Practice/Industry Group Overview
Since the firm’s inception, Pryor Cashman’s litigators have been at the forefront of entertainment litigation, acting as counsel to a wide variety of clients on high profile and precedent-setting cases in all venues. We are nationally known to industry professionals and in the legal community as having one of the premier entertainment litigation practices in the country. We have represented nearly every major motion picture studio (as well as many independents), television and cable networks, music and book publishers, production companies, record companies, industry associations, producers and distributors, performers, entertainment industry executives, authors, personal managers and talent agencies.
Our litigators have obtained significant victories in every type of dispute that can arise in both the entertainment and media industries. Those victories have been achieved at trial in both state and federal courts as well as at arbitrations throughout the nation. Our record in the appellate courts is equally impressive as we have won some of the more significant entertainment appeals over the past few decades.
Pryor Cashman’s intellectual property litigators are widely recognized and have handled some of the most high-profile and, in many instances, landmark cases involving copyrights, trademarks, trade dress, trade secrets, unfair competition, theft of ideas, rights of privacy and publicity, and the Internet, as well as the related areas of antitrust and technology. In the digital arena, our litigators are on the cutting edge, handling cases and investigations involving the intersection of digital media and the protection and monetization of intellectual property.
Pryor Cashman’s litigators have represented numerous clients and have significant experience in representing production companies, studios and talent in resolving disputes involving profit participation, finance agreements and film delivery. We have also successfully litigated and arbitrated numerous cases throughout the country involving the licensing and distribution of motion picture, television and video rights and the scope of rights granted in connection therewith.
We have represented artists, managers, talent agencies and production companies in litigations and other disputes involving employment, personal services, management and agency contracts. Similarly, we have provided counsel to our entertainment clients in the areas of real estate, class actions and securities. During the past five years, our attorneys have also successfully represented several major music industry clients in a series of investigations initiated by the N.Y.S. Attorney General.
Pryor Cashman’s litigators, as well as other attorneys at our firm specializing in the fields of publishing and entertainment, regularly provide counseling to our entertainment clients on how to avoid litigation and other potential problems which might arise during the course of a production. We regularly review scripts and other creative material for our clients with a view to spotting potential issues and suggesting ways in which they can be avoided. In general, we are called upon regularly to analyze potential and complex legal issues and to evaluate litigation risks.
Some of our recent entertainment cases include:
- Defended major animation studio against claim by major movie studio of alleged contractual interest in worldwide distribution rights to feature-length animated film and, by moving aggressively before litigation was commenced, resolved the conflict before financing and production of the film were impaired
- Represented major television personality in action brought against her by DVD producer claiming she had breached agreement to participate in making of video
- Obtained judgment at trial (affirmed on appeal) that sale by motion picture producer of videocassettes of television movie produced by it exceeded the rights granted to it by authors of the book upon which movie was based
- Obtained dismissal of case brought against major record companies, major music publishing company and others claiming producer royalties on album by major artist
- Obtained summary judgment dismissing idea misappropriation, breach of fiduciary duty and contract claims brought against producers and writers of successful comedy show relating to episode of show and plaintiff’s alleged disclosure of idea to one of its writers
- Obtained dismissal with prejudice of copyright infringement lawsuit against singer/songwriter and publishing company involving popular country and western song after single deposition
- Obtained summary judgment for owner of famous show business establishment that defendants infringed and diluted its trademark by operating competing establishment with similar name
- Obtained temporary restraining order against N.J. Attorney General’s allegedly unconstitutional enforcement of New Jersey’s newly enacted “Truth in Music Act” that had the effect of nullifying unregistered trademark rights of Pryor Cashman clients who had three music groups operating under unregistered trademarks; although 17 other states had recently enacted similar statutes, Pryor Cashman’s successful motion was the first legal challenge to such laws
- Aries Design Management Inc. v. Elizabeth Taylor (N.Y. Supreme Court): We successfully defended Elizabeth Taylor against contract claims for agency commissions and resolved the litigation by settlement.
- Barrett v. Polygram (U.S. District Court for the District of N.J.): We obtained summary dismissal of claims brought by the composer that Polygram’s licensing of a song for use in videocassette of the movie Porky’s exceeded the rights granted by the composer.
- Bloom and Atkinson v. Hearst (U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas) (unreported decision), aff'd, 33 F.3d 518 (5th Cir. 1994): We successfully defended claims brought by authors of the book Evidence of Love that Hearst’s sale of a videocassette of the television movie Killing in a Small Town exceeded the rights granted by the authors. After a full trial, the District Court dismissed all of plaintiffs’ claims. The result was upheld on an appeal brought by plaintiffs and opposed by Pryor Cashman in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
- Bright Tunes Music Corp. v. Harrisongs Music, Ltd., 420 F. Supp. 177 (S.D.N.Y. 1976), aff’d, ABKCO Music Inc. v. Harrisongs Music Ltd., 722 F.2d 988 (2d Cir. 1983): We won at trial, establishing that George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord infringed our client's copyright in the song He’s So Fine.
