March 28, 2014 8:02am PT by Eriq Gardner
Spot the Lawsuit in This 2011 James Marsden-Russell Brand Film
Let's take a moment to appreciate the lawyers whose job it is to clear rights in films and TV shows. It's not as easy as one might assume.
Case in point: here's a scene from the 2011 film, Hop, an Easter-themed movie directed by Tim Hill that blends animation and live action and stars James Marsden, Kaley Cuoco, Gary Cole and a rabbit character voiced by Russell Brand. Take a bit of an Easter egg hunt to look for the alleged copyright infringement.
If you identified the small surfboards painting just behind the bunny's head, you got it. According to a lawsuit filed on Thursday in California federal court, the name of the painting is "Starting Lineup" by Scott Westmoreland, who is said to have once been a full-time artist at Disney, a "top 100" seller on Art.com and someone who has been featured on shows like Fox's Trading Places, ABC Family's Knock First and whose collection of fine art has been shown in magazines.
The complaint filed against Comcast, Relativity Media, Illumination Entertainment and Rhythm & Hues Studios alleges that Hop contains unauthorized reproductions of "Starting Lineup." The painting is alleged to have shown up a few times in the movie, including one scene where it appears for 53 seconds.
The high cost of litigation makes the case a candidate for a settlement before any judgment. See this since resolved lawsuit over a background mural in one of M.I.A.'s music videos for example. But if it gets far, it could address the incidental use of copyrighted work. In recent years, that subject has compelled an examination, for example, of whether filmmakers have to be careful about tattoos.
Often, production companies tend to be better safe than sorry when it comes to this sort of thing. According to a 1992 law journal article, Bill Cosby once ordered the removal of a mural in the background of the opening credits of The Cosby Show over a clearance issue.