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Celebrities v the Law in 2013

Red Carpet

From class actions to copyright disputes and defamation, it’s been another busy year for Tinseltown’s lawyers. Here are some of 2013’s celeb-law highlights…


The year began with a lawsuit from the Black Keys against a casino company over the unauthorised use of music in TV commercials. The band said that the song used in Pinnacle Entertainment’s ad sounded very similar to the their song Howlin’ for You.

Director James Cameron was sued by a man who claimed that he had come up with the storyline for the 2009 blockbuster film Avatar.


The year got off to a bad start for cyclist Lance Armstrong. In January, a group of readers who purchased Armstrong’s book, It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life, filed a class action seeking refunds. The readers said that they would not have purchased the book if they had known about Armstrong’s use of performance enhancing drugs. Further litigation followed in February, with an insurance company suing Armstrong and his former agent for the return of $12 million in prize money received when he won the Tour de France. Another legal dispute with former sponsor the U.S. Postal Service is also ongoing.

The dispute between MasterChef judge George Calombaris and the owner of Mr Whippy HQ also settled out of court this month. Whippy HQ had begun legal action after Calombaris included a dessert on the menu at his Melbourne restaurant called Mr Whippy, which the company claimed infringed its trademark.


Lindsay Lohan was back in court in March to try and avoid a stint in rehab. Lohan was involved in a car accident in 2012 and had been accused of lying to police about whether she was driving. Lohan’s frequent court appearances over the years have even been included in song lyrics. The previous month, a court dismissed Lohan’s case against rapper Pitbull and his record label over lyrics in the song Give Me Everything: "So, I'm tiptoein', to keep flowin', I got it locked up like Lindsay Lohan."

Meanwhile, Channel Seven headed to court this month to stop former Spice Girl and X Factor judge Mel B from moving to Nine to serve as a judge on Australia’s Got Talent.


Actors Liam Neeson and Bradley Cooper joined forces to sue two home theatre companies for unauthorized use of a picture from their 2010 film The A-Team in ads.

Reese Witherspoon and her husband were arrested this month after the couple was pulled over by police. The actress’ husband was arrested for drink driving, and Witherspoon was arrested for disorderly conduct after a verbal altercation with a police officer.


In May, actress Toni Collette lost a court battle over a property in Paddington, Sydney. Collette and her husband had entered into an agreement to purchase the home, but then pulled out when their existing home had failed to sell. The Paddington property was eventually sold for less than Collette had agreed to pay for it, and the owners successfully sued for the difference.


A Milan court sentenced fashion designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana to almost two years in jail and fined the pair 500,000 Euros for tax evasion. The sentences were suspended pending an appeal.


The biggest story of July was the revelation that JK Rowling was the author of the little-known crime novel The Cuckoo’s Calling, which was written under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. It was later revealed that the Harry Potter author’s lawyer was the one who had let it slip to a friend who then tweeted the news. Rowling sued the lawyer and his friend, and the dispute settled out of court in exchange for a large donation to a charity.

Rihanna won her lawsuit against Topshop for printing an image of her on t-shirts without permission.


An artist who sued Green Day for using his work without permission lost his lawsuit this month. The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed his case as the image used by the band in its concert backdrop was not a direct copy, but had made adaptations to the original image.

Flo Rida successfully appealed a NSW District Court decision that awarded $380,000 to a festival organiser. The NSW Court of Appeal ruled that Facebook and email had not been a suitable means of serving the rapper with a summons to appear in court.

Chris Brown was in court in August, accused of leaving the scene of a car accident.


Rihanna’s holiday selfie with a slow loris in Thailand resulted in the arrest of two local men. The picture, which was posted on Instagram and Twitter, showed the singer posing with the tiny primate. In Thailand slow lorises are an endangered species and their use in tourist photos is illegal.


Grammy Award winning music producer Quincy Jones sued Sony Music for breach of contract over works remixed and re-released after Michael Jackson’s death. Jones, who worked on the albums Thriller, Bad and Off the Wall sued for $10 million.

The children of singer Marvin Gaye sued Robin Thicke, arguing that his songs Blurred Lines and Love After War borrowed heavily from two of their father’s songs. Gaye’s children are claiming damages and a portion of profits from the tunes.


Tom Cruise filed a $50 million defamation action against a magazine publisher over articles that said the actor had “abandoned” his daughter Suri after he and former wife Katie Holmes split up in 2012.

Kanye West also headed to court this month to plead not guilty to assault and theft charges arising from a scuffle he had with a photographer at an airport.

Justin Bieber was charged by police for tagging a wall in Rio during the Brazil leg of his world tour. Just in case you were wondering, Bieber’s graffiti included “respect privacy”, “I am off”, and several drawings.

Unhappy with the location of his seats for a Bruce Springsteen concert, a Melbourne lawyer (and massive Springsteen fan) took The Boss and his tour promoter to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. The lawyer had tried to purchase A Reserve seats in person and online but could only obtain C-Reserve tickets. After he purchased those tickets, the touring company then announced a second concert.

Madonna and her producer celebrated after winning a lawsuit over sampling in the singer’s 1990 song Vogue. The judge ruled that the sample from Salsoul Orchestra’s Ooh, I Love It (Love Break) was “trivial” because listeners would not be able to recognise it.

Celebrity cook Nigella Lawson appeared in court to testify against her former assistants, who were facing fraud charges.


Michael Jackson’s mother and children filed court documents requesting a new trial against the late singer’s concert promoter. In October a jury found that the company was not liable for Jackson’s death. His family is seeking a new trial, arguing jury misconduct and the availability of new evidence.

The Beastie Boys have taken a toy maker to court over the unauthorized use of one of their songs in an ad. The company, which wrote a parody version of the song for use in its ad, argues that it is fair use.

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