United States: In Brief

Last Updated: July 5 2011
Article by Gergana Miteva

This article first appeared in Entertainment Law Matters, a Frankfurt Kurnit legal blog.

Lady Gaga songwriters in legal scuffle over royalties. Calvin "Sci-Fidelity" Gaines and Rob Fusari, co-composers of some of Lady Gaga's mega hits from her album entitled The Fame, are in a $1 million legal battle over royalties and credit for the Lady Gaga songs. The two have worked together since 1997, composing and producing music for Destiny's Child and Whitney Houston. But their relationship went sour last year when Fusari purportedly ignored Gaines's requests to get credit and royalties for the Lady Gaga songs. In his complaint against Fusari, Gaines claims that Lady Gaga and her production companies have agreed to be bound by the ultimate outcome of the case and compensate him if he comes out victorious. The Fame has been certified platinum three times and has sold over three million copies in the United States alone. This is not the first time Fusari finds himself in court over his former girlfriend, Lady Gaga. Last year, he sued the pop star for $30 million, claiming he discovered her, helped her develop her performance style and came up with her stage name. The case was eventually settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.

Celebrity class action swept under the red carpet. A Los Angeles court dismissed actress Shirley Jones's right of publicity claims against online celebrity photo licenser, Corbis, finding that she consented to being photographed at red carpet events. Jones is a well-known stage and film actress (she starred in the filmed versions of Oklahoma! and The Music Man, but perhaps is best known for portraying Shirley Partridge in The Partridge Family, an ABC sitcom about a widowed mother of five who travels with her kids' pop rock band). By her complaint, Jones sought to be lead plaintiff in a class action lawsuit, to enable other celebrities whose photos have been displayed on Corbis's website to join the lawsuit. The actress accused Corbis of violating her right to control the commercial exploitation of her name, image and likeness, by displaying photographs of her for financial gain. All of the ten photographs of Jones at issue in the case were taken at high-profile award ceremonies. The court pointed out that walking on the "red carpet" and posing for photographers is a matter of choice for celebrities, because celebrities are made aware that there are other entrances they can use to avoid the paparazzi. By making that choice, the court reasoned, Jones effectively consented to the commercial use and exploitation of the images. The court further noted that a contrary finding would require individual photographers to get express consent from each celebrity. The decision addresses Jones's claims against Corbis, but it does not mean that a third party could use her image from one of these red carpet events for commercial purposes. Any such use could lead Jones to file a new lawsuit.

"A real-life Indiana Jones" accused of being fictitious. Adventurer-turned-philanthropist, Greg Mortenson, is subject to a class action lawsuit accusing him of fabricating his memoir Three Cups of Tea, and of fraudulently styling himself as a "a real-life Indiana Jones" to sell the book. The lead plaintiff, a Montana lawmaker who read the memoir, questions the facts of the two central narratives in the memoir. The first is that during a failed attempt to climb K2, Mortenson was inspired by the kindness of the inhabitants of a small Pakistani village to build schools there, which he subsequently did through his charity, Central Asia Institute. The second is that the Taliban in Pakistan kidnapped him and held him against his will in 1996. The plaintiff claims the author tricked her into buying a "phony and fictional story," which she thought was an inspirational memoir, and wrongfully induced her into donating to the Central Asia Institute. She is asking for disgorgement of the book's profits and for the book to be marketed as a work of fiction. This class action lawsuit follows a 60 Minutes exposé on the book, outlining the program's investigation of its veracity and concluding that Mortenson only visited the Pakistani village a year after he claims to have done so and that most of the schools he purports to have built either do not exist or were built by somebody else. 60 Minutes also broadcasted interviews with Mortenson's alleged kidnappers who deny belonging to the Taliban and having kidnapped him. Mortenson has responded to the program on his charity's website, vehemently denying all accusations. Three Cups of Tea remained number one on the New York Times best seller list for three years, it has sold over 4 million copies and it has been translated into 47 languages.


This alert provides general coverage of its subject area. We provide it with the understanding that Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz is not engaged herein in rendering legal advice, and shall not be liable for any damages resulting from any error, inaccuracy, or omission. Our attorneys practice law only in jurisdictions in which they are properly authorized to do so. We do not seek to represent clients in other jurisdictions.

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