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If a ventriloquist mistakenly signs away the rights to his performances, can he later blame the dummy?
Jeff Dunham is one of the world’s most popular comedians, an astounding feat for a ventriloquist. Earlier this year, Slate.com examined the popularity of Dunham. In 2008, he sold $19.2 million in tickets, making him the highest grossing stand-up act in America. His Christmas special last year on Comedy Central was the most watched program in the network’s history. And some of the videos he posts on YouTube generate tens of millions of hits.
But according to a lawsuit filed yesterday in Los Angeles Superior Court, he was approached in 2006 by the president of Montivagus Prods with an offer to participate in a documentary entitled “I’m No Dummy.”
Dunham allegedly agreed to an interview and let the filmmakers shoot some of his public appearances for no compensation. According to the complaint, Dunham orally agreed that Montivagus would have full ownership and control of all film shot of the comedian. Dunham also allegedly signed a written release.
It appears as though Dunham realized this was a mistake and that his agreement may have conflicted with other deals he has made. For example, early this year a lawyer for Dunham sent an e-mail indicating that Comedy Central was unhappy with the fact that Dunham’s name and likeness were being used to promote the documentary. The parties later met and Dunham’s representatives allegedly demanded full distribution rights to the documentary. Further threats ensued.
Montivagus is now suing for declaratory relief, negligent misrepresentation, and breach of representations and warranties. Here’s the complaint.
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