The Ridiculousness Of Copyright Clearances: Fight Club Producers Had To Pay Off Marla Singer?

from the the-first-rule-of-copyright-clearance:-you-don't-talk-about-copyright-cleara dept

Last August, we wrote about the sheer insanity that movie makers need to go through to make sure no "unauthorized" brands appear in a movie. The process of clearing every single right is mind-boggling, and appears to serve only one purpose: to transfer money from creators to lawyers. I'm reminded of the massive spreadsheet Brett Gaylor showed when he discussed his movie, and the process of trying to secure insurance for it. It went on and on and on and listed every single thing in the movie, and whether it was cleared or not. The more you learn about this stuff, the more ridiculous it seems.

Ry Jones writes in to let us know that he transcribed a part of the Fight Club Director's commentary by David Fincher, where he discusses the insanity of rights clearance for that movie. He mainly discusses two key points, both of which seem ridiculous. First, with the character of Marla Singer, they had to do a search and find out if there are real Marla Singers who might be upset and claim that the movie is about them. If there are lots of Marla Singers, no problem, since they can just say "hey, not you." But if there's one, then it becomes an issue. Guess what?
There's only one Marla Singer in the continental United States, in Illinois somewhere, of course, as soon as attorneys get involved, the whole thing gets completely fucked up. Somebody called her and told her there's this book, and we're making a movie based on this character that had her name. All of a sudden, her attorneys are calling and we have to pay this person off.
On top of that, they had wanted to base the movie in Wilmington, Delaware, which is where the book takes place. But, apparently, that would require all sorts of rights clearances as well, to the point that they weren't even able to show the Delaware state flag because it would require a new set of rights clearances. How does this make any sense at all? Unlike the Aboriginal flag of Australia, the state flag of Delaware certainly should not be covered by copyright, and it makes little sense that there would be any requirement at all for clearing the rights. If the book can take place in Wilmington, Delaware without rights clearances, why can't a movie?


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Marcus Carab (profile), Feb 1st, 2010 @ 9:10am

    Marla, not Maria.

     

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  2.  
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    Nina Paley, Feb 1st, 2010 @ 9:44am

    Best "dept." subheader ever

    "the first rule of copyright clearance: you don't talk about copyright clearance." Brilliant.

     

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  3.  
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    PaulT (profile), Feb 1st, 2010 @ 9:51am

    Idiocy, though I'm sure that TAM will be along to tell us how paying a person who randomly shared a fictional character name and depriving Wilmington of long-term tourist revenue was a great thing to do.

    I'm sure he'll also tell us how the massive amount of expensive work involved in just getting this project off the ground as a result helps the industry, despite creating an artificially high barrier to entry for newcomers and inflating the costs of even established studio productions.

     

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  4.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Feb 1st, 2010 @ 9:57am

    Re:

    Marla, not Maria.


    Oops fixed.

     

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  5.  
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    Simon, Feb 1st, 2010 @ 10:01am

    Fighting terrorism

    If you based it on Wilmington, then terrorists could gather intelligence by watching the movie in order to plan an attack on the town.

     

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  6.  
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    Matt (profile), Feb 1st, 2010 @ 10:07am

    Not lawyers

    Agree that this is collosally inefficient. Disagree that it transfers wealth to lawyers - rights are usually cleared by a clearance department, with little involvement by legal. So even _that_ purported benefit fails.

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 1st, 2010 @ 10:11am

    Re:

    So the standard foot-in-the-mouth response. That's our TAMMY!

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 1st, 2010 @ 10:20am

    Hmmm.

    I googled for "Marla Singer Illinois" and found this: http://www.myspace.com/marvelousmarla

    "I want to have your abortion."?

     

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  9.  
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    jhn, Feb 1st, 2010 @ 10:24am

    You don't have to do most of that. You don't have to have permission to have trademarks in movies. There's some stupidity with dilution, but apart from that, really, look it up. Also, you don't have to have permission to use a name. You just legally don't.

    All this is the result of people refusing to just apply common sense and unwilling to pay to defend frivolous lawsuits.

    As a result of this general pussiness, everyone and his mother thinks he has the right to be paid for every last little thing, and the chickenshit companies who just want o avoid trouble end up paying far more than they would need to overall.

