Hollywood Docket: 'Doctor Who' Time Machine Copyright Challenged

A roundup of entertainment law news including Disney's fight with a theater and the end of a lawsuit against LimeWire.
BBC America

Doctor Who is celebrating its 50th anniversary as an iconic science fiction television series, so what better way to mark the occasion by looking back at the work of Tony Coburn, who wrote the first episode?

In fact, the writer's son Stef Coburn has launched a provocative copyright claim that argues that "Tardis," the time machine that looks like a blue police phone box, no longer belongs to the BBC.

PHOTOS: 'Doctor Who' at 50

The senior Coburn says that after his father died in 1977, rights reverted to the family. Any informal permission to use Tardis expired by now, according to Coburn's copyright claim, obtained by The Independent.

Doctor Who lasted for a record 26 seasons in its original incarnation, spawned a feature film and has been running again in new form on the BBC since 2005.

The BBC is reportedly investigating the complaint but has noted that there haven't been any challenges since a copyright registration in the 1980s.

STORY: 'Doctor Who' 50th Anniversary Set Visit: Matt Smith, David Tennant Preview Special

In other entertainment law news:

  • The battle between appropriation artist Richard Prince and photographer Patrick Cariou has probably been the most closely-watched legal battle in the art world this century. But on Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court said that it won't review a ruling by the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals that determined that much of Prince's work using Cariou's photographs could be transformative and a "fair use" of copyrights. Attorneys for Prince had argued that the high court should reject Cariou's petition for cert so as not to create any "bright-line rule" around fair use. The case continues at the district level where the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and the Rauschenberg Foundation have submitted amicus briefs urging the consideration of the opinions of art historians in the formation of what's transformative.
  • Stan Lee Media continues to push an issue that it believes has never been fully resolved -- whether Disney really owns Stan Lee-created comic superheroes. Now, after striking out in a billion dollar lawsuit in Colorado, SLM believes it will get a new opportunity to address the issue of whether it retained rights to Spider-Man and other franchises when it emerged from bankruptcy a decade ago. In September, Disney sued a Pennyslvania theater that was putting on a production that featured Disney characters. In response, the defendant has now filed papers claiming that it had licensed the characters from SLM. A judge has ordered discovery. Disney has yet to respond.
  • One of Hollywood's piracy battles is officially over. Two years after following the record industry by suing once-popular file-sharing service LimeWire, the studios have dropped the claims. The film companies said they were entitled to substantial millions after it had already been determined that LimeWire was liable for copyright infringement. For undisclosed reasons, the case was put on suspense before being dismissed altogether. Reportedly, a settlement has been reached.
  • The Recording Industry Association of America has announced that it has tapped George Borkowski as its new senior vice president of litigation and legal affairs. Borkowski worked at the RIAA between 2000 and 2001 before spending more than a decade in private practice for various law firms, including chairing the IP and technology practice group at Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp. He'll be reporting to RIAA general counsel Steven Marks.