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Litigators Fight for Their Clients in the Contentious Arena of Entertainment Law

These attorneys helped shape the face of entertainment

Peter R. Afrasiabi
Founding partner, One
USC, 1997

John Tehranian
Founding partner, One
Yale, 2000
This team won the case Mavrix v. Brand Technologies in which a celeb photo agency sued the owners of a Hollywood gossip website alleging infringement of certain photos featuring singer Stacy Ferguson (aka Fergie). It defined the Internet activities that can give rise to personal jurisdiction to bring out-of-state copyright infringers to face charges in California in connection with their unlawful activities. In the past year, at least 86 federal court decisions have cited the case, which has substantially increased the ability of content owners to bring suit in their home jurisdiction when infringers exploit copyrighted works online before a national audience. “In this sense, for our clients — from the largest studios to the up-and-coming artists — we regularly serve as a profit, rather than cost, center,” says Afrasiabi. “The type of counsel we provide has a profound impact on both our relationship with our clients and, ultimately, their perception of value from the legal industry.”

Mark Holscher
Partner, Kirkland & Ellis
Berkeley, 1988

Christopher Landau
Partner, Kirkland & Ellis
Harvard, 1989
This pair made headlines earlier this year when they secured a $19 million award for Don Johnson in his suit against Rysher Entertainment over profits from his TV series Nash Bridges. While L.A.-based Holscher focuses on showbiz, recently repping private equity fund Melrose 2 in a breach of contract suit against Paramount and “Survivor” producer Mark Burnett in a dispute over ownership of his production company, the Johnson case was a rare Hollywood outing for Washington, D.C.-based Landau, an appellate specialist who has successfully argued before the Supreme Court for clients such as Hughes Aircraft and Allstate Insurance. But the two worlds aren’t so far apart, according to Landau: “Whether you’re making a TV show or a movie or presenting your case in a courthouse, you want to be able to tell a story that people relate to and understand.”

Lawrence Iser
Managing partner, litigation

Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump & Aldisert
Hastings, 1980
Sometimes a legal action doesn’t reverberate until several years have passed. For example, Iser’s victories on behalf of musical artists Jackson Browne in 2008 and David Byrne in 2010 — whose songs were used without permission by the campaigns of presidential candidates — didn’t have full impact until 2012’s presidential race. Those lawsuits forced candidates to secure licenses to publicly perform songs at campaign events. “It was very exciting to observe that we’d successfully educated the political establishment to respect artists’ rights and not to use copyrighted works without permission,” Iser says.

Neville L. Johnson
Founding partner, Johnson & Johnson
Southwestern, 1975
Johnson filed class actions against the five major Hollywood studios alleging endemic underpayment on homevideo and digital media for pre-1980s movies for writers, producer, actors and directors. He also co-counseled in three class actions against record industry companies over digital download royalties regarding years of underpayments to artists. Johnson defended blues icon B.B. King in a claim that was then voluntarily dismissed. “It’s exciting to challenge practices in the music, film and television industries that violate the rights of talent for compensation they are owed,” Johnson says.

Barry Langberg
Shareholder, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck
U. of San Francisco, 1968
Langberg won a precedent-setting award for Las Vegas mogul Steve Wynn in a defamation lawsuit against “Girls Gone Wild” creator Joe Francis late in 2012. The $19 million decision — the largest in the Internet age — is considered by legal industry publication the Recorder among the Top 5 California Million-Dollar Verdicts of 2012. The Recorder cites Langberg and his team for a “brilliant courtroom strategy.” The victory’s message? “There’s a consequence for malicious actions,” he states, “and if you intentionally spread lies virally, the price you pay will be very high.”

Daniel Petrocelli
Partner, O’Melveny & Myers
Southwestern, 1980
Ranked as one the country’s top trial lawyers, Petrocelli recently won a landmark victory for Warner Bros., securing its rights to the Superman character and franchise after years of litigation. Similarly, he won federal appeals for Disney concerning its trademark rights to its “Winnie the Pooh” franchise. Previously, Petrocelli repped Warner Bros. successfully in a legal challenge over the creation of “The Last Samurai”. His long track record of high-profile cases began with the successful wrongful death suit against O.J. Simpson.

