February 28, 2021

Guard Dog to the Stars (Legally Speaking)

IT started with a fortune cookie. Two of them, actually.

Martin D. Singer still carries in his wallet the slip he plucked from the first in 1980, on the day he decided to join John H. Lavely Jr. to start their law firm, Lavely Singer. It reads: “Your intuitions in business decisions are good.”

On the firm’s first anniversary, Mr. Singer recalls, he and Mr. Lavely went out for Chinese again. And he got the same fortune.

Somebody knew the stars were in the market for a pit bull.

Since then, Mr. Singer and his firm of 15 lawyers have emerged as Hollywood’s foremost protectors of the unlikeliest of underdogs: celebrities who seem to have it all.

A growing tabloid culture, coupled with the brutal economics of a contracting entertainment industry, has left a surprising number of the glamour set feeling picked on — and looking for someone to even the score. That is often Mr. Singer, a stocky, bespectacled 59-year-old litigator. More than 30 years ago, he began taking odd jobs that were beneath established firms, then built what might have been a niche practice — shielding stars and their adjuncts from annoyance — into a Hollywood mainstay.

“He’s ferocious and fearless, he really is,” says Sylvester Stallone, one of the first in an expanding list of entertainers, executives and even political figures who have turned to Mr. Singer for help with contracts gone wrong, business relationships gone bad or most any other sort of problem.

“I think I was having trouble with a dinosaur, that’s how far back we go,” jokes Mr. Stallone when asked how he initially connected with Mr. Singer. “There was a dinosaur making some sexual innuendos.”

Lately, Mr. Singer has taken up the cudgels for Charlie Sheen with a lawsuit in which Warner Brothers Television and the producer Chuck Lorre are said to have illegally thrown Mr. Sheen off the hit television show “Two and a Half Men.”

“I really believe Charlie Sheen is a victim,” says Mr. Singer, voicing what seems to a core conviction: that even the rich and famous can be abused. And when that happens, they are apt to call in a heavy.

When Jeremy Piven dropped out of a Broadway production of “Speed-the-Plow” in 2008, Mr. Singer was there — to argue that Mr. Piven had been forced out by mercury poisoning from eating too much fish.

(In a union arbitration with producers, Mr. Piven prevailed.)

Mr. Singer helped save Arnold Schwarzenegger, while he was California’s governor, from two lawsuits by women who contended that they were smeared by political aides — one suit was settled, one dismissed — and this week has been keeping tabs on new reports that Mr. Schwarzenegger fathered a child outside his marriage.

In 2006, Senator Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada and the majority leader, hired Mr. Singer to deal with a news report that criticized a land transaction. (Mr. Singer says he doesn’t recall what he did for his reported fee of $25,000, and a spokesman for the senator did not respond to queries.)

Less grandly, Mr. Singer in March filed suit for Quentin Tarantino against a neighbor and a fellow writer, Alan Ball, contending that Mr. Ball’s screeching macaws were keeping Mr. Tarantino from getting his work done.

“That’s been resolved,” Mr. Singer says. Mr. Tarantino has since finished his latest screenplay.

“Some people said it’s the best script he’s ever written, because he had the peace and quiet,” Mr. Singer says.

IT is a Monday afternoon in early May. Just outside the door of Mr. Singer’s office, on the 24th floor of a Century City tower, he can be heard growling orders for corrective action against yet another journalist who, in his view, has done a client wrong.

“Let’s demand a retraction,” comes the low, throaty command.

Mr. Singer is remarkable for transformations that turn what Mr. Stallone describes as a warm and fuzzy friend — his full face and jocular smile recall the comic singer Allan Sherman — into a foam-flecked attack dog.

“If you rattle his cage, you’re in for a fight,” says Mr. Stallone, who has had Mr. Singer go to bat for him in court.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=186e2773f6015584e7ce38896551f4fd

Enforcing Copyrights Online, for a Profit

A month later, Mr. Hill received an e-mail from a reporter for The Las Vegas Sun who was looking into a Nevada company that files copyright lawsuits for newspapers. The e-mail informed Mr. Hill that he was one of those that the company, Righthaven, was suing. Though the airport photo had gone viral before Mr. Hill plucked it off the Web, it belonged to The Denver Post, where it first appeared on Nov. 18.

Mr. Hill took down the photo. He was too late. A summons was delivered to his house. The lawsuit sought statutory damages. It did not name a figure, but accused Mr. Hill of “willful” infringement, and under federal copyright law up to $150,000 can be awarded in such cases.

“I was shocked,” Mr. Hill said. “I thought maybe it was a joke or something to scare me. I didn’t know the picture was copyrighted.”

Over the last year, as newspapers continue to grapple with how to protect their online content, Righthaven has filed more than 200 similar federal lawsuits in Colorado and Nevada over material posted without permission from The Denver Post or The Las Vegas Review-Journal.

The company has business relationships with both newspapers. Like much of the industry, the papers see the appropriation of their work without permission as akin to theft and harmful to their business, and are frustrated by unsuccessful efforts to stem the common practice, whether it’s by a one-man operation like Mr. Hill’s, or an established one like Matt Drudge’s.

Sara Glines, a vice president for the MediaNews Group, which owns The Denver Post, wrote in an e-mail that the pat-down photo had been used on more than 300 Web sites with no credit to The Post or the photographer.

“We have invested heavily in creating quality content in our markets,” Ms. Glines wrote. “To allow others who have not shared in that investment to reap the benefit ultimately hurts our ability to continue to fund that investment at the same level.”

Mark Hinueber, general counsel for Stephens Media, owner of The Review-Journal, echoed Ms. Glines’s concerns, saying that cutting and pasting articles “steals the potential audience for our editorial material and traffic to our Web sites.”

Some critics, however, contend that Righthaven’s tactics are draconian, and that the company hopes to extract swift settlements before it is clear that there is a violation of federal copyright law. Typically, the suits have been filed without warning. Righthaven rarely sends out notices telling Web sites to take down material that does not belong to them before seeking damages and demanding forfeiture of the Web domain name.

Defendants in these cases run the gamut. They have included the white supremacist David Duke, the Democratic Party of Nevada and Mr. Drudge. But little known Web sites, nonprofit groups and so-called mom-and-pop bloggers — people who blog as a hobby — are not exempt from Righthaven’s legal actions.

According to some Internet legal experts who have been watching the cases with growing interest, the way it works is simple: Righthaven finds newspaper material that has been republished on the Web — usually an article, excerpts or a photograph — and obtains the copyrights. Then, the company sues.

Whether the defendant credits the original author or removes the material after being sued matters little. None of the cases have gone to trial yet, and many have been settled out of court. In two instances, judges have ruled against Righthaven in pretrial motions. According to The Las Vegas Sun, which has tracked the cases, the only two publicly disclosed settlements were for $2,185 and $5,000.

In describing his company’s approach, Steve Gibson, Righthaven’s chief executive, said that there has been “voluminous, almost incalculable infringement” since the advent of the Internet and that years of warning people to take down copyrighted content had not worked. Newspapers, he said, needed a new way to address the problem of people appropriating their material without permission.

Eric Goldman, director of the high-tech law institute at the Santa Clara University School of Law, said reposting published material online could qualify as “fair use” if it didn’t diminish the market value of the original. Other critics of the suits contend that reposting material for the purposes of discussion does not constitute infringement.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=8a960d644a2c07f357552960a75c87d9