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Terry Gilliam Sued Over Street Artist Graffiti in 'Zero Theorem'

A mural shown in the film is alleged to be copied in "striking detail" from a famous mural in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Argentina Graffiti - H 2014
Via U.S. Court Documents
A picture of the three street artists working on their mural (from the court docs)

Three street artists of some renown have filed a lawsuit over Terry Gilliam's forthcoming film, The Zero Theorem, starring Matt Damon and Christoph Waltz.

In a complaint filed on Wednesday in Illinois federal court, Argentineans "Jaz" (Franco Fasoli) and "Ever" (Nicolas Escalada) as well as Canadian "Troy Lovegates, aka Other" (Derek Mehaffey) allege that the movie — about a computer hacker in search of meaning — violates the copyright they hold on a large-scale mural titled Castillo on public display in Buenos Aires.

Actors can chew scenery, but sometimes, the scenery chews back.

In this case, the plaintiffs, who say they are each able to demand tens of thousands of dollars for commissioned works to collectors, set up a collaboration in the well-known zona de graffiti ("street art zone") on Fitz Roy Street in the Argentinian city that is described as being quite hospitable to public murals. Their work was finished on Dec. 24, 2010, and according to the lawsuit, "represents a harmonious whole, but individual elements of the Copyrighted Artwork are instantly recognizable as the contributions of Other, Jaz and Ever."

The common perception might be that street artists aren't well-organized, but here, the two Argentinians say they registered the mural with the country's Copyright Office in 2013.

"The Copyrighted Artwork has achieved international recognition in the art world, and is widely recognized by the public in Argentina and abroad," states the lawsuit. "Castillo is so important that it is one of the few public artworks that have survived for years in that particular zona de graffiti."

Gilliam (Brazil, 12 Monkeys) is said to have shot Zero Theorem in Bucharest, Romania. One of the important locales in the film is a burnt-out chapel converted into the living quarters of the protagonist. The lawsuit says that the exterior wall of the chapel "features a colorful mural that is a blatant misappropriation of Plaintiffs' Copyrighted Artwork."

The complaint, which quotes one reviewer at Comic-Con praising the "incredible concept designs and worldbuilding," contains pictured comparisons. We've embedded the complaint below for review.

Other, Jaz and Ever are suing Voltage Pictures, Amplify Releasing and others, but reserve special scorn for co-defendant Gilliam's supposed "repeated disregard for copyright law." Specifically, they cite a prior copyright lawsuit over an interrogation/torture chair that was allegedly derived from a 1987 drawing by the artist Lebbeus Woods.

That case settled, but, says the lawsuit, "clearly Mr. Gilliam did not learn his lesson, as the present action amply demonstrates. As was the case in Woods, here Mr. Gilliam and his cohorts 'cannot seriously contend' that they did not draw their inspiration from Plaintiffs' Copyrighted Artwork, because the Infringing Work copies Plaintiffs' mural in 'striking detail.' And, again just like the Woods case, it does not matter here how many minutes of screen time in the Film are devoted to the Infringing Work, because what is important is 'the amount taken without authorization from the infringed work,' not 'the characteristics of the infringing work.' "

The street artists demand an injunction on a film that's scheduled to be released in the U.S. on VOD next week and in theaters on Sept. 19. Represented by attorneys at Foley & Lardner, they also want statutory damages, profits and costs.

Voltage hasn't yet responded to a request for comment.

Email: Eriq.Gardner@THR.com
Twitter: @eriqgardner