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Copyright Issues with a Foul-Mouthed Teddy Bear

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

The proliferation of YouTube stars and home movie producers has created some interesting issues for intellectual property lawyers.

According to a lawsuit filed in the US District Court in Los Angeles, Seth MacFarlane, Universal Pictures and Media Rights Capital are being sued for alleged copyright infringement in relation to their hit comedy ‘Ted’ which starred a vulgar, talking teddy bear. The movie successfully grossed $550m worldwide.

The plaintiff, Bengal Mangle Productions, created a screenplay and a corresponding web series featuring a vulgar teddy bear named Charlie. ‘Acting School Academy’, as a web series, received over 1.2m views between July 2009 and June 2012.

Charlie the Abusive Teddy Bear, as the spin-off to the original web series, Acting School Academy, was exhibited on Youtube, IMDB, and Blip.tv, and continues to be exhibited online.

How Similar is Too Similar?

The suit alleges that both Charlie and Ted have similar physical attributes, both being brown toy (albeit living) teddy bears, as well as displaying remarkably similar personality traits.

Both Charlie and Ted have penchants for drinking alcohol and smoking, as well as in engaging prostitutes for their services. In general, both characters maintain a vulgar and humorous disposition, whilst spending large amounts of time on the sofa, cigarette and/or beer in hand. Further, both bears maintain an active online presence insofar as Twitter is used to express the bears’ similar respective opinions.

In addition, the suit also alleges that entire scenes in 2012’s Ted had been directly copied from the webseries starring Charlie, with both bears making use of a “washed-up” child star persona. Scenes, for example, where Charlie describes what he wants to do with a prostitute are presented as originals of scenes, for example, where Ted shows a woman all the lewd acts he wants to perform with her.

The plaintiff claims the defendant’s character, Ted, is substantially similar to Charlie and that the film Ted constitutes unauthorised copying, reproduction, distribution, creation of a derivative work, and/or public display of Charlie. The suit seeks unspecified damages.

Consequences of Copyright Infringement

If the defendants are found to have infringed on the plaintiff’s copyright the implications could be widespread.

The fact that Charlie only stars in a web only format, and that the spin-off show in which he stars only gained a fraction of the views of the original in which he merely featured, makes clear that judgment for the plaintiff would set a new precedent in this type of case.

Various internet-only shows – with only modest viewership – would require further attention from media companies’ intellectual property lawyers, so as to avert expensive suits post the (prospective) hit film.

MacFarlane, Universal Pictures and Media Rights Capital made no comment on the lawsuit.

For specialist advice on intellectual property litigation contact Peter Gourri today by email PGourri@rollingsons.co.uk or telephone 0207 611 4848.

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