Those who create films in California often pour all of their time, energy and talents into the final product. Once completed, they expect that their efforts are properly recognized — and, perhaps, compensated — by others who might benefit from their efforts. Unfortunately, the creator of a documentary based on the life of a football player is now the plaintiff in a pending lawsuit due to allegations of copyright infringement, fraudulent misrepresentation and breach of contract.
The law involves the life of football player Chucky Mullins, who was paralyzed while attempting to tackle Brad Gaines during a game in 1989. Mullins died just years after the injury due to complications. The plaintiffs in the recent lawsuit created a documentary called “Undefeated” that featured interviews from various people connected to the story, including Gaines and friends and families of Mullins.
In 2014, ESPN decided to create a documentary reportedly focusing primarily on the life of Gaines. As part of the preparations, they contacted the plaintiffs who reportedly sent all of their digital files to the defendants following an oral agreement that the latter would pay them $3,000 for every minute of footage they used. However, the lawsuit argues that the plaintiffs were not compensated or credited in ESPN’s film, “It’s Time: The Story of Brad Gaines and Chucky Mullins.”
ESPN argues that it did not use any footage owned by the plaintiffs and requested a summary judgment — a request denied by the federal judge hearing the case. He ruled that identical photographs and footage were used in both films, and it must be determined whether changes that were made in the digitization process by the plaintiffs constitutes a copyrightable product. While the defendants argues that the plaintiffs do not own the facts related to Mullins’s story, the judge states a jury could determine that the expression of those facts — including the order in which interviews and historical footage, for instance, are presented — could constitute a work protected by copyright law.
While many people who create such documentaries have a great deal of experience in the creation of films, often they are unfamiliar with copyright law. Fortunately, there are experienced attorneys who can help people in California take action to protect their work. As in this case, this could include litigating a pending lawsuit.
Source: hollywoodreporter.com, “ESPN Must Face Copyright Trial Over Football Documentary,” Ashley Cullins, Oct. 31, 2017