Judge Sides with Inventors in Massive Intellectual Property Case Against Disney, Fox, Paramount and Others, Allowing Cases to Continue
Attorneys representing inventors of motion picture technology call judge’s order a “big win”
SAN FRANCISCO – A judge overseeing a massive intellectual property case against entertainment giants Disney, Fox, Paramount, Marvel Studios, and Crystal Dynamics issued two orders on June 18, 2018, denying the defendant companies’ motions to dismiss and for summary judgment, allowing the cases to go forward, according to attorneys at Hagens Berman representing the inventor.
At the core of the lawsuits against the major motion picture and videogame companies is MOVA Contour Reality Capture. This Oscar-winning, copyrighted, and patented motion picture technology 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, Daniel Radcliff and Rupert Grint in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Parts 1 and 2, and many other blockbuster movies.
The lawsuits, originally filed in 2017, state that defendants knowingly used Contour to make high-grossing movies including Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Terminator Genisys, Deadpool, Beauty and the Beast, the Rise of the Tomb Raider videogame, and others, without authorization from Rearden LLC and Rearden Mova LLC, the plaintiffs in the action and inventors of the technology. This, attorneys say, makes Disney, Fox, Paramount, Marvel, and the suits’ other defendants liable for infringing Rearden’s copyrights, trademarks and patents by using the stolen CG technology in their blockbuster films.
The order from U.S. District Judge Jon S. Tigar denying in part the motions to dismiss, states that Rearden has shown the defendants had the right to control the infringements and received direct financial benefit from their use of Rearden’s stolen IP. Thus, the order states, Rearden “sufficiently alleged vicarious copyright infringement.” Judge Tigar also sided with Rearden in its demonstration that Disney and others knew their use of the IP was not authorized by Rearden and induced the direct copyright infringements. Thus, they may be liable for contributory copyright infringement. Consequently, Judge Tigar denied defendants’ motions to dismiss Rearden’s vicarious and contributory copyright infringement claims.
Tigar’s order denying Crystal Dynamics’ and Square Enix’s motion for summary judgment allows Rearden to continue with the discovery phase of the case, in which it will seek to uncover the terms of a contract that authorized use of Contour to capture the performance of Camilla Luddington as Lara Croft in the Rise of the Tomb Raider videogame.
“Judge Tigar’s order represents a big win for our client against some of the largest names in the entertainment business, who thought they were too big to be held accountable for their unauthorized use of Rearden’s stolen IP to make their blockbuster hits,” said Steve Berman, managing partner of Hagens Berman. “We’re pleased with the court’s decision and look forward to continuing this case on behalf of the rightful inventor of this ground-breaking technology.”
The lawsuits, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, state that in 2012, a Rearden employee (Greg LaSalle) began secret negotiations with Digital Domain 3.0 (DD3), to sell the Contour system for his personal enrichment, without Rearden’s knowledge. LaSalle had also secretly offered the Contour technology in March 2013 to Disney. Rearden wrote a cease and desist letter to LaSalle in March 2013, reasserting that it owned the Contour intellectual property, that LaSalle had taken it illegally, and that Rearden would take legal action if necessary. According to the complaint, LaSalle shared the demand letter with Disney, which promptly dropped out of negotiations to acquire Contour.
A mysterious Chinese company affiliated with DD3 called Shenzhenshi then appeared on the scene, claiming that it had bought the Contour technology and had licensed it to DD3. In 2013, “LaSalle had access to the secure storage facility where the physical Contour apparatus and program were kept, and assisted DD3 in taking the patented apparatus and copies of the copyrighted Contour Program” without the knowledge or authorization of Rearden, according to the lawsuit.
DD3 then began secretly offering facial performance capture services to motion picture and videogame studios and production companies using Rearden’s Contour technology, including defendants. Meanwhile, LaSalle wrote to his attorneys that by having Shenzhenshi appear to have acquired the Contour technology and licensed it back to DD3, it would “be nearly impossible for the inventor Steve [Perlman] to go after them.”
Photographs in the 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 Contour software, system and methods that are covered by Rearden’s patents and copyright. DD3 also even used Rearden’s “MOVA” trademark.
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