A selection of the best animation news, opinions, and features from around the world for the week ending February 2nd, 2020.Read more
Another day, another show getting hit with a lawsuit. This time around it’s the YouTube/Cartoon Network hit Annoying Orange and the person suing is, uh, an advertising agency of all things. Yes siree, they are suing because Annoying Orange allegedly infringes upon their idea for a public service commercial for the North Dakota DOT featuring, you guessed it, a talking orange.
Judging from the picture above, there’s a ton of similarity there. I mean they’re both oranges, right? On top of that, both have mouths, real human mouths that move just like normal human mouths do! Only one adds the eyes, but their irrelevant to the lawsuit apparently.
Yes, I’m being slightly sarcastic, but it’s hard not to, especially when the similarities are far outweighed by the differences. Sure, both are talking oranges, but how many times have we seen that over the course of time. Talking fruit isn’t new, and neither is putting a face on them for that matter.
Furthermore, the nature of the content is completely different. One is a serious campaign for public safety, the other is about entertainment and only entertainment; there’s no safety message there!
So is there any sort of a case here at all? Is this something that creators need to pay attention to or concern themselves with?
It’s unlikely, and here’s why: a talking fruit is not original in any way shape or form, the same goes for putting human mouths on things. It’s a classic technique that has certainly seen use in television for at least a couple of decades. Combining the two surely doesn’t count as anything close to being ‘creative’ under copyright law.
Furthermore, there isn’t a trademark issue either; especially since the client for one of the oranges (the North Dakota DOT) is a public entity; clearly distinct from the private owners of the Annoying Orange. Even besides that, the name of both videos are technically purely descriptive and couldn’t come under either copyright or trademark anyway.
What to glean from all this?
Well, as Steve Hullett over at the Animation Guild Blog points out, there’s a lot of money emanating from one of these videos while the other gets zilch. Readers of this blog ought to be smart enough to figure out why a lawsuit would be filed.
Via: The Simpsons Wikia
I’ll admit that legal matters tend to make my ears prick up for reasons that are still not entirely clear but I couldn’t help but be slightly amused when I read this story. A few years ago, both FOX and Universal were full on beating the drum about the opening of a Simpsons themed ride at one of the latter’s theme parks. Fast forward to 2012 and both are being sued over the same ride, but from a rather amusing source; a musician’s union.
Why even blog about this? Well a case like this would barely register on most people’s radar but is just another sign that you can never take anything in entertainment for granted.
Now on the surface, this is simply interesting from the point of view that it’s the musicians as opposed to anyone else trying to make a grab for some dough however thanks to the Simpsons’ music editor Chris Ledesma and his blog explaining everything in plain English, I know that even the music in the entertainment industry is far from simple.
Yup, thanks to Chris’ Music Editing 101 series and in particular his posts on music clearing and re-use, I (and now you) know that acquiring music for an animated TV show is a far from straightforward procedure. There are all sorts of clearances, rights and so forth to request, acquire and process before anything can make it to air. After that you can’t simply use a piece of music you already have; there are all kinds of rules about that.
It’s all dreadfully complicated and perhaps proof that no-one in Hollywood really trusts each other, but it does make for entertaining reading when the musician’s union goes after the hand that feeds them when it comes to a roller coaster.
The crux of the issue is that FOX apparently used music from the series in the ride but that violates a clause in the current contract that was signed in 2010. Seeing as how the ride was already in operation before that, I can’t see how it can be infringing. That said, I also can’t see how it took 2 years to get around to filing a lawsuit but then again I’m an engineer and prone to crippling logicality and common sense.
So consider this yet another aspect to modern animation production that could come back to bite you in the end, and remember, you don’t have to have roller coaster to get sued.
“Lady Gaga argued that the character would confuse consumers.” – AWN
There’s a couple of different aspects to this decision but all spell potential trouble for animators or studios so they are well worth being aware of.
Firstly, there’s the issue of confusion with the real Lady Gaga and secondly there’s the issue of parody works and whether or not they are legal. Before you carry on reading though, here’s a video of Lady Goo Goo herself:
Starting with the confusion, Gaga relied on trademark law and its reliance on the famed tests which essentially boil down to the “moron in a hurry” scenario. The court ruled that consumers and fans of Gaga would be susceptible to confusion between Gaga and Goo Goo and thus the latter should not be permitted .
Anyone with half a brain would conclude that this is a clear admission from Gaga that her fans are clearly idiots but as Mike Masnick at Techdirt put it:
Unfortunately, Lady Gaga doesn’t have a sense of humor about the situation and it appears that neither do the UK courts.
Michael Action Smith of Mind Candy puts it fairly bluntly:
“It’s pretty obvious that kids will be able to tell the difference between the two characters.” I can certainly tell the difference, but Lady Gaga and the courts couldn’t
The shame is that millions of kids fell in love with Lady Goo Goo’s debut single on YouTube and now won’t be able to enjoy her musical exploits. It was all done in the name of fun and we would have thought that Lady Gaga could have seen the humor behind this parody.
This leads us nicely into the second aspect of the ruling, which is that parody works are not strictly legal in the UK, where the lawsuit was filed.
The importance of this aspect? Well, in the US, parody works are considered legally distinct from the original material and as a result, do not require prior approval from the copyright holder. This is not the case in the UK, which has no laws regarding parody works. The result is that Gaga was legally able to sue over a parody featuring an animated baby and some Eurotrash music.
