Category Archives: Media Law

Teaching copyright law with Buffy and “Twilight”

I teach Media Law, and I always looking for ways to get students excited about it. All of our Journalism and Broadcasting students have to take the class, and as you might imagine, most are not thrilled about it. I tried something new this semester to get the students attention, and it worked far better than I expected. We watched Jonathan McIntosh‘s “Buffy vs. Edward” remix, and then we discussed his Fair Use Copyright battle with YouTube and Lionsgate. The remix takes excerpts from the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” television show and mixes them with scenes from the “Twilight” movies. The result is a biting (pun intended) commentary on gender issues.

The students watched, laughed and even cheered the six minute film. Afterward, even the normally silent ones spoke passionately about the sometimes conflict between artistic expression and copyright law. This led to discussions of copyright and rap/hip hop music and parody. They were far more engaged then they would have been discussing Harper & Row vs. Nation Enterprises (1985) or Campbell vs. Acuff-Rose Music (1994) (although we did have some fun with that last one, too).


Media Law Musings

Here are a few gems related to media law that I’ve run into lately. These are the kind of finds I love to mention in media law classes because everyone has heard of the parties involved or because, quite frankly, of the “strange” factor.

  • Droid: Did you know that Lucasfilm Ltd. of Star Wars fame owns the trademark to the word Droid, the name of the Verizon Wireless phone you see advertised everywhere? I noticed at the end of one such ad a disclaimer that “Droid” was the trademark of Lucasfilm Ltd. Verizon Wireless licenses it. Wikipedia tells more.
  • The Naked Cowboy versus The Naked Cowgirl: The Naked Cowboy says he trademarked the Naked Cowboy brand and she is violating it. I don’t know what’s better: the fact the CNN anchor refers to Robert Burck, a.k.a. the Naked Cowboy, repeatedly as “Naked” as if that were his name or the fact the cowboy sings an answer. Trust me, it’s worth your time to watch.
  • “Barbie, Political Philosopher”: Tom W. Bell writes on The Technology Liberation Front blog about a great line the Barbie character in Toy Story 3 had. He put the quote on a T-shirt (pictured in his post) and carefully notes why he does not think he is violating any copyright or trademark. Good luck, Mr. Bell. I’d love one of those shirts, but I can’t see the companies not asking you to stop.

So when is a Subway a Subway (TM)?

One of the latest lawsuits out of Vegas has nothing to do with gambling, skin shows or even entertainment.

It has to do with subs. The kind you eat.
Media Law Case of the Week Logo
According to the Las Vegas Sun, Gevork Boyadzhyan opened up a sandwich shop in Las Vegas and called it Subway Avenue.

As you might imagine, the owners of the Subway chain of sandwich shops, Doctor’s Associates Inc., were none too amused. They filed suit in U.S. District Court for trademark infringement and cybersquatting (because of the potential confusion about the name).

So now Subway Avenue has reportedly become Sub Avenue.

It’s Vegas, Baby.

C-SPAN offers video treasure trove

Originally I planned to focus this post on a great documentary on the U.S. Supreme Court that C-SPAN has been showing — and which is also available for viewing online. I showed the piece to my media law class, and they were more interested than one might expect for a group of 20-somethings at 8 a.m. in the morning. I definitely recommend it for other media law teachers.

But while nosing around the C-SPAN site, I discovered a wealth of videos on everything from press conferences to in-depth interviews. I even found dozens of videos featuring one of my journalism heroes, Helen Thomas.

So if you are looking for clips from politicians, educators, journalists and business people, give the C-SPAN Video Library a try.

Helen Thomas Video

Media Law Case of the Week

Sorry Journajunkie has been a way for so long. It’s nice to return and be back in action.

So let’s get right to it with an update to a Media Law Case of the Week from May. Some of you may remember the libel lawsuit of a politician angry that a radio host sent e-mails claiming that said politician was gay. Well, that politician — Tom Fetzer, North Carolina Republican Party chairman — is reportedly getting married next month.

The News & Observer reports that he and his fiance met while she working on a Republican campaign.

But don’t think the glow of love has led to a case of forgive-and-forget. The lawsuit is still on.

Media Law Case of the Week

Here’s yet more proof that libel is not only the concern of the journalist.

The Hartford Courant featured an interesting case in which a Connecticut mother was fined $88,000 for an e-mail campaign in which she likened her daughter’s swim coach to a pedophile. The judge reportedly said that the mother admitted to having no evidence of this.

Let’s just hope for her daughter’s sake that she does not take after mom.

Media Law Case of the Week

The Media Law Case of the Week is the rock band Van Halen’s  copyright infringement suit against Nike.

No, the suit does not involve the use of a Van Halen song. This case is about sneakers. Really.

The band alleges that a new Nike shoe pattern infringes on a copyright it owns on a pattern/design used on guitars and licensed for a Van Halen line of sneakers. (Nike denies this.)

Somehow I don’t think Nike will be ready to “jump” at settling this case.

Woman found guilty in Media Law Case of Week

The federal jury ruled today in the case I featured Monday in the Media Law Case of the Week.

Unfortunately for the Minnesota woman accused of illegally sharing copyrighted music, the outcome was worse than the first trial. Instead of owing the record industry $220,000, she now owes $1.92 million.  Here’s what Jammie Thomas-Rasset told the Associated Press about the verdict:

“There’s no way they’re ever going to get that. I’m a mom, limited means, so I’m not going to worry about it now.”

Click here for the AP story on the verdict.

Media Law Case of the Week

Imagine being found guilty of copyright infringement for using a file sharing service like Kazaa and having a federal jury set damages that you must pay at $220,000.

That’s exactly what happened to Jammie Thomas, a Minnesota woman who is getting a second chance in court to fight the judgment after the  judge threw out the earlier decision because he said he made a mistake when instructing the jury.

Her story and what the new trial could mean are described in a wonderful piece by Alex Ebert that ran in the Minneapolis Star Tribune and Boston Herald.

Thomas now has two Harvard-trained lawyers who are taking on her case for free, according to the article.

The 30,000 lawsuits filed by the recording industry since 2003 have prompted copyright lawyers to start taking cases pro bono to fight what some call “extortion,” said Harvard law Prof. Charles Nesson.

The new lawyers are arguing the record industry does not own the copyrights, the artists do. Details of their argument are in the article. It’s an interesting piece about a case with national implications.

Media Law Case of the Week

Before I get into the Media Law Case of the Week, I want to tip my hat to the Columbus Dispatch for its excellent stories outlining the (mis)uses of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, better known as FERPA.

They called their six-month investigation into FERPA Secrecy 101. The stories are definitely worth a read.

And now to the Media Law Case of the Week …

I try to stay away from huge cases and focus on smaller gems you may have missed. However, I cannot ignore the plight of  American journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who have been sentenced to 12 years in a labor camp in North Korea.

The International Women’s Media Foundation and Reporters Without Borders have a joint petition calling for the reporters’ release.

If you want to sign the petition, click here.