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‘Vape’ is the word: U.S. judge allows ‘Grease’ parody

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Dancers perform during the final scene of the Future Cinema outdoor screening of the 1978 film “Grease” in Barnes, southwest London September 9, 2012. REUTERS/Chris Helgren/

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By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A U.S. judge on Thursday ruled that “Vape: The Musical,” which mocks the blockbuster 1978 film “Grease,” amounted to fair use and did not infringe the rights of owners of the “Grease” copyright.

Chief Judge Laura Taylor Swain of the Manhattan federal court said Sketchworks Industrial Strength Comedy, the Atlanta troupe that created “Vape,” transformed “Grease” by updating it for the #MeToo era and exposing its misogynistic tendencies.

Written in 1971, “Grease” ran on Broadway from 1972 to 1980, while the film starred John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John.

“Grease” depicts the ups-and-downs of relationships between Danny Zuko and Sandy Olsson (Dumbrowski in the musical) and among their friends, as they navigate senior year at fictional Rydell High School in the late 1950s.

“Vape” had the same characters and a similar story.

But it had many differences, including by using millennial slang, highlighting how the teenage characters randomly burst into song and dance and “looked at least 30,” changing “Greased Lightnin'” to “Prius Lightning” and faulting the “happy ending” where Sandy underwent a radical makeover to win Danny’s heart.

In a 22-page decision, Swain said that by keeping the “Grease” characters and plot arc while changing the script and lyrics, “Vape” “comments on how misogynistic tendencies have both evolved since ‘Grease’ was developed and remain the same.”

She distinguished the case from a March 2021 appeals court decision that Andy Warhol violated federal copyright law by drawing on a photograph of Prince for a series of images of the rock star, because the images were not transformative.

“Here, in contrast, ‘Vape,’ when considered holistically, constitutes a parody of ‘Grease’ … and thus constitutes fair use,” Swain wrote.

Sketchworks sued after the defendants, representing “Grease” co-authors Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, sent a cease-and-desist letter, forcing the August 2019 cancellation of performances of “Vape” in Manhattan.

A lawyer for the defendants did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Sketchworks’ lawyer had no immediate comment.

The Supreme Court will consider the Warhol dispute in its 2022-2023 term.

Sports & General

U.S. stops controlled burns nationwide after New Mexico disaster

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By Andrew Hay

TAOS, N.M. (Reuters) – The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) on Friday called a temporary nationwide halt to controlled burns meant to reduce fire risk after the agency accidentally started part of New Mexico’s largest ever wildfire.

The Hermits Peak Calf Canyon fire has burned over 300,000 acres (123,000 hectares), destroyed up to 1,500 properties and displaced tens of thousands of people, and is still out of control.

Forest Service Chief Randy Moore said fire danger levels were too high to use prescribed fire and ordered a 90-day review of policies before operations planned for this fall.

“Lessons learned and any resulting program improvements will be in place prior to resuming prescribed burning,” Moore said in a statement.

The move stops a practise many forest biologists see as crucial to reducing high fuel levels in national forests after a century of fire suppression and decades of logging bans in the case of New Mexico.

However, they are also concerned about the potentially devastating effects of prescribed fire if misused.

A USFS managed burn near Las Vegas, New Mexico went ahead despite forecasts for high winds and went out of control on April 6.

“I can’t imagine who would have gone through and signed off on it on the ground and put fire on the ground, that to me is mind boggling,” said Joshua Sloan, a forest biologist at New Mexico Highlands University, who has carried out controlled burns and is an advocate of the practise.

The fire later merged with another wind-driven blaze, the cause of which is under investigation, to form the Hermits Peak Calf Canyon fire.

The blaze has also torched forests and watersheds used for centuries by Indo-Hispano farming villages and Native American communities, and now threatens villages in the Peñasco Valley as well as the resort towns of Taos and Angel Fire.

In a statement, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said she met with Moore on Friday and called for “additional local consultation and greater consideration” before controlled burns on federal lands during the state’s windy season.

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Sports & General

Ex-Panama president’s sons get 3 years prison in Odebrecht bribery case

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Ricardo (2nd L) and Luis Enrique, sons of former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli, talk to their lawyer after being detained to face extradition to the U.S. on money laundering charges, in Guatemala City, Guatemala July 6, 2020. REUTERS

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By Luc Cohen

NEW YORK (Reuters) -Two sons of former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli were sentenced to three-year prison terms on Friday in a U.S. court for helping launder millions of dollars in bribe payments that Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht made to a high ranking Panamanian official.

Federal prosecutors had sought prison sentences of between 9 and 11 years for Ricardo Martinelli, 43, who shares his father’s name, and Luis Martinelli, 40.

The defendants acknowledged creating offshore bank accounts and shell companies to receive bribe payments when their father was president from 2009 to 2014, and pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering conspiracy last year.

Defense lawyers argued that the Martinellis should spend no more time in custody in part because they had acted at the behest of their father, identified as the recipient of the bribes.

“I really wanted to please him, to keep him happy, to keep him proud,” Luis Martinelli said at the sentencing hearing in federal court in Brooklyn. “That’s not to say I am not responsible for my actions.”