Why is this a concern for animators and studios? Because animation has relied on parody and making fun of things since almost the day it was invented! Imagine if all the classic Warner Bros. shorts couldn’t have parodied the political and entertainment figures of the day? Imagine if the Simpsons couldn’t send up films like Citizen Cane? Imagine if Weird Al Yankovic couldn’t release a video to go with his parody of a song? (Side note, Al had is own run-in with Lady Gaga but because he’s in the US, he could release his single anyway).
Our ability to create would be seriously hindered wouldn’t it? The world would be a much more serious place in the absence of all this comedy and poking of fun.
Animation has delighted in being one of the prime candidates when it comes to sources of parody. Nevertheless, this lawsuit simply proves that you have to be on your toes when it comes to this kind of thing, because as bad of a control freak as it makes Lady Gaga look (and all the increased attention the lawsuit has garnered as a result), it ultimately forces a studio to write off an investment it made and to swallow the costs of the project with no hope of getting them back.
Small studios and animators cannot be expected to be effective economic units if they face the prospects of lawsuits like this. There is no reason why Lady Goo Goo had to be yanked in the UK, the decision hurts everyone, including Gaga herself.
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.
There was an important legal ruling last week that is certainly an important one in the world of animation, namely that Pixar did not rip-off the character of Lightning McQueen from some race driver named Mark Brill.
Why would any animator be concerned about a ruling between a hugely successful studio and a race driver that they never heard of before? Well, for one, Brill alleged that Pixar had blatantly plagiarised the design of his actual race car, and as a result, he felt entitled to damages resulting from misappropriation of his intellectual property (i.e., the car).
Thankfully, the lawsuit has been tossed out at the first hurdle and saves everyone a whole lot of consternation and energy as a result. The important point is that the court used a test devised for a lawsuit from the early 1990s, when Vanna White (of Wheel of Fortune fame) sued Samsung in the famous “robot with a blonde wig” lawsuit, where the court devised a method of determining whether or not the average person in the street could differentiate between the affected party and the resemblance.
In the Cars case, the court ruled that
a fictional, talking, driver-less red race car with the number 95 on it cannot be construed as a likeness of a driver of a similarly coloured/numbered race car
Once again, the case highlights the lengths that some people believe they can go to in order to protect their ‘likeness’. This is an important issue for animators where it is often common for them to lampoon and parody famous (or infamous) people. Being aware of the freedoms and limitations of doing so are well worth keeping in mind.
This morning, I read over on AWN that some guy, by the name of Terence Dunn, is suing DreamWorks for stealing his idea for Kung Fu Panda. Although everything is still at an early stage, this could shape up to be an interesting fight.
This is, of course, the worst fear of many animators, they pitch an idea to a network or studio, get turned around, and then just like that, see a project that’s eerily similar to their own being announced.
My recent post neglected to mention this whole area of copyright law as I regretfully forgot about it. Basically, you cannot copyright an idea, only actual creations. If you come up with the idea to make a show about, oh, I don’t know, an Octopus Pirate, then you can’t simply go around suing everyone if they come up with a show about a pirate who’s also an octopus.
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t defend your legal rights, if someone misappropriates your idea, you are certainly entitled to seek compensation. The point is that it is possible to be over-zealous. Think back to the lawsuit from a few years ago regarding SpongeBob Squarepants. Some guy (who has a Wikipedia page?) sued Viacom for stealing his idea for a talking sponge.
The guy’s argument was that in 1991, he created and flogged some sponges with a markered on face. If only he had read Jerry Beck’s excellent Nicktoons book, he would have noticed a comic, drawn by Stephen Hillenberg and featuring a character called Bob the Sponge that was dated 1989. It’s too bad that tons of court time were wasted on a frivolous lawsuit like this although I’m sure some lawyers somewhere are quite happy about the whole ordeal.
In a lawsuit such as the one mentioned at the beginning, the discovery phase will help uncover any and all information that both sides will need in order to build a case. For Dunn, it will hinge on whether or not his idea passes a series of tests that will determine whether or not his concept could be considered the same as Kung Fu Panda. Things such as the plot, character descriptions, design, tone of the story and so forth will be scrutinized in microscopic detail. In addition, the full details of any and all meetings with DreamWorks staff will be similarly torn apart in the quest for the proof needed.
Does the guys suit have merit? Perhaps, it’s still way to early to tell. The reason it’s in the news today is that the court has ruled that Dunn can look at DreamWorks books in order to determine how much he could be owed in damages. This is a bit of a silly move because, at least in my mind, what he is owed should not be motivating him at this stage of the lawsuit if he is truly in the belief that his idea was stolen. It should be blatantly obvious to everyone that Kung Fu Panda was a successful film (with 6 more announced?!) and there should be no doubt in his or anyone else’s mind that should he win, he would be in line for a substantial payout.
There is a good chance that DreamWorks will settle, especially if it looks like they will lose. As in most cases like this, it is much cheaper for them to offer the guy a certain (not unsubstantial) amount that puts everything to rest and allows things to carry on much as they did before.
It’s important to remember that situations such as this are extremely rare. Studios and networks are well aware of the potential for crippling damages if they are shown to have blatantly ripped off some-one’s idea, as a result, they are much more inclined (and motivated) to either acquire the original idea and develop it themselves, or take the basic concept (a kung fu panda) and turn it into their own creation.
Like I said at the beginning, you cannot copyright an idea (yet), only actual creative work. Lawsuits such as those mentioned above are all the more reason for animators to familiarize themselves with copyright law and what rights and limitations are set out within.