A Brief Review of Important Matters: Copyright vs Actors, Godzilla vs Nacho, and DC vs Rihanna

Godzilla 2014 Movie Poster © Warner Bros. & Toho Co.

Godzilla 2014 Movie Poster © Warner Bros. & Toho Co.

IP lawyers are in a tizzy about a ruling made this week by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Cindy Garcia, an actress who was duped into being in the anti-Muslim propaganda film "The Innocence of Muslims," sued Google to remove all copies of the film from its servers by claiming copyright ownership over her performance.

The 9th Circuit stated that actors have no copyright claims in their performances and that Garcia was trying to assert her own copyright in the film while simultaneously trying to have the film scrubbed from history. In other words, she was using copyright as a mechanism to assert her right to be forgotten, which is not recognized by American law. I might write about this in greater detail next week, but for now I'll say this: if you're a filmmaker, don't conduct your business orally. Have all your actors sign agreements waiving their right to ownership over their performances. Portfolio and display rights? Yes. Money? Absolutely. Backend or licensing deals? Sure. A copy of the finished film? By all means. Copyright ownership? Hell no.

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Toho Studios, the owner and creator of Godzilla, is suing Voltage Pictures over a monster movie it is producing starring Anne Hathaway. The film, entitled "Colossal," will feature Hathaway as a woman whose mind is connected to a giant lizard that is destroying Tokyo. Haha what??!! You kind of have to respect the audacity to run with an idea that sounds like it came from someone's drug-induced fever dream.

Anyway, Toho is suing Voltage for infringing Godzilla's copyright and trademark. The lawsuit isn't based on a finished film or even a script; it's based on an email blast sent by the production company to the entertainment community during the Cannes Film Festival claiming that the monster would basically be Godzilla, calling back to the monster's original 1954 appearance. The suit is also based on statements made by the film's director, Nacho Vigalondo, who admitted in an interview that the film would rip off Toho's creation. Since the suit isn't based on an actual work that's "fixed in a tangible medium of expression," I don't know how far it'll get, but regardless if the claim is right, it's pretty goddamn stupid to openly admit that you're making a Godzilla film without securing the permission of the copyright holder.

Honestly I kind of hope the film gets made. Something so balls-out just has to be seen. Which means regardless of the merit of the lawsuit, I hope they can either work out a licensing deal or change the creature enough so that it doesn't infringe Toho's trademark.

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Rihanna has moved to trademark her legal name "Robyn" for the purpose of starting an Oprah-like magazine, but DC Comics is opposing the registration. DC apparently thinks that trademarking Rihanna's name would infringe upon trademarks it already owns for the Batman character "Robin."

I hate this squabbling over minutiae. I personally don't think "Robyn" is distinct enough to qualify for trademark protection anyway, but that's beside the point. There's almost no danger that people would believe the marks to be the same or related, or that they derived from the same source. No one is buying a copy of "Robyn" magazine believing that it was published by DC Comics or thinking that they were accidentally buying a "Robin" comic book. Their target audiences are radically different, so I think this opposition will likely fail.

Also this opposition makes DC look stupid and petty, and Rihanna is universally loved. Attacking her won't get them anywhere.

 

 

 

Greg Kanaan

The [Legal] Artist, Boston, MA, USA