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Maurice N Ross
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Maurice Ross’s Answers

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  • Do I need to have people sign an Independent Contractor/Partnership Agreement? How do we classify unpaid contributing artists?

    I am part of a group of artists, (writers, graphic artists, animator, etc) who are collaborating without expectation of pay, toward a single animated film. All persons involved are expected 0 compensation, we do not have funds to pay anyone, and t...

    Maurice’s Answer

    This is a very complex matter. You need artist agreements and many others. You can get into big financial trouble without written agreements. You must hire IP counsel

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  • Can a former employer sue me over using images of work I created while I was employed with the company to obtain future work?

    I previously worked for a bakery where I designed different types of cakes. Recently I quit and changed jobs. However, I started doing some baking work on the side. I created a facebook page and used some images of work I did at the previous em...

    Maurice’s Answer

    Your employer probably is right. Work you create for your employer during the scope of your employment belongs to your employer. He has the right to tel you that you can't use images of such work. In some states, there are statutes that allow photographers to use photographs they take while employed by others to promote themselves as part of their portfolios (this is true in New York). But you are not a photographer---and I doubt if there is a statute in Pa. that protects you in this situation. Thus, your former employer probably has the upper hand here.

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  • Can a member of a partnership establish a trademark as a sole owner of a business

    Members of a singing group who established the name of the group as a partnership. well over 30 years . One of the members registered the name,, performances, recordings of the group as a sole owner and refuses to allow a departing member to use o...

    Maurice’s Answer

    This is a complex matter that depends on the nature of the original partnership, the terms of the original partnership agreement, and the circumstances pursuant to which the partnership (or singing group) ceased operations. If the partnership ceased operations many years ago, its assets (including its trademarks) would presumably have been wound up and distributed to the partners. However, if at the time of dissolution of the band, it had no registered trademarks, then the registered trademark was not a partnership asset. Moreover, after the band or group was dissolved, it might have been perfectly fair and appropriate for one member to continue to perform under the band's trademark, to register that trademark, and to build a fan based for the new group or band based on the trademark. It is quite possible that the departing member is not permitted to use the trademark.

    But the devil is in the details. If the partnership was never dissolved or remains active, then the trademark might belong to the partnership and not its individual members. However, if the trademark belongs to the partnership or business, then until the partnership is dissolved, the remaining members may have the right to control its use in the best interests of the partnership as a whole. This may mean that the departing member is not permitted to use the trademark.

    I seriously doubt if there is fraud in this situation, but it is possible. You need to retain IP counsel to review all relevant facts, including the long history of this matter. Chances are, however, that you have a big uphill battle here. I represent many bands and musicians, and I am a working musician as well. I tell all my clients that it is critical to have written band agreements that deal with situations like this. You need an agreement in writing to spell out what happens when the band breaks up or members depart. Without a written agreement, these things are messy, and misunderstandings can erupt into full fledged allegations of fraud.

    At this point, you need to retain experienced IP counsel to review all applicable facts and then advise you on the best approach. Obviously, however, given the costs of litigation which can be extraordinarily high, you will need to retain legal counsel in an effort to resolve this matter amicably. This has to be settled through either mediation or some other kind of alternative dispute resolution mechanism because there is not enough money in music these days to support the type of litigation that could arise if you fight this matter.

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  • Can I sell a game that uses the names and likenesses of contemporary and historical politicians?

    I'm making a satirical board game about the American Electoral System. It uses drawn likenesses and names of prominent American Politicians. I plan on manufacturing and selling the game.

    Maurice’s Answer

    My guess is that the fair use doctrine and First Amendment would allow you to use the names of politicians in your game. Nonetheless, there are many situations in which such use could violate trademark law, right of publicity law and right of privacy law. Further, to the extent you use likenesses or photographs (rather than just names). you need to make sure you own the copyright for the likeness or photograph you use. It is one thing to use a name of a politician--but it is quite another thing to use a photograph or drawing created by someone else. These situations can be enormously complicated and while my guess is that you can probably do what you want, there may be exceptions. Thus, you need to retain IP counsel to review your game and advise you.

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  • Do I have to be licensed to draw up a floor plan using a CAD app for my boss?

    My boss is a franchise owner of a hotel... he is having issues with a contractor who is remodeling some of his rooms. I was just recently hired on as grounds keeper/maintenance and he has discovered that I know how to use CAD and wants me to draw...

    Maurice’s Answer

    Ordinarily, the field of architecture and engineering is licensed by State authorities. Drawing up floor plans for a commercial purpose may be unlawful if you do not have the proper licenses. You should speak to counsel in Oklahoma about this.

    Also, your boss may be asking you to do something illegal, which is not cool. Don't feel that your are obligated to prepare these drawings until you check out the situation with counsel in Oklahoma.

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  • Am I allowed to use old photographs that belong to the public domain with identifiable people in work that could be commercial?

    I'll use this picture as an example: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:American_officer_and_French_partisan_crouch_behind_an_auto_during_a_street_fight_in_a_French_city,_ca_HD-SN-99-02714.jpg From what I understood I'm free to use it sin...

