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offensive-line-300x200A recent case provides another opportunity to consider the legal issues surrounding defamation of a public figure. What constitutes defamation of character, where a football coach is accused of participating in bullying conduct? The Eleventh Circuit ruled against the football coach in Turner v. Wells, in an opinion published January 18, 2018.

James Turner coached the offensive line for the Miami Dolphins from 2012 until February 2014. Following allegations of bullying within the organization, the NFL hired the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, and individual Paul, Weiss attorney, Theodore V. Wells, Jr., to investigate. After receiving the 144-page Paul, Weiss report (the “Report”), the Dolphins fired Turner in February 2014.

The Report focused on the bullying of Jonathan Martin, an offensive lineman for the Dolphins. Martin abruptly left the team in October 2013, and checked himself into a hospital for psychological treatment. The Report concluded that bullying by several players contributed to Martin’s decision to leave the team, and the Report also included several references to Turner, opining that his unprofessional conduct played a role in Martin’s struggles.

After being fired, Turner filed suit against Paul, Weiss, and Wells, in U.S. District Court in Florida. The district court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim, and Turner appealed to the Eleventh Circuit (which has appellate jurisdiction over federal cases arising from Alabama, Georgia and Florida).

The Eleventh Circuit reviewed Turner’s claims of defamation by applying the elements of Florida law, which requires: (1) publication; (2) falsity; (3) the statement was made with knowledge or reckless disregard as to the falsity on a matter concerning a public official, or at least negligently on a matter concerning a private person; (4) actual damages; and (5) the statement must be defamatory. The Court concluded that Turner had failed to prove his claims of defamation. Continue reading

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I get calls from artists telling me that they’ve made a recording of one of their songs and have let others hear it. Then, one day they hear something on the radio by a popular artist that is remarkably similar to their song. What do you do?neon sign copy MGD©

For starters, always copyright your songs before you let anyone have a copy of it. The process is straightforward and may cost as little as $35. Here’s a rundown of how the registration process works. Until you’ve copyrighted your song, you do not have federal protection and cannot sue in federal court because of the infringement. What’s more, unless you register your copyright within three months after the infringement occurs (or when you first learn about the infringement), then you will have no right to sue for damages in federal court.

To prove infringement, you must show both (1) copyright ownership (see above regarding registration) and (2) proof of copying. Proof of copying is shown by either direct evidence – the infringer admits it – or indirectly by showing (a) the infringer had access to the work and (b) there is a “substantial similarity” between your work and the allegedly infringing work. Continue reading

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Cousin Billy (L-R: Charles McNair, Tom Junod, Mark Baker, Bo Emerson) Photo credit: Bill Worley and Annalise Kaylor, Mother Nature Network

How did I find myself standing on stage at the Washington Correspondents’ Jam playing beside Rolling Stones keyboardist, Chuck Leavell last Friday night? Well, it was one of those rare cases where ‘don’t quit your day job’ turned out to be music to this amateur musician’s ears!

If you’re as big a fan Tom Junod’s writing as I am, then you’ve read his piece in Esquire, Start A Band, about how a group of guys (all professional writers and me) formed a band and sang for our supper in the New York City subway on the coldest day of winter.

The Esquire story led Chuck’s media company, Mother Nature Network, to ask Cousin Billy to perform a 30-minute set at the very first White House Correspondents’ Jam, a party held in conjunction with the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner. The gig was like a Battle of the Journalists, with bands composed of writers from the New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Fortune, and one band with an on-air personality at CNBC. Cousin Billy was up first on the line up and, miracle of miracles, Chuck had agreed to sit in and jam on a song with each of the bands.

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