Friday, December 07, 2007

Family Guy is lawsuit guy

Following on the heels of Carol Burnett's unsuccessful suit, Art Metrano has sued Fox over the use of his act in the Family Guy movie, Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story. (Clips for comparison at TMZ; you can also easily find them on YouTube.)

My quick assessment: The unfavorable Burnett precedent is redundant here. The copyright claim raises some interesting theoretical questions: the complaint treats Metrano's copyright as one in the performance of his "signature" gestures, not in any particular fixation; I'd very much like to see that registration certificate. To the extent that a performance/persona itself isn't copyrightable, and his copyright is in particular fixations, cartoon Jesus's performance of the same gestures may simply not be substantially similar in expression. Perhaps it's a claim to choreography? But in the end that workhorse fair use may make this irrelevant, especially given that Metrano claims that the appropriation casts him into disrepute.

I'm not quite sure why Metrano brought only federal dilution claims; he can't possibly win them -- for one thing, it may be enraging that the public now calls his act the "Jesus dance," because they associate it with the Family Guy clip, but that's pretty good evidence of absence of fame. His Lanham Act claims, by the way, are for the trade dress of his routine. Aesthetic functionality?

I'm also not quite clear on the point of the common law misappropriation of name and likeness claim (distinct from the common law right of publicity claim). In particular, this may be Metrano's "signature" act, but it is neither his name nor his likeness. It's really a right of privacy claim, but I can't imagine that there is a valid right of privacy in a routine that one, well, routinely performs in public and posts on one's website (warning: music).

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