"Simpsons" voice actor prevails in character dispute
Television and film have their plot twists, their high-concept premises, their special effects and their explosion, but what really keeps audiences coming back is a good character. People who work in Florida’s entertainment business know that, and so they invest a lot of time and money in creating their characters. However, characters aren’t necessarily protected by intellectual property laws. Some of the most difficult legal disputes in the entertainment law concern allegations of copying a character.
Recently, actor Hank Azaria prevailed in a court case over a character he created and played in an online video. Azaria, best known for voicing several characters on “The Simpsons,” played a sports announcer named Jim Brockmire in a popular 2010 video on the website Funny or Die.
Sometime afterward, actor Craig Bierko argued that the Jim Brockmire character was actually based upon a sports announcer character that he had created. Bierko said that he and Azaria had met and discussed the character in 1990 and on several occasions in the years after that. Beirko threatened legal action, and Azaria asked a federal court to rule in the case.
The court ultimately ruled in favor of Azaria, noting that his video qualified for protection under copyright law. The video provided details about the sports announcer’s life, and these are protected by copyright as well, the court ruled. In contrast, the court ruled, Bierko’s sports announcer character was only loosely defined, and not covered by copyright protection. Further, the court ruled that Bierko failed to provide sufficient evidence that he had an oral contract with Azaria over ownership of the character.
There are many cases in entertainment law that are concerned in an almost philosophical way with the idea of creation. These cases raise the questions of when something is created, and who can claim the exclusive rights to market these creations. Florida attorneys with experience in entertainment law understand these questions and how to resolve them.
Source: The Hollywood Reporter, “Hank Azaria Wins Lawsuit Over Funny Baseball Announcer Character,” Eriq Gardner, Feb. 24, 2014