Inventors of MOVA Contour Sue Disney and Marvel for Using Stolen Intellectual Property in Three of Disney’s Highest Grossing Films
Intellectual property lawsuit alleges Disney, Marvel and others knowingly infringed copyrights, trademarks, and/or patents by using stolen CG technology in blockbuster movies
SAN FRANCISCO – Inventors of an Oscar-winning, copyrighted and patented motion picture technology, called MOVA Contour Reality Capture, are suing entertainment giants Disney and Marvel in a new lawsuit accusing them of infringing copyrights, patents, and trademarks while using stolen technology to make at least three of their highest grossing motion pictures to date, Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), and Beauty and the Beast (2017), according to Hagens Berman.
The intellectual property lawsuit, filed July 17, 2017, alleges that defendants knew that the technology they used was owned by Rearden LLC and Rearden Mova LLC, the plaintiffs in the action, and that the company supplying the technology to Disney and Marvel had stolen it outright from a secured storage facility.
The revolutionary MOVA Contour technology at the core of the lawsuit has been used in films to capture the most subtle facial performances from actors such as Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Jeff Bridges in Tron: Legacy, Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk in The Avengers, Daniel Radcliff and Rupert Grint in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Parts 1 and 2, and many other blockbuster movies. The software output permits visual effects studios to project the actors’ captured facial performances onto computer generated (CG) faces bringing the CG characters to life. MOVA Contour enabled studios to show Brad Pitt as an 87 year-old man, project Mark Ruffalo’s facial performance onto the Hulk’s face, show Jeff Bridges as he had appeared almost 30 years ago in the original TRON film, and transform Rupert Grint’s face into Daniel Radcliff’s in Hallows. Button, TRON: Legacy, Avengers, Hallows 1 and 2, and ten other films that hired Rearden for facial motion capture have collectively earned major motion picture studios $9.5 billion worldwide in box office alone.
Disney in particular had contracted with Rearden to use the MOVA Contour system in four previous films as the owner of the MOVA Contour copyrights, patents, and other proprietary technology, which includes its patented computer program, arc-shaped Contour camera and lighting rig, synchronized cameras at multiple angles, and specially-mixed phosphor-based makeup used to capture thousands of control points on the actor’s face.
“What Rearden created was a combined software and hardware system that revolutionized what was previously possible in motion picture facial motion capture, and after years of using Rearden to provide this very technology, Disney and Marvel suddenly contracted with thieves offering the identical system for Guardians of the Galaxy in 2014 and Beauty and the Beast in 2017 without making a simple phone call to ask Rearden what was going on,” said Steve Berman, managing partner of Hagens Berman. “Disney has admitted that the MOVA Contour technology was essential to the phenomenal success of its live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast, and the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences cited Disney’s Guardians of the Galaxy in awarding a Sci-Tech Oscar to the MOVA technology. Now millions of moviegoers who filled theater seats across the world will know the truth – that Disney’s box office success was built in part on stolen technology.”
To date, Beauty and the Beast has grossed more than $500 million at the box office in the United States, and more than $1.25 billion globally. It is now the tenth highest-grossing film of any rating of all time and the highest grossing PG-rated film of all time. Guardians of the Galaxy has grossed more than $333 million at the box office in the United States and $773 million globally. And Avengers: Age of Ultron has grossed more than $459 million in the United States and $1.4 billion globally.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, brings claims that Disney Motion Pictures Group actively induced the infringement of Rearden’s five United States MOVA Contour patents, Disney and other defendants infringed Rearden’s software copyright, and Disney and other defendants infringed Rearden’s MOVA trademark in the making and promotion of Guardians, Avengers, and Beauty.
The suit seeks monetary damages, disgorgement of Disney’s profits on the two infringing films, and injunctions prohibiting Disney from reproducing, distributing, and displaying the films on behalf of the Rearden inventors and owners of the MOVA Contour proprietary technology.
