In mid-July of last year, effects firm Rearden LLC put forth a round of lawsuits against Disney, Fox, and Paramount claiming that the studios used stolen motion capture technology in the creation of feature films and violated copyright, patent, and trademark laws. A judge has now ruled on the studios’ joint motion to dismiss, rejecting Rearden’s copyright claim but unable to dismiss all patent and trademark arguments.
The origin of this conflict goes back to an international economic espionage investigation by the FBI and a successful lawsuit by Rearden against Digital Domain 3.0 and Shenzhenshi Haitiecheng Science and Technology Co., Ltd., which is involved with The People’s Republic of China. Digital Domain 3.0, owned by Shenzhenshi, had improperly obtained and used Rearden’s MOVA Contour Program, and the rulings in that case found Rearden to be the legal owners of the motion capture tech.
Rearden has since moved on to taking action against other studios using the MOVA tech, in this case, Disney, Fox, and Paramount. The suit references such films as Avengers: Age of Ultron, Guardians of the Galaxy, Beauty and the Beast, Deadpool, and Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb.
The MOVA Contour Program captures and tracks the human face to reproduce realistic facial features and expressions, and has been officially used in movies like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, the Transformers and Harry Potter franchises, and Snow White and the Hunstman.
The studios involved in the lawsuit responded with a joint motion to dismiss, with Judge Jon Tigar ruling on each of the claims.
Rearden doesn’t claim that the MOVA technology was actually present in the finished film, but that files created using the software were. The studios’ response basically said that if Rearden’s copyright extended to those files “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.”
Rearden makes the case that the product resulting from a program belongs to the programmer if the program does “the lion’s share” of the work. The studios cited the vast amount of creative effort by actors and directors in producing the finished product.
Judge Tigar found in favor of the studios here, referencing specific instances of creative input from actors in the films and saying,
“Rearden argues that the allegations ‘mention’ an actor but focus on the MOVA Contour’s program’s generation of output that is distinct from any actor’s performance or directors’ work. However, Plaintiffs repeatedly acknowledge the actors’ contributions throughout the complaints…Therefore, Rearden has not alleged that the program ‘does the lion’s share of the work’. . .or that the user’s input is ‘marginal.’ “
Although the Judge did dismiss Rearden’s claim against Disney for direct patent infringement, he did not dismiss claims of actively inducing patent infringement while working with Digital Domain 3.0. Disney had previously used MOVA technology on films including Tron: Legacy, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, and The Avengers, and according to Rearden, should have been aware of the ownership issues.
The court references intellectual property diligence performed by Disney to confirm ownership of the technology, as well as demand letters sent to the company by Rearden. The ruling states,
“Assuming the truth of these allegations, it is not an unreasonable inference that Disney became aware of Rearden’s patents, and continued to be aware that the MOVA technology was patented when it contracted with DD3.”
Trademarks apply to the usage of the name MOVA, and not the program itself, and Rearden takes issue with all three defendant studios using the designation in various promotional materials and credits sequences. With a few minor exceptions, such as a Beauty and the Beast featurette and a Terminator: Genisys Facebook page, the dismissal of these claims was deemed premature at this point.
This means Disney is still facing trademark violations for Guardians of the Galaxy (credits, advertising/promotional material) and Beauty and the Beast (advertising/promotional material). Fox is still under fire for Deadpool (credits, featurette) and Fantastic Four (featurette, advertising/promotional material; Paramount for Terminator: Genisys (advertising, promotional material).
Source: The Hollywood Reporter