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Disney won’t be shamed out of standing its ground in the face of “overzealous copyright holders” like the Michael Jackson Estate. On Monday, the entertainment giant and its broadcast subsidiary ABC filed an answer to the copyright lawsuit over the two-hour documentary The Last Days of Michael Jackson, which used excerpts from This Is It and other works including music videos for “Thriller” and “Black or White.”
The lawsuit came in California federal court in May and pointed to just how seriously Disney takes its own intellectual property. The complaint gave examples: Disney threatened to sue childcare centers for having pictures of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck on the wall; Disney once sued a couple on public assistance for $1 million when they appeared at children’s parties dressed as an orange tiger and a blue donkey; Disney sent takedown notices to social media services upon users posting photographs of their new Star Wars toys; and so forth.
In fact, Disney’s response to the Michael Jackson lawsuit comes just days after it suffered a setback in a lawsuit against a business that sends individuals in costumes to kids’ birthday parties.
No matter and forget any sense of irony.
Answering claims over illicit use of Michael Jackson rights, Disney states, “This case is about the right of free speech under the First Amendment, the doctrine of fair use under the Copyright Act, and the ability of news organizations to use limited excerpts of copyrighted works — here, in most instances well less than 1% of the works — for the purpose of reporting on, commenting on, teaching about, and criticizing well-known public figures of interest in biographical documentaries without fear of liability from overzealous copyright holders.”
Disney is being represented in the case by star litigator Daniel Petrocelli, leading an O’Melveny & Myers team that also includes Drew Breuder and Nicole Cambeiro.
“ABC News used and incorporated short excerpts of some songs, music videos and other material featuring Jackson within a two-hour documentary entitled The Last Days of Michael Jackson for the purpose of providing historical context and explanation tracing the arc and aspects of Jackson’s life and career — precisely what is contemplated and permitted by the First Amendment,” continues the court filing. “Plaintiffs’ lawsuit, in violation of these legal principles, constitutes an attempt to exercise unfettered control over public commentary and opinion on Jackson’s life and career.”
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