The Hollyweird Legal Round-Up: What Does ‘Raging Bull’ Have To Do With Led Zeppelin’s Thievery?

Hey hoes–let’s go!

This week, I, as your faithful entertainment law expert, bring you a smorgasbord of entertainment realms–movies, TV, music and sports, sort of. If I could have worked in vaudeville we’d have had ourselves an extravaganza.

1. The Song Remains Pretty Much The Same. There was a case not long ago where the Supreme Court decided that it was OK to file a copyright infringement suit over Raging Bull in 2009, despite the fact that the movie came out in 1980. The suit was brought by Paula Petrella, daughter of and heir to the guy whose writings supposed served as the basis for the movie.

“Petrella filed her lawsuit in 2009, which was 18 years after the copyright on Raging Bull was renewed . . . thanks in large part to difficulties lining up legal representation, it would take her nearly two decades before she actually stepped forward in a court room.”

Those must have been some serious, and inexplicable, difficulties getting legal representation. Honey–I have a phone. Regardless, the Court said the suit could go forward, despite the delay. The statute of limitations is 3 years, but that’s 3 years from the date of every infringing act. So Petrella was allowed to sue for every time MGM had made money off Raging Bull starting 3 years prior to her suit. Weird, because 1) you’d think that someone would be f*cked for waiting around that long; and 2) Ginsburg and Kagan agreed with Alito and Thomas on this decision. You wouldn’t believe that group could reach a consensus on pizza toppings, yet here we are.

Raging Bull is a great movie, but kind of a rough ride. Put it on your “Don’t Watch on a First Date” list, along with The PianistThe Human Centipede and Herpes is Bad 3D. Fortunately, the decision makes it much easier for plaintiffs to file long-overdue lawsuits, some of which are tons of fun:

“Using the Led Zeppelin IV typeface, and including a claim for the “Falsification of Rock N’ Roll History,” the heirs of songwriter Randy Craig Wolfe have finally lodged a copyright infringement lawsuit against Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and other Led Zeppelin parties over the 1971 song “Stairway to Heaven.””

When “Led Zeppelin parties” are involved, shit gon’ get sexy in a hurry. A band called Spirit, best known for this song

…wrote one called “Taurus,” in 1968. Goes like this:

The similarities are no joke, as far as the intro goes, anyway. While we’re on the subject, they also ganked the title from David Niven. To be fair, Mr. Zeppelin seems to have come up with the lyrics on his own, or so I’ll assume until somebody unearths a polka tune from the ’50’s called “Bustles in Your Hedgerow.”

The suit itself, while neglecting to answer the question of why why WHY would you wait this long, does have some highlights. Yes, the section headings are written in the same style used for text on Led Zeppelin IV, a font now known as Helvetikashmir. No reason for the attorney to do that other than to establish his dickishness from the get-go. And yes, there is a claim for “Falsification of Rock N’ Roll History,” a seldom-used cause of action that has not been successful since Marbury v. Madison. Fortunately, that’s just a demand that the composer of “Taurus” get songwriter credit for “Stairway,” so it’s not as dumb as it sounds, because nothing is as dumb as that sounds.

But what’s novel about this suit isn’t that Zeppelin is being sued for infringement, it’s that they’re being sued by white guys. The band has a storied history of helping themselves to blues riffs and lyrics without attributing them to the creators. As discussed in the suit, Page was once quoted in an interview as saying, “I always tried to bring something fresh to anything that I used . . . Maybe not in every case–but in most cases . . . Robert was supposed to change the lyrics, and he didn’t always do that. ” That’s a perfectly acceptable explanation–if you’re a second grader writing a report on a book that you’d recommend to anybody who likes horses. If you’re putting songs on multi-platinum albums, holy shit.

Regardless, Page is probably going to have to pull out his checkbook. The downsides are that the guy from Spirit who wrote the song has been dead since the 90’s, and that the complaint alleges that any money derived from the suit will go to a trust “supporting the musical aspirations of children in public schools.” Ugh. You have a legitimate case, dude. Do not try and tug at my heartstrings. Legally, your argument is just as strong if the plaintiff plans to spend all the money on taffy.

Bonus points: the lawyer who filed this suit is named Francis Malofiy, and no, you aren’t the only one who just thought of Harry Potter. Malofiy was recently involved in a suit against Usher for copyright infringement. He not only lost the case, but was sanctioned by the judge for “vexatious or unreasonable behavior.” Among other things, during a deposition, he actually said, “you can’t handle the truth” to another lawyer. So this one could become zany with a quickness.

Note: Page was in the documentary It Might Get Loud with The Edge and Jack White. It’s pretty good.

2. Third World Cup. HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel,” a docu series and perennial Frotcast favorite, done f*cked up:

“A company that produces soccer balls for professional leagues around the globe may go forward in its multimillion dollar libel suit that claims HBO perpetrated a hoax on its viewers.”

The suit, by manufacturer Mitre Sports International, centers on a segment involving pantheon-level blowhard Bernie Goldberg. It began by showing “children as young as six” sewing soccer balls for slave wages in India. Powerful stuff. Albeit staged and/or false.

“[U]nder cross-examination, one of the researchers that HBO had relied upon testified that she found ‘no children [under the age of 14] who could stitch footballs.'”

So on the one hand, Bernie was exaggerating how young the children were so as to make Mitre seem heinous. But then, was the researcher looking for children under 14 who could do the sewing for the sake of the story, or did she want to hire them? I want answers! /throws cinder block through stained glass window for emphasis

I couldn’t find video of this particular segment, and I assure you, I didn’t look very hard. But I did find the following video to illustrate Bernie’s trademark incredulousness:

On a sports show, if you’re trying to describe 600 feet in terms your audience can understand, you have to say “that’s two football fields [excluding end zones]!” Bernie, at the next meeting of the International Jewish Conspiracy, we are going to have words. And don’t forget that I took it easy on you–no more effective way to make you look even borderline-cool than to show you next to Trump.

Twitter: @Buttockus