Director of Mel Gibson's 'Madman' Doesn't Own Screenplay Copyright, Judge Rules

Director Farhad Safinia and Voltage Pictures have been embroiled in a war over the film, which stars Gibson, who was also in the legal fray.
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Mel Gibson

Litigation-plagued The Professor and the Madman is one step closer to being released, as Voltage Pictures has defeated a copyright infringement suit from its director. 

Farhad Safinia in September 2017 sued Voltage, claiming the film about the origins of the Oxford English Dictionary and starring Mel Gibson and Sean Penn infringes on his copyright in the screenplay because they never finished his directing deal, and tacked on a defamation claim over statements given to the press. 

Gibson also sued Voltage, through his company Icon Productions, claiming his deal required his approval on any material changes to the project, like not executing Safinia's deal. In June, he lost a bid to reclaim control of the film. Meanwhile, Voltage countersued claiming Gibson and Safinia were trying to hijack the project.

U.S. District Court Judge Consuelo Marshall in December dismissed without prejudice Safinia's claim for defamation, finding it wasn't based on the the same "nucleus of operative fact" as his claim for copyright infringement.

The parties each moved for partial summary judgment on Safinia's copyright claim, and Marshall on Wednesday granted Voltage's motion.

Marshall found that a certificate of authorship Safinia signed in 2007, which transferred copyrights to Airborne Productions for anything he created as a work made for hire, clearly included the screenplay at issue. 

"The fact that there is no COA between the named parties in this lawsuit is irrelevant to determining whether Plaintiff’s Screenplay is a work for hire which Plaintiff does not own based on the COA between Plaintiff and Airborne," writes Marshall, noting that Airborne transferred its rights to Voltage in a 2007 Quitclaim Agreement. (Read the full decision, below.)