Guest Post: The Most Interesting “Appropriation” Cases to Watch in 2016


By Talia Kosh

Once again, appropriation in art and entertainment is a trending topic, so here are my picks for the most interesting “appropriation” cases to watch in 2016. Appropriation is defined as “the action of taking something for one’s own use, typically without the owner’s permission.” Some of these cases are new, others will be heating up, but all of them involve an alleged taking of another’s creative product without permission.

1. “Blurred Lines” Can Make Things Expensive

As you might recall, Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke sued the Gaye estate, seeking declaratory judgment that they did not copy Marvin Gaye’s song “Got to Give it Up” with their 2013 “Blurred Lines” single. In March, 2015, “Blurred Lines” was found to be a copyright infringement by and Defendants were ordered to pay $5.3 million and an ongoing royalty rate of 50% of songwriter and publishing revenue.

The Gayes are now leveraging their win to ask for more money- $2.66 million in attorneys’ fees and $777,000 in expenses, stating among other things, that the Thicke team “aggressively and strategically initiated this action” and because the Gayes “made a brave decision to fight when sued and to protect the copyright to one of the most iconic songs of all time…”

On Dec. 7, 2015, the Thicke team formally launched their appeal.[1] The Notice of Appeal lists February 24, 2015 as the trial date. Only the composition and not the sound recording was considered by the jury. However, Attorneys for Williams and Thicke contend that hours of testimony by a musicologist as to the similarity of the two songs’ sound recordings should not have been allowed to be heard by the jury. Especially considering that the jury did not get to actually hear the sound recording of “Got to Give it Up.”

2. Fan Film’s Crowdfunding Might Fund Litigation Instead

Paramount Pictures Corporation, v. Axanar Productions, Inc.

The many worlds of fanfiction and fanfare seem to keep going deeper, on one hand, allowing creators and owners to maintain a deeper relationship with a loyal fan base, but on the other, the relationship can also become…complicated. Any and all fanfiction and fan films are considered derivative works and therefore the owners and content creators can either allow them to proceed or prevent any and all such derivative works from being distributed.

For decades, Paramount and CBS have tolerated and even encouraged fans of Star Trek to create fan films and fanfiction, but recently the entertainment companies drew a line in the sand of what will and will not be tolerated in fan films.

On December 29, 2015, Paramount Pictures Corp. and CBS Studios, Inc filed suit against the fan film group, Star Trek Axanar for copyright infringement at a time that there has never been more fan production out there than there are currently in production today, including a plethora of Star Trek fan films.[2] Owners and creators often allow fan films, up to a point-the point around which the profit line is crossed.  When Axanar raised over $1 million in crowdfunding to produce the film, Paramount and CBS put their foot down. Filmmaker, Alex Peters, isn’t backing down, as he stated on social media, “it appears CBS know that Axanar is exactly what fans want, because they are trying to shut us down!…this DOES NOT deter us from what we are doing!”

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