Warner Bros., TMZ Prevail in Copyright Infringement Suit

Munger, Tolles & Olson represented Warner Bros. and TMZ in their successful defense of a copyright infringement lawsuit brought by Sisyphus Touring, Inc., the professional loan-out company for actor and musician Jared Leto, over video footage that TMZ posted.

The video features Mr. Leto in his recording studio discussing the music of Taylor Swift. Mr. Leto’s company, Sisyphus, claimed in the lawsuit that it owned the copyright in the footage and that TMZ’s use was infringing.

In July 2016, Munger Tolles lawyers filed a summary judgment motion, arguing that the video footage was not owned by Sisyphus, but rather was owned by the videographer, Naeem Munaf, who had agreed to sell it to TMZ. Sisyphus argued that it owned the copyright under a work-made-for-hire agreement that Mr. Munaf executed months after recording the video.

On Sept. 23, 2016, U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Lew granted the defendants’ summary judgment motion and held that the video was not created as a work-made-for-hire for Sisyphus.

The court agreed with defendants that Mr. Munaf was not an employee, and that the video was not a work-made-for-hire because Mr. Munaf had not executed a written work-made-for-hire agreement before undertaking to shoot the video.  The court also agreed with defendants that Mr. Munaf transferred ownership of the footage to TMZ affirmatively agreed to TMZ’s offer for the “outright purchase” of the footage, which occurred Mr. Munaf executed his written agreement with Sisyphus.

The Munger Tolles team included Kelly M. Klaus, John W. Spiegel and Kuruvilla J. Olasa.