B.B. King Sued Over Efforts To Stop Biographical Movie (Exclusive)

Makers of the film "B.B. King and I" say the blues musician has made a legal move that is threatening celebrity-bio films and songs, pointing to works from Richard Linklater and Christina Aguilera.
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B.B. King

A filmmaker is suing B.B. King for allegedly interfering with his autobiographical film, B.B. King and I, about his long relationship with the blues legend and his success in helping King get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

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King Size Film Production filed the lawsuit last week in California federal court and says that B.B. King has been attempting to use his trademarks and rights of publicity to interfere with the First Amendment right to tell the true story of Michael Zanetis (the "I" in B.B. King and I).

The film stars Patrick Fugit (Almost Famous) and Wendall Pierce (The Wire), and is being co-produced by Frank Capra III, the grandson of the legendary writer and director of It's a Wonderful Life.

The story of the film is about Zanetis, whose life is described in the complaint as "inextricably interwoven with the story of his relationship with B.B. King."

Zanetis moved from the Indiana farmlands to the California beaches in 1977 to pursue his dream of working in the music business. B.B. King's son, Willie, is said to have arranged a chance meeting between Zanetis and his father, which sparked a three decades long relationship.

King helped his young follower cope with his father's death, performed at the opening of the Michael's Supper Club (a California venue founded by Zanetis), and inspired his career in the music industry. In turn, Zanetis purportedly made a promise to King to help the musician get a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, which happened in 1990.

In 2006, Zanetis wrote the screenplay, B.B. King and I, and shared it with King, who autographed the cover.

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But as the film headed into production, the blues legend allegedly attempted to put a stop to the movie.

A cease-and-desist letter was sent last July by an attorney claiming to represent King, which claimed that the film and its affiliated website violated trademarks, the anticybersquatting laws, and King's publicity rights.

King's demands caused a delay in production, clouded the film's title, and obstructed the producer's efforts to obtain further investment in the project, according to the lawsuit.

The plaintiff calls King's demands "a remarkable one -- one that would radically alter the law and strike a severe blow to expressive and artistic freedom."

The lawsuit continues:

"It would also deem as infringing many celebrated works across multiple creative mediums, including the Academy Award nominated movie My Week with Marilyn, Richard Linklater's critically acclaimed film Me and Orson Welles, Maroon 5 and Christina Aguilera's international pop hit 'Moves Like Jagger' and Kim Carnes's Grammy Award winning classic 'Bettie Davis Eyes.'"

King Productions seeks a declaration that its film is non-infringing.

B.B. King couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

E-mail: eriq.gardner@thr.com

Twitter: @eriqgardner