     

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  10.  
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    dorp, Feb 1st, 2010 @ 10:29am

    Re:

    All this is the result of people refusing to just apply common sense and unwilling to pay to defend frivolous lawsuits.

    jhn, you are a moron. The so called "pussiness" has nothing to do with this. You either stay in business and cover your ass or "stand tall" and go bankrupt fighting stupid lawsuits. Unfortunately only one of those is a viable type of business model.

     

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  11.  
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    Richard (profile), Feb 1st, 2010 @ 10:39am

    Re: Re:

    Not to mention the fact that the movie makers want to be able to apply the same rules to anyone who subsequently does anything vaguely connected to the movie. It wouldn't help their case if they had been cavalier with other people's "rights".

     

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  12.  
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    imbrucy (profile), Feb 1st, 2010 @ 10:44am

    Re:

    The problem is that the companies are being weak. The problem is that our legal system is so screwed up, that it is cheaper for a company to pay someone off than fight it in court, even if the person has no legal basis.

    We need to find a way to make money less relevant to the outcome of court cases and then you'll see crap like this start to disappear.

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 1st, 2010 @ 10:49am

    You also have to add in the cost of insurance. No movie studio is going to spend millions of dollars without insuring it in the case that something catastrophic goes wrong (see the documentary Lost in La Mancha). And the insurance companies aren't going to insure you if they think you're likely to get sued.

     

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  14.  
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    Colg, Feb 1st, 2010 @ 11:01am

    Re: Hmmm.

    In 1998 this girl would have been 15ish
    I wouldn't think its the same girl except
    that she lists fight club second in her
    favorite movies list and a casual look
    at her page seems to indicate that she
    is exactly the kind of self absorbed waste
    of space that you would expect to raise
    a stink about the use of her name.

    On the other hand maybe she likes the movie
    because she shares her name with a character
    and I totally misjudged her.

    That could happen...

    Colg

     

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  15.  
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    interval, Feb 1st, 2010 @ 11:02am

    Re: Fighting terrorism

    Or at least start their own fight club.

     

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  16.  
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    interval, Feb 1st, 2010 @ 11:04am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Excellent point. Seems like the kettle is freaking out at noticing its own blackish hue.

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 1st, 2010 @ 11:06am

    Yet almost anything is protected as long as you are a journalist "protecting the free world" as they would have you believe.

     

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  18.  
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    Brad Eleven, Feb 1st, 2010 @ 11:16am

    watch lists, anyone?

    This kerfuffle, especially the apparent original error (Maria/Marla), reminds me of the terror watch list, the no-fly list, etc.

    The difference is "we might get sued" versus rendition and eventual torture.

     

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  19.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Feb 1st, 2010 @ 11:25am

    Re: Hmmm.

    "I want to have your abortion."?

    That was the line from the book, replaced in the movie with: "I haven't been fucked like that since grade school"

     

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  20.  
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    Spaceman Spiff (profile), Feb 1st, 2010 @ 11:29am

    Rights, rights! Who's got the rights?!

    Ok. My father, a physicist, had the same name as a famous chemist/physicist who lived in the 17th century. Does that mean any books or videos that portray the famous one have to clear rights with us?

    Ok. Time to kill all the lawyers. That has the nice side-effect of getting rid of most of the politicians as well...

     

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  21.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 1st, 2010 @ 11:39am

    Re: Rights, rights! Who's got the rights?!

    We can keep some lawyers for the accused murderers, rapists and thieves but the rest of them can suck on it.

     

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  22.  
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    The Infamous Joe (profile), Feb 1st, 2010 @ 11:49am

    Disclaimer

    Isn't there usually a disclaimer that reads something like:

    The events depicted in this movie are fictitious. Any similarity to any person living or dead is merely coincidental.


    and wouldn't that clear this all up? I'm confused.

     

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  23.  
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    Josh (profile), Feb 1st, 2010 @ 11:58am

    Fight Club is based on a book? I did not know that. Also Tyler Durden needs to blow up the lawyers.

     

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  24.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 1st, 2010 @ 12:06pm

    Re: Re:

    The problem is that our legal system is so screwed up, that it is cheaper for a company to pay someone off than fight it in court, even if the person has no legal basis.

    That's not screwed up, that's the way it's supposed to be. How else are lawyers supposed to get rich?

