3 Reasons The South Park Copyright Infringement Claim is Ludicris

Via: The A.V. Club

Yup, that venerable organ of parody and disrespect, South Park, has gone too far! They’ve been sued for copyright infringement [TMZ, apologies, apologies] for the episode “Imaginationland”. There is, however, a distinct whif of BS about the whole thing. Here’s X reasons why.

The Character That’s “Infringing”

Yup, the character that’s infringing, is, uh, the Lollipop King. And how is he “infringing”, well apparently he looks the same as the character in the video below called the Lollipop Forrest [sic] and the fact that in South Park he’s being throttled by a Stormtrooper makes him guilty

The Nature of the “Infringement”

Hmm, where to start. Infringement in copyright terms is a complex beast. There are tests to determine whether something is actually infringing. In this case, I find it hard to believe that the Lollipop King is guilty of that. For starters he’s multi-coloured and wears a crown. The characters in the video are mono-colored and don’t wear crowns. Moving on, South Park is animated, the Lollipop Forrest [sic] is live-action. That rises the bar in terms of proving infringement but even then, the character isn’t the same for chrissakes!

The Time Factor

Ah yes, perhaps the greatest thing that this lawsuit is done is revealing that South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have access to a time machine. No, I’m deadly serious about this. Imaginationland was broadcast in 2007 but the Lollipop Forrest [sic] appears to be from 2011 (presuming that creator Xavier Wardlaw uploaded it shortly after creating it). Being the engineer that I am, I’m fairly confident that Parker and Stone (if they did infringe) saw that last year and then travelled back to 2007 so they could rip it off a whole 4 years before the fact.

Personally, I’m decidedly curious to see what the court says about this and whether a precedent is created whereby you can recursively infringe on something by going back in time and creating it first.

Conclusion

This is one of those “there has to be a moral” stories and it is. I don’t begrudge Xavier Wardlaw for creating what he did, every creative thing deserves props for being made. However, there’s something about American that seams to whisper in everybody’s ear “sue, sue, sue” every time they feel even a tad slighted. C’mon folks, common sense can do wonders, and in this case, can save you some money too.

And now for the funniest part, watch the start of this making of video and see if you can spot the (even more blatant) copyright infringement going on. Bonus points for the characters names!

 

 

“Visual Creator” Sues the BBC for £2m for Copyright Infringement

Images (with apologies) via the UK Daily Mail

Here we go again. This time from the UK, where Michael Mitchell is suing the BBC for copyright infringement over a show called Kerwhizz, which he claims is based on his idea, Bounce Bunch. From the Guardian article:

 Michael Mitchell told the high court on Thursday that he was shocked in 2009 when his daughter noticed that three characters in the CBeebies show Kerwhizz bore “striking similarities” to his own cartoons.

Mitchell suggested that the BBC copied the characters – known in the show as Ninka, Twist and Kit – after they were uploaded to his own personal website in 2004…….

……Mitchell claims the Kerwhizz character “Ninki” was derived from a combination of his two characters Simrita and Jomo, that “Twist” was copied from his character Charlie and that “Kit” is a version of his character Yana. Outside court he told journalists that he had sent the characters to the BBC directly as a proposal package in October 2007, but had been rejected.

So, judging from the two pictures at the top, is there a case for infringement, bearing in mind that it focuses only on the three human characters in Kerwhizz?

The similarities are obvious:

  • they’re human
  • they’re kids
  • wearing brightly coloured spacesuits of some kind
  • wearing headband microphone
  • of multiple ethnicity

The only problem is that these traits can’t be considered under infringement. Why? They’re too ubiquitous and easily conceivable. The closest thing would be the brightly coloured suits but even then giving characters their own coloured clothing is nothing new.

Presuming that the similarities are generic enough to be precluded from the case, the next avenue open to Mitchell is to prove that the BBC used his show as a direct influence for creating Kerwhizz.

Now this is where it gets interesting, because Mitchell sent an unsolicited package that was rejected. As most studios will tell you, they send any unsolicited idea back unopened to eliminate precisely this scenario. The BBC should have been smart enough to do this, so this route can probably be rejected.

That leaves only the fact that Mitchell posted the Bounce Bunch online at some point prior to the launch of Kerwhizz. What form this took is not specified. Was it development art or full animation? Does it make a difference? Probably not. There seems to be enough difference between the shows themselves that Mitchell focuses only on the characters.

The really tricky aspect to this development is whether or not Mitchell can prove conclusively that someone from the BBC in the same department that created Kerwhizz saw or had access to the Bounce Bunch page.

This could be next to impossible to prove and the details are still sealed in court documents so we won’t know for sure until judgement, but I would hazard a guess that Mitchell doesn’t have the substantial proof he needs.

It’s always disheartening when you feel that someone else has copied your design (not idea, remember you can’t copyright those), especially a corporation as large as the BBC, but that does not preclude them from coming up with similar designs, although I would argue that even then, substantial differences exist.

In this particular case, if there really was any chance that the BBC ripped Mitchell off, then a settlement would have been reached by now.

It’s unfortunately just another example of why animators and developers need to be aware of the nature of copyright and what it does and does not cover.

Canadian Court Upholds Animator’s Copyright Claim Against Cinar

The Montreal Gazette is reporting that Quebec Court of Appealhas upheld a previous ruling against Cinar (the forerunner to Cookie Jar). The case involves Claude Robinson and a series he created called Les aventures de Robinson Curiosité. After trying to sell the series with Cinar to other production studios and without any success, Claude was astonished to discover that Cinar had launched their own series, Robinson Sucroé.

After a 14 year legal wrangle, the court has awarded him damages that although far below what was originally awarded, still amount to CA$5.2 million, which breaks down as follows (as listed in the CBC’s story):

  • $607,000 for copyright infringement.
  • $1.7 million for profits earned by Cinar and other broadcasting companies.
  • $400,000 for psychological distress.
  • $1 million in exemplary damages.
  • $1.5 million for legal fees.

While this sounds like the nightmare of just about every artist out there, it is important to remember that cases such as this one are extremely rare. Fourteen years is long, even in the legal world, and a settlement is most likely to be hammered out long ago instead.

Did Robinson have a case? I haven’t seen any images from the offending shows, but assuming he’s not an eejit, he will have properly and sufficiently developed his show before presenting it to Cinar. He will also have gone through all the legal hoops to get a development deal with them if he did. The Gazette article mentions attempting to sell the concept in the US, so I’m sure he was on board with a contract of some sort.

Why Cinar felt the need to copy the guys show, I don’t know. According to the Wikipedia article on the firm, it has been engaged in shady dealings before, so perhaps this is not a surprise. What is surprising is that they went ahead with it anyway, it should not have been all that difficult or costly to simply acquire the original property and tweak it into the new one thereby saving everyone a bunch of time, money and hassle.

As you know, the entertainment industry is full of such lawsuits (most of which get thrown out) but a few make it through to trial. Copying an idea is extraordinarily difficult to prove in court, which is why most studios don’t even want to take the chance and refuse unsolicited scripts. The vast majority will purchase a concept and develop it themselves to prevent such lawsuits. Studios aren’t stupid but that will try to minimize costs, and acquiring a concept may fall into the category of ‘unnecessary’.

Again, it is imperative that when developing an idea, you take all the precautions necessary to save yourself and the studio from a legal headache such as this.