Voltage Wins Legal Battle Over ‘The Professor And The Madman’ As Judge Tosses Copyright Suit
UPDATED, 4:55 PM: A California judge has thrown out a copyright-infringement lawsuit filed against Voltage Pictures by the writer-director Farhad Safinia over its upcoming Mel Gibson-Sean Penn film The Professor and the Madman. Safinia had claimed ownership of the copyright after penning a 2007 revision of its original 2001 script.
In granting Voltage’s motion for summary judgment, U.S. District Judge Consuelo Marshall wrote: “The undisputed evidence demonstrates Plaintiff does not own rights in the Screenplay. Plaintiff therefore lacks standing for his copyright infringement claim against Defendants.” Read the ruling here and details of the case below.
Vertical Entertainment, which picked up U.S. rights to The Professor and the Madman, is set to release the film during the second quarter of 2019.
PREVIOUSLY, September 2017: The multi-front legal battle between Voltage Pictures and seemingly everyone else over The Professor and The Madman starring Mel Gibson and Sean Penn saw a federal judge stop the efforts of the director to stop the film from going forward.
“Plaintiff fails to satisfy the necessary four-prong test for a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction,” U.S. District Judge Consuelo Marshall wrote Friday in an order (read it here) rejecting Farhad Safinia’s desire to halt the latest cut of the film from being shown to potential buyers due to copyright infringement and defamation.
“Plaintiff fails to demonstrate that he is likely to suffer irreparable harm absent a preliminary injunction,” the judge added in her order, noting documents submitted September 21 by Voltage against longtime Gibson collaborator Safinia showing the director signed over his rights to the Madman script on August 21, 2016 in a work for hire agreement. “Plaintiff fails to demonstrate ownership of a valid copyright,” the Jimmy Carter-appointed Marshall summarized September 22 (read it here).
The feature adaptation of Simon Winchester’s 1998 book The Surgeon of Crowthorne: A Tale of Murder, Madness and the Love of Words sees the ex-Mad Max as Professor James Murray, who began work on the Oxford Dictionary in 1857. Fellow Oscar winner Penn plays Dr. William Chester Minor, who submitted more than 10,000 entries to the effort while he was an inmate at an asylum for the criminally insane. Former Game of Thrones actor Natalie Dormer and upcoming Liar star Ioan Gruffudd co-star.
“Plaintiff has not provided sufficient evidence that he will suffer harm to his reputation simply because he is identified as the screenwriter and director of the film in various promotional materials,” Marshall concludes of Boss creator Safinia’s objections to the creative and sales attempts by Voltage. “Nor does Plaintiff provide any evidence that the value of his screenplay will diminish if Defendants are not enjoined immediately.”
Of course, with parts of Madman supposedly screening to distributors at Cannes in May, Salinia’s case is part of a larger brawl.
First filed September 19 by Salinia, this scrap with Voltage comes after Gibson and his Icon Productions partner Bruce Davey this summer put forth paperwork themselves in L.A. Superior Court. In that action, the Oscar winner and crew sought a jury trial for a breach of contract complaint against Voltage, Nicolas Chartier-run financing, production and distribution company, over changes and final cut of their self-described “labor of love.”
Icon insist that Voltage “disregarded their contractual obligations” with alterations to the Madman script, potential director changes, and location approvals among others.
Having attracted his fair share of the spotlight over the years, Hurt Locker and Dallas Buyers Club producer Chartier had his Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump and Aldisert LLP lawyer Jeremiah Tracy Reynolds hit back with a motion to toss out that case. That demurrer doubted that Icon was harmed by Voltage’s actions and are simply engaged in an “amorphous request for contract damages.”
Voltage re-asserted that point of view in what was their successful upbraiding to Safinia’s TRO case
“The true motive behind Plaintiff’s bogus copyright infringement lawsuit is a continuing effort by Plaintiff, along with his collaborators, Mel Gibson and Bruce Davey, to improperly coerce the financiers of the Picture to shoot additional scenes in Oxford, England, at a cost of approximately $2.5 million, despite the fact that the motion picture has already gone over budget and into overtime,” the company stated September 21. Voltage also noted that Salinia neglected to mention in his filing “highly respected screenwriters Todd Kormanicki and John Boorman are listed as his co-writers on the final shooting script for the motion picture because they wrote prior versions of the script.”
According to Marshall’s order and a declaration submitted by Chartier, The Professor and The Madman is still being edited, and the producers “do not anticipate distribution before the end of 2017.”
Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan attorneys Jeffery McFarland, Shahin Rezvani and Aaron Perahia are representing Apocalypto co-screenwriter Safinia in the matter.