Disney. Inside Out. The Moodsters.


Copyright Infringement.

copyrightHave you ever considered pitching a story idea to a big movie producer? If you have, you also have to think about ensuring that your concept doesn’t get stolen. Many times, an idea gets pitched, rejected and then later the producer uses a similar storyline.

Childhood development expert, Denise Daniels, co-founded the National Childhood Grief Institute which counsels children after tragedies such as Hurricane Katrina and 9/11.

In addition to National Childhood Grief Institute, Daniels created a children’s program called The Moodsters to help kids better manage their emotions. She pitched this idea to Disney-owned Pixar many times between the years of 2005 and 2009. Daniels states that there was an understanding that she and her team would be compensated in the event that the idea was used.

Fast forward to 2015, Disney launched the “Inside Out” animated program to explore children’s emotions through various characters representing different moods by using colors.

Daniels filed a lawsuit against Disney stating that her idea was used and she was not given credit or compensation.

Story Ideas.

According to Daniels’ attorney, Michael Geibelson, who writes that in The Moodsters “Each character is an animated, anthropomorphized figure representing a single emotion with a corresponding color, and specifically happiness (yellow), anger (red), sadness (blue), fear (green) and love (pink).”

In a statement to the press, a Disney spokesman said: “Inside Out was an original Pixar creation, and we look forward to vigorously defending against this lawsuit in court.”

A similar case was brought to court in March by Esplanade Pictures who claims that their writer, Gary L. Goldman, pitched Zootopia to Disney in 2000 and 2009, and was not compensated.

So, my advice to you is that if you are ready to pitch your idea to a producer, its best to hire an expert entertainment attorney to assist you before you have that first all-important meeting.

Until next time, I’m Attorney Francine Ward helping you protect what’s yours. Feel free to join my conversation on my Facebook Fan Page, on my Twitter page, in one of my LinkedIn Groups.

Zillow Digs. Copyright Infringement.


Copyright Internet Pics.

Copyright Infringement

Copyright Infringement

Taking a picture off of the Internet without permission and adding it to a website or blog seems harmless, right? Well I’m here to tell you that it’s quite harmful. When you use works protected by copyright law without permission, you are indeed infringing on a copyright. The penalties for infringing on a copyright can range anywhere from $200 to more than $150K for each work that was infringed upon. Plus, the infringer must pay all court costs and attorney’s fees.

To this day blogs, small companies as well as giants are not taking copyright infringement quite seriously. Case in point, the home listing giant Zillow was sued for “brazen theft” of interior design images.

The infringement lawsuit was brought by VHT Inc., a photography and image management services company, in United States District Court in Seattle in July of 2015. VHT alleged that the images that were being displayed or saved on Zillow Digs, a home design site, as well as on the main Zillow site, violated their copyrights.

In December of 2016, the courts dismissed the claim of infringement on Zillow.com.  However, the infringement claim with Zillow Digs continued and the trial began on January 23rd, 2017. In mid-February, the jury finally came to a verdict.  The jury ordered Zillow to pay a whopping $8.3 million in statutory damages.

VHT’s CEO Brian Balduf said to the press the jury’s decision “protects the interests of real estate photographers and their clients. We look forward to continuing to work with our team of nationwide photographers, as well as our industry counterparts, to create a rights management organization to ensure that all real estate photographs are managed properly and protected against unlicensed uses.”

In a statement to GeekWire, a Zillow representatives said: “We have persistently maintained our belief that this suit was without merit. While we are pleased that the majority of original claims were dismissed in this case, we regret that the jury did not find for us completely on those that remained, and will vigorously pursue all options to overturn their verdict. We take copyright protection and enforcement seriously and will continue to respect copyright permissions across our platforms.”

Copyright Infringement Steps To Take.

So, what should you do if you notice that someone is infringing on your work? Here are some steps to take:

  • Ensure you have a copyright notice on all of your copyrightable works. A copyright notice is not required for protection, but does help to prove an infringement.
  • Register your Copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office, and once completed, the copyright office will send you a certificate.
  • Prepare and mail a warning letter to the infringing party. In the letter identify your work and inform the party that it’s copyrighted.
  • If you do not hear from the infringing party favorably, file a copyright lawsuit in your federal district court.

You have worked too hard not to protect your intellectual property – don’t wait until it’s too late!

Until next time, I’m Attorney Francine Ward helping you protect what’s yours. Join my conversation on FacebookTwitter, or in one of my LinkedIn groupsGoogle+ Circles. Feel free to subscribe to my newsletter.


Copyright. Supreme Court. Is Fashion protectable?


Fashion. Copyright.

The Supreme Court ruled on copyright and fashion.  Can fashion be protected by copyright? This landmark copyright case will impact the fashion design industry for decades to come. This case began 10 years ago when Varsity Brands, Inc. sued Star Athletica, LLC for copyright infringement. Both companies supply uniforms and other accessories for sport related events. The lawsuit centered on a copyrighted two-dimensional stripe pattern and colors used on Varsity Brand cheerleading uniforms which they claimed Star Athletica infringed upon.

fashion. copyright.

fashion. copyright.

The case was originally heard by a federal  district court sitting in Memphis, TN in 2014, where Judge Robert Cleland ruled that the designs were utilitarian, and since utilitarian designs are not subject to copyright law, the case was dismissed.


