Universal Accuses Lionsgate of Using Character from Good Movie in Really Bad One

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Universal Accuses Lionsgate of Using Character from Good Movie in Really Bad One

Wed Apr 23, 2008 @ 12:19PM PST

Posted by Eriq Gardner

Witlessprotection_poster Midnightrun Universal has filed an interesting lawsuit against Lionsgate claiming that the character of FBI agent Alonzo Mosely in Universal's 1988 hit "Midnight Run" was stolen and transplanted into Lionsgate's recent Larry the Cable Guy flop "Witless Protection."

Both movies feature stories about a witness set to testify in criminal court against the mob. In both films, this witness winds up on the run, pursued by a short-tempered, humorless FBI agent named Alonzo Mosely, played by the same actor, Yaphet Kotto.

Here's the complaint, which includes a pretty scathing review of "Witless Protection" (What, Jenny McCarthy's performance wasn't nuanced enough for Universal's lawyers?) and claims that Lionsgate was warned with a cease-and-desist letter concerning the Mosely character. Now Universal seeks to impound and dispose of all copies of the film, and it wants all profits, should any exist (current boxoffice: $4 million, although LTCG does have a big DVD following).

Character theft is of course a copyright violation. However, the list of movies that have lifted characters from previous films is quite long. Click here for a fun discussion of "borrowed characters," some involving Universal films.

Lionsgate would also surely argue that the film is a parody and thus protected as fair use. After all, who in their right mind would see a film starring Larry the Cable Guy and not appreciate the sharp parody of getting an actor from a 20-year old Robert De Niro comedy to play the same character?

Universal is repped by Sheldon Eisenberg at LA's Eisenberg Raizman Thurston & Wong. 

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The Hollywood Reporter, Esq. blog focuses on how the entertainment and media industries are impacted and influenced by the law. It is edited by Matthew Belloni with contributions from veteran legal reporter Eriq Gardner and others. Before joining The Hollywood Reporter, Belloni was a lawyer at an entertainment litigation firm in Los Angeles. He writes a column for THR devoted to entertainment law. Gardner is a New York-based writer and legal journalist. Send tips or comments to Matthew.Belloni@thr.com

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