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A film being shopped to buyers in Cannes is the source of a monster legal battle.
The rights holders of the Godzilla franchise, Japanese company Toho, have sued Voltage Pictures over the film Colossal, which stars Anne Hathaway as a woman who realizes her mind is strangely connected to a giant lizard destroying Tokyo. It’s being described as Godzilla meets Being John Malkovich.
In fact, it is Godzilla, says Toho.
In a complaint filed Tuesday in California federal court, the company claims the filmmakers “are brazenly producing, advertising, and selling an unauthorized Godzilla film of their own.”
The rights holders point out an August 2014 interview with writer-director Nacho Vigalondo in which he says of his script, “It’s going to be the cheapest Godzilla movie ever, I promise. It’s going to be a serious Godzilla movie, but I’ve got an idea that’s going to make it so cheap that you will feel betrayed.” Vigalondo is a co-defendant.
The lawsuit focuses on the filmmakers’ efforts to publicize Colossal, which Toho claims have included infringing content. The Godzilla rights holders claim the filmmakers sent an email blast to potential investors, sales agents and distributors on May 9 pitching Colossal with a publicity still from the recent Godzilla reboot (the complaint includes pictures) plus a document of “Director’s Notes” with numerous images from official Toho works.
“The Director’s Notes also make clear that Defendants have not only taken the Godzilla Character as their own, but that they also intend to use the Godzilla Character in precisely the same way that Toho used the character in its initial film — attacking Tokyo,” states the complaint.
Other infringements Toho claims include the line “Tokyo is under attack by Godzilla” in the company’s Cannes sales booklet and a poster with an image from the Godzilla reboot.
“Toho is informed and believes, and based thereon alleges, that Defendants have knowingly used the Godzilla Character to attract interest and attention in their Colossal project so that it would stand out in a crowded field of competitors on the film sales circuit,” states the complaint.
The plaintiff is suing for copyright and trademark infringements, trademark dilution, Lanham Act violations, unfair competition and unjust enrichment. It wants Voltage enjoined from producing Colossal plus unspecified damages.
The complaint was filed by Greenberg Glusker’s Aaron Moss and Chuck Shephard, Toho’s longtime litigators. “We’ve represented Toho for a long time, and this is about as brazen an act of infringement as we’ve encountered. It’s hard to believe that an established Hollywood production company would conduct business this way,” Shephard tells The Hollywood Reporter.
Toho points out in the complaint that Voltage has a history of fighting infringements of its films, particularly through online piracy. The company, led by producer Nicolas Chartier, filed a huge lawsuit over piracy of the best picture Oscar winner The Hurt Locker in 2010. It lodged similar litigation four years later over torrents of the contender Dallas Buyers Club.
THR has reached out to Voltage for comment.
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