     

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  25.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 1st, 2010 @ 12:09pm

    Live by the sword...

    die by the sword.

    For people in the movie industry to complain about copyright when it hinders *them* is just ridiculous.

     

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  26.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Feb 1st, 2010 @ 12:17pm

    Re:

    "Fight Club is based on a book?"

    The movie, while fantastic, isn't half of what Chuck Palahniuk's book is.

    "Also Tyler Durden needs to blow up the lawyers."

    That isn't the way he'd do it. Rather, he would indoctrinate the lawyers into Fight Club, and then Project Mayhem, using the system's own resources to bring said system down.

    It's a modern depiction of what Marx's working man's revolution might look like....

     

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  27.  
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    ProphetBeal, Feb 1st, 2010 @ 12:44pm

    Re: Re:

    "The movie, while fantastic, isn't half of what Chuck Palahniuk's book is."
    +1, Although in the book I never really understood what our narrator would have been doing on a nude beach...just doesn't seem the type.

    "It's a modern depiction of what Marx's working man's revolution might look like...."
    The Marx Brothers leading a revolution would look kinda funny...

     

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  28.  
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    Nick Mc, Feb 1st, 2010 @ 12:50pm

    Marla?

    If the name was so rare, and it would be easier if there were a whole bunch of 'Marla Singers' out there to use it. Then why not just use a different name? So what if it's not the same name as in the book. Most folk don't seem to know that there even was a book anyway.

     

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  29.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Feb 1st, 2010 @ 12:59pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    "Although in the book I never really understood what our narrator would have been doing on a nude beach...just doesn't seem the type."

    That's probably more to do with your coupling the Narrator and Edward Norton in your mind. Just guessing, but did you see the movie first and read the book after? Because Edward Norton does not even come CLOSE to representing the Narrator from the book, who was a mildly sadistic sociopath, and his suffering from insomnia caused him to contemplate and enjoy the suffering of others.

     

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  30.  
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    Paul Renault (profile), Feb 1st, 2010 @ 1:11pm

    So what about Tom Hanks' Cast Away?

     

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  31.  
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    Paul Renault (profile), Feb 1st, 2010 @ 1:14pm

    So what about Tom Hanks' Cast Away?

    FedEx was 'front and center' throughout the whole film, yet, as far as I know, they simply told FedEx that they wanted to use the name of the company to give a sense of realism.

    No frame-by-frame vetting of the movie occurred.

     

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  32.  
    identicon
    ProphetBeal, Feb 1st, 2010 @ 1:25pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    I will grant your premise...I did indeed read the book after seeing said film. Also having seen that movie far more times than I would care to count and only reading the book (maybe) twice, Norton's representation is most likely bleeding into my interpretation of the book's character.

     

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  33.  
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    dwind (profile), Feb 1st, 2010 @ 3:10pm

    Y'all crazy

    It's the pirates causing the problem.

     

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  34.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 1st, 2010 @ 4:48pm

    Sounds to me as if some lawyers are being relied upon who are not particularly familiar with copyright and trademark law when it comes to the Delaware state flag.

    1. Having been created in 1913 and openly displayed to the public without a notice of copyright, the flag would enjoy no copyright protection. Moreover, even if it had included such a notice, all published works prior to 1923 are within the public domain.

    2. What about a trademark? A non-starter. Federal, state and municipal flags are specifically exempt from any protection under federal trademark law.

     

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  35.  
    identicon
    :), Feb 1st, 2010 @ 10:46pm

    Brad Pit is a magnet.

    I'm starting to think that Bradd Pit is a lawsuit magnet in his other film 12 monkeys the producers got sued to.

    In the link there is other stories like the batman forever film that got sued because of a piece of architectural art(the original artist lost this one) and how a judge found that the word Kryptonite is part of the recipe for superman LoL

    Well the entertaiment world is a litigious world.

     

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  36.  
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    Chunky Vomit, Feb 2nd, 2010 @ 1:33am

    While this issue is really quite silly; it is hard to feel sorry for those inglorious basterds.

     

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  37.  
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    ian mcgrady, Feb 2nd, 2010 @ 5:45pm

    AWESOME MUSIC

    www.zetavang.com

    The artist and I own the masters so licensing will be eee-zeee...

    Everything doesn't have to be difficile...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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