Summit Entertainment Sues, Saying Only It Can Make A Documentary About How 'Twilight' Impacted Forks, WA

from the once-bitten dept

Summit Entertainment, the studio behind the massively successful Twilight series of films, is suing another company that made a documentary. Apparently the Twilight books and movies take place in the town of Forks, Washington. In this case, a company called Heckelsville Media wanted to make a documentary about how the books and movies impacted Forks. It pitched the documentary to a few companies, including Summit Entertainment, who agreed to release the documentary in conjunction with the most recent film's DVD release. But one of the other companies that Heckelsville pitched liked the idea so much that it produced its own documentary on the same subject, which it's releasing a few days earlier.

So, the question is whether or not this is legal. It seems pretty bizarre to suggest that only Summit could ever make a documentary about the impact a book and movie had on a town. Summit, who has a history of being ridiculously over-aggressive in trying to stop anyone from doing anything Twilight related, is claiming both trademark and copyright infringement (among a few other things). There may be an argument for trademark infringement, though it seems like a weak one, since this movie is about Twilight, not a competitor to Twilight. If it's considered trademark infringement to make a documentary about a trademarked brand, then you could never make a whole bunch of documentaries. For example, can you imagine if GM had tried to stop Michael Moore's Roger & Me by claiming trademark infringement?

As for the copyright claim, again, that seems rather weak, as it seems to focus on still images. There may be an issue with the unauthorized documentary makers originally using a cover that was similar to the original cover pitched by Heckelsville, but even then, the makers of the unauthorized documentary have already agreed to change the cover to make it different.

All in all, it seems like Summit is overreacting. If, as it claims, this other documentary was put together in a rush and isn't very good, then why not compete in the marketplace to see which documentary people prefer?


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    NAMELESS.ONE, Feb 11th, 2010 @ 11:41am

    let me ge this straight

    i come to you with an idea you say ok and i tell some others your involved with and they just go take the idea and go do it.

    thats also whats wrong with this system now you say copyright is weak on that idea, THIS will depend ON HOW much of the 1st lots ideas were incorporated into there documentary and why do we need two of them if the first group was liked and approved.

    VERY stupid thing to do really and you ask for a punch in nose doing that to friends in real life

     

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  2.  
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    mike d (profile), Feb 11th, 2010 @ 11:51am

    Re: let me ge this straight

    exactly. aren't there non-disclosure agreements or something similar for documentaries?

     

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  3.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Feb 11th, 2010 @ 11:53am

    Re: let me ge this straight

    i come to you with an idea you say ok and i tell some others your involved with and they just go take the idea and go do it.

    It's rude and obnoxious, but should it be illegal? If so, why?

    THIS will depend ON HOW much of the 1st lots ideas were incorporated into there documentary and why do we need two of them if the first group was liked and approved.

    Copyright is (supposed) to be about expression, not ideas...

     

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  4.  
    identicon
    scote, Feb 11th, 2010 @ 11:54am

    Is it legal to steal a pitch idea?

    At first this sounded like heavy handed copyright enforcement by Twilight IP owners, but if one of the companies Heckelsville pitched their idea to decided to take the idea and do their own version, is their an IP or a contractual violation? Or are companies free to steal all the ideas that are pitched to them?

    Ideas supposedly can't be copyrighted, only expressions of ideas, yet people seem to be able to sue over similarites of plot and such in fiction. What is the recourse, if any? How can people pitch if there is no legal protection?

     

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  5.  
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    A Dan (profile), Feb 11th, 2010 @ 12:09pm

    Re: Is it legal to steal a pitch idea?

    You can do it by having a contract beforehand that they can't make the movie you pitch (obviously within a limited time period). Then, if they do, you can sue them for breaching the contract.

     

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  6.  
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    Alan Gerow (profile), Feb 11th, 2010 @ 12:22pm

    Re: let me ge this straight

    That's what NDAs are for. It shouldn't be illegal if there's no agreement. And if the person won't agree to your NDA or such contract before hearing the idea, then you keep your idea to yourself and go on your way.

    You can't copyright ideas. It's the execution of the idea that you can lay claim to.

     

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  7.  
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    Alan Gerow (profile), Feb 11th, 2010 @ 12:23pm

    Re: Is it legal to steal a pitch idea?

    "What is the recourse, if any?"

    Putting out a better product.

     

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  8.  
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    Mojzu (profile), Feb 11th, 2010 @ 12:33pm

    It's a pretty awful thing to do on the part of the other company, but it should not be illegal. If Summit played it smart they could easily trash any kind of reputation this other company has (after all, people are repulsed by this kind of 'theft'). And I can't help but think this is partially Summits fault, there are all kinds of contracts/NDA's that can be used for precisely these situations, to stop a company stealing your idea. And to say that Summit did not have these options available to them, or that they did not know about them is pure folly. If they had a pre-existing contract they could easily sue over that, have a much stronger claim and potentially get much greater damages, instead they've gone for some comparatively weak claims due to their own incompetence in failing to set up some kind of 'you can't copy this idea' contract'...

