Disney, Fox, Paramount Targeted as MOVA Facial Capture Legal Fight Shifts Focus

Beauty And The Beast 5 - Dan Stevens - Still - H - 2016

A U.S. District Court has ruled that the owner of the MOVA facial capture software used on Hollywood movies such as Disney's Beauty and the Beast is the property of the technology’s original inventor, Rearden, led by entrepreneur Steve Perlman.

This means Rearden's legal team is now turning its attention to Hollywood studios that produced movies made with the MOVA technology.

A year ago, visual effects house Digital Domain 3.0 lost the right to use the facial capture system when Rearden secured an injunction against two Chinese firms that purchased allegedly stolen MOVA technology, which was being licensed by Digital Domain. Now Rearden is going after Digital Domain’s studio clients.

“Rearden’s focus is going to be the suits against the studios,” an attorney representing the company told The Hollywood Reporter on Friday. Specifically, last month Rearden filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction prohibiting Disney from distributing Beauty and the Beast, as well as Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers: Age of Ultron, which it claimed “used the stolen MOVA Contour systems and methods, made derivative works and reproduced, distributed, performed and displayed at least Guardians of the GalaxyAvengers: Age of Ultron and Beauty and the Beast, in knowing or willfully blind violation of Rearden Mova LLC’s intellectual property rights."

A week later, Rearden filed similar lawsuits aimed at Fox (citing DeadpoolNight at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb and Fantastic Four), and Paramount (citing Terminator: Genisys).

The issue stems from a relationship gone sour between Perlman and his former employee Greg LaSalle, who went to court over ownership of the MOVA system. LaSalle had licensed the technology to a Chinese firm, Shenzhenshi Haitiecheng Science and Technology, which later transferred it to a third company, Virtue Global Holdings. Rearden contested both of these transactions in court. A lawyer for Perlman said the latest ruling was a "huge victory" for Perlman. 

“Shenzhenshi Haitiecheng Science and Technology, Digital Domain 3.0 and Virtue Global Holdings knew that LaSalle did not own the Mova Assets, and did not have actual or apparent authority to sell the Mova Assets. Neither SHST nor DD3 nor VGH took the Mova Assets in good faith,” the court document reads.

It also asserts: “The true reason SHST was used as the buyer was to allow DD3 to use the physical assets, while ownership of the assets and the risk of any liabilities resided with SHST in China."

On Friday, a spokesperson for Digital Domain told The Hollywood Reporter: “We respectfully disagree with the judge’s decision, which is based on his interpretation of a contract Greg had in place, before he came to work here. … We had licensed MOVA in good faith, and only use alternative approaches for the highest quality facial motion capture.”

The spokesperson didn't say whether Digital Domain intends to appeal the ruling.