Miramax's Bizarrely Ridiculous Lawsuit Against Quentin Tarantino Over His Pulp Fiction NFTs

from the that's-not-how-any-of-this-works dept

Miramax, the film studio originally founded by Harvey Weinstein before being sold to Disney, then spun out, and currently owned jointly by a Qatari media company, beIN, and ViacomCBS, is in the news for suing Quentin Tarantino over his collection of NFTs about Pulp Fiction — one of Miramax’s biggest hit films in the 90s, and the one that put Tarantino on the map. Like many other content creators, Tarantino is exploring the NFT space, and his experiment is actually somewhat interesting. It’s using a modification of typical NFTs, where some (or all) of the content remains “access controlled” and only available to the purchaser. In other words: it’s DRM’d NFTs, which seems to miss the entire point of NFTs, which is creating a new scarcity of ownership without the scarcity of content access. But, hey, it’s Hollywood, so restricting access and using DRM is kind of in their DNA.

That said, the NFTs are supposedly handwritten bits of the original Pulp Fiction screenplay. From the page:

The NFT collection contains the handwritten, never-before-seen screenplay of Pulp Fiction, one of the most influencing artworks of modern film. Each NFT consists of a single iconic scene, including personalized audio commentary from Quentin Tarantino. The collector who will purchase one of these few and rare NFTs will get a hold of secrets from the screenplay and a glimpse into the mind and the creative process of Quentin Tarantino. The owner will enjoy the freedom of choosing between:

1. Keeping the secrets to himself for all eternity
2. Sharing the secrets with a few trusted loved ones
3. Sharing the secrets publicly with the world

Anyway, the complaint makes a bunch of claims that don’t seem to be supportable. Specifically, it argues (1) breach of contract (2) copyright infringement (3) trademark infringement and (4) unfair competition. The breach of contract claim seems weak. Part of that dispute is that when he sold the movie to Miramax the contract did say that Tarantino reserved the rights to “screenplay publication” himself — and Tarantino’s lawyers contend that that’s all this is. Miramax says that an NFT does not constitute publication — which… is weird? Because it certainly seems like it should?

But the bigger issues are the copyright and trademark claims, which really don’t seem to be based on an understanding of how NFTs work. Here’s the basics of the copyright claim:

The finished motion picture Pulp Fiction and all elements thereof in all
stages of development and production are all original works containing
copyrightable subject matter for which copyright protection exists under the
Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 101, et. seq. Except for Tarantino’s limited set of
Reserved Rights, Miramax is the exclusive owner of rights under copyright in and
to the motion picture Pulp Fiction, and all elements thereof in all stages of
development and production. Miramax owns copyrights in and to Pulp Fiction
(and, pursuant to the Original Rights Agreement and the Tarantino-Miramax
Assignment, “all elements thereof in all stages of development and production”),
including, without limitation, the registered United States copyrights thereto with
U.S. Copyright Office registration numbers PA0000704507 and VA0001224051,
and the copyrights assigned to Miramax in the Tarantino-Miramax Assignment and
the B25 Instrument of Transfer, which are recorded with the U.S. Copyright Office
as document numbers V2917P169 and V3005P270, respectively.

Through Defendants’ conduct alleged herein, including Defendants’
sale of rights relating to Pulp Fiction, and preparation and reproduction of derivative
works based on Pulp Fiction without Miramax’s permission, Defendants have
directly infringed Miramax’s exclusive rights in Pulp Fiction and the elements
thereof in violation of Section 501 of the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 501.

But… no. That’s not how this works. The NFT is just a database entry in a distributed ledger. It’s not a “derivative work.” There’s no copyright-covered content in the NFT itself. The NFT will point to some content, but it seems ridiculous to argue that the content it points to is infringing either. It’s going to be a scan of just a small part of the script that Tarantino wrote (and again, his contract explicitly says he can publish the script). So, what copyright is being infringed here? There is some new content — the “secret” content — as well, but from the descriptions, that’s just Tarantino explaining something about the scenes in question. And he’s allowed to do that.

So, I don’t see what copyright could possibly be infringed here. Even if there were some way you could argue that a link to a scan of a few pages of a handwritten movie script somehow implicates the copyright in the movie (which it cannot), there’s still an incredibly strong fair use argument (but, again, it shouldn’t even get there).

Indeed, to highlight the lack of any copyright infringement here, law professor (and NFT conceptual artist) Brian Frye created (and then quickly sold) his own Secret Pulp Fiction NFT, noting that:

Ownership of this NFT constitutes ownership of certain secret and confidential thoughts I created about the movie Pulp Fiction (1994), which was directed by Quentin Tarantino. The owner of the NFT will have exclusive access to those thoughts, which they may use in any way they like.

Basically, anyone is allowed to sell their “secret” thoughts and ideas about the movie Pulp Fiction, including Quentin Tarantino, and it doesn’t violate Miramax’s rights.

