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While the techie side of our journal’s mission receives lots of attention here on the JETLaw Blog, we do sometimes crawl out of our 1970s dorm-style basement office long enough to watch some television and refill on Cheetos and clean socks. Hence, not even I was immune to noticing this week’s MTV Video Music Awards and the scene created when Kanye West jumped on stage during Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech, stole the microphone, and proceeded to make a complete jerk of himself.
Swift, who is rumored to live part-time in a building three blocks from Vandy Law, and is the kind of person that will kiss your seven-year-old kid during an autograph session without it being creepy, was—of course—reported as being in tears after West’s stunt. And while plenty of commentators have weighed in to properly flog West (including the president, who I believe knows something about being interrupted during a speech), I’m wondering about who is going to get sued in all of this. I mean, surely in an economy this bad someone will figure out how to file a complaint, right?
Well, it turns out that if Swift got litigious it wouldn’t be the first time that Kanye West has been sued by another celebrity in connection with the VMAs. In 2005, Suge Knight of Death Row Records fame sued West in connection with Knight’s shooting at West’s VMA party. Nor was this the last time that West was sued by a celebrity of sorts. In 2007 Evel Knievel brought suit for copyright infringement against West. And while that case eventually settled after mediation, it looks like West is back in court over copyright issues again. Apparently even rap stars aren’t supposed to copy other people’s music without permission.
Unfortunately, being a jerk isn’t necessarily compensable, and so any suit by Swift would likely be a failure. Of course, it couldn’t go as poorly as the suit Jonathan Lee Riches filed against West. Riches–a prisoner in West Virginia–alleged that West was conspiring with the Federal Bureau of Prisons to strip search all of Riches’ visitors. See Riches v. Khanani, 2008 WL 691362 (N.D.W.V.). Obviously, this one was thrown out, which would probably be the same fate Swift would suffer unless she managed to find a way to get jurisdiction over West in Nashville & Davidson County Chancery Court.
The fascinating thing here is that despite the fact that West was the one acting like an idiot, it may actually be Youtube that gets hit with the legal stick. It turns out that Viacom (MTV’s parent company) and Youtube are in some billion dollar litigation right now over videos posted to Youtube. Hence, Viacom has been busy flagging videos of the VMA incident from Youtube’s site, trying to keep its copyrighted telecast all to itself. It can’t bode well for Youtube that users keep posting the video, only to see it flagged down by Viacom/MTV, thereby putting more gasoline on the fire of the current suit.
The irony in all of this is that it was an acceptance speech at MTV’s awards show that West interrupted, but as his idiotic behavior is likely to generate some free advertising for MTV, he stands to get away with this one scot free. Well, that is unless Swift finds an attorney that can figure out some way to make a claim work for West’s conversion of Swift’s fifteen minutes of fame into MTV’s profits.
– Sean Wlodarczyk
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