ThinkStock/Erin McCarthy
ThinkStock/Erin McCarthy

8 Movies and the Lawsuits That Plagued Them

ThinkStock/Erin McCarthy
ThinkStock/Erin McCarthy

Lawsuits against movies and filmmakers often stem from copyright infringement, plagiarism, or inaccurate details surrounding true events. In some cases, a lawsuit is filed as a quick way to get a piece of a widely popular movie’s box office gross. Here are eight movies that led to legal action.

1. Captain Phillips (2013)
The Lawsuit: The crew of the MV Maersk Alabama vs. Waterman Steamship Corporation and Maersk Line, Limited

The latest film from British director Paul Greengrass tells the heroic story of Captain Richard Phillips, the captain of the MV Maersk Alabama, and his ordeal when Somali pirates hijacked his cargo ship in 2009.

While the film version of Phillips was painted as an everyman who tried everything in his power to prevent the hijacking, the crew of the actual MV Maersk Alabama saw things differently. The crew claims [PDF] that Captain Phillips knowingly went into pirate-infested waters to save time and money, instead of steering clear of disaster, despite numerous warning signs that urged him to go farther away from the African coastline.

The lawsuit [PDF] against the shipping company alleges that the Navy and crewmembers were the true heroes against the hijackers and not Captain Phillips, as the movie would suggest. “I want moviegoers to know that the true heroes are the Navy marksmen and Navy personnel who bailed out the shipping company and Captain Phillips,” said Brian Beckcom, the attorney representing nine of the former seamen of the MV Maersk Alabama, who were described as “the brave crew members who fought back against the pirates.” The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages, as the plaintiffs claim physical and emotional injuries during the miserable melee.

2. Drive (2011)
The Lawsuit: Sarah Deming vs. FilmDistrict and Emagine Theaters Novi, Michigan

In October 2011, a Michigan woman named Sarah Deming filed a lawsuit [PDF] against the Emagine Novi movie theater and FilmDistrict Distribution for making a misleading trailer for Drive, a movie starring Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, and Albert Brooks.

Deming claimed that the film distributor “promoted Drive as very similar to the Fast and Furious, or similar, series of movies.” Deming was upset that Drive was a methodical art film that “bore very little similarity to a chase or race action… having little driving in the motion picture.” Deming included the movie theater where she saw the film because it violated Michigan's Consumer Protection Act, claming that the film was anti-Semitic for depicting members of the Jewish faith in an unfavorable and stereotypical light.

Deming sought statutory damages under the Michigan's Consumer Protection Act, a warning of the film’s anti-Semitic leanings, and wanted the case certified as a class action lawsuit. The trial judge sided with the defendants, and on October 15, 2013, the appellate court rejected her appeal.

3. The Hangover Part II (2011)
The Lawsuit: S. Victor Whitmill vs. Warner Bros.

In April 2011, tattoo artist S. Victor Whitmill sued Warner Bros. for a copyright infringement [PDF] in the film The Hangover Part II. In the film, Stu (Ed Helms) wakes up after a night of debauchery in a Bangkok hotel with a replica of Mike Tyson’s tribal face tattoo. The plaintiff designed the tattoo specifically for Mike Tyson and therefore claimed it was a copyrighted work. Whitmill claimed that Warner Bros. had no right to put his work in the film or in any promotional materials attached to The Hangover Part II.

The lawsuit almost affected the release of the film, and there was the possibility that if the two parties couldn’t come to an agreement, the face tattoo would have to be digitally lifted from Helms’ face for the home video release. Ultimately, Warner Bros. settled Whitmill’s claim for an undisclosed amount, and The Hangover Part II went on to gross $581.4 million worldwide.

4. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006)
The Lawsuit: Justin Seay and Christopher Rotunda vs. Sacha Baron-Cohen and Twentieth Century Fox

In 2006, two University of South Carolina fraternity brothers sued the filmmakers and movie studio behind the comedy Borat, claiming defamation. The film depicted the pair making racist and sexist comments while heavily drinking on camera. While plaintiffs Christopher Rotunda and Justin Seay had signed a lengthy release form agreeing not to take legal action against the film’s creators, they still sought an injunction to remove their scenes from the DVD release of the film. The lawsuit was thrown out by a Los Angeles judge in early 2007.

