Miramax's Bizarrely Ridiculous Lawsuit Against Quentin Tarantino Over His Pulp Fiction NFTs

from the that's-not-how-any-of-this-works dept

Miramax, the film studio originally founded by Harvey Weinstein before being sold to Disney, then spun out, and currently owned jointly by a Qatari media company, beIN, and ViacomCBS, is in the news for suing Quentin Tarantino over his collection of NFTs about Pulp Fiction -- one of Miramax's biggest hit films in the 90s, and the one that put Tarantino on the map. Like many other content creators, Tarantino is exploring the NFT space, and his experiment is actually somewhat interesting. It's using a modification of typical NFTs, where some (or all) of the content remains "access controlled" and only available to the purchaser. In other words: it's DRM'd NFTs, which seems to miss the entire point of NFTs, which is creating a new scarcity of ownership without the scarcity of content access. But, hey, it's Hollywood, so restricting access and using DRM is kind of in their DNA.

That said, the NFTs are supposedly handwritten bits of the original Pulp Fiction screenplay. From the page:

The NFT collection contains the handwritten, never-before-seen screenplay of Pulp Fiction, one of the most influencing artworks of modern film. Each NFT consists of a single iconic scene, including personalized audio commentary from Quentin Tarantino. The collector who will purchase one of these few and rare NFTs will get a hold of secrets from the screenplay and a glimpse into the mind and the creative process of Quentin Tarantino. The owner will enjoy the freedom of choosing between:

1. Keeping the secrets to himself for all eternity
2. Sharing the secrets with a few trusted loved ones
3. Sharing the secrets publicly with the world

Anyway, the complaint makes a bunch of claims that don't seem to be supportable. Specifically, it argues (1) breach of contract (2) copyright infringement (3) trademark infringement and (4) unfair competition. The breach of contract claim seems weak. Part of that dispute is that when he sold the movie to Miramax the contract did say that Tarantino reserved the rights to "screenplay publication" himself -- and Tarantino's lawyers contend that that's all this is. Miramax says that an NFT does not constitute publication -- which... is weird? Because it certainly seems like it should?

But the bigger issues are the copyright and trademark claims, which really don't seem to be based on an understanding of how NFTs work. Here's the basics of the copyright claim:

The finished motion picture Pulp Fiction and all elements thereof in all stages of development and production are all original works containing copyrightable subject matter for which copyright protection exists under the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 101, et. seq. Except for Tarantino’s limited set of Reserved Rights, Miramax is the exclusive owner of rights under copyright in and to the motion picture Pulp Fiction, and all elements thereof in all stages of development and production. Miramax owns copyrights in and to Pulp Fiction (and, pursuant to the Original Rights Agreement and the Tarantino-Miramax Assignment, “all elements thereof in all stages of development and production”), including, without limitation, the registered United States copyrights thereto with U.S. Copyright Office registration numbers PA0000704507 and VA0001224051, and the copyrights assigned to Miramax in the Tarantino-Miramax Assignment and the B25 Instrument of Transfer, which are recorded with the U.S. Copyright Office as document numbers V2917P169 and V3005P270, respectively.

Through Defendants’ conduct alleged herein, including Defendants’ sale of rights relating to Pulp Fiction, and preparation and reproduction of derivative works based on Pulp Fiction without Miramax’s permission, Defendants have directly infringed Miramax’s exclusive rights in Pulp Fiction and the elements thereof in violation of Section 501 of the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 501.

But... no. That's not how this works. The NFT is just a database entry in a distributed ledger. It's not a "derivative work." There's no copyright-covered content in the NFT itself. The NFT will point to some content, but it seems ridiculous to argue that the content it points to is infringing either. It's going to be a scan of just a small part of the script that Tarantino wrote (and again, his contract explicitly says he can publish the script). So, what copyright is being infringed here? There is some new content -- the "secret" content -- as well, but from the descriptions, that's just Tarantino explaining something about the scenes in question. And he's allowed to do that.

So, I don't see what copyright could possibly be infringed here. Even if there were some way you could argue that a link to a scan of a few pages of a handwritten movie script somehow implicates the copyright in the movie (which it cannot), there's still an incredibly strong fair use argument (but, again, it shouldn't even get there).

