July 19, 2022

Tarantino Seeks To Dismiss Miramax Lawsuit

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Further to our prior post concerning the dispute between Miramax and Quentin Tarantino over who has the right to release NFTs based on the Pulp Fiction screenplay, on June 21, 2022, Tarantino's legal team filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings to attempt to dismiss Miramax's lawsuit—which asserted claims for breach of contract, copyright infringement, trademark infringement, and unfair competition—in its entirety.

In the filing, Tarantino argues that Miramax misunderstands fundamental principles of copyright law by incorrectly assuming that Tarantino's NFTs constitute derivative works of the Pulp Fiction film. Tarantino contends Miramax has it backwards: the screenplay came first, so the film is the derivative work based on the screenplay, and the rights granted to Miramax under the various agreements between the parties were limited to rights in the film only. The rights in the film would extend to things like the audiovisual images and the musical score depicted in the film, but would not extend to the underlying screenplay itself. In fact, Tarantino argues, he specifically reserved the copyright in his screenplay under his set of "Reserved Rights" which include "print publication (including without limitation screenplay publication, ‘making of' books, comic books and novelization, in audio and electronic formats as well, as applicable)," and those rights were never assigned to Miramax. Miramax neither alleges such an assignment of rights in the screenplay nor produces any evidence of such an assignment, which must be in writing, asserts Tarantino.

Tarantino argues that for Miramax to state a valid copyright infringement claim, it would have to allege that the NFTs at issue copy elements of the film which are not found in the underlying screenplay. But Miramax fails to make such an allegation, and according to Tarantino, the NFTs demonstrably do not contain any elements of the film, which, as described in the press release for the NFT release, promised ‘"one-of-a-kind . . . never been seen or heard before" content that "will include: the uncut first handwritten scripts of ‘Pulp Fiction' and exclusive custom commentary from Tarantino, revealing secrets about the film and its creator."'

Furthermore, Tarantino argues, he specifically reserved for himself the right to publish the screenplay including in "electronic formats," and distribution of digital copies of the screenplay as NFTs is just that: publication of a screenplay in electronic format. Tarantino contends that it is well settled that a sale of a single copy constitutes publication under copyright law.

Meanwhile, Miramax has contended that the right to create NFTs was reserved to it based on forward-looking contractual language which states it owns "all rights . . . now or hereafter known including without limitation the right to distribute the Film in all media now or hereafter known." Thus, the outcome of this litigation will likely turn on what the Court perceives NFTs to be: a new medium which was not known at the time the parties entered into the contract in 1993 or just a method of exercising Tarantino's established right to publish his screenplay.

With respect to Miramax's breach of contract claim, Tarantino argues that the complaint fails to allege that Tarantino failed to satisfy any contractual obligation, and that a claim that Tarantino exercised rights he previously assigned to Miramax can only state a claim for copyright infringement, not for breach of contract. And as set forth above, there is no infringement because Tarantino merely exercised rights he contractually reserved for himself.

As for the trademark and unfair competition claims, both fail, Tarantino asserts, because Tarantino's copyright ownership of the screenplay necessarily encompasses his ability to use the title of the screenplay, which moreover was a right he specifically reserved in one of the agreements: that "Tarantino shall have the right to use the title of the Film in connection with the exploitation of the Reserved Rights."

The motion is set for hearing before the judge on July 21, 2022. We will be following Miramax's response with great interest. Stay tuned for more updates on NFT-related litigation from the NFT Newsroom.


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