Monthly Archives: September 2011

Roundup of News & Reviews, September 5-11, 2011

Below is a selection of the news stories and book reviews related to law and the arts that caught my attention last week.

A U.S. district court has allowed a lawsuit brought against Hungary and its museums by the heirs of art collector Baron Mor Lipot Herzog to proceed. Herzog’s heirs brought the suit after unsuccessfully petitioning the Hungarian government for the return of art, collectively valued at more than $100 million, “most of which has been hanging in Hungarian museums, where it was left for safekeeping during World War II or placed after being stolen by the Nazis and later returned to Hungary” (NYT). Hungary argued that it was entitled to immunity under the United States Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, but the court was not convinced. The lawsuit seeks the “the return of more than 40 artworks including paintings, sculptures and other works by El Greco, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Zubarán, van Dyck, Velázquez and Monet,” and “an accounting of all art from the Herzog family in its possession” (NYT). (Sources: New York Times, Clancco, Reuters, Hungary on Trial)

A California court has denied Madonna’s bid to have a trademark case against her over her Material Girl clothing line thrown out. Retailer LA Triumph claims it has been using the name for a clothing line since 1997 and that it owns the trademark. Madonna argues that her use dates back farther to her 1985 hit song. But the court concluded that Madonna’s argument was an insufficient basis for the summary judgment that she sought: “This Court and other courts have recognized that the singing of a song does not create a trademark.” Thus the case will continue on to trial. (Sources: Hollywood Reporter, BBC)

A Paris court has found that television newsreader Patrick Poivre d’Arvor breached the privacy of a former lover through his undisguised portrait of her in a 2009 novel Fragments of a Lost Woman. In addition to many details drawn from her life, the book included virtual word-for-word copies of eleven letters that she had written to him. Poivre d’Arvor argued that the book was a work of fiction based on his “numerous female conquests,” but the court was not persuaded, concluding: “The literary procedures used do not allow the reader to differentiate the characters from reality, such that the work cannot be qualified as fictional.” The court imposed a fine and a ban on reprinting of the novel. (Source: Telegraph)

Matthew Jones, author of the screenplay for Boot Tracks and the novel upon which it was based, is suing the director and producers of the film. He claims that they made unauthorized changes to the script which constitute a breach of an option agreement. His complaint reads in part: “Defendant Jacobson and Rattner promised that the screenplay would not be changed, that they understood the unique artistic integrity of the screenplay and that if changes did have to be made in order to secure financing that plaintiff would be the only one allowed to make said changes, which would be consistent with the authenticity of the novel.” In addition to breach of contract, Jones alleges copyright infringement and fraud. He is seeking damages and an injunction to prevent release of the film. (Source: Courthouse News, Hat tip: @Copycense)

Prompted by the impending release of an eagerly anticipated new film adaptation of John Le Carre’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy with Gary Oldman playing the role of George Smiley, Robert McCrum has compiled a list of the best British spy novels. Click here to see his list and assess his choices. Has he left out any must-reads?

In an interview with the Guardian, A.D. Miller discusses his Booker-shortlisted novel Snowdrops which features as its narrator “a lonely, drifting, 30something expat lawyer, living in Moscow during the few-questions-asked oil boom.” Definitely one that I’m keen to read.

German lawyer and author Ferdinand von Schirach has garnered high praise for short stories based on his criminal defense work. But in his latest work of fiction, he has turned to the past, tackling his fraught family history. The soon to be published novel, Der Fall Collini, includes a character based on his grandfather who was leader of the Hitler Youth and ultimately convicted of crimes against humanity at the Nuremberg trials. The Guardian quotes from an interview that von Schirach did with Focus magazine: “If you grow up with a name like mine, by the time you are 15 or 16 at the latest, you have to ask yourself some basic questions and come up with some very basic answers that you can live with. It’s your responsibility.” His grappling with these questions through the medium of fiction will doubtless make for though-provoking reading. I don’t know when an English translation is due to be published, but I will certainly be watching for it.

Reviewer Joanna Hines is pleased to have discovered in Death in August, the first installment in a mystery series by Marco Vichi set in 1960s Florence, a new detective (Inspector Bordelli) “whose company will be an enduring pleasure.” She pronounces the book: “A real find for anyone who likes their crime novels atmospheric, discursive, humorous and thought-provoking.” Sounds very promising. (The Guardian)

New Building, New Books: A New School Year Dawns at Osgoode

The renovations to the Osgoode Hall Law School building were not quite finished in time for the start of the new school year, but close enough for us to move back in and reclaim it. After two years in temporary digs scattered about the York campus, it’s a joy for us all to be together again in one place. And what a place! The overwhelming impression for me is of light and space. Those of you familiar with the brutalist, bricked-in Osgoode of old will appreciate that this is an enormous and welcome change. I snapped a few photos (above) so that you can see for yourself.

Of course it wasn’t just the opportunity to photograph the new Osgoode against a blue sky backdrop that brought me up to school on a sunny Friday afternoon in what for me is a sabbatical year. It was the celebration of the publication of new books by two of my colleagues: Copyright, Communication and Culture: Towards a Relational Theory of Copyright Law by Carys Craig, and a second edition of Intellectual Property Law: Copyrights, Patents, Trade-marks by David Vaver. Both authors spoke eloquently about their books to whet our appetites for reading them.

Carys Craig riffed on the cover image of her book to convey something of its content. It’s a book that squarely takes aim at the dominant conception of copyright as private property. In it, she argues that this conception misrepresents authorship and the process of cultural creation in ways which, when translated into law, lead to the stifling rather than the stimulation of creativity and expression. She proposes instead a relational theory to underpin a copyright law that would better serve our social and cultural values. I haven’t done her presentation justice with that brief description. I tried to take careful notes but soon gave up as pretty much everything she said seemed worth writing down. Of course, this bodes very well for the book! Suffice it to say that it promises to be a most thought-provoking book and I’m very keen to read it.

David Vaver spoke a bit about what’s new in the second edition of his authoritative text. The attention paid to intellectual property by the Supreme Court of Canada in the fifteen years that have elapsed since the first edition was published necessitated significant expansion. But he devoted most of his speaking time to making a case for the importance and relevance of intellectual property law to other fields of law. He was preaching to the converted where I’m concerned (my advanced torts course covers all of the points of intersection between IP and torts that he mentioned), but the case he made was a convincing one by any measure. And he nicely tied the two themes of this post together for me with his opening gambit. We may think that we’re in a building right now, he said, but in fact we’re in a copyrightable architectural work. And what of the renovations? Might the modifications to the Osgoode building violate the moral rights of the original architect? An entertaining and enlightening afternoon all round.

Today’s book launch was just the first of many events to be held at Osgoode this year that are apt to be of interest to devotees of law and the arts. I will report on them here, and offer up a bit of advance notice as well for the benefit of those of you in the Toronto area who may wish to attend. We’d love to have you come visit us in our lovely, newly renovated building!