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MAR
13
2 YEARS

Academy Sues Events Company for Oscar Copyright Infringement

UPDATED: The lawsuit alleges that Illinois-based TheEventLine.com sells unauthorized eight-foot statues that are "strikingly" similar to the Oscar statuette.

Telly Oscars Split - P 2012
From L-R: The Telly Award statuette, an Oscar statuette

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has sued an Edwardsville, Ill.-based events rental company for copyright infringement stemming from the alleged renting and selling of oversized Oscar statuettes.

AMPAS' suit against TheEventLine.com and its president, Robert Hollingsworth, was filed March 9 in U.S. District Court in Atlanta. The Academy alleges that Hollingsworth has continued to market, sell and rent eight-foot statuettes from a warehouse outside of Atlanta after AMPAS notified him of the allegedly unlawful uses in a March 2011 letter.

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The Academy has a copyright on the Oscar figure and does not permit or license any manufacture, reproduction, distribution, sale, rental or use of the statuette by companies such as TheEventLine.com, the complaint says. The company is described in the complaint as a "Tent, Party, Wedding & Event Rental” business.

AMPAS is known for being especially aggressive in protecting its intellectual property relating to the Academy Awards, though it has been a few years since a high-profile spat over the Oscar copyright erupted. 

A section of the TheEventLine.com website advertises a large gold statuette called a Telly Award, which resembles an Oscar. The website says that the Telly Award is not equivalent to any products from AMPAS or other awards shows. It also notes that the statuettes are available for free for teambuilding, weightlifting and wrestling events with a $1,000 minimum order. The complaint alleges that the company is marketing the statuettes as "free" in an effort to "make it appear as though they are not marketing unauthorized statues for sale or rent."

The AMPAS complaint alleges that the Academy sent a second letter to TheEventLine.com in August 2011 that again detailed the alleged copyright infringement, but received no response. Hollingsworth said in an e-mail to The Hollywood Reporter that the letters were sent to an Atlanta property that his company had not used for several years.  

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In 2011, TheEventLine.com modified its website to remove references to an "Oscar statue," according to the complaint. However, the Academy alleges that the company has continued to market a statuette that is "strikingly, substantially and confusingly similar" to the Oscar statuette. In February, an Academy investigator visited the Atlanta area warehouse and observed the statuettes and spoke with a warehouse manager about the differences between the Oscar statuette and the product TheEventLine.com sells and rents, according to the complaint.

The company has made some modifications to the statuettes, including a change in their color. Hollingsworth said that the Telly Award statuette is modeled after a weightlifter. He provided THR with a letter he said he has sent to the Academy that identifies the differences between the Telly and Oscar statuettes. Hollingsworth said that the Academy has refused to discuss the matter.

The Academy says in its complaint that the "alterations to their bootleg statues do not change the fact that defendants continue to market statues that are strikingly, substantially or confusingly similar to the Academy's Oscar statuettes."

Hollingsworth said that in 2011 his company “removed any possible infringing item and any wording from our website to make sure we were not doing the wrong thing.” According to Hollingsworth, the person sent by the Academy to the warehouse used a “false name, false address and false purpose” to gain access to the facility and took unauthorized photographs of the Telly Award statuettes and other TheEventLine.com products.

“We feel this is a real David vs. Goliath situation that we must not back down from,” said Hollingsworth, adding that he plans to sue AMPAS over the alleged taking of unauthorized photographs, which he characterized as theft of intellectual property. “We will not infringe upon anyone's rights but expect the same from others.”

The Academy could not immediately be reached for comment.

AMPAS remains locked in a high-profile lawsuit with GoDaddy, the Internet domain registrar. In May 2010, AMPAS sued GoDaddy, accusing it of facilitating trademark infringement from unscrupulous cyber squatters. In the lawsuit, AMPAS takes issue with GoDaddy’s “CashParking” program that allows users to buy a domain, "park" the page and collect a portion of revenue from GoDaddy's advertising partners on a pay-per-click basis. AMPAS alleges that the program has been used to register hundreds of websites such as 2011oscars.com, academyawardz.com and betacademyawards.com.

E-mail: Daniel.Miller@THR.com

Twitter: @DanielNMiller