The younger Ricardo Martinelli also said he regretted his actions and hoped his guilty plea would help “establish accountability in my home country.”

U.S. District Judge Raymond Dearie said he understood their father’s influence, but that the men made a mistake by returning to Panama from the United States in 2020 after initially cooperating with prosecutors.

The men were extradited last year after being arrested in Guatemala.

James McGovern, a lawyer for Luis Martinelli, told reporters after the hearing he expected the men to receive credit for the nearly two years they were detained in Guatemala and six months in a Brooklyn jail.

The case arose from Odebrecht’s 2016 guilty plea to bribery and money laundering charges related to the payment of more than $700 million in bribes to officials across Latin America to win contracts.

The elder Ricardo Martinelli has not been convicted of any crimes, but remains under investigation in Panama because of a separate probe concerning Odebrecht. He has denied any wrongdoing.

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Sports & General

Baseball writer Roger Angell dies at 101

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By Bill Trott

Roger Angell, who brought a fan’s perspective, an intellectual’s enlightenment and a poet’s lyrical touch to his essays on baseball for The New Yorker magazine, building a reputation as one of America’s elite baseball writers over six decades, died on Friday at the age of 101, the magazine said.

Angell, who also helped shape the writings of John Updike, Woody Allen and others as The New Yorker’s fiction editor, died of congestive heart failure, his wife, Margaret Moorman, said, according to the New York Times.

Angell, who was born on Sept. 19, 1920 in New York City, came from a literary family. His mother, Katharine Angell White, was The New Yorker’s first fiction editor and his stepfather was E.B. White, who wrote the children’s novels “Charlotte’s Web” and “Stuart Little,” co-authored Strunk & White’s “The Elements of Style” writing guide and also wrote for The New Yorker.

Angell was in the military when he made his debut in the magazine in 1944 with a short story titled “Three Ladies in the Morning.” He joined the staff full time in 1956 as an editor and would go on to contribute general-topic essays, movie reviews and the magazine’s annual Christmas poem.

He took on a new role in 1962 when the magazine’s longtime editor, William Shawn, who knew next to nothing about baseball, decided he wanted more sports in The New Yorker. He dispatched Angell to spring training in Florida to “see what you find.”

What he found was a new calling writing about baseball – or as he preferred to put it, telling his story of being a baseball fan. Angell’s first subject was the New York Mets, a hapless amalgam of castoff and unproven players who were preparing for a debut season in which they would set a record for ineptitude but capture the hearts of baseball fans in their city.

A FAN’S STORY

The New Yorker freed Angell of the wordage limits, immediate deadlines and objectivity concerns that beat reporters faced, allowing him to be a different kind of sportswriter. Not every sportswriter could get away with calling a baseball a “little lump of physics” or “this spare and sensual object.”

His style could be rambling with meandering sentences and multiple digressions per paragraph but was always flowing, elegant and insightful.

“For some reason, from the beginning I wrote in the first person and wrote about myself as a fan,” he wrote in the magazine in 2006. “I was too nervous to talk to the players, anyway … I didn’t know how to be a sportswriter so I sat in the stands at first and reported about that.”

Angell’s elegant essays were collected in several books. Some of his standout work included a profile of Bob Gibson, the prickly and overpowering St. Louis Cardinals pitcher, and an analysis of hitting entitled “One Tough Way to Make a Living.”

His body of work led Saturday Review magazine to call Angell “the best baseball writer ever.”

“I’ve been accused once in a while of being a poet laureate (of baseball), which has always sort of pissed me off,” Angell said in an interview with Salon.com in 2000. “I think people who said that really haven’t read me because what I’ve been doing a lot of times is reporting.”

At The New Yorker, Angell also edited the works of Updike, Garrison Keillor, Vladimir Nabokov, Ann Beattie and Allen, who told the Associated Press that Angell once suggested he quit trying to be so funny.

In February 2014 at the age of 93, Angell wrote a 5,000-word piece for The New Yorker titled “This Old Man” about life and looming death. Without being maudlin, Angell wrote of missing his dead friends and family, including his second wife who died in 2012 and a daughter who committed suicide, his own demise and a longing for intimacy that never subsides.

    “I know how lucky I am and secretly tap wood, greet the day and grab a sneaky pleasure from my survival at long odds,” he wrote. “I’m not dead and not yet mindless in a reliable upstate facility. Decline and disaster impend but my thoughts don’t linger there.”

    In the meantime, he said he was memorizing poems and reciting them while walking his dog and enjoying humor, “even jokes about death.”

That essay provided a framework for his final book, “This Old Man” in 2015, a collection of essays, reviews and profiles touching on life and death.

Angell was still being published in The New Yorker as he turned 100 years of age. He wrote about the importance of voting just before the November 2018 congressional elections and in 2019 wrote a short piece about the magazine’s connection to the D-Day invasion during World War Two.

Angell was married three times, most recently to writer Moorman in 2014, and had three children.

(Writing and reporting by Bill Trott; Additional reporting by Eric Beech; Editing by Peter Cooney and Diane Craft)

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