Abbas Media Law


In this issue of zoom-in brief, Chelsea Clinton settles a privacy claim over photographs of her children against Associated Newspapers; JonBenet Ramsey’s brother settles a defamation action against CBS; and a copyright claim against Ed Sheeran which says he copied Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On will head to trial.

PRIVACY: Chelsea Clinton settles privacy case over children’s pictures

Editorial credit: Everett Collection /
Editorial credit: Everett Collection /

Chelsea Clinton

Chelsea Clinton and her husband Marc Mezvinsky have settled a privacy claim they brought on behalf of their children against Associated Newspapers. Associated Newspapers are the publishers of the Daily Mail and the MailOnline website. They had published unpixellated photographs of the couple’s two children, then aged 3 and 1, in which their faces were ‘clearly visible’ in a series of articles in 2017.

The claim alleged misuse of private information and breach of data protection law and was contested by Associated Newspapers. However, on 10 January the High Court heard that a settlement had been reached. The terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

The case bears some similarities to the case which ‘The Jam’ singer Paul Weller brought on behalf of his three children over the publication of pictures of them in the street during a family outing in California. That case went as far as the Court of Appeal, which upheld the findings in favour of Weller and the award of a total of £10,000 in damages. Both cases show that particular care must be taken with the use of images of children.

(US) Defamation – JonBenet Ramsey’s brother settles defamation action against CBS

Burke Ramsey, the brother of murdered child beauty pageant queen JonBenet Ramsey, has settled his defamation claim against CBS. Burke brought the case, claiming $750million in damages, in December 2016 after CBS aired a documentary titled ‘The Case Of: JonBenet Ramsey’. The four-hour documentary had been shown in two parts in September 2016.

A number of forensic and other experts appeared in the programme and were asked to come up with a theory about how JonBenet was killed. The documentary alleged that, then aged 9, Burke had killed his then 6-year-old sister, who was found dead in the basement of their home on Boxing Day in 1996 hours after she had been reported missing. The show theorised that Burke had struck JonBenet on the head, and that their parents had staged the crime scene so that it would appear that an intruder was the murderer. It came to this conclusion despite the fact that in 2008 prosecutors had formally cleared Burke, and his parents John and Patsy Ramsey, of any involvement in JonBenet’s death.

The lawsuit described the allegations as ‘false and defamatory per se’ and stated that the accusation that Burke killed his sister was ‘based on a compilation of lies, half-truths, manufactured information, and the intentional omission and avoidance of truthful information about the murder of JonBenét Ramsey’.

No details of the settlement, which was described as an ‘amicable resolution’ which was ‘to the satisfaction of all parties’, were made public.

The murder of JonBenet remains unsolved.

(US) Copyright – claim that Ed Sheeran copied Let’s Get It On will go to trial

A New York judge has ruled that a claim against Ed Sheeran over alleged similarities between his hit Thinking Out Loud and Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On should go before a jury, because material facts are in dispute.

The lawsuit has been brought by the estate of Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On co-writer Ed Townsend, who sued Sheeran (along with co-defendants Sony/ATV Music Publishing, and Atlantic Records) in 2016 alleging that Thinking Out Loud lifts “melody, harmony and rhythm compositions” from the song Townsend co-wrote with Gaye in the early 1970s.

In dismissing an application by the defendants for summary judgment, the judge said “not only are there substantial similarities between several of the two works’ musical elements, but an ordinary observer might experience the aesthetic appeal of both works as the same”.

He said it was in dispute whether the harmonic rhythm of Let’s Get It On was too common to deserve copyright protection.

There is a video on YouTube which shows Sheeran playing live and segueing from his own song into Let’s Get It On to the delight of his fans.

The Judge said that jurors “may be impressed by footage of a Sheeran performance which shows him seamlessly transitioning between [the songs].”

Sheeran’s lawyers rely on what they call the “sombre, melancholic tones, addressing long-lasting romantic love” of Thinking Out Loud as different from Let’s Get It On, which they memorably describe as a “sexual anthem”.

One issue that has loomed large in the case is the question of whether American copyright law only protects those elements of a song that have been logged with the US Copyright Office.

This is usually relied on by defendants to such claims, who say that while they were inspired by the earlier work, this inspiration does not extend to using elements of a song that has been logged with the US Copyright Office.

In this case, where Sheeran is relying on the principle, the Judge held that a trial was required “regardless of whether the deposit copy or sound recording of ‘LGO’ defines the scope of the composition’s copyright”.

Pat Frank, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said his clients were looking forward to their day in court “when this matter is tried.”

The same judge is also hearing a separate claim over similarities between the two songs, brought by Structured Asset Sales, a company that claims it also owns part of Gaye’s song.

This is the latest example of high-profile copyright litigation involving the two artists.

As previously reported in zoom-in, Marvin Gaye’s estate successfully sued Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams for allegedly copying Gaye’s hit Got to Give It Up in their 2013 track Blurred Lines.

The estate won $5.3 million, and the jury’s verdict was finally upheld on appeal late last year.

Prolific hitmaker Sheeran has also previously been involved in a copyright claim which saw him compelled to give the writers and producer of the TLC song No Scrubs writing credits on his song Shape of You, due to alleged similarities between them.

The phenomenon of claims by owners of the intellectual property in historic pop songs against those who write modern hits shows no sign of abating, particularly where there is the prospect of a jury making an award of substantial damages.

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