Lawyer: Studio must pay for destroying Jesus Christ

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Lawyer: Studio must pay for destroying Jesus Christ

Fri Feb 26, 2010 @ 09:36AM PST

By Matthew Belloni

2012poster With apologies to the Coen brothers, Columbia Pictures is learning the hard way not to f--- with the Jesus.

A lawyer for Brazil's Catholic Church has gone public with a dispute over the destruction of Rio de Janeiro's famous Christ the Redeemer statue in November's global hit "2012." Seems the church didn't enjoy the scene as much as we did, prompting archdiocese attorney Claudine Dutra to tell the AFP that Columbia didn't get a proper copyright license to depict the country's most famous statue.  

Brazil uses a variation on U.S. copyright law, granting copyright to the author of a work until his death, then to his estate or heirs for another 70 years. Christ the Redeemer was created in 1931 by French artist Paul Landowski on commission from the Rio archdiocese. Landowski died in 1961, and the archdiocese says it holds copyright until 2032.

At least that's the church's argument. Dutra told the AFP that it controls the statue but approves "99 percent" of usage requests. She said the church turned down Columbia's pitch because the plan was to show the Redeemer being toppled by a giant wave. 

Columbia, on the other hand, tells us it did get a license, just not from the church.

"Acting on a good faith belief that the estate of the sculptor of the statue held the copyright, we sought and received their permission to use the image in the movie," a studio rep told us. "We are currently in discussions with the archdiocese in hopes of reaching an agreement in this matter."

An entity called the Artists Rights Society represents the Landowski estate. If ARS told Columbia that it was the proper licensor (and not the Archdiocese), that would complicate this matter further. It also might explain why the church's lawyer has done a lot of talking but hasn't actually filed any lawsuit against the studio.

Negotiations have apparently been going on since December. The church says it is still trying to figure out its damages, which will depend on an expert's evaluation. But despite the tough talk, the Catholics might just be waiting for a bit of confession.

"We want Columbia Pictures to publicly declare that it did not intend to cause offense," Dutra said.

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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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