Legal Roundup: Phillie Phanatic’s Copyright Battle, Christian Hip-Hop Infringement and More

A look at recent court decisions and how their rulings have an impact on risk management and the insurance industry.
By: | August 13, 2019

Phillie Phanatic Subject of Copyright Lawsuit

The Case: There are few sports mascots as iconic as the Phillie Phanatic. The green, furry goofball has been entertaining baseball fans for years. But the Philadelphia Phillies and the creators of the Phanatic are engrossed in a legal battle over the copyright of the mascot.

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On August 2, the Philadelphia Phillies filed a copyright lawsuit in the U.S. District for the Southern District of New York against Bonnie Erickson and husband Wayde Harrison, whom they paid to create the character in the late 1970s. (Erickson is no stranger to designing iconic puppets: she created Miss Piggy and plenty of other Jim Henson characters over the years.)

The Phillies lawsuit comes in response to a letter the Phillies received on June 1, 2018 saying they “insist that they are the legal author of the Phanatic and can terminate the Phillies’ rights to use the Phanatic as early as June 15, 2020,” according to Sports Illustrated.

The Phillies are seeking a court order that would categorically authorize the club to use the Phanatic and that the character never becomes a free agent and sold to another club.

Scorecard: The history in the case appears to favor the Phillies. “In 1984, Harrison/Erickson assigned all of the company’s rights in the Phanatic to the Phillies for $215,000. Such an assignment was ‘forever,’ ” Sports Illustrated reported.

The magazine also wrote: “The litigation could play out over months,” but will likely end in a settlement since the two sides have settled with one another before. If it moves toward pre-trial discovery, Harrison, Erickson and Phillies executives would be forced to find evidence to support their cases — tough to do with the lack of electronic records in the 1970s and 80s.

Takeaway: Buttoning up contracts early is the best way to avoid problems later on.

Transgender Woman Sues Over Denial of Payment for Facial Surgery

The Case: Christina Ketcham, a 59-year-old transgender woman, has sued her employer and insurance company after being denied coverage for a facial surgery that would make it more likely that people perceive Ketcham as female. Ketcham is suing for $375,000 and has named her employer, insurer and plan administrator in the lawsuit.

The Oregonian explains that Ketcham “has already undergone sex reassignment surgery, hormone replacement therapy, worked with a voice coach and changed her name, clothes and hairstyle to reflect her gender identity, but her doctors also recommend that she undergo ‘facial feminization surgery’ to continue on that path … Her doctors have determined the surgery is ‘medically necessary’ to treat Ketcham’s gender dysphoria.”

Scorecard: The case has just been filed so there’s no resolution just yet. The Oregonian interviewed Asaf Orr, one of Ketcham’s lawyers and a staff attorney for the National Center for Lesbian Rights in San Francisco.

Orr shed some light on the frequency of cases like these. “Orr tracks this area of legal practice and said Ketcham’s suit is the only active one he knows of in the nation. In early 2018, the National Center for Lesbian Rights was involved in successfully pushing the Oregon Health Plan to cover a facial feminization surgery for a transgender woman, Orr said.”

Takeaway: Transgender people argue that such facial surgeries are not cosmetic or elective, but vital to their transformations. Insurers are likely to push back on that, given the surgery can cost between $20,000 and $40,000.

Nine Women Settle With Dartmouth Over Sexual Harassment

The Case: Nine women have sued Dartmouth College over sexual assault and harassment.

The Hill reports that the women say three professors from “the Department of Psychology and Brain Sciences ‘leered at, groped, sexted, intoxicated and even raped female students.’ When the lawsuit was filed, the women held that the professors had been assaulting and harassing female students, as well as using their positions to coerce the women into drinking and sexual encounters, over a span of more than a decade,” according to The Hill.

Scorecard: Dartmouth settled with the women for $14 million in early August. The three accused professors each “retired or resigned after the school revoked their tenure following the accusations,” The Hill reported.

Takeaway: Sexual harassment lawsuits are gaining plenty of new-found traction as victims are more empowered than ever to speak out.

Katy Perry to Pay $2.78 Million for Copying Christian Hip-Hop Song

The Case: Marcus Gray and two others filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against pop singer Katy Perry, alleging that she and producers “stole a key 16-second musical riff from their rap song “Joyful Noise”, which was released under the stage name Flame in 2009,” according to BuzzFeed.

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The Katy Perry song was called “Dark Horse” and went on to spend four weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard charts and get nominated for a Grammy award. Perry and her team claimed they hadn’t heard “Joyful Noise” before writing their song. Gray and his team argued their music had been unfairly copied.

Scorecard: A federal jury found that Perry and her team must pay $2.78 million for improperly copying a portion of the song.

Takeaway: This is hardly the first time one musician has been successful in claiming another musician stole their work.

One of the most famous is regarding Robin Thicke’s 2013 hit “Blurred Lines.” In that case, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Marvin Gaye’s estate was entitled to 50% of the song’s profits because it sounded so much like Gaye’s 1977 hit “Got to Give It Up.” It could be a sign that music copyright infringement cases are going to rise significantly.

Curious about other allegedly plagiarized songs? Check out this list from Distractify&

Jared Shelly is a journalist based in Philadelphia. He can be reached at [email protected]

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