CHICAGO (CN) – Three artists who created a piece of street art in Argentina claim that Terry Gilliam copied elements of the piece without their permission for his upcoming movie “The Zero Theorem.”
Creators of the “Castillo” artwork, Argentines Franco Fasoli aka Jaz, Nicolas Santiago Romero Escalada aka Ever and Canadian Derek Shamus Mehaffey aka Other of San Francisco, sued Gilliam in an Aug. 13 federal complaint for copyright infringement.
The artists claim that Gilliam and his art director David Warren used three main elements from their “Castillo” latex and spray paint mural, still on display in a zona de graffiti (or street art zone) on a wall in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
“The copyrighted artwork has achieved international recognition in the art world, and is widely recognized by the public in Argentina and abroad. ‘Castillo’ is so important that it is one of the few public artworks that have survived for years in that particular zona de graffiti,'” the 23-page lawsuit states.
The distinctive artwork features a man in a headdress and a black and white t-shirt with multicolored streamers or beams shooting from his eyes. Extending over a pair of hybrid creatures resembling humans with wolf heads, the multicolored streams connect with what appears to be the partial head of a woman.
Side-by-side comparisons of the plaintiffs’ work and production design on a building (identified in the lawsuit as Qohen’s chapel) in “The Zero Theorem” are included in the complaint.
“The infringing mural (infringing work) the filmmakers chose to paint on ‘Qohen’s chapel’ copies each of the three main elements of the copyrighted artwork originally created by the plaintiffs, albeit in a slightly different arrangement and on a washed-out red background, rather than the brilliant blue chosen by the plaintiffs,” the complaint states.
Because the mural is an essential part of the production design and the film, there is no easy way to remove the infringing elements from the films, the plaintiffs say.
“Unfortunately, this is not the first time that defendant Gilliam has demonstrated a blatant disrespect for copyright law,” the artists add.
They note that the production design in Gilliam’s “Twelve Monkeys” resulted in court action, after artist Lebbeus Woods claimed that an interrogation room chair in the 1995 film borrowed from his work, the “Neomechanical Tower.”
Gilliam later settled the action out of court, the complaint says.
“But clearly Mr. Gilliam did not learn his lesson, as the present action amply demonstrates,” the court filing states.
Shot in Bucharest, Romania, “The Zero Theorem” is a dystopian sci-fi movie that according to the complaint is part of a loose trilogy of Gilliam films that includes “Brazil” and “Twelve Monkeys.”
Starring Christoph Waltz as a computer hacker and Matt Damon as his mysterious boss, the movie is set for a video-on-demand release on Aug. 19, and will hit theaters in September, according to the lawsuit.
Alleging copyright infringement, unfair trade practices and consumer fraud, the artists seek an injunction against the movie. They also want Gilliam’s movie impounded, damages and costs.
Named defendants are Voltage Pictures, The Zanuck Company dba Zanuck Independent, MediaPro Pictures, Well Go USA, Amplify Releasing, Warren, and Gilliam.
The artists’ attorney Jami Gekas of Foley & Lardner told Courthouse News that because the litigation is pending she could not comment on why the artists had chosen to file in Illinois.
Gekas added that defendants could not hide behind fair use as a defense because it did not “appear that the filmmakers were merely ‘inspired by’ our clients’ work.”
She said she hoped that the defendants would “do the right thing.”
“We’re talking about deliberate copying here – the film was shot on location in Bucharest, and the filmmakers recreated our clients’ mural, down to the smallest details, to decorate their set,” she wrote in an email.Voltage did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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