Good-bye, Charlie; Hello, Lawsuit

No real surprise here.  Actor Charlie Sheen was officially terminated from the hit CBS sitcom, Two and a Half Men, and Mr. Sheen followed up by making good on his threat to take his beef to court.  He's suing the producers for $100 million in a California Superior Court.

You can read the text of the lawsuit's complaint on the Los Angeles Times website.

When Will the Sheen Wear Off?

Not since Zsa Zsa slapped a cop have I seen this much news coverage of an actor's problematic behavior.? The latest rendition, of course, is the ongoing story of Charlie Sheen.

Mr. Sheen, who appears to be jammed in "self-destruct" mode, gives an almost daily statement regarding his supposed plans to sue CBS and Warner Brothers over their stopping?the production of?his TV show, Two and a Half Men.? The statements are often described as "rambling" and sometimes a bit bizarre,?and, I've yet to?read or hear?one that I believe truly helps Mr. Sheen deflect that criticism.

According to reports, Mr. Sheen is threatening litigation for the mental anguish he says he has suffered.? Perhaps Zsa Zsa can recommend a lawyer.

That Mythical Magic Number of Notes

A friend recently sent me a newspaper clipping of an article about a production of?Wicked (the stage musical based on the "prequel" of The Wizard of Oz).? In the article is a trivia quiz about the show, and one of the questions reads: "Seven notes of the show's theme music mimic what song?"? Okay, if you guessed the answer is "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," you can pat yourself on the back for not overthinking the questions and going with the obvious and correct answer.

But in the newspaper's?answer key it also stated that "Copyright laws demand that if eight of more notes are used, it would be stealing a song, which is why composer Steven Schwartz stopped at seven."

Really?? Is it just that simple?? Seven notes and you're safe; eight notes and you're sued?? Well, I'd have to take some issue with that oversimplification.

First, I'm guessing that Mr. Schwartz chose to appropriate exactly seven notes because that's the precise number of notes in the song necessary to sing the lyric phrase, "Somewhere over the rainbow... ."? Six notes, and it would be "Somewhere over the rain... ."

Second, there's a federal case in which the court ruled that even as few as four notes could be considered copyright infringement if those four notes constitute "the heart of the composition."? (It's the case of Elsmere Music v. NBC, a case I talk about in more detail in my book, An Artist's Guide to the Law.)

What we're talking about here is a doctrine of fair use known as de minimis, and it's anything but a bright-line rule in terms of exact numbers or percentages.? As with the Elsmere Music case, if the matter goes to court, it's not up to the party appropriating the notes to determine the magic number for what's de minimis.? It's up to the judge.

Harper Lee Prize to Honor Legal Fiction

Atticus Finch, the heroic attorney and protector of the downtrodden in Harper Lee's classic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, is often cited as the most admired fictional lawyer in literature.  To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the publishing of that novel, the University of Alabama School of Law and the American Bar Association Journal have created the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction as a way to honor new works of literature about the legal profession.

According to the prize's website, "the Prize will be given to the published book-length work of fiction that best exemplifies the role of lawyers in society, and their power to effect change."  To qualify for this year's prize, a book must have been published in the year 2010 and be available for purchase through the standard retail outlets.  It will be awarded this September as part of the Library of Congress National Book Festival in Washington, D.C.

Should the Federal Copyright Law Protect Recordings Made Before Feb. 15, 1972?

Sound recordings -- whether musical or otherwise -- are protected under the current federal copyright laws.  That is, unless they were created prior to February 15, 1972.  Up till then, the U.S. copyright law didn't include sound recordings.

However, that doesn't mean those sound recordings have been floating around without any form of protection.  They're typically covered by state intellectual property laws.  However, the potential problem with that system of protection is that there's no requirement of consistency between the laws of different states, and determining which state's laws apply isn't always obvious.

Under direction from the U.S. Congress, the Copyright Office recently put out a notice of inquiry that asked the general public to comment on the desirability of bringing pre-February 15, 1972, sound recordings under federal copyright jurisdiction.  You can read the comments at the Copyright Office's website.  You can also respond to those comments.  The deadline for responses is March 2, 2011.