Photo of Lee S. Brenner

Lee Brenner, chair of Venable’s Entertainment and Media Litigation Group, is a trial attorney and business litigator. With numerous published decisions throughout his career, Lee has deep experience in the media and entertainment industry, particularly in the areas of defamation, copyright law, idea theft, credit disputes, privacy, intellectual property, and right of publicity. A recognized leader among his peers, Lee is also co-editor of Communications Lawyer, the American Bar Association’s publication on media and First Amendment law.

Lee’s legal achievements have been recognized by numerous leading industry associations and publications. He was named a Leader in Law nominee by the Los Angeles Business Journal; an Intellectual Property Trailblazer by the National Law Journal; and a Local Litigation Star by Benchmark Litigation. Lee has also been listed in Chambers USA, in The Best Lawyers in America, as a Top Intellectual Property Lawyer in the Daily Journal, and as 2020’s Entertainment Lawyer of the Year by the Century City Bar Association.

The Supreme Court of New York recently denied a motion to seal the record in the case of Choi v. Solomon, stating that “harsh words are not a basis to seal a case, especially where it appears both sides have no qualms about tearing each other down.”  Decision and Order on Motion at *4, Choi v. Solomon, No. 001-654666 (Sup. Ct. N.Y. November 6, 2020).

The case was brought by Yukyung Choi against Scott Solomon for ten different causes of action, including intentional infliction of emotional distress, breach of contract, and defamation.  Choi claims that from 2010 to 2019, she lived with Solomon in a platonic relationship, paying for their apartment without contribution from Solomon and supporting his “lavish personal expenses.”  Id. at *1.  The relationship eventually deteriorated and Choi sought to distance herself, and additional plaintiff Eric Reiner, from Solomon.


Continue Reading New York Supreme Court Upholds Presumption of Public Access to Judicial Proceedings

A panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently affirmed the Nevada District Court’s ruling that the play Jersey Boys did not infringe plaintiff’s copyright in the autobiography of Tommy DeVito – a member of the Four Seasons – as the play did not copy any protectable aspects of the autobiography. See Corbello v. Valli, 974 F.3d 965 (9th Cir. 2020).

The Tony Award-winning Jersey Boys musical tracks the history of the chart-topping quartet the Four Seasons. The play follows band members Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Nick Massi, and Tommy DeVito from their meager beginnings singing under streetlights in New Jersey through their meteoric rise to stardom with songs such as “Walk Like a Man,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” and of course “Sherry.”


Continue Reading Ninth Circuit Panel Adopts “Asserted Truths” Doctrine in Holding Jersey Boys Musical Does Not Infringe Copyright

On October 27, 2020, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed a district court’s summary judgment ruling that scenes from the Netflix series Narcos did not infringe a Colombian journalist’s copyrighted memoir, agreeing that “no reasonable jury could find that the two works are substantially similar.” See Vallejo v Narcos Productions LLC, No. 19-14894, 2020 WL 6281501, at *9 (11th Cir. Oct. 27, 2020) (per curiam).

Virginia Vallejo, a Colombian journalist, authored the memoir Amando a Pablo, Odiando a Escobar (Loving Pablo, Hating Escobar). In the memoir, Ms. Vallejo recounted her romantic affair with infamous drug trafficker Pablo Escobar and described the rise of Colombian drug cartels. Two chapters of the memoir were considered in the case: “The Caress of a Revolver” and “That Palace in Flames.”


Continue Reading Eleventh Circuit Says Netflix Series Does Not Infringe Copyrighted Memoir

The United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida recently dismissed all claims against the coupon database and news website Coupons in the News, reinforcing protections for online publications and associated photographs that are of legitimate public concern.  See Anderson v. Best Buy Stores, Case No: 5:20-cv-41-JSM-PRL (M.D. Fla. July. 28, 2020).

The lawsuit arose over a disagreement about the use of expired coupons at a Best Buy store.  Courtney Anderson allegedly caused a disturbance by pulling down her pants during the argument, ultimately finding herself under arrest for disorderly conduct. Coupons in the News, a website offering coupons, advertisements, and a news service pertaining to couponing, posted an article on its website that detailed Anderson’s alleged actions at the store and included her mug shot. The article labeled Anderson the “Pantless Couponer.”


Continue Reading Florida Court Reinforces Protections for Newsworthy Publications

Well known for their highly publicized interactions with the legal system, Rose McGowan and her former defense attorney Jose Baez faced off this year over conflict of interest allegations in Baez v. McGowan, 2020 Ill. Cir. LEXIS 458 (2020).  Jose Baez is best known for his successful defense of Casey Anthony, a young woman tried for the murder of her two-year-old daughter in 2011, while actress, activist, and author Rose McGowan famously accused media producer Harvey Weinstein of raping her at the 1997 Sundance Film Festival.  McGowan is widely considered to be a fervent #MeToo supporter and touts nearly two million followers across her Twitter and Instagram profiles.