5. Black Swan (2010)
The Lawsuit: Eric Glatt and Alexander Footman, et al. vs. Fox Searchlight and Fox Entertainment Group

In 2011, two interns working on Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan filed a lawsuit against Fox. Eric Glatt, working in accounting, and Alexander Footman, working in production, failed to receive any pay or college credit in exchange for their work, which they claim violates both state and federal labor laws.

Glatt claims he worked five days a week for 40 to 50 hours per week for more than a year, while Footman worked a similar schedule for 95 days. Neither received any pay, benefits, class credits, or financial compensation. The pair seeks class damages for pay owed during production and also an injunction to prevent Fox Searchlight from using unpaid interns during any future film productions.

The Federal Court Judge agreed with Glatt and Footman, ruling that under the Fair Labor Standards Act and New York Labor Law, they should be considered employees, rather than unpaid interns. Currently, Fox is looking to reverse the court’s decision in the Court of Appeals.

6. Natural Born Killers (1994)
The Lawsuit: Patsy Ann Byers, et al. vs. Oliver Stone, Time Warner, Inc., et al.

In 1995, Sarah Edmondson and her boyfriend Benjamin James Darras went on a violent crime spree through Mississippi and Louisiana after watching Oliver Stone’s controversial movie Natural Born Killers. While in Louisiana, Edmondson shot convenience store cashier Patsy Byers, rendering her a quadriplegic. Byers then filed a lawsuit against her assailants and the filmmakers behind Natural Born Killers in 1996. She claimed that the violence depicted in the film drove Edmondson and Darras to go on a similar crime spree. The court dismissed the case in 1997, just months before Byers died of cancer.

In 2001, Judge Robert Morrison dropped the lawsuit on the grounds that there was not enough evidence that Stone or Time Warner knowingly intended to encourage violence. The Louisiana Court of Appeals turned down the appeal [PDF] from the Byers family’s attorney and the lawsuit was officially closed.

7. Avatar (2009)
The Lawsuit: William Roger Dean vs. James Cameron, Twentieth Century Fox, et al.

In June 2013, album cover artist William Roger Dean filed a lawsuit [PDF] against James Cameron and Twentieth Century Fox under copyright infringement for the alien planet design in Avatar. Dean claims that Pandora’s look is extremely similar to the fantasy landscapes depicted in his artwork on the books Magnetic Storm, Views, and Dragon’s Dream. The lawsuit cites a number of examples from Cameron’s 3D film, including the alien world’s foliage, floating islands, stone arches, and creature design.

William Roger Dean worked on the album covers for best-selling rock bands including Yes and Asia. Dean is seeking upwards of $50 million in damages, an injunction against distribution, full accounting, and a court order that makes it clear that James Cameron ripped off his work. He also wants those rights enforced and posted on current and any future Avatar projects.

8. Pixar Animation
The Lawsuit: Luxo vs. Walt Disney Company

In 2009, Norwegian lamp manufacturers Luxo sued the animation studio Pixar and its parent company Walt Disney for copyright infringement. Although Luxo had turned a blind eye to Pixar’s use of their design since John Lasseter’s short film Luxo Jr. in 1986, the company filed a complaint when Pixar started to sell replicas of the Luxo Jr. lamp with a special Blu-ray release of the film UP without their permission. The lawsuit also cited the use of the Luxo brand name on a six-foot tall animatronic lamp at Hollywood Studios inside Florida's Walt Disney World.

A few months later, Disney and Luxo reached a settlement and the lawsuit was withdrawn. For the time being, Luxo has no problems with any “artistic renditions” of their iconic lamp. Luxo Jr. has been Pixar’s mascot since 1986.

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iStock
18 Smart Products To Help You Kick Off Summer
iStock
iStock

Whether you’re trying to spiff up your backyard barbeque or cultivate your green thumb, these summertime gadgets will help you celebrate the season from solstice to the dog days.

1. ROSÉ WINE GLASSES; $60

Rosé Wine Glass
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Wine not? When the temperature rises and beer isn’t your thing, reach for the rosé. Riedel’s machine-blown SST (see, smell, taste) wine glasses will give the sparkly stuff ample room to breathe, making every refreshing sip worthwhile.

