Our experienced lawyers are also industry leaders, frequently showcased in entertainment, legal and ranking publications, including The Hollywood Reporter, Variety, Law360, Chambers USA, Daily Journal and The American Lawyer. Our team includes:
Anjan Choudhury (213) 683-9107
Erin J. Cox (213) 683-9575
Rose Leda Ehler (213) 683-9240
Kelly M. Klaus (415) 512-4017 or (213) 683-9238
Ronald L. Olson (213) 683-9111
Glenn D. Pomerantz (213) 683-9132
John L. Schwab (213) 683-9216
Jordan D. Segall (213) 683-9208
Blanca Fromm Young (415) 512-4019
Munger, Tolles & Olson’s deep experience and broad capabilities in media and entertainment cover:
- Mass Piracy
As the unlicensed copying and distribution of protected works has become more widespread, our attorneys have delivered multi-million-dollar judgements and permanent injunctions against some of the biggest offenders. Current examples of our work include:
- Defending the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) from streamripping service Yout, which is suing RIAA for filing a takedown notice with Google over Yout’s alleged use of copyright-circumventing technology.
- Gaining a permanent injunction to shut down one of the most pervasive online file-copying services, LimeWire, and obtaining a $105 million settlement in the midst of a damages trial on behalf of our clients, Sony Music Entertainment, EMI Group, Warner Music Group and Universal Music Group.
- Representing the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE), a consortium of 31 movie studios and television networks, in efforts to stamp out growing players in the streaming underworld. In last year, we have shut down more than 20 infringing services, achieving multi-million-dollar settlements and permanent injunctions for our clients.
- Copyright and Royalties
Our attorneys have worked on some of the most important copyright cases of our time, taking on cutting-edge matters dealing with software copyrights and music royalties, as well as protecting the intellectual property behind blockbuster franchises. Examples of our work include:
- Representing Disney, Fox and Paramount in lawsuits alleging the studios are liable for software copyright infringement allegedly committed by a third-party vendor that performed motion capture for some of the biggest films of the last decade.
- Representing SoundExchange, the collective representing all sound recording copyright owners and artists in the United States, in proceedings before the Copyright Royalty Board to set royalty rates for webcasting via services like Pandora, iHeartRadio and SiriusXM.
- Defending The Walt Disney Company from claims by a producer and two screenwriters that Disney copied their script in all five of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films. The ongoing matter could expand copyright protections to generic features of genre movies.
- Providing major studios with advice on the complicated issues of chain of title, termination rights, and contingent compensation.
- New Technology
As digital streaming and blockchain technologies such as non-fungible tokens (NFTs) offer opportunities to reach new audiences and monetize current intellectual properties, we are counseling to some of the largest companies in the entertainment space, including:
- Advising a major movie studio on launching a partnership to sell licensed NFTs featuring their characters and working with them to take down unauthorized NFT content.
- Advising a major media company and its affiliated studios on matters related to vertical integration, transfer pricing, talent agreements, participation and affiliate dealing claims involving its new streaming service and an existing streaming platform.
As the industry continues to reshape itself, we are at the forefront of antitrust issues, drawing on national experience to guide media and entertainment companies through matters that include:
- Advising Warner Bros. on the impact of the Department of Justice lifting the Paramount Consent Decrees, which had banned film studios from owning movie theater chains.
- Defending motion picture studios against antitrust counterclaims during infringement cases involving the rental service Redbox and the streaming service VidAngel.
- Representing Universal Music Group in its acquisitions of EMI's recorded music division, BMG Music Publishing and Univision Music Group, as well as the formation of VEVO, among other significant matters.
- Advising a client on the potential merger of two popular streaming services.
Media and entertainment companies retain us to conduct sensitive investigations, such as of board behavior, labor and employment issues, and workplace conduct by talent and industry executives, including:
- A major television studio in confidential, highly sensitive internal investigations regarding allegations of workplace misconduct, including sexual harassment.
- The Board of Trustees of the J. Paul Getty Trust in an internal investigation related to fund expenditures, corporate governance and the provenance of objects in its antiquities collection. We successfully settlement of claims with the governments of Italy and Greece, and the California Attorney General.
