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The Amazing History of Best Picture Lawsuits

The Amazing History of Best Picture Lawsuits

The debate about the true worth of winning an Academy Award will probably never be settled: The investor site Millionaire Corner proclaimed that Best Picture nominees benefit from a “Viagra-like surge” at the box office, but the latest hard figures show the coveted Oscar bump amounts to a scant $3 million, a figure vastly eclipsed by the cost of an Oscar campaign. 

There is, however, one thing Best Picture winners can count on: They’re more likely to be sued. David Kluft, an attorney who founded the Nextframe Film Festival in a previous life, runs down the history of intellectual property litigation over Best Picture winners at the Trademark & Copyright Law blog, and it’s a long and messy one, running from 1931’s “Cimarron” to last year’s “12 Years a Slave.” Not surprisingly, most of the suits involve attempts to capitalize after the fact, whether it’s laying claim to tangential connections to the winning film — a man named Joseph Maggio who served alongside “From Here to Eternity” author James Jones in the 27th Infantry, alleged that the movie’s “Maggio” was based on him — or attempting to create or extend franchises against the filmmakers’ wills. “Forrest Gump” and “Million Dollar Baby” were sued over special effects technology, the latter for using inflatable mannequins to fill out the crowds in boxing scenes:

Million Dollar Baby (2004)

See those boxing fans in the background?  They are actually “inflatable humanoid forms,” presumably cheaper and more cooperative than real live extras. Plaintiff, inventor of “Crowd in a Box,” claimed that its patents were infringed by the  inflatable mannequins used in “Million Dollar Baby,” which had been created by the Inflatable Crowd Company.  The Court, in Crowd in a Box Co. v. Inflatable Crowd Co., 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 96493 (C.D. Cal. 2007), granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, holding that the patents were invalid for obviousness.

So far, the 2015 Best Picture nominees are disappointingly litigation-free, but after Sunday night, it might be a whole new ballgame.

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