Netflix made waves in the intellectual property news this month but not for its usual reasons. Instead of more news about Netflix’s recent licensing deals or television show wrangling, headlines broke about a recent lawsuit against Netflix regarding one of its original series, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.
Background to the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Lawsuit
In a recent lawsuit filed by the Satanic Temple, Netflix was sued for both trademark and copyright violations. The Satanic Temple is a New York City-based religions organization that prides itself on protecting any blurring of the separation between church and state in the United States. In other words, they are often a protest group that will protest any type of gesture made by federal or local governments that seem to promote religion.
At the heart of the lawsuit is a statue commissioned by the Satanic Temple that cost about $30,000 and was completed in 2014. Although the group unsuccessfully tried to donate it to a state government, the statue ultimately ended becoming a sort of protest symbol that the group would use in other targeted campaigns.
Netflix inadvertently became involved in the situation when it allegedly copied the statue, full scale, for incorporation into its original series. Having not been contacted for use or licensing rights, the Satanic Temple suspects that a production member of the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina may have simply instigated an Internet search for satanic statutes and ended up having the design department copy the statute wholesale, assuming, wrongly, that its likeness or rights were already in the public domain.
As such, the Satanic Temple is suing for $3.5 million and interest in damages because they believe that Netflix’s unsanctioned copying of the statue will dilute the meaning of the statue while simultaneously depriving the original creator of attribution, rights, and compensation for such public use and dissemination of the work.
Copyrights in Renditions of Iconic Images, Statutes, and Other Creative Works
It is also important to note that, in the case at hand, the lawsuit is suing over a particular rendition of the statue, which actually make the case easier for Netflix to win. While iconic images are often photographed or have sculptures created in their likeness, artists may sue if it is their particular rendition of a scene, figure, etc., that is being infringed upon, and such infringement can be proven to a court.
For example, one of the most successful and well-known cases, similar to this one, is based on a similar legal complaint. In that case, an artist ended up suing over the use of the Statute of Liberty on Forever stamps. In that case, the artist was able to prove that it was his specific rendition of the Statue of Liberty in front of the Brooklyn Harbor that had been misappropriated by the U.S. Postal Service, and as such, he was entitled to millions in damages.
A costly lesson could be learned with the use of the statue in the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Creative artists should be aware of the importance of attribution, licensing, and distinction from fair use.
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Also published on Medium.