LOS ANGELES (CN) – A federal judge Monday dealt a blow to “Twilight” moviemaker Summit Entertainment, ruling that a film parody does not violate its trademarks to the film franchise.
John Gearries, the co-creator behind the 2012 parody “Twiharder,” was pleased U.S. District Judge Manuel Real had issued a partial ruling in his favor in a long-running legal battle with Summit and its parent company, Lions Gate Entertainment.
“We’ve tried to settle with them for three years and they’ve been relentless in coming after us since we created the movie,” Gearries said after the hearing. “It’s been honored in film festivals. It’s been nominated for best spoof. It’s very evident that it’s a spoof. We’ve always marketed it as a spoof – a comedy, a parody.”
The ‘Twiharder’ makers, Between the Lines Productions, filed the lawsuit in December 2013 after receiving cease-and-desist letters from Lions Gate Entertainment and Summit Entertainment over the $300,000-budgeted parody.
“The parodical nature of the movie title Twiharder serves to defeat any claim by defendants that plaintiff’s use of the single work title is confusingly similar to any of the titles released in connection with defendants’ The Twilight Saga franchise,” the 33-page federal complaint states.
At the Monday morning hearing, U.S. District Judge Manuel Real granted Between the Lines’ motion for summary judgment against Summit on its claims for false designation of origin/unfair competition, trademark infringement, and unfair competition.
“Summit has failed to submit any evidence of confusion, despite having three years to do so,” U.S. District Judge Manuel Real said in his courtroom in downtown L.A.
But Real did not extinguish Summit’s counterclaims for trademark dilution by blurring and tarnishing, and copyright infringement.
That means that if the parties fail to hash out a settlement the case could still go to a jury. Real made clear his preference.
“This case ought to be settled,” Real said. “You folks ought to get together and stop giving us paper in piles.”
In the hallway outside Real’s courtroom, Gearries’ attorney James Freeman called Real’s ruling a “big victory for parodies.”
“The ability to make a parody without obtaining actual consent of the person that you’re parodying, that’s an important freedom. It’s a civil liberty,” Freeman said. “We’re just making fun of it, and they shouldn’t be able to shut us down for that.”
The films based on Stephenie Meyer’s wildly popular series of vampire books include several controversial elements that make it ripe for a parody – including themes of domestic violence, racial stereotypes, sexual infatuation and gratuitous violence – the complaint alleged.
Between the Lines pointed out that Summit had granted permission for two authorized “Twilight” spoofs, 2010’s “Vampire Sucks” and the R-rated “Breaking Wind” in 2013.
Gearries shot his parody of “Twilight” in Los Angeles in 2010 with co-creator Christopher Sean. The raunchy comedy spoof is named after the legion of “Twilight” diehard fans, known as “Twihards.”
Gearries, who also starred in the movie, said no distributor will touch “Twiharder” because of the legal dispute.
“We had the movie set to be released a long time ago, close to the last installment of ‘Twilight,'” Gearries said. “Since then, we’ve been fighting to get it released.”
Lions Gate and Summit filed counterclaims after the dispute was transferred from New York to the Los Angeles federal court in early 2014. Lions Gate was later dismissed from the case.
Though Meyer is not a party to the case, Summit wants to exclude from trial the author’s reported dislike of the term “Twihard” and evidence of her Mormon beliefs.
“I don’t really like ‘Twihard.’ It sounds awful,” Meyer had said, according to court filings.
A December 2012 email from attorney Dean Cheley to Gearries states that two Summit representatives were troubled by the sexual content in the film, and were “extremely protective” of the Twilight franchise.
“‘(T)hey said the author is a strict Mormon who has instilled her values in the film,'” the email states.
It adds: “‘If they have specific objections to sexual scenes in the film (the vibrator scene at the end of the end credits caused quite a stir), edits to those scenes may drop their concerns and allow us to reach a settlement.'”
Summit argued that inclusion of the authors’ statements might prejudice a jury.
“(T)hose jurors who are not in agreement with Meyer’s religious views may also hold those beliefs against Summit, when Meyer’s beliefs as a Mormon have absolutely nothing to do with the claims or defenses in this case,” Summit argued in an Oct. 28, 2014 motion to exclude.
Paul Bost and Jill Pietrini of Sheppard Mullin appeared in court for Summit.
Pietrini declined to comment.
- Ghosts of Technology and Staff|Haunt Courts’ Executive Meeting
- Accused Art Thief Is in Thicker Soup