Stealing the Show… and the Intellectual Property
In 1999, serial inventor and graduate of Apple and Microsoft, Steve Perlman, formed Rearden LLC and self-funded the company as an incubator for advanced technology including facial performance capture and other ground-breaking inventions. Perlman’s facial performance capture innovations were used in fifteen major motion pictures and were widely acclaimed in the visual effects and broader motion picture industries. MOVA Contour ushered in a new age of possibilities for moviemakers like the defendants Disney and Marvel.
But in 2012, a Rearden employee (Greg LaSalle) began secret negotiations with Digital Domain 3.0 (DD3), to sell the MOVA Contour system for his personal enrichment, without Rearden’s knowledge. LaSalle had also secretly offered the MOVA Contour technology in March 2013 to Disney and its former Lucas Films subsidiary Industrial Light and Magic.
Rearden wrote a cease and desist letter to LaSalle in March 2013, reasserting that it owned the MOVA Contour intellectual property, that LaSalle had taken it illegally, and that Rearden would take legal action if necessary. According to the complaint, LaSalle then notified interested parties including Disney and its Industrial Light and Magic division of Rearden’s claims, both of which swiftly dropped out of negotiations for MOVA Contour.
“The fact that Disney moved very quickly from an interested party to dropping out of the running to acquire the MOVA Contour technology tells us one thing: Disney did its due diligence and knew that Rearden was in the right,” Berman said.
A mysterious Chinese company affiliated with DD3 called Shenzhenshi then appeared on the scene claiming to have bought the MOVA Contour technology and to have licensed it to DD3. In 2013, “LaSalle had access to the secure storage facility where the physical MOVA Contour apparatus was kept, and assisted DD3 in taking the patented MOVA Contour physical apparatus and copies of the copyrighted Contour Program,” according to the lawsuit. DD3 then began secretly offering MOVA Contour facial performance capture services to motion picture studios and production companies, including defendants. But it was all a ruse. LaSalle wrote to his attorneys that by having Shenzhenshi appear to have acquired the MOVA Assets and licensed them back to DD3, it would “be nearly impossible for Steve [Perlman] to go after them.”
Photographs in the new complaint show the exact apparatus developed and constructed by Rearden and stolen by DD3. And statements by Beauty and the Beast co-stars Dan Stevens and Emma Watson confirm that DD3 was using the very same MOVA Contour system and methods that are covered by Rearden’s patents and copyright. DD3 even used Rearden’s “MOVA” trademark.
“Despite being concerned enough about Rearden’s cease and desist letter to back out of acquiring the MOVA Assets directly, and despite knowing of Rearden’s claim of ownership, Disney continued to secretly use the MOVA Contour system in Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Beauty and the Beast, without ever contacting the inventor company, Rearden, whom Disney knew and had worked with for years on facial performance capture using MOVA Contour in four previous films,” Berman said.
As detailed by the complaint, the MOVA technology was critical to Disney’s ability to successfully recreate one of its most valuable franchises. Director Bill Condon went further, expressly crediting the success of the CG Beast to the unique capabilities of MOVA Contour facial performance capture, saying “…we could get everything else in this movie right, but if we didn’t get a Beast that people believed in then [the movie] wouldn’t work.” This sentiment was affirmed by Beauty and the Beast’s editor, Virginia Katz: “…the main concern, for me and I think for all [working on the movie], was how that the Beast was going to be visualized. I mean, if the Beast didn’t work, then the film wouldn’t work.”
“Disney knew what was at stake,” Berman said. “The MOVA Contour system led to one of Disney’s most successful blockbusters, and we intend to recover those ill-gotten gains for our client, Rearden, the rightful owner of the MOVA Contour technology that was stolen in plain sight.”
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About Hagens Berman
Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP is a consumer-rights class-action law firm with offices in 10 cities. The firm has been named to the National Law Journal’s Plaintiffs’ Hot List eight times and was also recently named one of the Most Feared Plaintiffs’ Law Firms in the nation by Law360. More about Hagens Berman and its successes can be found at www.hbsslaw.com. Follow the firm for updates and news at @ClassActionLaw.
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