As for the trademark claim, it too seems like a huge stretch. I looked up the trademark registration and it covers certain classes, including magnets, ornamental pins, calendars, posters, tote bags, wallets, cups and mugs, t-shirts, sweatshirts, hoodies, fashion garments, jackets, blouses, pants, caps, hats, socks, ties, Halloween and masquerade costumes, costumes for children’s use, action figures, bendable toys, jigsaw puzzles, puzzle games, collectible toy figures, rubber character toys, and a few more such things.

I don’t see how a link in a distributed ledger database is covered by any of those. Nor do I see how a scan of a handwritten part of a script is any of those. That’s not how trademark works. On top of that, where is there likely to be any confusion here? The sale is quite clearly coming from Tarantino, not Miramax, and despite the complaint saying that consumers will believe this whole thing is sponsored by Miramax, there’s no reason to believe that’s actually true.

All of this seems like typical Hollywood studio overreach, demanding ownership over things they don’t have control over, just because they have lawyers who think they can get away with it.

Filed Under: , , , , , ,
Companies: miramax

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Miramax's Bizarrely Ridiculous Lawsuit Against Quentin Tarantino Over His Pulp Fiction NFTs”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment


Nah, that is the exact reason copyright needs to extend past death, to prevent hit jobs.

The unfair competition is always someone else is making money so it must be unfair.

I will confess I have the faintest hope they take this to court and Tarentino gets a win, with the copyright claim failing in such a way as to make it clear that linking to a non-infringing item is not infringement.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...
Older Stuff
13:40 It's Great That Winnie The Pooh Is In The Public Domain; But He Should Have Been Free In 1982 (Or Earlier) (35)
12:06 Norton 360 Now Comes With Crypto Mining Capabilities And Sketchy Removal Process (28)
10:45 Chinese Government Dragnet Now Folding In American Social Media Platforms To Silence Dissent (14)
10:40 Daily Deal: The 2022 Ultimate Cybersecurity Analyst Preparation Bundle (0)
09:29 A Fight Between Facebook And The British Medical Journal Highlights The Difficulty Of Moderating 'Medical Misinformation' (9)
06:29 Court Ruling Paves The Way For Better, More Reliable Wi-Fi (4)
20:12 Eighth Circuit (Again) Says There's Nothing Wrong With Detaining Innocent Minors At Gunpoint (15)
15:48 China's Regulatory War On Its Gaming Industry Racks Up 14k Casualties (10)
13:31 Chinese Government Fines Local Car Dealerships For Surveilling While Not Being The Government (5)
12:08 Eric Clapton Pretends To Regret The Decision To Sue Random German Woman Who Listed A Bootleg Of One Of His CDs On Ebay (29)
10:44 ICE Is So Toxic That The DHS's Investigative Wing Is Asking To Be Completely Separated From It (29)
10:39 Daily Deal: The 2022 Complete Raspberry Pi And Arduino Developer Bundle (0)
09:31 Google Blocked An Article About Police From The Intercept... Because The Title Included A Phrase That Was Also A Movie Title (24)
06:22 Wireless Carriers Balk At FAA Demand For 5G Deployment Delays Amid Shaky Safety Concerns (16)
19:53 Tenth Circuit Denies Qualified Immunity To Social Worker Who Fabricated A Mother's Confession Of Child Abuse (35)
15:39 Sci-Hub's Creator Thinks Academic Publishers, Not Her Site, Are The Real Threat To Science, And Says: 'Any Law Against Knowledge Is Fundamentally Unjust' (34)
13:32 Federal Court Tells Proud Boys Defendants That Raiding The Capitol Building Isn't Covered By The First Amendment (25)
12:14 US Courts Realizing They Have A Judge Alan Albright Sized Problem In Waco (17)
10:44 Boston Police Department Used Forfeiture Funds To Hide Purchase Of Surveillance Tech From City Reps (16)
10:39 Daily Deal: The Ultimate Microsoft Excel Training Bundle (0)
09:20 NY Senator Proposes Ridiculously Unconstitutional Social Media Law That Is The Mirror Opposite Of Equally Unconstitutional Laws In Florida & Texas (25)
06:12 Telecom Monopolies Are Exploiting Crappy U.S. Broadband Maps To Block Community Broadband Grant Requests (7)
12:00 Funniest/Most Insightful Comments Of 2021 At Techdirt (17)
10:00 Gaming Like It's 1926: Join The Fourth Annual Public Domain Game Jam (6)
09:00 New Year's Message: The Arc Of The Moral Universe Is A Twisty Path (33)
19:39 DHS, ICE Begin Body Camera Pilot Program With Surprisingly Good Policies In Place (7)
15:29 Remembering Techdirt Contributors Sherwin And Elliot (1)
13:32 DC Metro PD's Powerful Review Panel Keeps Giving Bad Cops Their Jobs Back (6)
12:11 Missouri Governor Still Expects Journalists To Be Prosecuted For Showing How His Admin Leaked Teacher Social Security Numbers (39)
10:48 Oversight Board Overturning Instagram Takedown Of Ayahuasca Post Demonstrates The Impossibility Of Content Moderation (10)
More arrow
This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it