Varsity Brands appealed the ruling and the case went to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, where the district court ruling was reversed in a 2 to 1 decision. Among other findings, the court found that the designs in question could be separated from the utilitarian aspects of the uniform, and that the designs could stand on their own separate from the cheerleading uniforms, thus eligible for copyright protection.

Is Fashion Protected by Copyright?

The case then made its way up to the Supreme Court, where finally, a ruling was announced this Wednesday. Varsity Brands came up victorious, once again.  In short,  Judge Thomas, who delivered the opinion of the Court, affirmed the decision of the Sixth Circuit  Court, holding that

“a  feature  incorporated  into  the  design  of  a  useful  article  is  eligible  for copyright  protection  only  if  the  feature  (1)  can  be  perceived as a two- or three-dimensional work of art separate from the useful article and (2) would qualify as a protectable  pictorial,  graphic,  or  sculptural  work-either  on  its own  or  fixed  in  some  other  tangible  medium  of  expression if  it  were  imagined  separately  from  the  useful  article  into which  it  is  incorporated.”  The Court held that the test was satisfied in this case.

Until next time, I’m Attorney Francine Ward helping you protect what’s yours. Join my conversation on FacebookTwitter, or in one of my LinkedIn groupsGoogle+ Circles. Feel free to subscribe to my newsletter.



IP Copyright. The Copyright Act.


screen-shot-2017-01-08-at-6-59-07-pmThe Copyright Act provides the copyright owner with many safeguards to ensure that our content is protected.  Our job is to discover that copyright information, and use it to our advantage.  A thorough knowledge of the legal safeguards is important, which can come from law seminars, reading current legal information, and/or hiring a competent copyright attorney, who focuses on copyright law and copyright protection issues.

It is also important, as creative entrepreneurs and small business owners to avoid those actions that can get YOU into trouble.  It’s easy to inadvertently infringe someone else’s rights.  A person is said to be an infringer if he or she is found to have violated any of the exclusive rights of the copyright owner such as,

  1. Right to reproduce or duplicate their work
  2. Right to display or post their work publicly
  3. Right to distribute copies of their work
  4. Right to perform their work publicly
  5. Right to sell, license, rent rights to others
  6. Right to create a derivative work (create a new work from an existing work, repurpose)

Some specific copyright  infringement examples:

  1.  Photocopying material (i.e., articles, testimonial letters, cartoons, website content, blogs), without permission, a license, or it falling within a legal exception (fair use, public domain)
  2. Downloading music from the Internet without permission, a license, or it falling within a legal exception (fair use, public domain)
  3. Copying other content from the Internet without permission, a license, or it falling within a legal exception (fair use, public domain)
  4. Synchronizing music to (adding copyright protected music) your user generated videos, without permission, a license, or it falling within a legal exception (fair use, public domain)
  5. Going beyond the scope of a license agreement (e.g., the license says you can use a video for a specific purpose, but you use it for something else; you have a license to make 10 copies of a book, article, etc., but you make 100 copies)
  6. Reproducing / uploading / Posting videos to your site, without permission, a license, or it falling within a legal exception (fair use, public domain)

Who can sue for copyright infringement? The general rule is that the copyright owner can sue.  But, as always, within the law, there are many exceptions and nuances.  For example, a person who was not the creator of the work, but who is considered the “beneficial owner” can also sue.  A beneficial owner is the person who has an interest in the property—even though they didn’t create it—such as an assignee, a trustee, or a legatee (an heir).

Copyright. Asset Protection.


copyright puzzleWhether you write books, articles, web content, blogs, movies, shorts, screenplays, choreographic works, take pictures, or shoot videos—you should always be thinking how best to protect your copyrights, your business brand, and any creative content that you upload to the Internet.  Your creative content, your trademarks, your business collectively are your assets, and your kids’ future.  PROTECT them!

ASSET PROTECTION should be your #1 concern. If you don’t take care of your assets, whether through copyright registrationtrademark registrationpatent registration, contracts, or LLCs, trusts, offshore trusts, and other asset protection strategies, you will be sorry later. It’s your job to protect your assets—not someone else’s.

Let’s look at a few more strategies that will help you protect your work, make it harder for someone to steal from you, and if they do—to make it easier for you to sue them.

  1. ALWAYS, place the copyright notice symbol—in the proper format—on all your work (e.g., Copyright 2017 Marion Doe). It sends the message that you claim ownership of your work, PLUS in the event you ever need to sue someone for copyright infringement, your case is stronger.
  1. Register your work with the US copyright office.  A common myth floating around the creative community is that you can protect your copyrighted work by use of the so-called “poor man’s copyright”.  This is a dangerous piece of information in the hands of a content creator. It erroneously suggests that the security you seek through copyright protection, will be had by you mailing a copy of your work to yourself. WRONG!Here’s why: Even though you have a copyright the moment you reduce your original idea to a tangible form, without the benefit of registration it means nothing. One benefit of copyright registration is that you can sue someone for copyright infringement. Without a registration, you cannot sue.Copyright registration is not hard to do, and you can submit an online copyright registration. It’s one of the cheapest and most effective ways to ensure that you get the copyright protection your desire.

Until next time, I’m Attorney Francine Ward helping you protect what’s yours. Join my conversation on FacebookTwitter, or in one of my LinkedIn groupsGoogle+ Circles. Feel free to subscribe to my newsletter.