5:17pm PT by Eriq Gardner
'Twilight' Parody Company Sues Lionsgate for $500 Million
The award for legal chutzpah this year goes to a New York attorney named James H. Freeman, who has crafted a 219-page lawsuit that accuses Lionsgate Entertainment and its subsidiary Summit Entertainment of becoming "a dominant market force in the movie industry during the last five years" on the strength of its Twilight franchise.
There's always been some tension between intellectual property law and antitrust law. IP entitles an owner to a legal monopoly while the latter aims to take apart such market control. In this whopping lawsuit, Lionsgate and Summit are charged with making "anticompetitive conduct" on their lucrative rights on Twilight.
Specifically, the plaintiff is Behind the Lines Productions, which says it made a feature-length film entitled Twiharder that "portrayed hyper-exaggerated caricatures from The Twilight Saga movies and lampooned expressive elements embodied in Defendants’ pre-existing works through imitative reference."
The company says several major distributors expressed interest in Twiharder, and its movie passed scrutiny by lawyers, insurers and fair use experts. Then, the defendant film companies allegedly heard about it.
"On June 27, 2012, Plaintiff became just one more victim in a long line of independent auteurs to receive a sham 'cease-and-desist' C&D Notice from Defendants," says the lawsuit. "Within days of disclosing the communication to its contractual offers, the WMPI distributors and E&O insurers unceremoniously revoked their offers to deal with Plaintiff."
Not stopping there, the lawsuit then provides an overview of legal protections in the movie industry, the history of "movie franchises," details about the "tentpole" franchise era (with pictures of an actual tentpole construction), discussion of Twihards, critical reaction to the blockbuster films (e.g., "The Twilight Saga has also been heavily criticized by civil rights activists and academic scholars for perpetuating one-dimensional stereotypes about Native American heritage") and so forth.
And that's just in the first crazy 56 pages.
Then, there's talk about defendants' "predatory conduct" in relation to its use of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to force works off of YouTube and CafePress.com and further legal discussion to support allegations of DMCA abuse and antitrust behavior. Besides hundreds of millions of dollars, the plaintiffs are also seeking cancelation of the defendants' trademarks.
Summit has long been known as aggressively protective of its intellectual property on Twilight and has endured some digerati condemnation because of this. The studio said it had no comment about the lawsuit.
The 219-page complaint that follows is, well, read for yourself...