We specialize in challenging matters that set important precedents. Clients turn to us when the stakes are high and they need a knowledgeable, experienced partner to help guide matters to an efficient resolution. Some of our most groundbreaking work includes:
- Obtaining a multi-million dollar jury verdict and a permanent injunction against an unlicensed streamer
Clients: Disney, Lucasfilm, Twentieth Century Fox, Warner Bros, Marvel, New Line and Turner Entertainment
In a case at the forefront of copyright law and the growing digital streaming market, we achieved a complete trial victory for several motion picture studios against unlicensed streaming service VidAngel, followed by a successful resolution of claims in VidAngel’s bankruptcy.
VidAngel offered unlicensed streaming of motion pictures and television shows, obtained by ripping more than 820 of the studios’ most popular titles from DVDs. After a week-long jury trial in the Central District of California in June 2019, a team led by partner Kelly M. Klaus won the studios statutory damages of $62.4 million on account of VidAngel’s infringement and its violations of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
On a $75,000 per-work basis, this was one of the largest jury awards of statutory damages in a mass-infringement case. The court also issued a permanent injunction barring VidAngel from infringing the studios’ works. We secured additional victories for the studios in March 2020, including defeating VidAngel’s post-trial motions for a new trial that sought to reduce the verdict on constitutional grounds. VidAngel’s compliance with the terms of the verdict and a subsequent reorganization plan is secured by a pledge of the company’s assets.
Media Coverage: Variety – VidAngel Hit with $62.4 Million Judgement for Pirating Movies
- Defending against infringement claims and clarifying key copyright tests
Client: The Walt Disney Company and Pixar
We scored an important victory in defending The Walt Disney Company and Pixar against copyright infringement claims related to the motion picture Inside Out. The lawsuit, Daniels v. Walt Disney Co., was brought by a child development expert who alleged that her characters, The Moodsters, were infringed by the central characters in Inside Out – the anthropomorphized emotions that reside in the mind of an eleven-year-old girl.
Days after a team led by partner Erin J. Cox, argued the merits of Disney’s motion to dismiss before the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, the court granted the motion and dismissed the claims. The court ruled that the plaintiff’s little-known set of characters did not meet the Ninth Circuit test for independent copyright protection of a character and that the plaintiff’s public disclosure of her idea for the characters prevented any implied contract to support an idea theft claim.
After the plaintiff filed an amended complaint reasserting their copyright claims, the court granted Disney-Pixar’s second motion to dismiss, this time with prejudice. The plaintiff appealed to the Ninth Circuit, where Ms. Cox led the written briefing before the appellate court.
In what has been described as “a master’s class in copyright law,” Judge Margaret M. McKeown affirmed the decision, explaining that The Moodsters, unlike Godzilla, James Bond or the Batmobile, lacked “identifiable and consistent character traits and attributes across iterations” were “not especially distinctive,” and had no “unique elements of expression.”
The plaintiff petitioned for a rehearing en banc, which was denied. They then petitioned for certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court, joined by two amici, but were also denied.
Media Coverage: Law360 - Supreme Court Won’t Hear Inside Out Copyright Case
- Resolving a dispute between the Writers Guild of America and Creative Artists Agency
Client: Creative Artists Agency
Creative Artists Agency ("CAA") retained us to help negotiate a resolution to its high-profile dispute with the Writers’ Guild of America (WGA). Guild members were boycotting CAA, one of the two major talent agencies, in a dispute concerning the television industry practice of “packaging,” whereby an agency foregoes client commissions and instead is paid directly by a television studio for presenting one “package” of talent (producers, directors, actors, writers, etc.) for a program.
In protest of packaging, as well as issues that included growing agency involvement in production entities, the WGA coordinated their more than 7,000 members – writers on both television and film projects – to simultaneously fire or boycott all of their talent agents. The WGA also filed a lawsuit concerning the practices at issue and the talent agencies, led by the two major agencies, filed their own lawsuit challenging the boycott.
While the litigation was pending, the agencies were unable to work formally with television and film writers, endangering a good deal of film and television development. While most of the WGA's claims were dismissed and the core of CAA’s case against WGA survived, the agency recognized that the pandemic had harmed writers and wanted to be able to represent writers again. However, their attempts to negotiate a new franchise agreement were unavailing.
In September 2020, sixteen months after the boycott began, CAA hired Munger, Tolles & Olson partners Ronald L. Olson and Anjan Choudhury to directly negotiate a resolution. Within two months, the stalemate was broken and the parties reached a new five-year agreement. The deal was ratified by WGA membership in December 2020, resulting in dismissal of the WGA lawsuits and the restoration of the CAA’s right to represent writers.
Media Coverage: Law360 - Talent Agency CAA Can Rep Writers Again with WGA Deal