Fox’s ‘Empire’ Copyright Lawsuit Best Moved To Mediation, Says Judge

With demands for millions on one side and the seeking of a court declaration that Empire isn’t violating any “purported trademarks rights” on the other, this lawsuit seems to have taken the expressive lane to a sit-down before it could blow up. Just one day after the broadcaster of blockbuster series Empire filed a complaint for declaratory relief against music label Empire Distribution, the federal court today said it wants the parties to work out their problems in mediation before going to trial. Maybe not the way Lucious Lyon does business on the fictional Empire but the ways of real-life busy courts.

“The district judge to whom the above-referenced case has been assigned is participating in an ADR (alternative dispute resolution) Program that presumptively directs this case to either the Court Mediation Panel or to private mediation,” U.S. District Court clerk Edwin Sambrano said Tuesday in a short filing “At the initial scheduling conference, counsel should be fully prepared to discuss their preference for referral to the Court Mediation Panel or to private mediation and when the mediation should occur. The Court will enter an Order/Referral to ADR at or around the time of the scheduling conference.” The case has been assigned to District Judge Percy Anderson and Magistrate Judge Frederick Mumm.

This heated disagreement that looks to be moving toward cooler heads all started when the San Fran-based music company sent letters to Fox claiming that it has the rights to Empire, Empire Recordings and Empire Distribution. That’s one thing, but the music company had some more requests. It said, “(1) Fox could pay $5 million and include artists that defendant represents as ‘regular guest stars’ on the fictional television series Empire; (2) Fox could pay defendant $8 million; or (3) Fox could stop using the word ‘Empire,’” according to the broadcaster’s complaint on March 23 which cited a letter from Empire Distribution’s lawyers. An earlier correspondence “accused Fox of trademark dilution by tarnishment,” said the lawsuit over the series created by Lee Daniels and Danny Strong and starring Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson. “Defendant’s theory is that Empire‘s portrayal of a label run by a homophobic drug dealer prone to murdering his friends threatens to tarnish [defendant’s] brand and harm [its] goodwill.’


By Dominic Patten,
March, 2015


Connie Theron, Practising Attorney - UCT Law Clinic
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