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Street Artists Sue Terry Gilliam for Copyright Infringement

by Jillian Steinhauer on August 14, 2014

Jaz, Ever, and Other, "Castillo" (2010) (all images via the complaint)

Ever, Jaz, and Other, “Castillo” (2010) (image via the complaint)

Three street artists have filed a lawsuit against Terry Gilliam, alleging that the director “misappropriated” their copyrighted collaborative work in his upcoming film The Zero Theorem.

Bringing the case are Argentinian street artists Jaz (Franco Fasoli) and Ever (Nicolas Santiago Romero Escalada), along with Canadian cohort Other (Derek Shamus Mehaffey). They lay out their concerns in a complaint filed in Illinois federal court yesterday, listing not only Gilliam as a defendant but also production company Voltage Pictures; the Zanuck Company, whose head, Dean Zanuck, co-produced The Zero Theorem; MediaPro Pictures, a Romanian production company that worked on the film; Well Go and Amplify, the two companies handling the film’s US release; David Warren, the film’s production designer; and 10 unnamed John Does, whose “true identifies will be revealed through discovery,” according to the complaint.

The alleged infringement centers on a collaborative mural painted by the three artists in Buenos Aires in December 2010. Originally untitled, the piece:

… is located in a well-known zona de graffiti (“street art zone”) on Fitz Roy Street, between Canard and Castillo Street, in Chacarita, Buenos Aires, Argentina. The completed work represents a harmonious whole, but individual elements of the Copyrighted Artwork are instantly recognizable as the contributions of Other, Jaz and Ever.

These elements include Jaz’s human-animal hybrid figures, Other’s portrait of a person with patterned clothing and hair, and Ever’s lines streaming from the eyes of two people’s faces.

The mural “has achieved international recognition in the art world, and is widely recognized by the public in Argentina and abroad,” the complaint states, noting that it has “survived for years in that particular zona de graffiti.” In 2013, Jaz and Ever copyrighted the work in Argentina under the title “Castillo.”

Still from 'The Zero Theorem' (via thezerotheorem-movie.com)

Still from ‘The Zero Theorem’ (via thezerotheorem-movie.com)

In Gilliam’s forthcoming The Zero Theorem, the protagonist, a reclusive computer genius named Qohen Leth, lives and works in a burnt-out chapel. The facade of the chapel features what the plaintiffs call “a colorful mural that is a blatant misappropriation” of “Castillo.” The film’s offending mural features re-creations of all three elements of the original, although broken up and rearranged.

In their complaint, Ever, Jaz, and Other allege:

… the Infringing Work, which plays a key part in the world brought to life by the filmmakers onscreen, is fully integrated into the Film, the Trailer and related promotional materials, and is being used extensively to market the Film to U.S. moviegoers. Thus the scope of Defendant’s unlawful use of the Infringing Work and derivatives thereof is vast.

Furthermore, they state that “it does not matter here how many minutes of screen time in the Film are devoted to the Infringing Work, because what is important is ‘the amount taken without authorization from the infringed work,’ not ‘the characteristics of the infringing work.’” In doing so, they draw on a previous copyright infringement case brought against Gilliam by Lebbeus Woods. The late architect sued Gilliam over his use of an interrogation/torture chair in the film 12 Monkeys (1995) that seemed to be based on a 1987 drawing by Woods, “Neomechanical Tower (Upper) Chamber.” The parties in that case eventually settled, but not before the court granted Woods a preliminary injunction.

Left: still from '12 Monkeys'; right: Lebbeus Woods's "Neomechanical Tower" (via the complaint)

Left: still from ’12 Monkeys'; right: Lebbeus Woods’s “Neomechanical Tower” (via the complaint)

Ever, Jazz, and Other are seeking the same relief in their case, as well as “an order for impoundment … of all Infringing Articles,” damages, “profits wrongfully derived by Defendants from their acts of infringement,” and payment of legal fees.

The full complaint can be accessed at The Hollywood Reporter.

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  • StarduStudioS

    Personally, as an artist, I would be flattered & excited to have inspired someone such as Terry Gilliam to have used my artwork in one of his projects. I think I would rather see it as ‘sharing the love’ than ‘stealing my shit’. What a shame…

  • ThisAintCanada

    Mr. Gilliam is welcome to my “shit”. It’s where much of it came from in the first place, eh?

    One just hopes it all can be worked out amicably to the benefit of all concerned.

  • dno

    All artists borrow be they painters, musicians, performers whatever. In the case of murals I think the artist has made a decision for it to be public property to some extent. Terry Gilliam is a great artist who has struggled against bureaucracy and greed to create his unique films – artists should be on his side.

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