‘Twilight’ Parodist Steps in Lion’s Gate’s Mouth

     MANHATTAN (CN) – An indie movie producer sued Lion’s Gate Entertainment for the right to make a movie called “Twiharder,” a parody of the five-part vampire “Twilight Saga.”
     Between the Lines Productions, a California company, sued Lions Gate Entertainment and Summit Entertainment in Federal Court.
     It claims the big studio has raised half-baked copyright objections to what Between the Lines calls fair use of the wildly popular vampire flicks.
     Between the Lines Productions also claims Lion’s Gate’s threats violate antitrust law.
     “The Twilight Saga” has raked in more than $3.3 billion in worldwide box office revenue, a success it has protected with “ridiculous-to-insane overreaches of intellectual property law,” Between the Lines says in the complaint.
     “In the case at bar, plaintiff Between the Lines Production, LLC, a Los-Angeles based independent filmmaker, produced a feature-length motion picture entitled ‘Twiharder’ through its own independent methods and means of production, based on a 100 percent original copyrighted screenplay. Plaintiff’s motion picture, which was marketed with complete transparency as a ‘parody,’ utilized defendants’ vampire romance movie franchise as an object of ridicule, criticism and sociopolitical commentary,” the complaint states.
     “None of the actual cinematographic, audio-visual or musical content (i.e., ‘1s and 0s’) from any of defendants’ copyrighted motion pictures, images or soundtracks was used in plaintiff’s motion picture. The actors featured in plaintiff’s film portrayed hyper-exaggerated caricatures from ‘The Twilight Saga’ movies and lampooned expressive elements embodied in defendants’ pre-existing works through imitative reference. The title of plaintiff’s motion picture, ‘Twiharder,’ is itself a rhetorical parody of the very term used to describe an obsessed teenage fan of the franchise, known as a ‘Twihard.'”
     Between the Lines claims several major distributors expressed an interest in the flick, but Lions Gate and Summit dashed its opportunities by claiming that fair-use doctrine did not protect the film.
     Between the Lines claims it received a “sham ‘cease-and-desist'” letter dated July 27, 2012, and that its insurers and distributors “unceremoniously revoked” their offers “within days” of the notice.
     One distributor told Between the Lines Production that the merits of the letter, “or lack thereof,” were “entirely irrelevant to the distributor’s revocation decision,” according to the complaint.
     “As a matter of industry custom and practice, the mere fact that defendants sent a C&D Notice was enough to exclude plaintiff’s motion picture from the only market networked into the ordinary channels of essential distribution (e.g., theatrical box-office release, packaged home media, video-on-demand, pay-per-view, or electronically stored transmission),” the complaint states.
     Between the Lines claims the cease-and-desist letter was a part of a larger anticompetitive strategy.
     “Defendants’ false claims of trademark and copyright infringement against plaintiff, which have continued unabated through the filing of this complaint, are all based on a vexatious legal strategy that seeks to collapse every conceivable intellectual property right granted by copyright or trademark law (e.g., motion picture content, single-work titles, movie series titles, images, compositions, slogans, logos, trade dress, phrases, symbols, characters, themes) into one omnipotent ‘movie brand,'” the complaint states. “After consolidating all of its statutory interests into a single ‘bundle’ of proprietary rights, defendants then make generic allegations of ‘infringement’ or ‘tarnishment’ based on their purported right to protect the entire ‘brand.'”
     Between the Lines calls this a “tentpole” strategy.
     “This business model contemplates a series of motion pictures as one ‘brand’ or single property under which all economic and speech activity can be consolidated, owned, controlled and monetized by the studio,” the complaint states.
     Between the Lines says the conduct is not only illegal, but un-American.
     “Defendants’ anticompetitive conduct sets the benchmark example for why James Madison and Thomas Jefferson were apprehensive in the months leading up to the Philadelphia Convention about granting authors even limited copyright monopolies over their works: the Chief Architects of the U.S. Constitution feared that powerful, consolidated enterprises would abuse such statutory privileges as a means to suppress the voices of ordinary citizens. And that’s exactly what’s happening here,” the complaint states.
     Between the Lines alleges violations of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the Sherman Antitrust Act and other violations.
     It demands $375 million and declaratory judgment that “Twiharder” is protected by the First Amendment under the fair use doctrine.
     It is represented by James Freeman.

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