- Burnett and Allison v. Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc., 113 A.D.2d 710, 493 N.Y.S.2d 326 (1st Dep’t 1985), aff’d, 67 N.Y.2d 912, 501 N.Y.S.2d 815 (1986): We successfully defended claims brought by the authors of the play Everybody Goes to Ricks (on which the movie Casablanca was based) that use of the characters in Warner Bros.’ television show Casablanca exceeded the rights granted by the authors. Our motion for summary judgment was granted and we successfully defeated plaintiffs’ appeals, both in the Appellate Division and the N.Y. Court of Appeals.
- CBS Inc. v. Stern (N.Y. Supreme Court): We represented the famous radio personality Howard Stern and other defendants in a multimillion dollar contract litigation brought by CBS after Stern signed with Sirius satellite radio. The matter was settled prior to trial.
- Cousins v. EMI, Jay-Z, Kanye West (U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ill.): We successfully defended copyright infringement claims brought by plaintiff musician and obtained dismissal of his claims with prejudice prior to discovery.
- DeClemente v. Columbia Pictures, 860 F. Supp. 30 (E.D.N.Y. 1994): We won a directed verdict dismissing trademark and right of publicity claims against defendants after a jury trial involving claims brought by individual holding federal registration for the name Karate Kid and seeking damages for three Karate Kid feature films which grossed $598 million.
- The Friars Club v. 9900 Santa Monica, Inc., Darren Schaeffer (U.S. District Court for the Central District of California 2007): Obtained summary judgment for its client, The Friars Club, in Lanham Act and Anti-Dilution lawsuit claiming that defendants infringed and diluted The Friars Club’s trademark by operating “Friars of Beverly Hills” and by falsely claiming that it was the successor to the Friars Club of California.
- Gale v. Stallone (S.D.N.Y. 1996): Successfully defended Sylvester Stallone against claims for breach of contract and fraud arising out of a painting he did as a young man and obtained dismissal without damages of all claims after full trial.
- Greenfield v. Philles Records Inc., 98 N.Y.2d 562, 750 N.Y.S.2d 565 (2002): We obtained a landmark contract and intellectual property law ruling on behalf of record producer Phil Spector and other defendants against royalty claims by the former group The Ronettes. In a precedent setting opinion, Pryor Cashman achieved an extraordinary result for commercial entities doing business in New York. The state’s highest court unanimously reversed a lower court’s award that significantly impaired the rights of owners of property and adopted the rule advocated by Pryor Cashman, ensuring broad rights of exploitation for property owners. The court below had found that an owner of intellectual property did not have the right to exploit its property for any purpose not specifically authorized. On appeal, we argued that a party obtaining ownership of property through a contract has the absolute and unrestricted right to use that property in any way it chooses, subject only to express contractual limitations on such use. The N.Y. Court of Appeals agreed, placing the burden on a grantor to expressly reserve all rights of exploitation not being granted and ruling that the parties’ agreement need not list all uses in which the grantee was permitted to engage. The Court also adopted our argument that a party is entitled only to compensation for uses of property for which an agreement expressly provides compensation and that no compensation is due for uses that are not specifically compensable by the agreement. The result obtained by Pryor Cashman reversed a line of decisions holding that an owner of property could not exploit its property in any manner not specifically authorized by the agreement transferring ownership and that a transferring party had the right to compensation for any uses of the property not specifically authorized in the agreement.
- Interactive Holdings Corp. v. Paxson Communications Inc.,(S.D.N.Y. 2000) and National Casualty Co. v. Paxson, 304 A.D.2d 391, 757 N.Y.S.2d 549 (1st Dep’t 2003): In 1999, Interactive instituted a copyright and unfair competition litigation against Paxson seeking several million dollars in damages. At that time, Paxson was represented by a large nationwide law firm. After several months of extremely costly litigation, Paxson, whose insurance company (National) had refused to indemnify it, replaced its counsel with our firm. Within one month of being retained, we settled the litigation for $50,000 and then pursued the insurance company in state court for reimbursement of all amounts paid by Paxson, both for legal fees and settlement. Although the N.Y. Supreme Court granted the insurance company summary judgment, we appealed and the decision was unanimously reversed by the N.Y. Appellate Division (1st Dept.) in 2003. Paxson ultimately recovered over $500,000, which represented all legal fees paid by it in both the underlying and insurance litigation, the $50,000 it had paid to settle the underlying case, and interest on both amounts.
- JMS Entertainment LLC v. Paula Abdul and Shut Up And Dance Productions, Inc. (N.Y. Supreme Court): We represented Paula Abdul in an action brought against her by a DVD producer claiming she had breached an agreement to participate in the making of a video about how to be a star.
