Hollywood Docket: Do Emotions From Animated Characters Drive Ticket Buying?

BY ERIQ GARDNER | HollywoodReporter.Com

Troy Warren for CNT

A roundup of legal developments in Hollywood including the intellectual property case now turning on the opinions of an expert in human-computer interaction.

Today’s edition of you’ll-never-guess-what-they’re-discussing-in-court: Do realistic human emotions from computer-generated characters make a material contribution to the financial success of a blockbuster movie?

The question comes up because a Silicon Valley tech company called Rearden LLC is suing Disney for using “stolen” technology for CG characters in blockbuster movies including Avengers, Beauty and the Beast and Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb. This long-running intellectual property case has had some serious twists (see, for instance, here, here and here) and is nearing trial — assuming, there’s enough to put to a jury after summary judgment. Rearden asserts there’s a causal nexus between IP infringement and Disney’s profits — and thus, its drive for substantial damages will turn on some interesting theories.

On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Jon Tigar took up a report from Dr. Angela Tinwell, an expert who holds a Ph.D. in the field of human-computer interaction and was tasked with opining whether the software in dispute was responsible for at least some of Beauty and the Beast’s revenues given it “enabled the presentation of a human-like CG Beast character that viewers could believe in, empathize with and believe that Belle could plausibly romantically love.”

Tinwell looked at other films including Final Fantasy, Beowulf, The Adventures of Tintin and Mars Needs Moms and spoke about how these movies had relied on primitive motion-capture technology, had lackluster virtual characters and were financially unsuccessful. Tinwell thus concluded a causal relationship.

In his order accepting only part of Tinwell’s report, Judge Tigar rules it’s admissible for her to state that CG characters’ nuanced expressions can affect viewers’ feelings towards a film — including in Beauty and the Beast — but that she nevertheless goes too far in declaring a link between the technology and the film’s profitability. Sample size, sample bias and correlation vs. causation play a factor.

Here’s the judge’s order and Tinwell’s report.

In other legal news:

—In the lawsuit over a supposed auction of the NFT to Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt, Damon Dash agrees he won’t dispose of the copyright to the album while maintaining his right to sell a one-third share in Roc-A-Fella Records. Is there anything left to really fight about? In a proposed case management plan to the judge on Monday, the parties don’t indicate any settlement is coming. Instead, Dash appears set to bring counterclaims over Roc-A-Fella’s authority to contract and file this very suit.

—Getting the dates wrong won’t stop a lawsuit from Dwight Yoakam against Warner Music Group. The country music star is seeking to reclaim rights to his songs under the termination provisions of copyright law, and in a ruling on Monday, a federal judge applies the harmless error doctrine to termination notices. On the other hand, the judge also finds that Yoakam’s conversion claim is preempted by copyright law. Here’s the full decision.

—George Zakk, a producer on xXx, has finally ended his long-running lawsuit over a sequel to the blockbuster. Zakk sued Vin Diesel and Revolution Studios, claiming he was shut out of xXx: Return of Xander Cage. After a judge rejected a case premised on an oral contract, an appeals court revived it. The parties have now come to a private settlement.

—Law&Crime Network and Court TV have put an end to a dispute between the rivals over coverage of the Derek Chauvin trial. Law&Crime filed a false advertising lawsuit over the claim that Court TV was “the only multiplatform network devoted to live, gavel-to-gavel coverage” and now, months later, the case has been mutually resolved.

In Other NEWS


By Troy Warren

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