John Henry Alvin, a cinematic artist and painter illustrated many movie posters throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, including posters for E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial, Jurassic Park, Beauty, and the Beast, and Lord of the Rings. At the heart of the dispute in this case is the artwork Alvin created for the poster for Warner Brothers’ iconic film Blade Runner.
On March 3, 2022, the Estate of John Henry Alvin filed a lawsuit against multiple third parties for the return of the original artwork for the Blade Runner poster.
The factual background of the case is as follows: in 1982, Warner Bros. contracted with a company called Intralink Film Graphic Design to create promotional artwork for the film, Blade Runner. Intralink then hired Alvin as a freelancer to develop all of the promotional artwork, including the movie poster for the film. The Alvin Estate claims that, based on Intralink’s policy, while Warner Bros. obtained all rights to images and reproductions of artwork created for the film, Alvin retained ownership of the original artwork itself. This agreement was never in writing— like many artists at that time, Alvin allegedly did most of his business on a “handshake” basis.
In 2013, a third-party buyer obtained the original painting of the Blade Runner movie poster from Harold Slagg. Slagg was involved in various aspects of art direction for many films, including Blade Runner. Over time, Slagg amassed an impressive array of original movie poster art, including original paintings. How exactly Slag came to amass them is at the center of the dispute.
On August 12, 2022, the third-party buyer filed a “Third-Party Declaratory” action in the same case requesting a finding that, at the time of the sale, Slagg had good and clear title to the painting. At the core of the third-party claim is that the painting was a “work made for hire” for purposes of copyright law. The third party alleges that Alvin was an independent contractor who created the artwork for Intralink, which had a written agreement with Warner Bros. transferring all rights to Warner Bros. He further argues that Alvin transferred all the rights to Warner Bros. and Warner Bros. transferred all rights to Slagg. Authors Note: by this author’s analysis, the absence of a signed written agreement between Intralink and Alvin, even assuming that a written agreement transferring the rights from Intralink to Warner Brothers exists, may impair the rights of both Warner Brothers and Slagg. In fact, on the third party’s side of the equation there appear to be several holes in the chain of title including the lack of work for hire agreement between Intralink and Alvin, and the lack of a written agreement transferring any rights from Warner Brothers to Slagg, among others.
The Alvin estate is represented by Montare Ariadne and Ariadne Montare of Montare Law LLC, John P. Corcoran Jr. of Jones Gregg Creehan & Gerace LLP and Patrick Yarborough of Foster Yarborough PLLC.
Third-party Claimant, Herman is represented pro se and by Louise Geer of Geer & Herman PC and John D. Blakley of Dunn Sheehan LLP.
The case name is Estate of John Henry Alvin et al. v. Heritage Auction Inc. et al., case number 2:22-cv-00372, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.
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