Universal's 'Steve Jobs' Suffers Copyright Attack Over Shark Scene

Steve Jobs Movie Still - H 2015

Steve Jobs Movie Still - H 2015

In a pivotal scene in Universal's Steve Jobs, the Apple founder played by Michael Fassbender is standing on a stage, having an intense discussion with Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) over who at the company should be credited at a product launch. An enormous shark image is up on screen in the background.

Moments earlier in the film, there was a humorous exchange between Jobs and the Apple employee tasked with finding the right photo of a ravenous shark. Thirty-nine shark images were considered, but Jobs is a perfectionist. The employee hardly sees a difference in the various photos. Jobs does. He finally has found the right image to show audiences. 

A new lawsuit filed in Arizona against Universal Pictures, Legendary Pictures and theatrical giants AMC and Cinemark suggests that the image wasn't the perfect one after all.

Carl Roessler, a scuba diver and professional photographer, identifies himself as the individual who took that exact photograph, titled "Maddened Attack." His complaint (read in full) goes into extraordinary detail about the background of the shark scene in Steve Jobs.

According to the lawsuit, he took the image in 1994 during a diving expedition off the coast of Australia. Four years later, Apple Computers licensed the photograph and first used it during a Jobs' presentation introducing the company's PowerBook G3 laptop computer. Jobs used the photograph to make the point that his new product would eat the competition, that in Jobs' words, the PowerBook "eats Pentium notebooks for lunch, too." (The video follows.)

The lawsuit points out that the film took some creative liberties with regards to the shark scene. Roessler says the Walter Isaacson book that formed the basis of the film never mentioned sharks, that the discussion between Jobs and his staff about the shark as presented in the movie never happened, and nodding to press interviews, says that the film's scriptwriter Aaron Sorkin "got the idea for the part about finding the right shark picture because Jobs once tasked an employee to find the perfect picture of a birthday cake to use as a slide during a product launch celebrating the five-year anniversary of a different product."

Obviously, the shark stands as some form of metaphor, not only to Jobs' perfectionism, but to his competitive appetite and ruthlessness. But can the film use the image? Roessler wants damages for copyright infringement as well as an injunction.

The lawsuit comes after some discussion of another real-life work that was incorporated into Steve Jobs. Specifically, Apple's famous "1984" Super Bowl advertisement, which producers sought out a license to use before being denied and deciding it was covered as fair use. So far, there's been no lawsuit over the "1984" ad, but a photo of a shark presents troubled waters anyway.