- Kennedy v. Dante Smith a/k/a “Mos Def” (N.Y. Supreme Court): We represented major record and music publishing companies and others in an action brought by a plaintiff claiming producer royalties on the album Black on Both Sides by recording artist Mos Def. We succeeded in having the case dismissed.
- Leifer v. Castle Rock (N.Y. Supreme Court): We obtained summary judgment dismissing idea misappropriation, breach of fiduciary duty and contract claims concerning a Seinfeld episode against producers and writers of the show. The claims arose out of the plaintiff’s disclosure of an idea to one of the writers.
- Marvel Enterprises v. Universal Studios (AAA – N.Y.): In this AAA arbitration, Marvel sought over $50 million in damages from our client Universal Studios based upon Universal’s alleged breach of a contract pursuant to which it was obligated to include Marvel elements in a specified amount of marketing exposure relating to Universal’s two theme parks in Orlando, Fla. After 10 days of hearings and the introduction of hundreds of thousands of documents and other materials (including videotapes prepared especially for the hearings), the panel denied Marvel’s claims in their entirety.
- Morris v. Castle Rock Entertainment, 246 F. Supp.2d 290 (S.D.N.Y. 2003): In a suit brought by two screenwriters alleging that they were entitled to credit in connection with the movie The American President and the television show The West Wing, Pryor Cashman, representing Castle Rock Entertainment, Inc., Aaron Sorkin and Rob Reiner, among others, won dismissal of all claims, including copyright infringement, unfair competition, breach of contract, fraud and conspiracy to defraud.
- New Line v. Miramax (U.S. District Court for the Southern District of N.Y.): Pryor Cashman, on behalf of New Line, sought a preliminary injunction concerning the release schedule of Jackie Chan films in violation of the parties’ agreement. The matter was settled successfully prior to trial.
- Pannonia Farms Inc. v. USA Cable, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 23015 (S.D.N.Y. 2004), aff’d, 426 F.3d 650 (2d Cir. 2005): We obtained summary judgment for USA Cable in a case involving the television motion picture A Case of Evil and the ownership of the rights to the fictional characters Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. We handled the appeal brought by plaintiff and were successful in having our lower court victory upheld. After the affirmance, the trial court awarded our client over $100,000 in attorneys’ fees and an additional $25,000 in sanctions against plaintiff’s counsel.
- Sagittarius, 112 v. Evergreen (N.Y. Supreme Court): We represented plaintiffs who sought in excess of $7 million in damages for breach of contract and the covenant of good faith and fair dealing arising from the wrongful termination of a broadcasting contract for the Howard Stern Show in Chicago. A settlement was reached immediately prior to trial.
- Singer Management Consultants, Inc. and Live Gold Operations, Inc. v. Anne Milgram (New Jersey 2007): Obtained temporary restraining order against N.J. Attorney General’s allegedly unconstitutional enforcement of New Jersey’s newly enacted “Truth in Music Act” that had the effect of nullifying unregistered trademark rights of two Pryor Cashman clients who had three music groups operating under unregistered trademarks (The Platters, The Cornell Gunter Coasters and The Elsbeary Hobbs Drifters). Although 17 other states had recently enacted similar statutes, Pryor Cashman’s successful motion was the first legal challenge to such laws.
- Michael Snyder v. Sony/ATV Songs LLC, Toby Keith, Scotty Emerick (U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida 2007): After taking plaintiff’s deposition, obtained dismissal with prejudice of copyright infringement lawsuit filed against our clients Sony/ATV Songs LLC and songwriter Scotty Emerick that popular country and western song I Love This Bar, recorded by Toby Keith and co-written by Keith and Emerick, infringed upon plaintiff’s song.
- Stromback v. New Line Cinema, 2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 21969, 2002 WL 31548620 (E.D. Mich. 2002), aff’d, 384 F.3d 283 (6th Cir. 2004): We won summary judgment dismissing plaintiff’s copyright infringement, Lanham Act and state law claims against Adam Sandler’s film Little Nicky.
- Young Talent v. Dante Smith a/k/a Mos Def (AAA – N.Y.): We successfully represented a personal manager in a management contract dispute against an actor who failed to pay commissions to the manager. We obtained an award for the full amount of damages sought and successfully defended against the artist’s claims for breach against the manager.
- Zink v. Mark Goodson Productions (N.Y. Supreme Court) (unreported decision), aff'd, 261 A.D.2d 105, 689 N.Y.S.2d 87 (1st Dep’t 1999): We obtained summary judgment on behalf of our client, resulting in dismissal of multimillion tortious interference claims asserted against it relating to a game show host. We also handled the appeal brought by plaintiff and were successful in having our lower court victory upheld.