LOS ANGELES (CN) - Hank Azaria, the voice of Moe and Apu on "The Simpsons," claims in court that another man falsely claims ownership of a baseball announcer character, Jim Brockmire, impeding Azaria's efforts to make a movie about him.
Azaria said his company How To Pictures sued Craig Bierko in Federal Court.
Azaria says Bierko falsely claims to have created, or co-created, the voice of Jim Brockmire after Azaria posted a video of the character on the "Funny or Die" website.
Azaria does the voices of Moe Szyslack, Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, Police Chief Wiggum and some minor characters on "The Simpsons."
"Azaria has created and has been developing highly individualized voices and characters his entire career going back almost 30 years," the complaint states. "One such voice that Azaria independently created is that of a colorful baseball announcer who speaks with peculiar speech inflections (the 'Azaria Voice'.).
"Azaria has shared his rendition of the Azaria voice with many people going all the way back to no later than 1983 when he performed it on the quadrangle of his college. One of the people with whom Azaria shared the Azaria Voice was defendant Craig Bierko ('Bierko') around the time that the two first met each other in or around 1990.
"In 2010, plaintiffs produced a short video for the comedy website 'Funny or Die.' This short video is entirely based upon a baseball announced called 'Jim Brockmire' (the 'Jim Brockmire Character'). The Jim Brockmire character talks with the Azaria Voice. This video which was posted on the 'Funny or Die' Internet website became instantly popular and has allowed plaintiff to entertain discussions to develop a feature length motion picture based upon the Jim Brockmire Character who uses the Azaria Voice.
"After learning about the 'Funny or Die' video, Bierko contacted Azaria and claimed ownership of the Azaria Voice. Bierko asserted that it was he who either: (a) independently created the Azaria Voice or (b) created it in collaboration with Azaria. Bierko has not been clear as to which of these two alternatives he is asserting. Although Azaria strongly disputes this, Bierko's claim has created a cloud over the rightful ownership of the Azaria Voice (which is an integral part of the Jim Brockmire Character) such that plaintiffs' ability to develop a feature length motion based upon the Jim Brockmire Character is being significantly impeded. A judicial determination of the rights of the parties to this action as these pertain to the Azaria Voice and the Jim Brockmire Character is thus required to resolve this dispute."
Here the complaint becomes more complicated. Azaria claims that "after he left college, but before he ever met Bierko, Azaria continued to perform the Azaria Voice in front of a number of people. One of those people, who knew Bierko, knew that Bierko also did an announcer voice (the 'Bierko Voice'). In or around 1990, almost 10 years after Azaria had created the Azaria Voice, Azaria and Bierko were introduced by a person who suggested that Bierko do the Bierko Voice for Azaria and that Azaria do the Azaria Voice for Bierko.
"After Azaria met Bierko in or around 1990, they started fooling around with the Azaria voice and the Bierko voice. Azaria and Bierko used to put the Azaria Voice and the Bierko Voice respectively on voice messages for each other for a period of about 3-5 years."
Azaria claims he and his company developed and posted the video about Brockmire, who "has a characteristic attire (plaid jacket with a fresh rose on his lapel), a host of famous admirers (real life sportscaster such as Dan Patrick, Rich Eisen, and Joe Buck who appear in the video short), the penchant for making obscure and off-the-wall cultural references when commenting on a baseball game, and a backstory regarding how he caught his wife cheating on him, had a breakdown on the air, and was consequently fired."
Now, Azaria says, Bierko has "demanded that Azaria cease and desist from exploiting the Azaria Voice and, by inference, the Jim Brockmire character. Bierko is erroneously stating that he (Bierko) created the Azaria Voice and, by implication, the Jim Brockmire character."
Azaria claims that the value of the Brockmire character "will be permanently damaged" if he and his company are not granted ownership.
He seeks declaratory judgment that he owns the copyright on the character.
Azaria is represented by Michael Plonsker with Robins, Kaplan, Miller and Ciresi.
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