Summary from a Student: Entertainment Law Update: Developments in Trademark and Right of Publicity Law

– Lauren J. Walker, rising 3L, Howard University School of Law

The laws surrounding trademark and rights of publicity are developing as intellectual property laws continues to advance. Jonathan Goins and Benita Collier, professionals in the intellectual property sphere shared their expertise on the law and its relationship to the entertainment industry. The panel opened with a Top 10 list of issues that are currently prevalent within media and entertainment law. The issues from the perspective of the brand owner ranged from Trademark Infringement, Trademark Advertising and Federalization of Trade Secret Laws. On the contrary, from the perspective of the individual being accused of infringement the popular issues were Fair Use and the use of the mark in relation to one’s First Amendment rights.

Jonathan Goins is currently a partner at the Atlanta office of Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith, LLP where he is a member of the firms Intellectual Property & Technology and Entertainment, Media & Sports Practices. With over 15 years of legal experience, Goins has been identified as a leader in Intellectual Property Law.

Bernita Collier is Associate General Counsel at Urban One. In this role she manages intellectual property for four different major media markets. In managing these markers her responsibilities are distributed amongst radio, digital, and television. 

Two of the landmark cases that were referenced during the panel were Twentieth Century Fox Television v. Empire Distribution and Curtis Jackson v. William Roberts. In Empire, the question before the court is whether the use of Empire Records was infringement under the Lanham Act and trademark law. The court found that the use of the record distribution company that previously existed and slightly parallels the portrayed record company in a television show would not cause consumer confusion and would not be trademark infringement. On the contrary, in Jackson the question presently before the court is whether the actual usage of popular rapper 50 Cent’s (Curtis Jackson) voice in rapper Rick Ross’s (William Roberts) song is copyright and right of publicity infringement. The use of Jackson’s voice is 19 seconds in a 3-minute song so the court will need to address whether the use of the voice from a song that has a copyright constitutes copyright infringement and is not fair use. Additionally the court will decide whether this use is a violation of Jackson’s right of publicity since this song will likely be sold and Roberts may earn financial gain.

Panelists Goins and Collier established that no celebrity is exempt from intellectual property lawsuits. Entertainer Beyonce Knowles was recently sued by a Russian artist for the use of her voice in Beyonce’s song. The court found in favor of Knowles for di minimus use and First Amendment Fair Use.

To close the panel each panelist discussed the array of issues that they may handle during the day given their roles but shared the importance of staying up to date with the law as it develops, the need to have a good relationship and open communication among all parties, and the importance of correctly advising your client.