IP issues for cult campy horror movie

October 29, 2010
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Reporter Rebecca Berfanger wrote this blog post.

October, particularly Halloween weekend, seems to be the one weekend where it’s OK to dress up as a character or object or whatever and, for some, not just to “dream it” but to “be it.” Or at least dress like you want to “be it.”

And if you get that reference, you’re probably a closet or maybe a not-so-closet fan of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” now in its 35th year since Tim Curry first appeared on screen in high heels, while a young Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick portray a lost couple trying to get out of the rain after their car breaks down before chaos ensues.

That’s obviously the G-rated summary, but you get the idea.

After countless midnight screenings of the movie, I wonder if any law students or lawyers in those audiences ever wondered how is it the “shadowcasts” who dress as the characters and lip sync or sing along with the characters on screen get away with it? Isn’t that copyright infringement – or should it be? If anyone did wonder this, they likely forgot about it as soon as they noticed the lips singing “Science Fiction/Double Feature” and readied their rice for the wedding scene.

The article, “Intellectual Property and Americana, or Why IP Gets the Blues,” by Michael J. Madison, written a few years ago, sums it up pretty well.

“There is no suggestion that … the owner of the film’s copyright has tried to stop or to license fan-based theatrical performances. In fact, the copyright owner benefits handsomely from licensing terms that base royalties on a percentage of gross sales. The owner has likewise at least implicitly accepted the legitimacy of an abundance of fan-based websites, books, and fan fiction, when copyright law might have sustained suits to enjoin them. … Having licensed exhibition of the film, the copyright owner has little ground for protest if fans dress in character and get up and dance in the aisles,” Madison wrote.

In other words, it’s more to the film’s copyright owner’s financial benefit to let the show continue as it has. The owner still makes money from the theaters and the film’s cultish following only continues to grow as more audiences discover it.

But that doesn’t mean everyone is happy with the arrangement:

“Of course, theater owners might protest if they have to sweep up the breadcrumbs and rice, and today, at least some owners prohibit the water pistols and water balloons that were an integral part of early performances,” Madison wrote, adding that now that the DVD is available for private showings, it’s also possible for fans to host their own screenings, even with toast and popcorn and call backs to the screen.

Considering Tuesday’s “Glee” episode featured songs from the film, there’s a good chance yet another generation will want to check out the “live” version of the film to see what all the fuss is about. And those fans will also likely not face suits over copyright infringement.

During a recent interview with Indianapolis IP solo attorney Kenan Farrell, I asked him about this phenomenon.

“If the copyright owners clamped down on the shadowcasts 25 years ago, would it be what it is? Instead, there’s a cult following,” he said, and he pointed out that the film’s screening at the Indianapolis Museum of Art this summer was packed, and had a wide variety of people in the audience, ranging from 18 up to at least 60 years old.

The fan site lists upcoming Halloween screenings under “Special Showtimes,” including a few in Indiana this weekend.

Do you plan to celebrate Halloween with a “Rocky” screening? What other movies could use a similar treatment with shadowcasts, call backs, and props?
 

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  1. Ah yes... Echoes of 1963 as a ghostly George Wallace makes his stand at the Schoolhouse door. We now know about the stand of personal belief over service to all constituents at the Carter County Clerk door. The results are the same, bigotry unable to follow the directions of the courts and the courts win. Interesting to watch the personal belief take a back seat rather than resign from a perception of local power to make the statement.

  2. An oath of office, does it override the conscience? That is the defense of overall soldier who violates higher laws, isnt it? "I was just following orders" and "I swore an oath of loyalty to der Fuhrer" etc. So this is an interesting case of swearing a false oath and then knowing that it was wrong and doing the right thing. Maybe they should chop her head off too like the "king's good servant-- but God's first" like St Thomas More. ...... We wont hold our breath waiting for the aclu or other "civil liberterians" to come to her defense since they are all arrayed on the gay side, to a man or should I say to a man and womyn?

  3. Perhaps we should also convene a panel of independent anthropological experts to study the issues surrounding this little-known branch of human sacrifice?

  4. I'm going to court the beginning of Oct. 2015 to establish visitation and request my daughters visits while she is in jail. I raised my grandchild for the first two and half years. She was born out of wedlock and the father and his adopted mother wantwd her aborted, they went as far as sueing my daughter for abortion money back 5mo. After my grandchild was born. Now because of depression and drug abuse my daughter lost custody 2 and a half years ago. Everyting went wrong in court when i went for custody my lawyer was thrown out and a replacment could only stay 45 min. The judge would not allow a postponement. So the father won. Now he is aleinating me and my daughter. No matter the amount of time spent getting help for my daughter and her doing better he runs her in the ground to the point of suicide because he wants her to be in a relationship with him. It is a sick game of using my grandchild as a pawn to make my daughter suffer for not wanting to be with him. I became the intervener in the case when my daughter first got into trouble. Because of this they gave me her visitation. Im hoping to get it again there is questions of abuse on his part and I want to make sure my grandchild is doing alright. I really dont understand how the parents have rights to walk in and do whatever they want when the refuse to stand up and raise the child at first . Why should it take two and a half years to decide you want to raise your child.The father used me so he could finish college get a job and stop paying support by getting custody. Support he was paying my daughter that I never saw.

  5. Pence said when he ordered the investigation that Indiana residents should be troubled by the allegations after the video went viral. Planned Parenthood has asked the government s top health scientists at the National Institutes of Health to convene a panel of independent experts to study the issues surrounding the little-known branch of medicine.

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