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Week In Review

By Angela Peco Edited by Elissa D. Hecker

Below, for your browsing convenience, the categories are divided into: Arts, Sports, Media/Technology, General News, and Coronavirus:

Spending Bill Includes Several Intellectual Property Measures, Creates Copyright Small Claims Court

The $2.3 trillion spending and coronavirus relief bill passed by Congress includes several intellectual property provisions, such as creating a copyright small claims court, making unauthorized commercial streaming of copyrighted material a felony, and altering some trademark and patent procedures.

Governor Cuomo Signs Legislation Establishing Post Mortem "Right of Publicity" in New York State

The legislation is meant to protect deceased individuals against the commercial exploitation, or unauthorized use, of their name or likeness, and takes effect on May 31, 2021. These rights can also be exercised by their descendants, "giving performers' estates the ability to control and protect their likeness or image after they have died." The law also "creates new penalties for publishing sexually explicit depictions of individuals, protecting people from revenge porn and 'deep fakes'."


A 'Great Cultural Depression' Looms for Legions of Unemployed Performers

The article discusses the impact of COVID-19 in the arts and the resulting unemployment that left 52 percent for actors, 55 percent of dancers and 27 percent of musicians out of work in the third quarter of 2020.

R. Kelly is Set to Face Trial in Chicago in September

The singer's federal trial for child pornography and obstruction charges has been moved to September 13, 2021. Originally scheduled to begin in April 2020, it was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sesame Street Creates New Muppets for Rohingya Refugees

The two muppets are named Noor and Aziz and will be featured in programming run by the Sesame Workshop and shown in refugee camps. The characters will speak Rohingya, the language of the Rohingya Muslims who escaped ethnic cleansing in their native Myanmar.

Epstein Associate Charged with Rape of Minors in France

Former modeling agent Jean-Luc Brunel has been charged with rape of minors of the age of 15 and sexual harassment. The Epstein associate is also "under investigation on suspicion of human trafficking of minors for sexual exploitation." The indictment is the result of an inquiry opened by French prosecutors in 2019 to uncover potential offenses committed in France or against French victims in connection with the Epstein scandal.


Stimulus Bill Offers $15 Billion in Aid for Struggling Arts Venues

The coronavirus relief package that Congress passed on Monday includes $15 billion for music venue owners, theater producers, and cultural institutions impacted by the coronavirus. Entertainment businesses can apply for grants from the Small Business Administration "to support six months of payments to employees and for costs including rent, utilities and maintenance. Applicants must have lost at least 25 percent of their revenue to qualify and those that have lost more than 90 percent will be able to apply first."

Congress Approves New Museums Honoring Women and Latinos

Funding for two long-sought Smithsonian museums dedicated to the contributions of women and Latinos has been secured as part of the $2.3 trillion year-end spending bill. It is unclear where the museums will be located, given that the crowded National Mall may not be able to accommodate additional construction.

Trump Makes Classical Style the Default for Federal Buildings

President Trump signed an executive order that "establishes classical architecture as the preferred style for new federal buildings but stops short of banning newer designs from consideration." In addition to praising Greco-Roman architecture and describing Modernist designs as "ugly and inconsistent," the order also establishes a new selection process that will apply to the construction of federal courthouses and agency headquarters, and projects costing more than $50 million.

Star Trek and Dr. Seuss Mash-Up Not Protected Under the Fair Use Doctrine

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that a book titled "Oh, the Places You'll Boldly Go!", which consisted of Start Trek characters inserted into the 1990 children's classic, was not protected from a copyright infringement claim and failed to meet the required standards for fair use, "partly because it was not a parody or otherwise transformative." The Court found that all of the fair use factors favored the plaintiff (the author's estate), and that the district court had erred in putting the burden on the plaintiff as to the fourth factor, the market harm element, given that fair use is an affirmative defense for defendants.

Actors and Writers Lobby for Congressional Support

Advocacy Group Be an #ArtsHero is lobbying Congress and pushing "to help shape legislative language so [pandemic relief] bills include relief to artists and workers, not just institutions." One of its founding members has also circulated an open letter to the U.S. Senate arguing that "cultural work is labor" and underlining the importance of the culture sector as a job creator.

Phishing Scam Targets Book Manuscripts

An international phishing scam is targeting authors, agents and editors by tricking them into sending unpublished book manuscripts, with no clear sign of what the motive is or who is profiting, and how. There have been no ransom demands and the manuscripts are not showing up on the black market. One of the leading theories in the publishing world is that this is being done by someone in the literary scouting community, who is familiar with insider lingo and the path a manuscript takes.

