Godzilla Sues The Godzilla Of Copyright Trolls, Voltage Pictures, For Copyright Infringement

from the and-appears-to-have-a-case dept

Every so often there are lawsuits where we note that both parties have a long history of doing the sort of thing that gets them written about on Techdirt in less-than-positive ways. Here’s another one of those situations. Voltage Pictures is a well known copyright trolling firm, which is its side business along with producing some highly acclaimed movies. Voltage has gone on quite a rampage trying to shake down people all around the globe. The company’s boss, Nicolas Chartier, tends to take a rather black and white view of the situation. Back when he first started shaking people down, someone sent him a friendly email noting (accurately) that going the copyright trolling route might hurt Voltage’s reputation. Rather than considering the message, Chartier turned around and called the helpful emailer a “moron” and a “thief.” This is someone who has quite a strong view on what he believes is his “property.”

So it seems rather fascinating to hear that Toho is suing Voltage for copyright infringement, claiming that a new movie that it’s producing, Colossal, infringes on its copyright on Godzilla. The movie was just announced last week, and the Hollywood Reporter described it this way:

In the movie ? described as Transformers versus Adaptation and Godzilla meets Being John Malkovich; Hathaway will play Gloria, an ordinary woman who, after losing her job and her fianc?, decides to leave her life in New York to move back to her hometown.

But when news reports surface that a giant lizard is destroying the city of Tokyo, Gloria gradually comes to realize that she is strangely connected to these far-off events via the power of her mind. In order to prevent further destruction, Gloria needs to determine why her seemingly insignificant existence has such a colossal effect on the fate of the world.

Right. So, you can see why Toho might be mad, but Toho also has a long and storied history of suing basically anyone they think might be doing anything even loosely connected to Godzilla. It once went after Comcast for having a godzilla-like monster in a marketing campaign and a small mobile app firm for creating a silly game called Fingerzilla.

So… yeah. Two big firms with long histories of legal bullying/threatening/suing people that they feel are unfairly “stealing” their property, when both take a very ridiculous black and white view of what kind of “property” is being “stolen.” Toho even makes note of Voltage’s copyright troll history in the very opening of the lawsuit:

Godzilla is one of the most iconic fictional characters in the history of motion pictures. Toho Co., Ltd., the copyright owner of the Godzilla character and franchise of films, brings this lawsuit because defendants are brazenly producing, advertising, and selling an unauthorized Godzilla film of their own. There is nothing subtle about defendants? conduct. They are expressly informing the entertainment community that they are making a Godzilla film and are using the Godzilla trademark and images of Toho?s protected character to generate interest in and to obtain financing for their project. That anyone would engage in such blatant infringement of another?s intellectual property is wrong enough. That defendants, who are known for zealously protecting their own copyrights, would do so is outrageous in the extreme

At the very least, Toho has a point that Voltage pictures is clearly making use of Godzilla in its description and promotion for the movie. From the lawsuit, here is the promotional email that Voltage itself sent out, which includes an image of Godzilla (Toho claims it’s taken directly from a publicity photo of last year’s Godzilla movie) and mentions Godzilla.

Toho further notes that the email sent around “director’s notes” for the project which include a bunch of historical images of different representations of Godzilla.

The Director?s Notes also make clear that Defendants have not only taken the Godzilla Character as their own, but that they also intend to use the Godzilla Character in precisely the same way that Toho used the character in its initial film ? attacking Tokyo. As stated therein, ?[W]e need scenes with the monsters crushing Tokyo. .

Not only that, but Toho notes that, last year, the director in question, Nacho Vigalondo, stated that he’s absolutely planning to make a “cheap” Godzilla film:

The script I finished and want to get financing for is a twist on the kaiju eiga genre, the Godzilla genre. It?s going to be the cheapest Godzilla movie ever, I promise. It?s going to be a serious Godzilla movie but I?ve got an idea that?s going to make it so cheap that you will feel betrayed. You?re going to be so frustrated by it, it?s not even possible.

The way I wrote the movie ? and I don?t want to explain too much ? I found a way that is honest and logical to make Godzilla in a costume, destroying cities, models all the time. I wrote the movie in a way that the story has a twist so it makes sense to do Godzilla this way and I?m going to try to be the guy inside the costume because I love filmmaking to the core and I?m a film lover, one of dreams is not to direct a Godzilla movie but to be inside the costume and destroy the cities. I want to be the guy in the costume.

When I first saw the headlines about this, I thought it might be another case of Toho stretching its claims of infringement, as it has done in the past — and was prepared to argue that, even in all its copyright trolling insanity, that Voltage Pictures should have the right to make its own type of monster movie. In fact, we’ve defended Voltage against ridiculous legal attacks in the past.

