Friday, November 6, 2009

Indiana Jonesing

Dear Rich: I am a filmmaker and am preparing to make a corporate promotional film for a well known life insurance company in which the chairman will be depicted as a fedora wearing, dusty leather jacket clad character, potentially with a whip, who will recover a stone artifact from a temple of some kind. After recovering the stone he will use its power to do little more than clear the skies and raise some smiles.  He may walk over a rope-bridge or use a foxline to reach the other side of a gauge, there is also a chance he may escape in a plane ... but he will be freshly shaven, and will not chased by stone boulders. Do you think this presents a problem in terms of copyright infringement? Let's make sure we have this correct. You are using the fedora, whip, and leather jacket and you want to borrow from the plots of the movie, and you're using these elements to promote a life insurance company. 
Forest or the Trees Dept. Hmm ... We could go into discussions about substantial similarity, the abstractions test, and trademark infringement (and we could review a previous post on this subject). But it really comes down to whether the folks that own the Indiana Jones trademarks and copyrights feel that your insurance company is channeling its brand. 
If You Build it, They Will Sue. Possibly, Lucasfilm's legal team may not care -- for example, if it's a one-shot promo film, the similarities are primarily generic (typical pulp adventure hero stuff) and your film has limited exposure (just shown at a company getaway). But if it smells like you're emulating the franchise for a deep-pocketed client, then you and the insurance company will be dragged into a dispute. Our suggestion would be that if the Indiana Jones motif was the insurance company's idea, seek an indemnity provision in your contract. If it was your idea, either ditch it, or check your contract to make sure that you are not indemnifying the insurance company. 
Full Disclosure: The Dear Rich Staff has never seen an Indiana Jones movie, dressed like the main characterbeen attracted to Indiana Jones or the women in his films, or considered the Lego possibilities.