Find It: Amazon

2. NERF N-STRIKE ELITE SURGEFIRE; $25

Nerf SurgeFire
Hasbro

Why It’s Cool: The N-Strike Elite SurgeFire (say that five-times-fast) sports a pump-action rotating drum for maximum foam-based firepower and holds up to 15 Nerf darts in its arsenal.

Find It: Hasbro Toy Shop

3. BUSHEL & BERRY PLANTS; $34

plant
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: You don’t need to have a green thumb to create a brag-worthy garden this summer. Besides producing snackable mid-season berries, these open-growing bushes can be planted immediately for easy set-up to make you look like a botanical pro.

Find It: Amazon

4. INFLATABLE DONUT; $17

Doughnut float
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: When the only dunking you’re doing is taking a dip in the pool, a 48-inch inflatable donut is the perfect way to stay afloat.

Find It: Amazon

5. STAR SPANGLED SPATULA; $21

American flag spatula
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: O say can you see by your grill’s charcoal light / Meats so proudly we cooked ... with a star spangled spatula. Depending on the specific model, these all-American grilling tools (designed in New Jersey and made in Chicago) are made of a combination of walnut and stainless steel or nylon. As an added bonus: 5 percent of the proceeds go to the Penn Abramson Cancer Center.

Find It: Amazon

6. MLB HOT DOG BRANDERS; $8 AND UP

MLB San Diego Padres Hot Dog BBQ Brander
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Take your hot dogs, sausages, brats, and more out to the ballgame without ever leaving your grill. These branders from Pangea Brands are dishwasher-safe and made of ceramic-coated cast iron.

Find It: Amazon

7. UNA GRILL; $139

grill
MoMA Shop

Why It’s Cool: This portable charcoal-heated grill is as efficient as it is stylish. The compact size lets you cook at the park, after hitting up MoMA, or anywhere in between.

Find It: MoMa Shop

8. HAMBURGER GRILLING BASKET; $21


Why It’s Cool: Made of steel and finished with a non-stick coating, this grilling tool flips four burgers at once and maintains perfect burger proportions to guarantee nobody stays hungry for long.

Find It: Amazon

9. COPPER FIRE PIT; $121

metal fire pit
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: The grill isn’t the only place for a roaring fire this summer. This 100 percent solid copper fire pit makes for the perfect gathering spot at your next BBQ, or just to warm up after a cool summer evening.

Find It: Amazon

10. BENDY STRAW POOL NOODLE FLOAT; $10

Bendy Straw Inflatable Pool Float
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Inflatable pool floats shouldn’t be boring, and this bendy straw float definitely does not suck. This unique spin on traditional pool noodles is sure to make for some cheesy jokes, but at least you’ll be comfortable floating in the pool or at the beach.

Find It: Amazon

11. GRIDDLER DELUXE; $111

Cuisinart GR-150 Griddler Deluxe
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: If you’re looking for some serious panini power, this griddler offers up a versatile lineup of six cooking options in one. And with dual-zone functions you can sling burgers while searing filets and sautéeing vegetables all at the same time.

Find It: Amazon

12. VINTAGE SNOW CONE MAKER; $30

Vintage Snow Cone Maker
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: With its old-timey design, dual cone shelf, and endless flavor options, this snow cone maker is guaranteed create a cool treat.

Find It: Amazon

13. DACHSHUND CORN ON THE COB HOLDERS; $7

Dog Corn Holders
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: While meat-lovers will inevitably scarf down a lot of hot dogs this summer, vegetarians who happen to love another kind of dog will be smitten with these stainless steel, Dachshund-shaped corn on the cob prongs. They’re a fun spin on a summer grilling favorite.

Find It: Amazon

14. ICE CREAM SANDWICH MAKER; $16

Ice Cream Sandwich Maker
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Four sandwiches are better than one, especially when they're of the ice cream variety. Make four ice cream sandwiches at once with this homemade spin on a classic cold treat.

