law; to encourage the addition of new creative works to our society’s culture, including derivative works, by granting creators a limited window of exclusive rights to the work’s use. You might even say I am pretty enthusiastic about making sure clients protect themselves and defending those rights for clients. Over the last 75 years or so, however, there have been many changes to how the legislature and some courts approach copyright law. This has gone on to the point where many people seem to believe that the sole purpose of copyright law is to protect the creator’s exclusive rights, and the intended benefits to society as a whole are forgotten or misrepresented as being the fractional economic bump from a handful of financially successful works. It’s that change in the public understanding that made seeing Judge Posner‘s opinion in Leslie S. Klinger v. Conan Doyle Estate, Ltd. this past June so refreshing, and as today the Supreme Court officially refused to hear the appeal by the Doyle estate I thought I’d talk about why. The case revolved around an author named Leslie Klinger (well known by some as being responsible for annotated works like The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, which sits handsomely on my shelf, and The Annotated Sandman) who was co-editor on an anthology of new Holmes fiction in 2011. At that time he paid the Doyle estate a licensing fee, but when it came time for a sequel anthology Klinger insisted that it was not necessary and eventually asked a federal court to issue a declaratory judgment that would support his position. The Conan Doyle Estate took the position that, while obviously many of the Sherlock Holmes works were old enough to fall into public domain, the works still protected by copyright  (ten published post-1923) were so informative to the character that even the public domain elements should be off-limits. Judge Posner wrote: More important, extending copyright protection is a two-edged sword from the standpoint of inducing creativity, as it would reduce the incentive of subsequent authors to create derivative works (such as new...

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Copyright & Games: Is the Law Changing?

Copyright & Games: Is the Law Changing?

By on Sep 16, 2014 in Announcements, Boardgames, Fiction, RPGs, Videogames | 0 comments

Short Answer: Nope   Over the last year or so I’ve seen a number of people reacting to a few intellectual property cases in the videogame world with interest. Often the gut reaction is to condemn one company or another, sometimes taking aim at both for different reason, and every so often there are folks who wonder aloud if this is going to be the case which changes the general rule that games are not protected under copyright law. The short answer in pretty much every instance is that, no, games are not going to suddenly slide under that umbrella. Why? Because Section 102 of the Copyright Act says that the law protects: “…original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.” And goes on in 102(b) to specifically exclude: “…any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is describe, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such a work.” Games are generally pretty bound up in and defined by the elements listed above, which means that while the language describing rules, the art, or the background fiction might all be original expressions you can protect under copyright law there is no room for simple ideas or what the courts might describe as mere functional elements. That said? If you want to know more, read on.   Long Answer: No, But…   Well the law is always changing, because court decisions are part of the law, and in this arena there have been a large number of decisions over the past few decades. There is a recent case that highlights how the line between the protectable expression of an idea and a functional procedure may not be as clear as people would like it to be. In DaVinci Editrice S.R.L. v.  ZiKo Games, LLC, et al. the federal judge on the case recently issued an initial opinion in response to various motions by the parties, and in crafting her opinion Judge Rosenthal draws on a large body of existing case law to argue about where system crosses over with original expression. Some...

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The War of the Lord of the Rings

The War of the Lord of the Rings

By on Jun 11, 2014 in Announcements, Film, News | 0 comments

Big licenses are often a source of serious conflicts, especially when the property has a strong following or is worth enormous amounts of money. In the case of J.R.R. Tolkien’s works, primarily The Lord of the Rings but also The Hobbit, both cultural cache and lucrative deals are a factor. A History of Trouble This has led to a number of lawsuits surrounding those properties, with a number of the bigger claims occurring in the 2000s, mostly revolving around people involved with the rights to the film feeling like they weren’t getting what they were owed. In the news now is the battle between the J.R.R. Tolkien Estate Limited and Warner Bros. over whether Warner has overstepped the bounds of its license (with Warner Bros. counterclaiming that the Estate has harmed Warner by improperly revoking certain rights). Why Now? While I am certain that there are many reasons that this suit is picking up steam, and you can click through to The Hollywood Reporter here to see some of the action, what it really boils down to is Warner’s recent move to license tie-ins that include online gambling games that use Tolkien’s works as a theme. Not only does that have the already-protective Estate upset, reason enough for them to challenge these download or cloud-based products, but they claim that it and works like it violate the limited right to create “tangible” products given to the studio under the agreement. An Old Agreement Apparently the source of contention is what the specific terms of that agreement were or meant, something you would hope to be contained in the four corners of the document itself, but with evidence (in the form of witnesses and work-product) being fought for tooth-and-nail by both sides it seems that things are messier than outsiders could have imagined. This is likely in part because the agreement is decades old, meaning that applying it to the current markets using the language of its day opens up room of interpretation… but we can’t know for certain right...

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About Flat Fee Services

About Flat Fee Services

By on Oct 28, 2013 in Announcements | 0 comments

Billing by the hour is the traditional method of charging clients for legal services, but that may be changing. In the 21st century hourly billing looks to be on its way out, at least as the default, and that’s ok with me. One of the things I’ve brought to Geek Law is experience in creating flat fee packages, which allow me to take a careful look at the proposed representation and give my potential clients a clear idea of what sort of cost it will entail. So if a client is only interested in the creation of a specific document, needs me to write a memo about potential legal repercussions, or wants me to file a trademark application on their behalf I can tell them exactly how much it will cost to make that happen. It’s true that some circumstances, like extended legal proceedings or negotiations, would make coming up with a reasonable flat fee almost impossible; those times are the exception. Such situations are also not the normal daily concerns of independent artists, small businesses, and other working creative types. Flat fee services mean that every consultation is an opportunity for me to help a potential client, no matter how ambitious or limited their needs might be. It’s my hope that this will make it easier for all my future clients to get the representation they...

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What Is Geek Law?

What Is Geek Law?

By on Sep 28, 2013 in Announcements | 0 comments

Geek Law is a fresh North Carolina law practice started by licensed North Carolina attorney Michael McMullan, me, to serve the hard working and enthusiastic creators of the state. Part of my commitment to reasonable, personal representation for independent and 21st century clients is the concept of Flat Fee Services; whenever possible I will work with potential clients to come up with a reasonable and comprehensive fee for my work, rather than billing by the hour. This means clients will always have a solid idea of what their costs will be, and can better customize my representation to fit their situation. I want you to tell me about your business, show me what you’re trying to build, and let me help you cover all the legal bases that can get confusing or messy when not handled properly. Hell, you can even tell me about your...

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