A&E Television Faces Lawsuit Over Copyright of 3D Jesus Christ (Exclusive)

A&E Logo - H 2012

A&E Logo - H 2012

Thou shall not steal the face of Jesus Christ?

The History channel is about to find out whether it broke the first commandment of copyright law.

Raymond Downing, a New York-based 3D digital illustrator, is suing A&E Television Networks, owner of the History Channel, and Left Right Inc., a production company, for infringing the copyright of his virtual reproduction of Jesus by overusing material subject to a licensing agreement.

According to his lawsuit, which has just been moved to a New York federal court, Downing, and his Studio Macbeth firm, first created a virtual depiction of Abraham Lincoln, which he licensed to the History Channel for the 2009 show, Stealing Lincoln's Body. Downing won an Emmy for his work.

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An executive producer at History Channel then visited Downing's studio and witnessed an exhibition of the 3D digital recreation of Jesus from the Shroud of Turin. Apparently impressed, the History Channel then licensed "Virtual Jesus" for a 2010 program called The Real Face of Jesus?

But Downing says the rights granted were limited -- History was allegedly only allowed 10 graphic animation sequences and the rights were "non-transferable, non-sublicensable and related solely to the Real Face of Jesus Program for the History Channel."

Downing says the success of the Lincoln and Jesus shows led to a new production that would center on the 40 days whereby Jesus of Nazareth walked on Earth after his resurrection. Says the lawsuit, "Studio Macbeth envisioned a show at the crossroads of science and faith: a scientific investigation guided by modern-day physics, historical analysis, and archaeological discoveries into the post-resurrection accounts found in the New Testament."

The production was entitled Jesus: the Lost 40 Days, and Downing says he met with the defendants to go over such scientific elements as holograms, the physics of observer dependence and Shrodinger's cat, among other things.

Downing says he later discovered that the History Channel was "not interested in any scientific inquiry into these New Testament events," but rather "solely interested in the exploitation of Plaintiff Studio Macbeth's original Jesus Animations which could not be duplicated or otherwise recreated by Defendants."

In November 2010, Downing says he licensed "Jesus Animations" for the Lost 40 Days production for $120,000, but was duped by misrepresentations about what the show would be about.

And even if that licensing deal is legitimate, Downing believes that the defendants have gone beyond the scope of what was allowed in the contract by doing things like using Virtual Lincoln in the Real Faces of Jesus program, using too much of Virtual Jesus and Jesus Animations, falsely representing who created the graphics and broadcasting the content on other A&E affiliates such as the H2 network.

Downing says he has registered copyright on Virtual Lincoln, Virtual Jesus, and Jesus Animations.

Alleging copyright infringement, breach of contract, unjust enrichment, breach of fair dealing and fraud, he's now seeking an injunction against further use of his Lincoln and Jesus recreations. He's also seeking actual and compensatory damages.

A&E said it had no comment.

E-mail: eriq.gardner@thr.com; Twitter: @eriqgardner