And, further, I think that it’s ridiculous that courts have decided that using similar characters in totally different settings is copyright infringement, as it seems to go against the idea/expression dichotomy that is supposed to be a core tenet of copyright law. But, it’s still kind of jarring just how blatant Voltage appears to be in just making use of Godzilla in the pitch for this movie without a license. And for a company whose boss argues that merely saying that his copyright trolling plan could be bad for business makes you a “thief,” I think it’s at least fair to argue that Nicolas Chartier is one hell of a hypocrite.

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Companies: toho, voltage pictures

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Comments on “Godzilla Sues The Godzilla Of Copyright Trolls, Voltage Pictures, For Copyright Infringement”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Release a lot of low-cost, pre-production hype, get sued for it, get lots of publicity from the lawsuit, stop producing hype containing the infringing material but continue to get lots of hits based on articles that reference the old, discontinued material.

Sounds like Voltage are making use of a kind of anti-Streisand effect where they get a lot of “bad” publicity over doing something “stupid”, but which they’re going to make work in their favour.

It all seems pretty clever to me.

Baron von Robber says:

Hmm interesting.

Shortbus rider, Nicolas Chartier, get his panties in a bunch when individuals, without intent for profit, download his movies off of torrents.

But then same reeree has no problem spending millions into a movie about a subject that is not his, but somebody else’s. In the hopes of making millions of dollars from said copyright infringement.

Wow. Just……………wow.

Anonymous Coward says:

Actually, there’s a bit more promo material.

Here is one of two poster they showed at the festival, it’s godzilla.

And another one

And the robot in question, isn’t an origional, although not as famous in the west as in Asia.

It is a robot called Mazinger Z created by Go Nagai in 1972, and is considered to be the first piloted giant robot in cartoon media form.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re:

WEll, to be realistic, if any time someone said a movie was ‘Die Hard on a X’ meant that movie was infringement, wed have a lot of infringement. (ref: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/DieHardOnAnX) That’s why initially Mike was thinking this was a non-infringement case.

The other 3 movies are only listed as a generic plot/story description, which is not infringement based on the idea/expression dichotomy. Godzilla is being considered infringed because all of the movie’s promotion references Godzilla, and they used Godzilla in promotional art.

The Mazinger Z robot being used in the promotional image might also be infringement, particularly if that is the look they are going for and not just using it as a ‘giant robot’ placeholder.

So one lawsuit with one more possibly to come.

Anonymous Coward says:

loose lips sink ships

Any other Hollywood studio would have simply paid Toho for the right to license the Godzilla theme, but Voltage Pictures is apparently too penny-pinching for that. The claim of making “the cheapest Godzilla movie ever” would of course hinge on their ability to successfully evade paying for licensing, a scheme that might have actually worked had Voltage not stupidly gone around openly publicising the fact that this was in indeed a Godzilla movie in everything but name (and license fees).

Prediction: Voltage Pictures will end up changing this “Godzilla” movie — just enough (and not one bit more) in an attempt to make it appear non-infringing.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re:

That argument, besides being an ad hominim, is generally used to suggest that someone who could not replicate a result can not criticize someone who could. of course, just because I can’t make complex dishes like a chef doesn’t mean I can’t tell you that there is too much pepper in the dish. The argument assumes that the result is objectively good, and that your subjective view is irrelevant. This fails because the result is often a subjective work, with subjective tastes being the only way to judge that work.

However, I fail to see how this argument applies, in any way, to the article at hand. Mike is commenting on a legal filing, and commenting on its merits.

Anonmylous says:

Re: Re:

If copyright and trademark infringement is talent, then there are far more talented people in the world than I thought.

Note: if I heard the proposed idea that a woman has life problems, moves back to her hometown to assess her life and has to deal with her emotional stability causing giant monster and robot attacks around the globe, I’d want to see that movie! Now I’ll be making sure neither Voltage Pictures or Nacho Vigalondo are attached before I do.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“It’s so easy to berate those with talent”

Wait, aren’t you the dickhead who usually berates people who sample so much as a snare drum as talentless leeches? Now, you’re defending people who are being accused of ripping off an entire movie, because that indicates so much talent?

Talk about talentless writers… you can’t even keep logical consistency between scenes.

PaulT (profile) says:

“Nacho Vigalondo”

As a side note, this is a talented director. Time Crimes was awesome, and I really liked both Open Windows and his segment of VHS: Viral although the film overall was mediocre. This should be a good film, and hopefully the fact that he’s picked this band of idiots to run with won’t harm him, since they do seem to be capable of producing good films in between whining about how they’re not selling enough.

I do wonder though, if Voltage had just replaced the word “Godzilla” with “kaiju” if Toho would have complained as much. Bad, short-sighted marketing, even in the press release, it seems. Not a good omen.

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