Indeed, to highlight the lack of any copyright infringement here, law professor (and NFT conceptual artist) Brian Frye created (and then quickly sold) his own Secret Pulp Fiction NFT, noting that:

Ownership of this NFT constitutes ownership of certain secret and confidential thoughts I created about the movie Pulp Fiction (1994), which was directed by Quentin Tarantino. The owner of the NFT will have exclusive access to those thoughts, which they may use in any way they like.

Basically, anyone is allowed to sell their "secret" thoughts and ideas about the movie Pulp Fiction, including Quentin Tarantino, and it doesn't violate Miramax's rights.

As for the trademark claim, it too seems like a huge stretch. I looked up the trademark registration and it covers certain classes, including magnets, ornamental pins, calendars, posters, tote bags, wallets, cups and mugs, t-shirts, sweatshirts, hoodies, fashion garments, jackets, blouses, pants, caps, hats, socks, ties, Halloween and masquerade costumes, costumes for children's use, action figures, bendable toys, jigsaw puzzles, puzzle games, collectible toy figures, rubber character toys, and a few more such things.

I don't see how a link in a distributed ledger database is covered by any of those. Nor do I see how a scan of a handwritten part of a script is any of those. That's not how trademark works. On top of that, where is there likely to be any confusion here? The sale is quite clearly coming from Tarantino, not Miramax, and despite the complaint saying that consumers will believe this whole thing is sponsored by Miramax, there's no reason to believe that's actually true.

All of this seems like typical Hollywood studio overreach, demanding ownership over things they don't have control over, just because they have lawyers who think they can get away with it.

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: breach of contract, copyright, derivative works, nfts, pulp fiction, quentin tarantino, trademark
Companies: miramax


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • icon
    hij (profile), 19 Nov 2021 @ 11:42am

    Control This!!

    Some Hollywood executives getting bent out of shape because they cannot control the snapshots of a few pieces of scrap paper that are associated with the origins of a 25 year old movie is one of the most Hollywood things imaginable.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Nov 2021 @ 12:55pm

      Re: Control This!!

      Well, directors and actors are not meant to make more from a film that what they were paid up front, with all profits retained via Hollywood accounting by the studio. This looks like someone stealing their profit to them.

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

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 19 Nov 2021 @ 12:35pm

    Lawsuit first, then after you lose look into what the thing actually is and understand you never should have sued.

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Nov 2021 @ 1:24pm

    NFTs are stupid bullshit, so I’m with Miramax busting Tarantino’s balls on this. It’s hilarious.

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

    • icon
      Mike Masnick (profile), 19 Nov 2021 @ 1:31pm

      Re:

      It's really telling on yourself when your principles are so malleable and flexible that you determine the legal results you want by what entities you like and don't like.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Nov 2021 @ 1:58pm

      Re:

      What if it wasn't an NFT, but a traditional sale?

      Both your logic and your fee-fees are broken.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Nov 2021 @ 1:56pm

    Unfair competetition. What? Was Mirimax gonna wack Tarentino and steal his original works, then sell scraps off themselves?

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

    • icon
      Atkray (profile), 19 Nov 2021 @ 4:37pm

      Re:

      Nah, that is the exact reason copyright needs to extend past death, to prevent hit jobs.

      The unfair competition is always someone else is making money so it must be unfair.

      I will confess I have the faintest hope they take this to court and Tarentino gets a win, with the copyright claim failing in such a way as to make it clear that linking to a non-infringing item is not infringement.

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

  • identicon
    NoLongerBreathedIn, 19 Nov 2021 @ 6:13pm

    The contract claim is pretty strong; Miramar had right of first refusal.

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

  • icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 19 Nov 2021 @ 8:15pm

    For those unfamiliar with the "NFT" concept, here's a good explanation of how it works:

    https://i.imgur.com/Vd32wor.jpg

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

  • identicon
    Annonymouse, 22 Nov 2021 @ 3:32pm

    Sue Sue sue

    Here is a crazy idea.
    Look at exactly what CBS et al are doing, fi d at least a few things that they are doing that is in breach of contract and law, then Sue them at standard MPAA rates... 500 Billion sounds like a nice starting figure.

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


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Advertisment

Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Discord

The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...

Loading...
Recent Stories

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it
Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.