On February 23, 2022, U.S. District Judge Jon S. Tigar of the Northern District of California dismissed a copyright and patent case filed by two visual effects (“VFX”) companies against The Walt Disney Co. The VFX companies claimed that Disney illegally used its technology to create the Marvel film character, Thanos. In the complaint, the VFX company utilized computer data to back up their claim that Disney had modeled actor Josh Brolin’s face with the “Contour Reality Capture” program created by the VFX company known as Rearden MOVA (“MOVA”).
Judge Tigar held that the data provided by MOVA was not enough to illustrate MOVA’s point. While the spreadsheets Rearden provided contained a limited number of folder and file-path names and internal messages that contained the word MOVE, MOVA failed to attach the spreadsheets to the complaint, failed to include basic information like spreadsheet titles, and failed to allege any facts about the underlying files. Judge Tigar noted that when the conclusory allegations are taken out of the complaint, the complaint fails to allege that the facial capture shoots were using the MOVA system.
The MOVA system creates 3D models of a person’s face so that their movements can be digitally animated. The technology was used to create or enhance the appearance of characters in blockbuster films including “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I” and “The Avengers.” MOVA claimed that a former employee stole the technology and sold it to a competitor. In a 2017 case over ownership of MOVA, the court issued a preliminary injunction that banned others from using it. However, MOVA alleges that DD3 contracted with The Walt Disney Co. and violated the injunction to animate Thanos in “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame.”
MOVA sued Disney and Marvel Studios LLC and Lucasfilm Ltd. LLC, for secondary copyright infringement because of sub-contractor DD3’s alleged actions. However, Judge Tigar said that to move forward with MOVA’s copyright claim, there would need to be better support for the proposition that DD3 used MOVA at all. Judge Tigar noted that since the directors and actors of Thanos did much of the creative work to create Thanos, the files generated by the computer program are not “protectable expression” as required by copyright law. Furthermore, Judge Tigar held that MOVA’s patent claims lack merit because they merely invoke generic processes which are not covered by patent law, and “fail to recite specific means of implementing the abstract concept of markerless facial motion capture” that are covered by the patents.
Rearden is represented by Brian J. Beck and Joshua M. Masur of Zuber Lawler LLP.
The defendants are represented by Kelly M. Klaus, Blanca F. Young, John L. Schwab, Rowley J. Rice and Shannon Aminirad of Munger Tolles & Olson LLP, and Joseph T. Gooch and Sonal N. Mehta of WilmerHale.
The case is Rearden LLC et al. v. TWDC Enterprises 18 Corp. et al., case number 4:22-cv-02464, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
* Lowe & Associates (“The Firm”) is a boutique entertainment and business law firm located in Beverly Hills, California. The firm has extensive experience handling cases involving intellectual property law (not including patents), having provided top-quality legal services to its clients since 1991. The Firm is recognized for its many achievements, including successfully litigating many high-profile cases.