Every so often there are lawsuits where we note that both parties have a long history of doing the sort of thing that gets them written about on Techdirt in less-than-positive ways. Here’s another one of those situations. Voltage Pictures is a well known copyright trolling firm, which is its side business along with producing some highly acclaimed movies. Voltage has gone on quite a rampage trying to shake down people all around the globe. The company’s boss, Nicolas Chartier, tends to take a rather black and white view of the situation. Back when he first started shaking people down, someone sent him a friendly email noting (accurately) that going the copyright trolling route might hurt Voltage’s reputation. Rather than considering the message, Chartier turned around and called the helpful emailer a “moron” and a “thief.” This is someone who has quite a strong view on what he believes is his “property.”
So it seems rather fascinating to hear that Toho is suing Voltage for copyright infringement, claiming that a new movie that it’s producing, Colossal, infringes on its copyright on Godzilla. The movie was just announced last week, and the Hollywood Reporter described it this way:
In the movie — described as Transformers versus Adaptation and Godzilla meets Being John Malkovich; Hathaway will play Gloria, an ordinary woman who, after losing her job and her fiancé, decides to leave her life in New York to move back to her hometown.
But when news reports surface that a giant lizard is destroying the city of Tokyo, Gloria gradually comes to realize that she is strangely connected to these far-off events via the power of her mind. In order to prevent further destruction, Gloria needs to determine why her seemingly insignificant existence has such a colossal effect on the fate of the world.
Right. So, you can see why Toho might be mad, but Toho also has a long and storied history of suing basically anyone they think might be doing anything even loosely connected to Godzilla. It once went after Comcast for having a godzilla-like monster in a marketing campaign and a small mobile app firm for creating a silly game called Fingerzilla.
So… yeah. Two big firms with long histories of legal bullying/threatening/suing people that they feel are unfairly “stealing” their property, when both take a very ridiculous black and white view of what kind of “property” is being “stolen.” Toho even makes note of Voltage’s copyright troll history in the very opening of the lawsuit:
Godzilla is one of the most iconic fictional characters in the history of motion pictures. Toho Co., Ltd., the copyright owner of the Godzilla character and franchise of films, brings this lawsuit because defendants are brazenly producing, advertising, and selling an unauthorized Godzilla film of their own. There is nothing subtle about defendants’ conduct. They are expressly informing the entertainment community that they are making a Godzilla film and are using the Godzilla trademark and images of Toho’s protected character to generate interest in and to obtain financing for their project. That anyone would engage in such blatant infringement of another’s intellectual property is wrong enough. That defendants, who are known for zealously protecting their own copyrights, would do so is outrageous in the extreme
At the very least, Toho has a point that Voltage pictures is clearly making use of Godzilla in its description and promotion for the movie. From the lawsuit, here is the promotional email that Voltage itself sent out, which includes an image of Godzilla (Toho claims it’s taken directly from a publicity photo of last year’s Godzilla movie) and mentions Godzilla. Toho further notes that the email sent around “director’s notes” for the project which include a bunch of historical images of different representations of Godzilla.
The Director’s Notes also make clear that Defendants have not only taken the Godzilla Character as their own, but that they also intend to use the Godzilla Character in precisely the same way that Toho used the character in its initial film – attacking Tokyo. As stated therein, “[W]e need scenes with the monsters crushing Tokyo. .
Not only that, but Toho notes that, last year, the director in question, Nacho Vigalondo, stated that he’s absolutely planning to make a “cheap” Godzilla film:
The script I finished and want to get financing for is a twist on the kaiju eiga genre, the Godzilla genre. It’s going to be the cheapest Godzilla movie ever, I promise. It’s going to be a serious Godzilla movie but I’ve got an idea that’s going to make it so cheap that you will feel betrayed. You’re going to be so frustrated by it, it’s not even possible.
The way I wrote the movie – and I don’t want to explain too much – I found a way that is honest and logical to make Godzilla in a costume, destroying cities, models all the time. I wrote the movie in a way that the story has a twist so it makes sense to do Godzilla this way and I’m going to try to be the guy inside the costume because I love filmmaking to the core and I’m a film lover, one of dreams is not to direct a Godzilla movie but to be inside the costume and destroy the cities. I want to be the guy in the costume.
When I first saw the headlines about this, I thought it might be another case of Toho stretching its claims of infringement, as it has done in the past — and was prepared to argue that, even in all its copyright trolling insanity, that Voltage Pictures should have the right to make its own type of monster movie. In fact, we’ve defended Voltage against ridiculous legal attacks in the past.
And, further, I think that it’s ridiculous that courts have decided that using similar characters in totally different settings is copyright infringement, as it seems to go against the idea/expression dichotomy that is supposed to be a core tenet of copyright law. But, it’s still kind of jarring just how blatant Voltage appears to be in just making use of Godzilla in the pitch for this movie without a license. And for a company whose boss argues that merely saying that his copyright trolling plan could be bad for business makes you a “thief,” I think it’s at least fair to argue that Nicolas Chartier is one hell of a hypocrite.