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Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. v. Miramax Films Corp.
United States District Court for the Central District of California
11 F. Supp. 2d 1179 (1998)
Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. (Columbia) (plaintiff) distributed a promotional poster and trailer for its movie Men in Black (MIB). The MIB poster featured actors Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones wearing black suits, black ties, white shirts, and sunglasses, holding oversized weapons, and standing in front of the New York City skyline with serious expressions. The MIB trailer included the tagline “protecting the earth from the scum of the universe” and ended with Smith and Jones’s shadows superimposed over the letters “MIB.” Columbia copyrighted the MIB poster and the MIB trailer. MIB had a worldwide theatrical release, sold millions of VHS copies, and led to lucrative licensing agreements for Columbia. Miramax Films Corp. (Miramax) (defendant) then released its documentary film The Big One (TBO), which criticized corporate America. TBO had only a limited theatrical release. The promotional poster and trailer for TBO mimicked the MIB poster and trailer. The TBO poster showed the documentarian, Michael Moore, in a black suit, black tie, white shirt, and sunglasses, holding an oversized microphone and standing in front of the New York City skyline, smirking. The TBO trailer included the tagline “protecting the earth from the scum of corporate America” and ended with Moore’s shadow superimposed over the letters “TBO.” Columbia sued Miramax for copyright infringement and moved for a preliminary injunction. Miramax invoked the fair-use affirmative defense, arguing that the TBO poster and trailer were parodies of the MIB poster and trailer.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Collins, J.)
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