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In this issue of zoom-in brief, Britney Spears’ father sues a blogger for defamation; Barry Manilow wins copyright battle over film rights; and Channel 5 is found to have breached the Broadcasting Code over Sex Business films.

Defamation - #FreeBritney Blogger sued by Britney’s father

Editorial credit: Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock.com
Editorial credit: Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock.com

Britney Spears

Britney Spears’ father and conservator Jamie Spears is suing a blogger over claims the conservatorship is controlling Britney against her will and acting against her best interests. The Defendant Antony Elia who runs the Absolute Britney blog and social media accounts is said to be a key figure in the #FreeBritney movement.

The allegations in the blog post centred on Britney Spears’ Instagram account, which has over 22 million followers. Elia alleged that the conservatorship was manipulating her account to make it seem as though Britney is less well than she in fact is. He alleged that positive comments were removed commenting ‘This has to be human rights violation!!!!’. The conservatorship have denied deleting comments.

The lawsuit states: “It is time for the conspiracy theories about Britney Spears’ well-being and the mob #FreeBritney movement to stop.” The conservatorship is seeking damages and an injunction.

A conservatorship is a type of guardianship that can be imposed in the USA where an individual is unable to look after their own affairs. It was put in place 11 years ago, after Britney Spears’ public struggle with her mental health when she was photographed after having shaved her head. It remains in place to this day.

It is reported that Jamie Spears has received death threats in recent weeks. In April Britney took to Instagram to address some of the rumours saying “My situation is unique, but I promise I’m doing what’s best at this moment.”

Elia commented: “I am forever blessed and I have faith that good always wins. I have no further comments, except that I love Britney and the Britney army.”

This is not the first lawsuit brought by Britney’s conservatorship. Earlier in June they obtained a restraining order against Britney’s former manager Sam Lufti. The 5 year order prohibits Lufti from contacting Britney or her family, or making disparaging comments online.

(US) Copyright – Barry Manilow wins copyright battle over film rights

The management company of singer-songwriter Barry Manilow has been granted summary judgment on a copyright claim over the rights in two live concert films brought by the film company which worked on them.

The films were Barry Manilow: Music and Passion Live and Barry Manilow: Songs from the Seventies.

The first was a film of performances during the Copacabana crooner’s 2004 Las Vegas concert residency Barry Manilow: Music and Passion, and the second was a film of a specially created show performed in front of a small audience in 2007.

After Manilow’s management company Hastings, Clayton & Tucker (HCT) acquired and registered the copyright in the films, the claimant, STV, brought a claim to enforce its rights as co-author of the works.

The company said that it was responsible for the logistics, financing, behind the scenes footage and assistance in editing of the two works, and that it had been involved in pitching the projects and negotiating the agreement with a broadcaster, hiring the production crew and director, securing the location of the shoot, and coordinating logistics of the shows.

In giving judgment for HTC the Judge found that “the undisputed evidence shows that Manilow was the master mind of the work”.

He went on to say that there was “no cited evidence that STV had artistic control” and that in spite of its “valuable” contributions to the films, such contributions were “not sufficient to create authorship”.

Following the outcome, HTC’s lawyers said “This lawsuit lacked merit and we are glad the court saw it for what it was.”

Concert films and other film or TV productions can raise complex rights issues, and this case shows that it is better to resolve them by agreement at the outset rather than through the courts.

OFCOM – Channel 5 in breach over Sex Business films

Ofcom has found Channel 5 in breach of Broadcasting Code rules on offence and explicit content over the broadcast of three episodes of The Sex Business in December 2018.

The first episode, Pain for Pleasure, carried a warning that it was “not for the faint hearted” and that viewers should be “prepared… for… dangerous consensual sexual violence, ball nailing, fisting”.

It included a long-shot of a dominatrix stapling a client’s genitals and describing it as a “chastity device”, and a mid-shot of a dominatrix anally fisting and penetrating a client with a prosthetic strap-on.

The second episode, Trans On Demand, also carried a warning about its content.

It included a sex worker urinating onto a client, “electrical play”, and the insertion of a metal ball into an anus (although the insertion point was not shown).

The third episode, Orgasms for Sale, also carried a warning about its content.

It included a male sex worker massaging and penetrating a female client with his fingers and a sex worker inserting his fingers into, and penetrating, a woman’s vagina repeatedly.

Ofcom considered that the sexual material in the episodes raised issues under rule 2.3 of the Broadcasting Code, which requires that broadcasters must ensure that material which may cause offence is justified by the context, as well as under rule 1.19, which requires that they must ensure that material broadcast after the watershed… which contains images and/or language of a strong or explicit sexual nature, but is not ‘adult sex material’, is justified by the context.

In relation to rule 2.3 Ofcom considered that the sexual content featured was particularly extreme, graphic and explicit, and that only some of the images were shot at a distance or from behind so as to limit their graphic and explicit nature.

Ofcom took into account the warnings given at the start of and during the programme, but decided that the potentially offensive content in these programmes exceeded generally accepted standards, in breach of Rule 2.3.

In relation to rule 1.19, Ofcom noted that this does not provide broadcasters with unlimited licence.

Although this was a serious observational documentary and the inclusion of sexual content supported the editorial purpose, the strong sexual content was explicit, and insufficient masking and close-up shots resulted in sexual material that was extreme, graphic, prolonged at times and prominent.

In light of the available audience data, Channel 5 had not ensured appropriate protection was provided to under eighteens and had not reduced the likelihood of children viewing content that was unsuitable for them.

Scheduling this series of programmes at 22:00 did not limit the likelihood of children viewing strong sexual content and Ofcom concluded that this series was also in breach of rule 1.19.

The decision recognises that where sexually explicit material and other material raising harm and offence issues is to be shown on television, context and the protection of Under 18s is key even after the 9pm watershed.

abbas media law

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