Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Now Here Is An Interesting Lawsuit

And another reason why I think that IP law has gotten out of control. But I get ahead of myself.

Apparently, in 2000, a documentary was released titled, "Ashes to Glory". It was the product of Deborah Novak and John Witek's work into documenting the aftermath and rebirth of the Marshall University football team after the tragic crash which killed all but five members of its football team in 1970. The following year, the team was rebuilt, essentially from scratch. Amazingly, it managed to win a couple of games, the first of which was apparently a 15-13 nailbiter against Xavier University.

Now, a little bit better known, since it was a studio release last year, was the Warner Bros. movie, We Are Marshall. It covered the same story. The crash. The rebuilding. The young coach trying to ready a team for Division I-A games. The nailbiting win over Xavier on the last second pass to the end-zone.

Big deal? Actually, it apparently is. Sports Illustrated is reporting that Deborah Novak and John Witek have filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. The suit alleges that Warner Bros breached a contract with Novak and Witek to have them be involved in any theatrical movie dealing with the Marshall story. The lawsuit also (the actual complaint can be found here) alleges We Are Marshall "dramatizes the events depicted in Ashes to Glory, in the same chronological order, with the identical tone, sequencing, story emphasis, principal characters, theme, and archival clips[.]"

Let's think about this. Both the documentary and the movie deal with an actual event. So, unless the We Are Marshall filmmakers wanted to take some sort of Faulkner-esque route to telling the story, how else were they going to tell it? They also say that We Are Marshall stole their method of telling the story by having the climax of the film be the Xavier game with a slow mo shot of the football coupled with flashbacks.

Well, lets think about this. How many football films have climatic nail biting games which are decided on the final drive? Off the top of my head, I can think of Friday Night Lights, the Longest Yard (both versions), The Replacements, Any Given Sunday (I think). How many of them have slow motion shots of the decisive pass, intercut with flashbacks? As I recall The Replacements has that one. All I am saying is that the elements are not exactly new in football movies or sports movies in general.

I am not defending what the movie studio did in regard to the contract, if it existed. However, as far as trying to benefit off the other portions of the complaint, specifically First and Sixth Causes of Action (in the case of the Sixth Cause of Action only as it applies to the themes and sports cliche moments), it as if they are saying that they are the exclusive the holders of the right to film anything that incorporates themes and set pieces which have been used repeatedly in sports movies.

That is just ludicrous. Or to put it another way, it would be like local Odessa newspaper suing the makers of Friday Night Lights because they had originally published the accounts of the season. Or HBO suing the makers of Miracle for presenting the story of the 1980 Miracle on Ice in the same chronological way that they presented it in their documentary.

Just another example of IP laws running amok.

1 comment:

Bleecker said...

“Novak and Witek contend that one or more representatives of the ‘WAM’ filmmaking team promised them credit and financial compensation if they assisted with WAM. The two contend that WB was sent copies of ‘Ashes’ at their request.

They assert breach of an ‘implied-in-fact’ contract, breach of written contract and unfair business practices.”

--Tony Rutherford, Huntington News Network Critic & Legal Analyst. “We Are Marshall Lawsuit: Possible Trial Date Set for Fall 2008, According to The Parthenon” (Nov. 28, 2007).

Pretty obvious what happened here. Have you seen the films? Facts aren’t the issue. As far as I know, a fact cannot be intellectual property.