Halloween is all about two things: what you wear and who you scare. Here at the Copyright Alliance, no celebration is complete without a little copyright, so to kick the festivities off, we bring you: A Copyright Themed Halloween
This one’s bananas
In 2017, K-Mart was under fire for allegedly infringing the copyright on Rasta Imposta’s registered banana costume. In its complaint, Rasta Imposta alleges that the retailer ended its business relationship with Rasta Imposta shortly before Halloween 2017, after having sold Rasta’s banana costume for years, but began selling its own version of the banana costume, a move Rasta calls “willful disregard of [its] intellectual property rights and copyright registrations.” The court would have had to decide whether the banana costume constitutes a “useful article” and if not, if it’s sufficiently original to acquire copyright protection, but the parties settled out of court.
Someone created a monster… but who?
Friday the 13th is a classic among horror movies. If there were such a thing as a Scary Movie Hall of Fame, this movie would surely be inducted. Earlier last year, a dispute over ownership to the rights in the original screenplay made its way to federal court. On one side of the argument, we have Horror, Inc. – “the exclusive owner” of the rights to the original screenplay; on the other side, we have Victor Miller – the original screenplay’s writer. The dispute centered around a special provision in copyright law that allows the original author of a work to reclaim the rights to that work 35 years after transferring the rights to someone else (see Termination Rights). So Miller, as the original writer, sought to reclaim his rights. The problem? Horror, Inc. said that although Miller was the original writer, the screenplay was a work made for hire, which means that Miller never truly owned the rights to the screenplay to begin with, and therefore has no rights to reclaim. The court disagreed, determining that the screenplay was not a work made for hire and that Miller validly terminated his original grant of rights to Horror, Inc. So as for now, the rights for the original Friday the 13th screenplay have reverted back to Miller, but it looks like the story will continue as Horror, Inc. has decided to appeal.
That Time Hello Kitty Told Infringers ‘Goodbye’
Imagine showing up to a party and expecting to meet Spiderman, Winnie the Pooh, and Hello Kitty, and instead meeting Spider-Hero, Bear, and Friendly Cat. That’s basically what happened when “Party Animals” – a company that provides entertainment for parties – was using counterfeit costumes, which the company’s website referred to as “Look Alike Characters” (very inconspicuous). This led to a lawsuit in 2012, brought by Disney, Warner Brothers, and Sanrio. The case was dismissed after the company agreed to stop its infringing behavior.
A similar dispute arose this year when Disney, Marvel, and Lucasfilms filed a lawsuit against Characters for Hire, LLC, alleging that the latter “own[s] and operate[s] a party services business that uses Plaintiffs’ copyrighted characters … without authorization.” Specifically, the suit claims that Characters for Hire infringed the reproduction, public display, and public performance rights in characters like Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Cinderella, Iron Man, Hulk, Darth Vader, and Luke Skywalker. The case is ongoing.
Who really owns that cabin?
Remember The Cabin in the Woods – the 2012 horror movie about a group of friends who spend the weekend being terrorized during a getaway at (you guessed it) a cabin in the woods? Well on April 13, 2015 – exactly 3 years to the date after the movie’s release – Peter Gallagher sued the creators of The Cabin in the Woods, claiming that the movie infringed copyright to his novel The Little White Trip: A Night in the Pines. Gallagher sought $10 million in damages, and argued that “the plots, stories, characters, sequence of events, themes, dialogue, and incidents portrayed” in the movie were “virtually identical” to his book. But the judge didn’t agree. He dismissed the suit, explaining that “[w]hile the two works share a common premise of students travelling to remote locations and subsequently being murdered… that premise is unprotectable. The concept of young people venturing off to such locations and being murdered by some evil force is common in horror films.”
Freddy vs. Jason Will Smith
Before he was an award-winning actor, Will Smith’s claim to fame was his talent as a Grammy award-winning rapper. In 1988, he wound up facing off with Freddy Krueger, but luckily it was in a courtroom and not a nightmare. The dispute arose after Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff released a video for their song A Nightmare on My Street, which the court described as prominently featuring “a villainous individual named ‘Freddy’ who has a burnt face… a low, raspy, and frightening voice, [and]… a gloved hand with sharp implements protruding from the fingers.” Sound familiar? The parties eventually settled out of court.
When Zombies Caused a Lawsuit to Come to Life
If you’re a lover of all things horror, you’re most definitely familiar with the scene in Dawn of the Dead with humans battling zombies in a mall. And you’ve probably thought about how you’d protect yourself in this situation, but have you ever thought about whether the scene itself is protected? The producer of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, a classic horror film about a group of people trapped in a mall overrun by zombies (for those less familiar with all things horror), sued the makers of the video game Dead Rising for copyright infringement in District Court. The producer alleged that Dead Rising was essentially a computer game version of his movie. The court agreed that there were similarities between the works, stating that “[b]oth works are dark comedies. In both, the recreational activities of the zombies and absurdly grotesque ‘kill scenes’ provide unexpected comic relief. Both works provided thoughtful social commentary on the ‘mall culture’ zeitgeist, in addition to serving up a sizable portion of sensationalistic violence.” However, similarities between works must be similarities in protectable elements of a work to constitute copyright infringement. Here, the judge held that all of the similarities between the works were based on the unprotectable idea of humans battling zombies in a mall.
That Time the Power Rangers Defeated Copyright Infringement
In 2011, the company that owns the Power Rangers TV series sued the owners of the website MyPartyShirt.com for selling knock-off Power Rangers costumes. The parties eventually settled and MyPartyShirt agreed to return all profits from the sale of the costumes to the company. But it should come as no surprise that the Power Rangers won. That’s what superheroes do.
So if you’re stuck choosing between spider-hero and Spiderman for your Halloween costume, remember one thing: spider-hero loses… and that’s not what superheroes do. Go with Spiderman. Always.
Happy Halloween from the Copyright Alliance!
Check out more Halloween copyright-related blog:
7 Works with Bizarre Copyright Histories by Jonathan Bailey
Anti-Piracy Warnings Could … Get Much Scarier by Aatif Sulleyman
Halloween Costumes and Copyright: 5 Things You Should Know by David Kluft
Copyright and the Rocky Horror Picture Show by Jonathan Bailey
Photo Credit: RomoloTavani/iStock/thinkstock