Sheldon Solow's Collection Faces Uncertain Future

The art world is waiting to see whether real estate tycoon Sheldon Solow's collection of paintings and sculptures, valued at $500 million, will be heading to a private museum or to auction. Solow amassed the collection over 50 years but was criticized in 2018 "for having benefited from the tax-exempt status his art foundation has held since 1991 while keeping the works in the collection largely inaccessible to the public."

A Legal Tug-of-War Over an Idyllic Work

After discovering the whereabouts of a looted Pissarro painting that belonged to her family, Leone Meyer brokered a compromise with a museum at the University of Oklahoma to rotate the painting between the university and a French museum. After finding it difficult to secure museums that would take on the liability of transporting the painting, Meyer is now seeking to change the agreement and permanently keep the painting in France. A judicial tribunal is Paris has ordered Meyer and the university to meet with mediators; a trial is scheduled in January "to hear Meyer's arguments for keeping the work in France, and a second hearing is set for March on whether to prohibit transport abroad."

Dutch Court Rules Against Jewish Heirs on a Claim for a Kandinsky Work

In a case seen as a litmus test for Dutch restitutions policy, the court ruled that the Stedelijk Museum can retain "Painting with Houses", a 1909 Kandinsky painting that it acquired during World War II. In making the order, the court upheld a decision of the Restitutions Commission, which has recently been criticized for its approach to claims for restitution involving art looted by the Nazis.


Michigan Appeals Court Upholds Larry Nassar Sentence

In a 2-1 decision, the state's Court of Appeals upheld Larry Nassar's 175-year prison sentence for sexual assault. Nassar is the former team doctor for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State's athletic department. Nassar appealed the sentence on the basis that Judge Aquilina, who had handed down the sentence in January 2018, was biased against him during his sentencing hearing and in public comments she had made. Nassar's previous appeals of two other sentences were also unsuccessful. He is currently serving a 60-year prison sentence for child pornography charges.

Former U.S. Attorney General Assisting National Football League Probe into Washington Football Team Owners' Dispute

Former Attorney General Loretta Lynch has joined the National Football League (NFL's) investigation into allegations of misconduct among owners of the Washington Football Team. The NFL is "in the midst of an arbitration involving a feud" between majority owner Dan Snyder and the team's minority owners, who have been attempting to sell their stakes in the team and alleged that Snyder violated their shareholder agreement in various ways.

U.S. Olympic Officials Considering Mandatory COVID-19 Vaccinations

CEO Sarah Hirshland said the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee was "focused on building a vaccine plan" but would not comment on a firm policy yet. The L.A. Times reports that the availability of the vaccine could influence the board's decision on whether to make coronavirus vaccinations mandatory for American athletes headed to the Tokyo Games. The International Olympic Committee, for its part, said that it would not require the vaccination of athletes, but did encourage it where possible.

Baseball Hall of Fame Tries to Contextualize Baseball's Racist Past

In an effort to contextualize its past, the museum will be adding new signs and displays to explain the legacy of some of its problematic inductees, while enhancing and renaming its exhibit on Black players in baseball.

Swiss Federal Court Sets Aside Chinese Swimmer's Eight-Year Doping Ban

The Swiss federal court upheld a challenge questioning the neutrality of one of the Court of Arbitration for Sport panelists. Lawyers for Sun Yang argued that former Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini, the chairman of the panel who had issued Sun's ban in February, had made comments on social media that included anti-Chinese sentiments. News media reports showed Twitter posts by Frattini that expressed disdain over examples of animal cruelty in China. The World Anti-Doping Agency said that it would retry the case.


Google Denies Claims of Antitrust Behavior in Early Response to U.S. Lawsuit

In its filing, the company takes the position that users turn to its online search engine because they choose to, not because they lack alternatives and are therefore forced to. Google is responding to antitrust claims, specifically that it "used agreements with device makers like Apple, Samsung and LG to make sure it was the default search engine on their phones ... [thus] preventing rival search products ... from growing."

Defamation Lawsuits Could Sink Right-Wing Media

Voting machine companies are threatening legal action against conservative media as they find themselves at the center of conspiracy theories about electoral fraud. One of these companies is demanding that the Fox News Channel, Newsmax, and OAN immediately clear its name and "that they retain documents for a planned defamation lawsuit." The lawsuits pose a serious threat to OAN and Newsmax, which are vying to build "a giant new media company in the president's image."

Pulitzer Board Rescinds New York Times's 'Caliphate' Citation

The board announced it has stripped The New York Times of its finalist status after the newspaper reported that its podcast "Caliphate" and the related report, "The ISIS Files", did not meet its editorial standards for accuracy. A review found that the audio documentary "gave too much credence to the false or exaggerated account of one of its main subjects, Shehroze Chaudhry, a Canadian who claimed to have taken part in atrocities."