    Maurice’s Answer

    First, don't trust wikimedia's assertion that the photograph is in the public domain, or that it came from the U.S. defense department. You need to check this carefully because I have found that such claims are often incorrect. Wikimedia is the wild west of photography and you can't trust it to be correct when it designates a photo as public domain.

    Second, in many states such as California (but not New York) rights of publicity survive the death of the persons who appear in the photographs. Thus, even if the persons who appear in this photograph have died, the heirs of their estates could object to your use of these images for a commercial purpose. Of course, if the persons in the photograph are sill alive, they could object to use of their images for a commercial purposes.

    Each photo that you want to use commercially must be "cleared" by experienced IP counsel following a careful search and investigation. Don't assume that "old" photographs that are designated as public domain on a web-site like Wikimedia are, in fact, public domain.

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  • My memoir has quotes at chapter headers, poems and music lyrics. Do I need copyright permission for all before I self-publish?

    I have Rumi poems-full (The Guest House) and snippets of two others. As well as a snippet of Stanley Kunitz's poem: The Layers. Most chapter heading quotes are a few lines from internet sources such as Brainyquote or Goodreads: they include fa...

    Maurice’s Answer

    You know that "titles do not need permission." You are wrong. Each quote most be separately evaluated to determine whether your use is protected under the fair use doctrine, or whether the quote might violate copyright and/or trademark law. Further, your use of the names of celebrities in Chapter Headings could in some circumstances violate their rights of publicity---you need to pay celebrities to endorse your books, and celebrities might not want their images or songs to be associated with you or your book (which is their right).

    The fair use doctrine allows use of short quotes from copyrighted works in some circumstances---and often use of quotes does qualify as fair use. But there are many times when fair use doesn't protect you. For example, sometimes a single line from a song is so famous, that it conjures up the entire song in the mind of members of the public, and even quotation of a single line can violate copyright law (i.e., use of Dylan's famous line---The Answer is Blowing in the Wind). Further, it is not uncommon for famous lines from songs, poems, or books to become trademarks which are associated with works and products owned by others. Sometimes use of a short quote can violate trademark law.

    Authors like to use quotes to make interesting artistic statements about the relationship of their book chapters and the quotes or the celebrities who made them. This is often perfectly fine. But not always. That is why publishers have teams of lawyers who review books like this and insist on changes before publication. If you don't have the benefit of your publisher's in-house legal team, then you need to find a lawyer to work through this with you----it can be expensive but you really have no choice if you want to use these quotes.

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  • If I take a picture of someone, is it illegal to post it online without their permission?

    The picture is just a faceshot. Because I took the picture and it was an "original idea" (nobody has another copy of it), don't I basically have all copyrights over it? I can do whatever I want with it?

    Maurice’s Answer

    You own the copyright in the photograph because you were the photographer. But you can't use the photograph for whatever purpose you might desire. For example, individuals who appear in photographs have rights of publicity and privacy. You could not use the photograph for a commercial purposes, such as a product endorsement, without permission (and probably paying a license fee) to the person who appears in the photograph. You also could not use the photograph in a manner that might be defamatory or unfair to the person in the photograph. In short, you can't use the photograph for anything that you want---there are significant limitations. If you simply want to post it on instagram or facebook as a non-commercial use that is flattering to the person who appeared in the photograph, you will probably be ok, but to be safe you should run the issue by legal counsel first.

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  • Can a grad student sue his university for not providing a draft of his own patent ?

    In 2013, while working on an industrial sponsored project as a PhD student, I had an invention disclosure. The industrial sponsor hired a law firm which drafted an application. I was never shown the draft and was made to sign off the IP assignment...

    Maurice’s Answer

    Why do you think you own the rights to your invention rather than the university. Chances are, pursuant to the University's policies and your agreement with the University, it owns those patent rights. Your first step is to retain counsel to review the University's policies, and your agreement with the University. If it turns out that the University does not own your patent rights and/or does not have the right to retain counsel to prosecute patent applications on your behalf, than you can retain litigation counsel to vindicate your rights. But in my experience based on many years of dealing in similar situations, you probably have an uphill battle here.

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  • Creating a product based on TV show while making it unique enough and not calling it by name so I don't infringe on copyright

    I'm working on a deck of playing cards based on a popular TV show Game of Thrones, I tried to get licensing for it however due to them already having licensed a card deck out to someone else it's not available. The illustrated deck will be hand il...

    Maurice’s Answer

    My thought is that you can't do this without a license. If you are using illustrations of characters from the show, you would violate trademark and copyright law without a license. Don't pay for a lawyer in this situation---just move on to the next idea. This won't fly.

    Here is a basic rule of thumb. Any time you try to make money by associating your product with a famous show, celebrity, athlete, work of art, music, theater, or film, you will need licenses (or maybe several licenses) to do so. Without permission (and agreement to pay license fees), you can't make money by associating your business concept with something or someone that is famous. We reward IP rights to people who do the hard work of creating an original work of art, television show, song, film, book, game, etc. You are trying to take the easy way out by building your client base and product brand by ripping off the brand created by the hard work of others.

    Why not do the hard work of creating an original television show, with original characters, and then try to sell playing cards and other merchandise based on the original work you created. Create something original and you will be rewarded. Rip off celebrities or famous shows and you will find yourself in court defending charges of infringement (or worse).

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