PETA protects animals, but does it exploit filmmakers?

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PETA protects animals, but does it exploit filmmakers?

Fri Oct 15, 2010 @ 12:30PM PST

By Eriq Gardner



Warning: This post contains scenes of animal brutality, women stripping, and ahem, claims of aggravated copyright infringement.

Over the past few years, few organizations have created more hot viral videos on the web than the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The animal rights group has created confrontational spots that have featured celebrities, ambushed consumer brand products, and supermodels taking off their clothes. In many of these videos, a bit of eye-candy is delivered with some hard medicine. For example, in PETA's famous spot, "State of the Union Undress," a woman talks about animal cruelty while taking off her clothes, before a montage of animal brutality is shown to the viewer, such as beaks removed from chickens.

But where does PETA get these nasty images? One would hardly expect them to participate in the activity it deems repellant, right? Here may be a partial answer.

In 1982, Victor Schonfeld and Myriam Alaux created a controversial and critically acclaimed feature documentary, "The Animals Film," narrated by the actress Julie Christie, about the exploitation of animals. The documentary is widely regarded as raising awareness for animal cruelty, and since then, animal rights organizations like PETA have been using some of the film's scenes.

In September, the rights-holder of the films, Beyond the Frame Ltd, contacted PETA via letter, quite angry about the group's alleged exploitation of the "The Animals Film."

Beyond the Frame pointed to several PETA videos that used scenes from its film and then encouraged users on YouTube to share them. The film company was also upset that scenes were used in a documentary produced in 2007 by PETA for HBO entitled "I am an Animal; the Story of Ingrid Newkirk and PETA."

The letter included a draft of a lawsuit that was to be filed in the UK, threats of another lawsuit in the US, and demands for compensation.

According to the letter, "Our client would have been very reluctant to grant a license to your client/PETA Inc given Mr. Schonfeld's well-publicised views about PETA and its sexualised efforts to attract publicity. In the circumstances, had it been prepared to grant a license, it would have charged a substantial premium."

The letter states that the license fee charged would be on a per minute basis, similar to the top rates charged by top independent film companies. Sony Pictures Classics is cited as charging between £50,000 to £100,000 per minute for worldwide Internet rights.

PETA was offering a full sum of £8,000. It was rejected.

Schonfeld wanted £470,000, which is equivalent to about $750,000.

PETA has now responded by asking a California federal judge for a declaratory judgment that it has not infringed on copyright. The group also wants a permanent injunction prohibiting Beyond the Frame from publicly charging it has infringed a copyright.

Both parties abhor animal cruelty. But they will soon be fighting to the bone against each other in court.

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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 [email protected]

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