Find It: Amazon

15. UE WONDERBOOM; $68

Bluetooth speaker
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Besides delicious food and great company, some memorable tunes are required for the quintessential barbeque. This portable bluetooth speaker offers up some booming sound in a small package, and with a battery power of 10 hours on a single charge you can keep the party going all night.

Find It: Amazon

16. ROLLORS GAME; $38

Rollors Backyard Game
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: When you’re sick of bocce, hate horseshoes, and you’re over cornhole, you might want to take up “rollors,” a family-friendly game that combines your favorite traditional backyard festivities into one game for people of all ages.

Find It: Amazon

17. HAMMOCK; $174

hammock
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Rest easy knowing that this 100 percent hand-woven and hand-dyed cotton hammock contributes to artisan job-creation in Thailand.

Find It: Amazon

18. VSSL SURVIVAL ESSENTIALS; $59

Emergency Survival Tent Outdoors
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Compact, convenient, and durable, the VSSL Shelter can come in handy when things don’t go quite as planned. The device—which features a lightweight emergency shelter all within the handle of a compact, weather-resistant aluminum LED flashlight—is designed to keep you safe under the worst conditions.

Find It: Amazon

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Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images
11 Things You Might Not Know About Johann Sebastian Bach
Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images
Illustration by Mental Floss. Image: Rischgitz, Getty Images

Johann Sebastian Bach is everywhere. Weddings? Bach. Haunted houses? Bach. Church? Bach. Shredding electric guitar solos? Look, it’s Bach! The Baroque composer produced more than 1100 works, from liturgical organ pieces to secular cantatas for orchestra, and his ideas about musical form and harmony continue to influence generations of music-makers. Here are 11 things you might not know about the man behind the music.

1. PEOPLE DISAGREE ABOUT WHEN TO CELEBRATE HIS BIRTHDAY.

Some people celebrate Bach’s birthday on March 21. Other people light the candles on March 31. The correct date depends on whom you ask. Bach was born in Thuringia in 1685, when the German state was still observing the Julian calendar. Today, we use the Gregorian calendar, which shifted the dates by 11 days. And while most biographies opt for the March 31 date, Bach scholar Christopher Wolff firmly roots for Team 21. “True, his life was actually 11 days longer because Protestant Germany adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1700,” he told Classical MPR, “but with the legal stipulation that all dates prior to Dec. 31, 1699, remain valid.”

2. HE WAS THE CENTER OF A MUSICAL DYNASTY.

Bach’s great-grandfather was a piper. His grandfather was a court musician. His father was a violinist, organist, court trumpeter, and kettledrum player. At least two of his uncles were composers. He had five brothers—all named Johann—and the three who lived to adulthood became musicians. J.S. Bach also had 20 children, and, of those who lived past childhood, at least five became professional composers. According to the Nekrolog, an obituary written by Bach’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, "[S]tarting with Veit Bach, the founding father of this family, all his descendants, down to the seventh generation, have dedicated themselves to the profession of music, with only a few exceptions."

3. BACH TOOK A MUSICAL PILGRIMAGE THAT PUTS EVERY ROAD TRIP TO WOODSTOCK TO SHAME.

In 1705, 20-year-old Bach walked 280 miles—that's right, walked—from the city of Arnstadt to Lübeck in northern Germany to hear a concert by the influential organist and composer Dieterich Buxtehude. He stuck around for four months to study with the musician [PDF]. Bach hoped to succeed Buxtehude as the organist of Lübeck's St. Mary's Church, but marriage to one of Buxtehude's daughters was a prerequisite to taking over the job. Bach declined, and walked back home.

4. HE BRAWLED WITH HIS STUDENTS.

One of Bach’s first jobs was as a church organist in Arnstadt. When he signed up for the role, nobody told him he also had to teach a student choir and orchestra, a responsibility Bach hated. Not one to mince words, Bach one day lost patience with a error-prone bassoonist, Johann Geyersbach, and called him a zippelfagottist—that is, a “nanny-goat bassoonist.” Those were fighting words. Days later, Geyersbach attacked Bach with a walking stick. Bach pulled a dagger. The rumble escalated into a full-blown scrum that required the two be pulled apart.

