Disney, Fox, and Paramount have just given their argument for the dismissal of a lawsuit involving the use of stolen motion capture technology in their films. The suit, put forth by VFX firm Rearden LLC, seeks damages and profits from the studios for the use of their stolen MOVA technology on the basis of copyright, trademark, and patent violations; the studios are now making their case against that idea with arguments about whether ownership of a product resides with the technology used or the creative elements employed.
Rearden LLC developed a motion capture technology, MOVA, that focused on recording and reproducing realistic facial expressions. MOVA has since been used (without incident) to help create such films as The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, the Transformers and Harry Potter franchises, and Snow White and the Hunstman.
According to Rearden founder Steve Perlman, a former employee by the name of Greg LaSalle transferred the MOVA tech to other companies, Digital Domain 3.0 being one of them. Digital Domain 3.0 was purchased by Shenzhenshi Haitiecheng Science and Technology Co., Ltd., which is involved with The People’s Republic of China.
These events lead to an international economic espionage investigation by the FBI and numerous court proceeding between Rearden LLC, Digital Domain, and Shenzhenshi Haitiecheng Science and Technology Co., Ltd. Rearden has been largely successful in the proceedings so far.
Rearden alleges that the three film studios (Disney, Fox, and Paramount) as well as one video game developer (Crystal Dynamics) purchased and used stolen MOVA technology for the creation of certain products. The suit references such films as Avengers: Age of Ultron, Guardians of the Galaxy, Beauty and the Beast, Deadpool, Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb; video gave developer Crystal Dynamics is involved for their game Rise of the Tomb Raider.
Rearden views this use as a violation of copywrite, trademark, and patent laws; they expect compensation for damages and a percentage of the studios’ profits.
The Studios’ Case for Dismissal:
Hollywood’s arguments all center around the notion of where the ownership of content lies.
Let’s say you have a business planning weddings. After setting up each wedding you snap some creative photos with a Samsung smartphone that you purchased second hand and probably stolen. You upload these pictures to your website where you proclaim what an amazing camera your smartphone has, and how it was used to create those promotional pics. Does Samsung own those photos, and can they sue for a percentage of your company’s profits from using them?
The wedding were designed by you, but the specific camera technology enabled the final product. Where exactly does the ownership sit?
The four defendant companies in this suit are making the claim that the human creative element is the deciding factor in who content belongs to.
The Copyright Violation:
Rearden’s complaint is described by the motion to dismiss: Rearden does not claim that MOVA software was actually used in the films, but that output files created from using the software were.
The studios response draws a comparison from other technological applications and claims a lack of justification for Rearden’s stance, stating,
“Indeed, if Rearden’s authorship-ownership theory were law, then Adobe or Microsoft would be deemed to be the author-owner of whatever expressive works the users of Photoshop or Word generate by using those programs. Even if the MOVA Contour copyright did extend to the output files, however, Rearden has not alleged that the output files themselves are substantially incorporated into the computer-generated (“CG”) characters or the movies in issue, none of which could possibly be derivative works of the MOVA Contour software program.”
The Patent Violation:
This allegation is directed specifically toward Disney. Rearden claims Disney “had actual knowledge of, or was willfully blind to” the patents for the technology used on the films in question. Due to Disney having used MOVA on previous films including Tron: Legacy, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, and The Avengers Rearden asserts that Disney cannot claim ignorance for where the technology originated and h.
The motion to dismiss states that this claim hinges on a single letter for evidence, which Rearden did not provide, and would not prove their case had it been provided.
The Trademark Violation:
Rearden alleges that the studios used the MOVA technology trademark to promote their products, referencing it through cast/crew statements and ending credits sequences.
The studios’ response to this is that most of the trademark uses mentioned were not done on behalf of the studios, and that where the studios do use it (such as the credits sequences) it qualifies as fair-use.
The studios are represented by attorney Kelly Klaus.
Rearden will have the opportunity to oppose this motion before a judge rules on whether to move forward. This process may be paused as the ownership rights of MOVA are determined.