Original ‘Road House’ Writer Sues Amazon Over Remake

Original ‘Road House’ Writer Sues Amazon Over Remake

 

On February 27, 2024, the writer of the 1989 film ‘Road House’ sued Amazon Studios, LLC, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. R. Lance Hill, also known as David Lee Henry, alleges that Amazon ignored his copyright for the screenplay and rushed to finish the film by using artificial intelligence before he was able to complete the termination of his original assignment to United Artists under Section 203 of the Copyright Act. This Section of the Copyright Act allows creators who sold their copyright to terminate the assignment thirty-five years later, in order for the creator to obtain new value. The basis of this Section of the Copyright Act is that the creator did not have strong bargaining leverage when he or she originally sold the work, and if it still had value thirty-five years later, the creator is entitled to that value.

Hill claims that MGM Studios, Inc. and its parent company, Amazon Studios, ignored his right under the Copyright Act of 1976 to reclaim the copyright for his script. In 1986, Hill wrote the screenplay ‘on spec,’ meaning that he originally wrote the script without any compensation in the hope that he would be able to sell it to a major studio. Ultimately, Hill, doing business as Lady Ames Literary Works, Ltd. (“Lady Ames”), sold his screenplay to United Artists (“UA”). In 1989, with the copyright secured, UA produced the famous movie ‘Road House,’ starring Patrick Swayze.

In November 2021, Hill informed UA’s successor that he intended to terminate the copyright grant in anticipation of the remake, which would have meant that the rights would revert to him by November 11, 2023. On that date, Hill asserts that he successfully regained his copyright under the termination rights under Section 203 of the Copyright Act of 1976. As mentioned, these rights enable artists to reclaim the rights for a second term after thirty-five years.

Hill claims that Amazon attempted to complete the remake before he could reclaim his copyright by using artificial intelligence to replicate voices using automatic dialogue replacement during the midst of the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike. This action would violate agreements of the SAG and DGA, to which Amazon and MGM are (and were) signatories.

Hill alleges copyright infringement and a declaration that his copyright termination is valid and that he received the copyright to his screenplay on November 11, 2023. Amazon’s remake was not released until January 2024, well after Hill’s alleged statutory termination date would be effective. Hill claims that after his termination, the defendants did not attempt to secure a new license of the screenplay.

In a letter, Amazon, which owns the ‘Road House’ rights via their MGM acquisition, claims that the screenplay qualified as a work of Lady Ames, not Hill. Therefore, they argue that Hill is barred from exercising his statutory termination rights. In response, Hill stated that he neither wrote nor received compensation for ‘Road House’ within the scope of his employment at Lady Ames. Furthermore, Hill has claimed that Lady Ames served as his business ‘alter ego.’

Regarding his copyright infringement claim, Hill alleges that both the 1989 film and the remake share similar storylines and settings. According to the suit, the main characters of each film share the same name, Dalton, and are both quiet, muscular bouncers. Hill also claims that he received a writing credit on the remake.

Hill is represented by Marc Toberoff of Toberoff & Associates PC.

Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios Inc., Amazon Studios LLC, and United Artists Pictures Inc are represented by Wook Hwang, Dylan J. Price and Paul A. Bost of Sheppard Mullin Richter and Hampton LLP as well as David Aaron Grossman of Loeb and Loeb LLP.

The case is R. Lance Hill v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. et al., case number 2:24-cv-01587, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

* Lowe & Associates (“The Firm”) is a boutique business and entertainment law firm located in Beverly Hills, California. The firm has extensive experience handling cases involving copyright law, 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.

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