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TMZ Counters Jared Leto Copyright Claim to Taylor Swift Dis Vid

By Ephrat Livni, Esq. on July 14, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Have you ever said something rude about someone and wished it hadn’t been overheard? That is what happened to Jared Leto, actor and lead for the band Thirty Seconds to Mars.

The musician was caught on video listening to and critiquing Taylor Swift songs while in his home studio seeking inspiration last year. He liked some of what Swift did but ultimately dismissed her music with an expletive, a moment he later regretted when he learned it was recorded.

A Brouhaha

The Leto video, which is really not terrible -- he does express appreciation for some of what Taylor Swift does musically -- has caused a lot of trouble. Leto on video dissing Swift was sold to TMZ and the celebrity news site published the clip, which remains online. But the seller also sold to Leto.  

Leto took back what he said about Swift on social media reportedly, then turned around and sued TMZ and Warner Brothers, its parent company, alleging that the TMZ published a sensational video after being warned that it was stolen, in violation of copyright. The claim seems somewhat strange because it means Leto is claiming to own the video he didn’t know was being shot. But he did come to an agreement about it after and that’s the basis for his argument.  

Summary Judgment

TMZ is not buying it. The celebrity news site sued its source in January, Naeem Munaf, the guy who filmed the video and then made a deal with Leto. He reportedly urged TMZ not to publish the clip.

Yesterday the media company responded to the Leto lawsuit with a motion for summary judgment. It is saying Munaf was not an employee of Leto’s so the video wasn’t a work for hire and the copyright belonged to Munaf when he offered it. The Hollywood Reporter’s account sounds slightly outraged by this argument but it seems on par with Leto’s retroactive agreement with Munaf that the work was made for hire. 

TMZ writes, “"Mr. Munaf already had assigned — on December 4, 2015 — ownership of the Taylor Swift Excerpt to TMZ," states the defendant. "The assignment to TMZ trumps any later attempt by Mr. Munaf to assign ownership to [Leto]. At a minimum, Mr. Munaf’s agreement with TMZ and his sending the Taylor Swift Excerpt to TMZ for its use creates an irrevocable implied license from Mr. Munaf to TMZ."

Meanwhile, Leto’s legal team also filed a motion for summary judgment, which means both sides at least see eye to eye on one thing. They each want the court to decide that the facts aren't in dispute and that it can come to a resolution on the basis of the filings. That seems unlikely.

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