Glenn D. Pomerantz
Partner, Munger, Tolles & Olson
Harvard, 1983
Pomerantz’s highest-profile case may have been successfully defending ABC against CBS’ effort to stop the premiere of reality series “Glass House.” The Eye claimed it ripped off its franchise “Big Brother.” In a genre that depends on real interactions in a real setting, the case showed it was very “hard to prove substantial similarity,” a key to copyright claims, he notes. Pomerantz also overcame opposition to help obtain federal approval for Universal Music Group’s purchase of EMI, and won a ruling on behalf of Fox from the 9th Circuit that rejected a challenge to cable “bundling” of channels, which may have the farthest reaching implications for the business.

Daniel A. Rozansky
Partner, Stroock & Stroock & Lavan
Loyola, 1992
Rozansky client Aramid Entertainment lent tens of millions to David Bergstein and Ron Tutor’s companies, then sued when it didn’t get paid back. But they were up against litigious defendants who not only filed cross-complaints but even sued Rozansky himself. That suit was dismissed, and Rozansky was awarded attorney’s fees, but he also recovered $2 million in unpaid tax credits along with confidential settlements. He says that the cases have reminded him that “if you can stay true to your legal fundamentals and values, at the end of the day, you should be able to get to the finish line.”

Robert M. Schwartz
Partner, O’Melveny & Myers
USC, 1984
At last year’s E3 vidgame conference, “Call of Duty” developers Jason West and Vince Zampella wore T-shirts that read “Terms of the settlement are strictly confidential.” Just days before their suit against Activision was to go to trial, with perhaps $1 billion at stake, they came to an agreement finalized by their attorney, Schwartz, who says the case showed “the talent that make these incredibly popular games are no longer faceless drones that sort of get pushed around by the publishers.” Also, Schwartz defended Warner Bros. and the CW in a vertical integration case filed by the creators of “Smallville.”

Stanton “Larry” Stein
Partner, Liner Grode Stein Yankelevitz Sunshine Regenstreif & Taylor
USC, 1969
Covering cases involving entertainment and media litigation and intellectual property, Stein has repped such high-profile clients as producer-performer Timbaland, singer LeAnn Rimes and filmmaker Michael Moore. He notes that since the advent of the Internet and today’s rapid technological innovations, “provisions in existing entertainment contracts have not kept abreast and often do not even address important financial and intellectual property rights. The legislature often moves too slowly and therefore the judicial system will be responsible for deciding the rights of the various players in the industry.”

Orin Snyder
Partner, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher
U. of Pennsylvania, 1986
Snyder represented Voom HD in a breach of contract case against Dish Network, landing a whopping $700 million settlement in the dispute over Dish’s dropping of an affiliation agreement. He’s also involved in what will be one of this year’s most closely watched antitrust cases, over the pricing of e-books, as he represents Apple, the target of the federal government’s suit. The Voom case, Snyder says, “reinforces the message that companies are prepared to take cases all the way if necessary.”

Joel R. Weiner
Partner, Katten Muchin Rosenman
Berkeley, 1988
In the past 12 months, Weiner has worked on high-profile cases defending NBC Universal over copyright infringement claims for such shows as “Heroes,” “The Biggest Loser,” “Animal Practice” and Bravo’s “Million Dollar Decorators.” Through the years he’s found a way to expedite this process. “If these cases can get decided earlier, it’s more efficient and less expensive for studios and the networks. That way, they can focus on creating new projects instead of litigation. The cases we are handling are clarifying for the industry the scope of copyright protection, which will hopefully reduce the need for litigation.”

Howard Weitzman
Partner, Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump & Aldisert
USC, 1965
Weitzman successfully represented “Two and a Half Men” creator Chuck Lorre in the Charlie Sheen lawsuit, and Justin Bieber in several litigation claims, including a paternity suit. He currently reps the Michael Jackson estate, dealing with multiple litigation claims and as well as handling transactional and business matters with Cirque du Soleil, Sony ATV and other revenue opportunities. “Resolving high-profile disputes, given increased news coverage and social media, is a challenge when balancing the clients’ interests versus the public’s insatiable appetite for gossip.”

Jonathan Zavin
Partner, Loeb & Loeb
Columbia, 1973
Zavin reigns as the go-to litigator for fending off copyright infringement claims. In the past year, he has successfully defended MGM and Fox Home Entertainment’s rights to “Raging Bull” and the creators of “The Big C,” and won a dismissal for Viacom against a claim that its “SpongeBob SquarePants” ukulele infringed on Gibson Guitar’s trademarked “Flying V” shape. But he spent most of his time defending DreamWorks Animation against two claims that it stole the idea for its blockbuster “Kung Fu Panda.”

Profiles compiled by Hillary Atkin. Iain Blair, Ted Johnson, Todd Longwell, Michael Palumbo and Michelle Salemi.

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