McGowan first hired Baez as her trial attorney in 2018 after McGowan was charged with felony possession of a controlled substance in Virginia.  The prosecution alleged that McGowan concealed a baggie of cocaine in her wallet, which was discovered after she accidentally left it behind on an airplane.  Although McGowan theorized that Weinstein paid off airline staff to plant the cocaine as part of a conspiracy to silence his rape accusers, she ultimately agreed to a plea deal and did not present the Weinstein theory to the court.


Continue Reading Demonstrating the Strength of the “Opinion Defense,” Rose McGowan Defeats Defamation Suit

Lauded as the “the most important law protecting free speech”[1] and the law that “gave us the modern internet,”[2] Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (Section 230) has been a fixture of recent internet policy debates and blamed for everything from the proliferation of sex trafficking[3] to enabling anti-conservative social media bias[4].

Section 230 says, “[n]o provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”[5]

Those 26 words shield online platforms from liability arising from hosting or making available third-party or user-generated content.[6] In other words, online platforms are considered intermediaries that cannot be legally liable for what users post on their platforms. However, Section 230 does not provide immunity to the actual creator of content. The author of a defamatory post could still be held responsible for any defamatory material they post.


Continue Reading Section 230 – Everything You Love and Hate About the Internet

The District of Columbia Circuit Court recently dismissed attorney John Szymkowicz’s defamation lawsuit against the author of the website “Legal Profession Blog,” finding that Szymkowicz failed to demonstrate that his potential damages met the $75,000 threshold required to establish federal jurisdiction.

In Szymkowicz v. Frisch, No. CV 19-3329 (BAH), 2020 WL 4432240 (D.D.C. July 31, 2020), Georgetown University Law Center professor Szymkowicz brought a claim for defamation, invasion of privacy—false light, and intentional infliction of emotional distress arising from posts by Frisch, which claimed he had committed elder abuse against a client. Szymkowicz alleged that the posts injured his personal and professional reputation, injured his standing in the community, cost him a loss of income and business opportunities, and prompted him to experience “mental anguish and personal humiliation.”
Continue Reading D.C. District Court Decries Vague Assertion of Damages

On July 27, Melissane Velyvis successfully argued that a Domestic Violence Protective Order (the Order) was an unconstitutional prior restraint on her freedom of expression. Marin County Superior Court Judge Roy O. Chernus sustained Velyvis’ demurrer to a misdemeanor complaint brought against her for violating the Order in People v. Velyvis, Case No. CR211376A.

The Order prohibited Ms. Velyvis from posting anything on social media, blogs, or the internet regarding her ex-husband, Dr. John Velyvis, or his children. Dr. Velyvis applied for an order to curb posts on Ms. Velyvis’ blog, The Voice of Melissane Velyvis, which detailed the domestic abuse she allegedly suffered at the hands of Dr. Velyvis, and other events leading up to and resulting from the couple’s divorce. The blog describes Ms. Velyvis as a “survivor of non-fatal strangulation.”


Continue Reading Blogger’s Descriptions of Domestic Violence Protected by Freedom of Expression

In a published opinion, the Fourth Circuit recently affirmed a district court’s ruling that CBS News did not defame a pharmacist in its reporting on the opioid crisis, agreeing that the statements at issue were substantially true. See Ballengee v. CBS Broadcasting, Inc., No. 18-2018 (4th Cir. Aug. 3, 2020).

The ruling protects CBS’s award-winning investigative reporting on the opioid crisis.  It also demonstrates the enduring need for defamation law’s “substantial truth doctrine,” which excuses minor factual inaccuracies as long as the substance, gist, or sting of the statement remains true.  See Masson v. New Yorker Magazine, 501 U.S. 496, 517 (1991).
Continue Reading Fourth Circuit Rejects Pharmacist’s Opioid Defamation Claims Against CBS

The California Court of Appeal (the Court) has affirmed a trial court’s grant of preliminary injunction, enjoining HomeAdvisor’s use of allegedly misleading language in advertisements.  See People ex rel. Gascon v. HomeAdvisor, Inc., No. A154960 (Cal. Ct. App. June 5, 2020).

The lawsuit was brought by the People of the State of California (the People), acting by and through the San Francisco District Attorney.  Specifically, the People claimed that HomeAdvisor’s advertisements were “false and misleading because they are likely to deceive consumers into believing that all service professionals hired through HomeAdvisor who come into their homes have passed criminal background checks.  That is not the case.  The only person who undergoes a background check is the owner/principal of an independently-owned business.”  Id. at *1.
Continue Reading Court of Appeal Affirms: No First Amendment Protection for Misleading Commercial Speech