5. BACH SPENT 30 DAYS IN JAIL FOR QUITTING HIS JOB.

When Bach took a job in 1708 as a chamber musician in the court of the Duke of Saxe-Weimar, he once again assumed a slew of responsibilities that he never signed up for. This time, he took it in stride, believing his hard work would lead to his promotion to kapellmeister (music director). But after five years, the top job was handed to the former kapellmeister’s son. Furious, Bach resigned and joined a rival court. As retribution, the duke jailed him for four weeks. Bach spent his time in the slammer writing preludes for organ.

6. THE BRANDENBURG CONCERTOS WERE A FAILED JOB APPLICATION.

Around 1721, Bach was the head of court music for Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen. Unfortunately, the composer reportedly didn’t get along with the prince’s new wife, and he started looking for a new gig. (Notice a pattern?) Bach polished some manuscripts that had been sitting around and mailed them to a potential employer, Christian Ludwig, the Margrave of Brandenburg. That package, which included the Brandenburg Concertos—now considered some of the most important orchestral compositions of the Baroque era—failed to get Bach the job [PDF].

7. HE WROTE ONE OF THE WORLD'S GREATEST COFFEE JINGLES.

Bach apparently loved coffee enough to write a song about it: "Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht" ("Be still, stop chattering"). Performed in 1735 at Zimmerman’s coffee house in Leipzig, the song is about a coffee-obsessed woman whose father wants her to stop drinking the caffeinated stuff. She rebels and sings this stanza:

Ah! How sweet coffee tastes
More delicious than a thousand kisses
Milder than muscatel wine.
Coffee, I have to have coffee,
And, if someone wants to pamper me,
Ah, then bring me coffee as a gift!

8. IF BACH CHALLENGED YOU TO A KEYBOARD DUEL, YOU WERE GUARANTEED TO BE EMBARRASSED.

In 1717, Louis Marchand, a harpsichordist from France, was invited to play for Augustus, Elector of Saxony, and performed so well that he was offered a position playing for the court. This annoyed the court’s concertmaster, who found Marchand arrogant and insufferable. To scare the French harpsichordist away, the concertmaster hatched a plan with his friend, J.S. Bach: a keyboard duel. Bach and Marchand would improvise over a number of different styles, and the winner would take home 500 talers. But when Marchand learned just how talented Bach was, he hightailed it out of town.

9. SOME OF HIS MUSIC MAY HAVE BEEN COMPOSED TO HELP INSOMNIA.

Some people are ashamed to admit that classical music, especially the Baroque style, makes them sleepy. Be ashamed no more! According to Bach’s earliest biographer, the Goldberg Variations were composed to help Count Hermann Karl von Keyserling overcome insomnia. (This story, to be fair, is disputed.) Whatever the truth, it hasn’t stopped the Andersson Dance troupe from presenting a fantastic Goldberg-based tour of performances called “Ternary Patterns for Insomnia.” Sleep researchers have also suggested studying the tunes’ effects on sleeplessness [PDF].

10. HE WAS BLINDED BY BOTCHED EYE SURGERY.

When Bach was 65, he had eye surgery. The “couching” procedure, which was performed by a traveling surgeon named John Taylor, involved shoving the cataract deep into the eye with a blunt instrument. Post-op, Taylor gave the composer eye drops that contained pigeon blood, mercury, and pulverized sugar. It didn’t work. Bach went blind and died shortly after. Meanwhile, Taylor moved on to botch more musical surgeries. He would perform the same procedure on the composer George Frideric Handel, who also went blind.

11. NOBODY IS 100 PERCENT CONFIDENT THAT BACH IS BURIED IN HIS GRAVE.

In 1894, the pastor of St. John’s Church in Leipzig wanted to move the composer’s body out of the church graveyard to a more dignified setting. There was one small problem: Bach had been buried in an unmarked grave, as was common for regular folks at the time. According to craniologist Wilhelm His, a dig crew tried its best to find the composer but instead found “heaps of bones, some in many layers lying on top of each other, some mixed in with the remains of coffins, others already smashed by the hacking of the diggers.” The team later claimed to find Bach’s box, but there’s doubt they found the right (de)composer. Today, Bach supposedly resides in Leipzig’s St. Thomas Church.

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