     

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  9.  
    identicon
    Danny, Feb 11th, 2010 @ 12:37pm

    If they want to be so sue happy...

    I'd like to see the town of Forks, WA sue both of them for infringing on their community in making those documentaries. LOL.

     

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  10.  
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    Overcast (profile), Feb 11th, 2010 @ 12:51pm

    Copyright's just about 'control' now - not innovation or anything else.

     

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  11.  
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    Overcast (profile), Feb 11th, 2010 @ 12:55pm

    Re: If they want to be so sue happy...

    I'd like to see the town of Forks, WA sue both of them for infringing on their community in making those documentaries. LOL.

    haha, yeah - and 'Twilight, WV' should sue this film maker as well, for 'infringing'.

    Twilight, WV

     

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  12.  
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    Marcus Carab (profile), Feb 11th, 2010 @ 1:29pm

    Re: Re: let me ge this straight

    What about breach of fiduciary duty?

    I'm genuinely asking - I don't know much about the law. I am assuming that it doesn't apply here, though, since there was no formal arrangement between Heckelsville and the studio making the competing documentary.

     

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  13.  
    identicon
    RD, Feb 11th, 2010 @ 1:44pm

    Re: Is it legal to steal a pitch idea?

    "At first this sounded like heavy handed copyright enforcement by Twilight IP owners, but if one of the companies Heckelsville pitched their idea to decided to take the idea and do their own version, is their an IP or a contractual violation? Or are companies free to steal all the ideas that are pitched to them?"

    Ideas cant be protected, only specific, fixed expressions of those ideas. Contracts maybe, but that would be down to the specific parties involved, like if the town signed an EXCLUSIVE agreement, then went ahead and made their own. But that is contract law, not copyright or trademark.

    "Ideas supposedly can't be copyrighted, only expressions of ideas, yet people seem to be able to sue over similarites of plot and such in fiction. What is the recourse, if any? How can people pitch if there is no legal protection?"

    Similarities are still based on fixed expressions. You cant copyright the idea of an orphan boy wizard, but you CAN copyright an orphan boy wizard named Harry Potter who goes to Hogwarts and has friends named Ron and Hermoine. And even THEN, you can parody these specifics, for instance. At least you used to. Now with entitlement culture and every single thought having "ownership", people sue over things not enshrined in law, like documentaries, commentary and criticism, and news.

     

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  14.  
    identicon
    Danny, Feb 11th, 2010 @ 1:46pm

    Re: Re: If they want to be so sue happy...

    And then Volkswagen will sue Twilight, WV since WV is so much like VW that they think people will not be able to tell the difference between a town in WV and a European car company.

     

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  15.  
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    Richard (profile), Feb 11th, 2010 @ 1:50pm

    It all depends

    It all depends on what the terms of the original negotiations were.
    It seems to me that copyright is not relevant.

    However if A pitches idea to B, B says no but then follows up the idea anyway then that is not a good way to behave (and ought to have been excluded via the negotiation contract.

    Conversely if A pitches to B, C and D, both B and C say yes but A prefers to go with C then B should be free to proceed independently.

     

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  16.  
    identicon
    Ralph, Feb 11th, 2010 @ 2:25pm

    TOPICS did nothing wrong

    I am the producer of the other documentary. The publisher we're working with did NOT take an idea that was pitched and go make their own documentary. The original was pitched to them, but Summit jumped on it. I had my doc, pitched it to the publisher and they took this one. I have my own production company. We have NO footage from the Twilight films or anything, it's strictly a documentary on Forks and the impact the town has come to enjoy. We had full backing from the city of Forks to shoot this doc. and many are very disappointed in Summit. No ideas or content was taken, it's all original. Just want to throw out some facts.

     

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  17.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 11th, 2010 @ 4:24pm

    The only comment I can make here is that the other company that 'stole' the idea for the documentary are a bit dodgy for doing so. Good on them for getting it released faster than the 'big guys'.

    Seriously though, are people becoming so stupid and lazy lately that they can't come up with their own ideas and have to rip off other people's ideas/logos?

     

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  18.  
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    Rose M. Welch (profile), Feb 11th, 2010 @ 5:39pm

    Re:

    Was this some big transcendental idea that only one person could have come up with? I think it's pretty likely that multiple people pitched this idea, and Summit went with the best people for the job.

    If I call a contractor to give me an estimate for remodeling (which I'm currently doing) and he shows up drunk and details some great ideas, I'm not going to hire him. But I certainly wouldn't feel unethical if I hired a different, sober contractor to complete those ideas.

     

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  19.  
    identicon
    Sport Watches, Jun 17th, 2010 @ 5:22am

    glad to find a good web like this .. I would often visit ....

    Drafting Table

     

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  20.  
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    sprearson81 (profile), Jun 9th, 2012 @ 5:46am

    Er, yeah, ok mate . . .

     

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