Twelve Reasonably Doubtful Men

This week, yours truly got himself cast in a production of the drama, Twelve Angry Men.  (Acting is something I do when I'm not practicing law to satisfy the artistic spirit in me.)  The stage play by Sherman L. Sergel, as adapted from the teleplay by Reginald Rose, is perhaps one of the best known plays about our judicial system.  Twelve jurors must decide whether a 19-year-old is guilty of murder.  If you haven't seen the play or the movie version, you've probably at least seen one of the many parodies that have appeared on various TV shows in which one lone juror voting "not guilty" faces off against eleven others who are eager to convict.

Unlike many crime dramas that focus on having the protagonist solve the crime, Twelve Angry Men focuses not on the issue of determining who the real guilty party is but, rather, on the issue of "reasonable doubt."  That's the standard by which criminal cases are decided in the United States.  To convict, the jury must determine guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.  That's the real issue of the play.  The lone juror's argument isn't that he believes the defendant to be innocent; it's that he believes there's a reasonable doubt about whether he's guilty.

Knowing that I'm a lawyer, a fellow cast member asked me at rehearsal last night whether a jury would be instructed as to what constitutes reasonable doubt.  Jury's are given instructions before they retire to deliberate.  But distinguishing a reasonable doubt from an unreasonable one isn't an exact science.  It's impossible to say where each individual would choose to draw that line.  Hence, the drama -- in the courtroom as well as on stage.

Cantinflas at 100

Friday, August 12th, 2011, marks the 100th birthday of Mexico's most famous comic actor -- Mario Moreno, known to many millions of fans as Cantinflas.  The actor died at the age of 81 in 1993, but his legacy as the baggy pants everyman who could comically talk his way out of jams lives on in the 50 or so movies he acted in over the course of his illustrious career.

What also lived on beyond Mr. Moreno's lifetime were legal issues over the ownership of his films.

First, there was a family dispute over whether a son or nephew was the legal owner.  Eventually, after extended litigation and appeal, the son emerged victorious on that one.  But then there was another legal battle between the son and Columbia Pictures, which claimed it owned the rights to 34 Cantinflas movies.  That lawsuit went Columbia's way.  However, then the son re-opened the case by claiming the judgment didn't apply to the films' rights in Mexico.  On appeal, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Columbia's favor.

Is It Really Marilyn?

An Argentine collector claims to have a 1940s porno film that features Marilyn Monroe before she became the famous Hollywood sex symbol.  But the protectors of Ms. Monroe's estate say the claim is hogwash.

Collector Mikel Barsa tried to auction off the film at a starting price of almost a half-million dollars, but he got no bids.  So he's still seeking a buyer.

Meanwhile the debate goes on over whether the actress in the film is really the famous Ms. Monroe, and the company that licenses her image says any sale of the film that includes an assertion that Ms. Monroe is in the movie could invite a lawsuit.

This Time a Piece of Ground Zero Is the Target of a Lawsuit

A piece of the rubble that remained in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York is now at the center of a legal controversy.  The piece at issue is a cross-shaped beam that was found amidst the mangled debris of the collapsed buildings.  Some took it as a sign that God was still present and had not deserted the site of the tragedy.

The current issue has to do with the display of that cross at the memorial created on the Ground Zero site.  An organization called American Atheists, along with some individual plaintiffs, has filed a lawsuit claiming that the inclusion of a religious symbol in a government sponsored memorial is unconstitutional.

You can read the complaint online.

Does Jumbo Own the Copyright?

A student of mine raised an interesting issue...  Who owns the copyright if an animal creates a work of art?

Now I'm not using the word "animal" here as the all-inclusive term for anything that's not vegetable or mineral.  (In other words, I don't mean people as animals.)  I'm talking about such occasions as those that sometimes make the news when a zoo or wildlife park is selling two-dimensional "works of art" that are the result of an animal being let loose with a bucket of paint.  You know, like when they let an elephant hold a paint brush with its trunk and have it slather colors over a canvas or piece of paper.

Under current American copyright law, the creator (or, as the statute reads, "author") of a work of art automatically owns the copyright on any piece of art that's created.  But does that mean the elephant of the above referenced scenario is the legal copyright owner?

I can't recall seeing anything in the copyright act that limits the definition of "author" to human beings.  So maybe the elephant, as the author, does own the copyright.  But it does beg the question:  How is the elephant going to take the matter to court if it believes its copyright has been infringed?  (That's going to be a tough cross-examination on the witness stand for the defense attorney.)

Okay, so maybe the person who put the brush in the elephant's trunk and directed it toward the paints is the elephant's joint author for the purposes of copyright.  I suppose the claim could be made.  But courts have ruled that joint authorship only exists when both parties intend to be joint authors.

Sounds like a job for Dr. Doolittle...

"Doctor, please ask the plaintiff elephant to explain to the court what his intentions were when he decided to become a commercial artist."...