The Village Voice Rises from the Dead

The Village Voice, a "mainstay of independent journalism," ended its 63-year run in 2018. Brian Calle, the owner of LA Weekly, will revive the publication next month. It will include a website, a "comeback" print edition, and quarterly print issues.

Kansas City Star Apologizes for Racism in Decades of Reporting

The Kansas City newspaper issued a front-page apology for having "disenfranchised, ignored and scorned" generations of Black residents. Across 10 pages, it reflected on the ways in which it "had disregarded the city's civil rights struggle and had helped support racial segregation in housing." An advisory group has also been struck to help inform the newspaper's future coverage of communities of color.

President Trump Appointee Seeks to Cut Off Funding for Global Internet Access Group

The head of the U.S. Agency for Global Media is moving to defund the Open Technology Fund (OTF) partly "because of a dispute over whether the fund should support work done by the Falun Gong," a pro-Trump, anti-China movement. OTF develops tools that support internet access in places that tightly control access. Michael Pack cited various reasons for seeking to defund OTF and will make his final decision by January 19th, one day before President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in.

With Alibaba Investigation, China Gets Tougher on Tech

The dynamic between the government and major tech companies is shifting in China as online giants have grown in power in recent years. The country's regulators have now opened an antitrust investigation into Alibaba; under China's antimonopoly law, a company can be fined a maximum of 10% of its sales from the previous years, which in Alibaba's case could amount to billions of dollars.

Number of Journalists Killed for Their Reporting Doubled in 2020

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 30 journalists were killed this year, 21 of whom were killed as a direct result of their work (compared to 10 in 2019). Deaths related to conflict fell, however, given waning violence in the Middle East and also as a result of fewer journalists travelling because of the pandemic.

Wuhan Citizen Journalist Faces Trial for Pandemic-Related Posts

In the first known case against a citizen journalist, Zhang Zhan will face trial for her coverage of the pandemic during lockdown. The government accuses her of spreading lies and "provoking trouble", and are seeking a sentence of four to five years in prison. Zhang's reporting undermined government efforts to censor information and her prosecution is seen to be part of a "continuing campaign to recast China's handling of the outbreak."

Pakistani Court Orders Release of Men Convicted in 2002 Killing of American Journalist Daniel Pearl

Even though earlier convictions had been overturned in April 2020, the men were rearrested and were still being held under a detention order that allows the government to hold terrorism suspects for up to three months. The court said that the continued detention was now illegal.

General News

Answering Trump, Democrats Try and Fail to Jam $2,000 Stimulus Payments Through House

The House majority leader asked for "unanimous consent to accede to President Trump's request for larger checks" but failed to pass it. Lawmakers had previously agreed to $600 direct payment checks, but President Trump suggested he would reject that compromise unless lawmakers raised the amount, leaving many Republican lawmakers divided over the proposal. As President Trump continues to criticize the $900 billion aid package and resists signing it, millions of Americans lost unemployment coverage as two federal programs run out of money.

Climate Change Legislation Included in Coronavirus Relief Deal

Two climate change-related measured were attached to the government spending and coronavirus relief package that was recently passed by Congress: one was to curtail the use of planet-warming chemicals found in air-conditioners and refrigerators, and the other to authorize millions in spending on wind, solar, and other clear power sources.

Biden Introduces Climate Team

In choosing Gina McCarthy as the head of a new White House Office of Climate Policy, Biden said that his climate change team is one that "prioritizes making clean energy jobs and environmental protection a cornerstone of his economic plans." The group includes Rep. Deb Haaland, who will lead the Department of the Interior, and Jennifer Granhold as the Energy secretary.

Biden Cabinet Leans Centrist, Leaving Some Liberals Frustrated

The article discusses president-elect Biden's personnel choices and describes them as being "pragmatic and largely centrist."

Reversal of Trump Border Policies Will Not Be Immediate

The incoming Biden administration announced that it would not immediately reverse border restrictions imposed by Trump, cautioning that it will take time to build capacity to process claims by asylum-seekers. The president-elect said a new border policy will not be in place for at least six months.

Trump's Failed Crusade Debunks GOP's Case for Voting Restrictions

Despite courts finding no evidence of widespread election fraud, efforts to roll back voting rights persist and are fueled by the myth of stolen elections. For example, allegations that people "double voted" have been used to justify stricter voter identification laws and the claim that non-citizens cast illegal votes is being used to argue for new "proof of citizenship" requirements for voter registration. The defeats in the courts will likely not change "the trajectory of the ongoing efforts to restrict voting that have been core to conservative politics since the disputed 2020 election."

Trump Grants Mining and Energy Firms Access to Public Lands

The Trump administration is quickly approving a number of corporate projects on federal lands in what is an intense push by the Interior Department to increase domestic energy and mining production.

