Copyright Trappings of New Media: Megamind Infringement Complaint References Facebook, Blogs and Filmmaker's Commentary in Alleging Accessibility and Copying

Copyright Trappings of New Media: Megamind Infringement Complaint References Facebook, Blogs and Filmmaker's Commentary in Alleging Accessibility and Copying

Plaintiff Rogue Satellite Comics recently sued DreamWorks Animation for copyright infringement. Rogue owns the copyright to a comic character named "Kingfish" (© 1996). In its complaint, Rogue alleges that the Kingfish character was copied by DreamWorks and used for the character "Minion" in the 2010 motion picture Megamind.

As described by Rogue:

Kingfish is unique in that the conscious part of the character is a fish. The fish controls a robot. The character is such that the robot forms the body of the character. The head of the character is a fish bowl with the conscious fish residing there. The character's body is a large, muscular robot with metal components on his torso and limbs. The character's words are spoken by the fish that swims inside the tank. The fish is a sham-toothed fish with distinctively visible teeth. The fish in the Kingfish character is not physically connected to anything inside the tank or to any part of the robotic body of the character. The words of the character come through a speaker at the base of the fish bowl head.

The Minion character is described as:

  • The conscious part of the Minion character is a fish.
  • The fish in the Minion character controls a robot.
  • The Minion character is such that the robot forms the body of the character.
  • The head of the Minion character is a fish bowl with the conscious fish residing there.
  • The Minion character's body is a large, muscular robot with metal components on his torso and limbs.
  • Minion's words are spoken by the fish that swims inside the fish tank.
  • The fish is a sharp-toothed fish with distinctively visible teeth.
  • The fish in the Minion character is not physically connected to anything inside the tank or to any part of the robotic body of the character.
  • Minion's words come through a speaker at the base of the fish bowl head.

In asserting accessibility to the copyrighted work, Rogue highlighted, among other things, the Facebook page of Kingfish creator Kevin Atkinson. The complaint highlights Mr. Atkinson's Facebook relationship with several individuals who helped develop the Minion character. For example:

In January 2009 Kevin Atkinson posted photos of the character Kingfish on his Facebook page. Significantly, at that time and continuing through present, Kevin Atkinson has not restricted access to content on his page via Facebook's privacy settings. Instead, he has kept his page or account totally open and available for anyone to see. Thus, any person using the internet can access content on Kevin Atkinson's Facebook page-including pictures of Kingfish-not just Mr. Atkinson's Facebook "friends" and/or other Facebook users.

Kevin Atkinson has Facebook connections with several individuals who worked to develop the Minion character.

Kory Heinzen worked on Megamind as a visual development artist. Specifically, he had responsibilities for the design and development of the Minion character. As of 2010, Kory Heinzen shared 23 Facebook friends with Kingfish creator Kevin Atkinson. One of Kory Heinzen's Facebook friends posted comments on Facebook about Kevin Atkinson's drawings. Kory Heinzen had access and exposure to the Kingfish character through these connections.

Kory Heinzen created drawings as part of the development of the Minion character. These drawings use the same fish tank head design as Kingfish, the same design for the hoses connected to the tank, the same design for the bezel at the bottom on the fish tank, and the same design for the speaker on the bezel of the fish tank head.

Moreover, Andy Bialk, who worked for DreamWorks in developing the Minion character, allegedly admitted to copying the works of other artists in an effort to develop the Minion character. As set forth in the complaint, Bialk stated in his blog that, "It's pretty clear that I referenced [illustrator] Jack Kirby on some of my designs .... seemed to be the right direction for the film in the early stages." The complaint also references the filmmaker's commentary for the following:

During the filmmaker's commentary, when discussing the origins of the Minion character, the following dialogue takes place between Director Tom McGrath, Producers Lara Breay and Denise Nolan Cascino, and Writers Alan Schoolcraft and Brent Simons:

MCGRATH: .... I remember [Producer] Lara [Breay] was flipping through some old designs of different villains, I think, and-and had found the gorilla fish head.

OTHERS: Right.

MCGRATH: And we both agreed it would be fun for animation-and fun for 3D, too. And it just kind of worked into Minion being his-being given to him on his home planet to take care of him, you know.

View or download the entire complaint in Rogue Satellite Comics v. Dreamworks Animation, 11-cv-00253 (E.D. Tex. May 17, 2011)

 

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