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Just days after releasing the trailer for Tiger King 2, Netflix is being taken to court by Carole Baskin, a big cat sanctuary owner who was prominently featured in the original streaming docuseries.
Baskin on Monday sued the streamer and Royal Goode Productions in Florida federal court and filed an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order that would bar them “from any use of film footage of the Baskins and the Big Cat Rescue sanctuary in Tiger King 2 or in any related promotion or advertising.”
Baskin, along with her husband, Howard, claims the footage breaches appearance releases dated April 30, 2016, and April 3, 2018. She says she was initially approached in 2014 about participating in what Royal Goode described as a “‘Blackfish’ style documentary to expose the big cat trade.” They agreed and were filmed for a total of 10 days over five years.
The couple claims the 2016 release is for one “documentary motion picture,” and the 2018 release merely changed the potential title of the project. They also say they didn’t give permission for additional filming that was done at the Big Cat Rescue sanctuary, and that they weren’t paid for participating — the final product was also nothing like what they had expected.
“Far from being a documentary motion picture that seeks to expose the illicit trade of big cat private ownership, breeding and cub petting, Tiger King 1 is a seven (7) episode series focused primarily upon portrayal of Joe Exotic as a sympathetic victim and Carole as the villain,” writes attorney Frank Jakes in the complaint.
The Baskins claim the series made their business look like the “ethical and moral equivalent of Joe Exotic’s roadside zoo,” which they found especially bothersome because of their personal history.
“Joe Exotic was one of the big cat abusers targeted by the Baskins’ advocacy efforts,” writes Jakes. “Prior litigation between the Big Cat Rescue and Joe Exotic resulting in a $1 million+ judgment against Joe Exotic and his roadside zoo. Fearing the loss of his livelihood, Joe Exotic solicited a hit man to murder Carole Baskin. Fortunately, the plot was uncovered. In 2019, Joe Exotic was convicted of both the murder-for-hire scheme and for killing some of his tigers.”
Further, the couple argues that the first season of Tiger King “portrayed Carole Baskin as a murderer who … disposed of her late husband’s remains by feeding them to her big cats.”
As a result of Tiger King‘s pandemic popularity, the Baskins claim they received hate mail, harassment and death threats and they had to suspend tours of their rescue for fear of violence.
“After Tiger King 1, Royal Goode Productions again approached the Baskins ‘to clear the air’ and, presumably, to entice them into being filmed for the sequel called Tiger King 2,” writes Jakes in the motion for emergency relief, which is embedded below. “The Baskins refused, believing that the Appearance Releases prevented any further use of their film footage by Royal Goode Productions and Netflix in any sequel. Then, on October 27, 2021, Netflix released its Official Tiger King 2 Trailer. To the Baskins’ dismay, the trailer prominently displayed film footage of the Baskins and made clear that Tiger King 2 would do the same.”
So, the Baskins asked the court to intervene by Nov. 16, a day before the second season is set to be released. They argue the project breaches their contracts, filmmakers had no rights to sequels, remakes or derivative projects, and that they would suffer irreparable harm if the season is allowed to air as is. They also want the court to issue a declaration that defendants have no rights to use any footage of the Baskins outside of Tiger King 1.
U.S. District Judge Virginia Hernandez Covington didn’t make them wait very long for an answer, and on Monday denied the motion for a temporary restraining order.
“[T]he Court is not convinced at this juncture that the Baskins’ anticipated injury — including injury to their reputations — if the previously obtained footage of them is used in the new documentary qualifies as irreparable. ‘An injury is “irreparable” only if it cannot be undone through monetary remedies,’” writes Hernandez Covington in the order. “While the Court understands the Baskins’ frustration, it does not appear that inclusion of Defendants’ footage of the Baskins will cause any immediate harm that cannot be compensated with monetary damages.”
Hernandez Covington also isn’t convinced stopping the series is in the public’s best interest. Because of that, and her finding on irreparable harm, she didn’t address the issue of whether the Baskins are likely to succeed on the merits of their claim.
“Importantly, the Court merely finds that the Baskins are not entitled to the extraordinary remedy of a temporary restraining order, which would be entered before Defendants have had an adequate opportunity to respond,” writes Hernandez Covington. “The Court takes no position on whether the Baskins will be able to establish entitlement to a preliminary injunction.”
Netflix declined to comment on the complaint.
Nov. 2, 6:45 a.m. Updated with the court’s decision.
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