Trump Contradicts Pompeo Over Russia's Role in Hack

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo characterized the latest hack of the federal government as a cybersecurity attack by Russia, while the president downplayed the severity of the attack and suggested it might have been China.

Trump Pardons Two Russia Inquiry Figures and Four Blackwater Guards

Among those pardoned by the president are two people who pleaded guilty in the special counsel's Russia Inquiry (George Papadopoulos and Alex van der Zwaan), as well as "four former U.S. service members who were convicted on charges related to the killing of Iraqi civilians while working as contractors for Blackwater in 2007." Trump has already pardoned Michael Flynn, his first national security adviser, Jared Kushner's father, former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and commuted Roger Stone's sentence.

Court Extends Manhattan U.S. Attorney's Term

In a rarely used power, the Federal District Court in Manhattan formally appointed Audrey Strauss as the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. Strauss was the acting head of the Southern District after Trump removed Geoffrey Berman from the post. Her term was set to expire a few days before the Trump administration ends, and her appointment is seen to be a "stabilizing force when the chief judge and the unanimous court" endorsed her appointment.

New York Judges File Age Discrimination Lawsuits in Response to Forced Retirements

New York City judges are being forced to retire to close a pandemic budget gap. The State's retirement age for judges is 70, but judges can apply to continue serving in two-year increments until they are 76, although many are being denied. These developments have prompted 10 New York judges to launch lawsuits against the state's chief judge and an administrative board that voted unanimously to let older judges go. They cite age discrimination and argue that the state violated a requirement to consider applications individually.

Critics say that the decision will mean New York City will lose a high number of experienced judges "at a time when the system is already struggling with backlogs created by the pandemic," with certain boroughs being affected more than others.

Alex Padilla Will Replace Kamala Harris in the Senate

California Governor Gavin Newsom selected Padilla to serve the final two years of Kamala Harris's term. Padilla will be the first Latino senator to represent the state.

Misinformation Amplifiers Target Georgie Senate Races

Conservative media personalities spreading baseless rumors of election fraud are focusing their efforts on Georgia's two special elections next month. The messaging is aimed at discrediting the outcome of the November election and convincing Georgia voters that voting fraud is being perpetrated in the state.

Push Underway to Rename Jefferson Davis Avenue in Alabama

An effort is underway to rename Jeff Davis Avenue after Fred Gray, long-time civil rights lawyer who defended Rosa Parks and who grew up on the street that continues to "serve as a reminder that the quest for racial equality is far from over."

William Barr Sees No Reason for Special Counsels for Hunter Biden and Election

Attorney General Barr broke with the president in saying that he saw no reason to appoint special counsels to oversee the Justice Department's criminal investigation into Biden's son, or to investigate claims of widespread voter fraud. It remains to be seen whether Barr's replacement, who will lead the department on an acting basis for a few weeks, will take a different approach.

MacKenzie Scott Upends Philanthropy, Giving Away $6 Billion This Year

Following her divorce from Jeff Bezos, Mackenzie Scott has donated approximately $10 billion from her fortune of Amazon shares. Her practices are non-traditional - she disburses money quickly, without much fanfare and without reporting requirements, the latter of which many underfunded non-profits find burdensome.

Britain and the European Union Reach Landmark Deal on Brexit

After months of negotiations, Britain and the European Union (EU) have reached a trade deal that still needs to be ratified by the British and European Parliaments. Britain had previously agreed to continue abiding by EU rules and regulations until the end of the year, to avoid disruption to business and cross-Channel trade.

Coronavirus Update

U.S. Employers Can Require Workers to Get COVID-19 Vaccine

Guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which enforces workplace laws, says that "employers can require workers to get a COVID-19 vaccine and bar them from the workplace if they refuse." The EEOC said that the administration of a vaccine does not fit the definition of medical examinations that an employer can be prohibited from administering under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Disadvantaged Students More Likely to Be Learning Online

Research from Columbia University found that "closed classrooms were disproportionately composed of nonwhite students" and students with lower testing scores, and suggested that remote learning will widen the achievement gap as disadvantaged students lack the support that remote learning requires.

Mexico is First Latin American Country with Vaccination Program

The country started administering the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to health care workers this week and will continue to do so over the next two months, before moving on to other at-risk populations.

Concerns About Coronavirus Mutation Push Europe to Isolate U.K.

Poorer Nations at Back of the Line for the Vaccine

How China Censored Bad News About COVID-19

Internal directives and reports show how government officials controlled digital media content in the early days of the pandemic, including censoring information about Dr. Li, the ophthalmologist who first warned of the viral outbreak. Directives also required news sites to avoid sharing negative news about the virus and to downplay reports of donations or purchases of medical supplies from abroad, which would risk disrupting China's procurement efforts in bringing in vast amounts of PPE.

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