Ghosts of Hobbits Past

In addition to bringing Bugs Bunny and his crew to silver screen, entertainment giant Warner Bros. is known for producing some of the most popular movies of all time, from “Casablanca” to “Citizen Kane” to the “Batman” series. With more than 110 years of moviemaking under its belt, Warner Bros. is also one of the shrewdest in the business when it comes to protecting copyrights and trademarks associated with its vast library of films and other products.

A bona fide 800-lb. gorilla in the entertainment industry, Warner Bros. has successfully cited its intellectual property as the basis for getting infringing products removed from store shelves and preventing the distribution of competing films. That’s what makes a recent copyright and trademark infringement lawsuit filed against the venerable moviemaker so interesting.

Independent filmmaker Michael O’Dea filed his claim against Warner Bros. over his upcoming movie titled “Ghostman.” O’Dea says he’s currently handling post-production chores on the movie, which is based on a book with the same title about a “fixer” who helps bank robbers disappear after failed heists. However, Warner Bros. purchased the movie rights to the book last year and plans to make its own version of “Ghostman” soon.

Things get interesting in O’Dea’s lawsuit when he references Warner Bros.’ successful effort last year to prevent the distribution of another independent film titled “Age of the Hobbits,” which was set to debut around the same time as the studio’s “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.” After securing that victory, Warner Bros. issued a press release that included the passage “this victory underscores the importance of protecting the unique work of our industries’ creative community from companies . . . whose cynical business model is designed to profit from the work of others.” Of course, O’Dea includes the press release language in his filing, and it certainly will be interesting to see how Warner Bros. explains the difference in what the studio asserted in the “Hobbit” lawsuit versus the circumstances in the current “Ghostman” case.

The public may not always realize it – based on media portrayals of the legal system – but the goal is to do justice, not to win at all costs. And courts rightly take note when a corporation benefits from taking a strong legal position in one case but tries to abandon that position in another simply because it is in the company’s pecuniary interest to do so. A sound legal principle is a sound legal principle, or it isn’t.

To apply it differently would be, well, unjust.

Posted: 8/28/2013 6:13:50 AM by Editor | with 0 comments

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Thanks for stopping by On the Merits, the first blog from the Texas Center for Legal Ethics. On the Merits will take a close look at significant legal stories with an eye toward addressing the legal myths and misconceptions that turn up in news stories, movies, TV programs, websites, anonymous emails and other forms of mass communications. Our goal at On the Merits is to provide readers with a thoughtful examination of what the media and others are saying about the legal profession and to apply the frequently-absent context of how the legal system actually works.

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