Sabrina the Teenage Witch: A less than spellbinding result for Warner Bros. Entertainment and Netflix?
A new Netflix spin-off series, ‘The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’ has seen the much anticipated return of the popular nineties television series. However, the Netflix spin-off brought about a less than spellbinding legal challenge for the streaming giant and the producers of the programme, Warner Bros. Entertainment: a lawsuit from American activist group, The Satanic Temple.
The dispute centred around the use of a controversial goat statue featured in four episodes of the Sabrina series with the group claiming that the statue is an identical copy of their bronze goat headed statue, ‘Baphomet with Children’. The lawsuit was settled amicably last week with the Temple accepting $38 million in damages from Netflix and Warner Bros. Entertainment
The legal challenge
The Satanist group initially attempted to seek damages from Netflix and Warner Bros. Entertainment in the region of $150 million (the equivalent of £115 million) for copyright infringement, trade mark violation, and injury to business reputation.
The group are well known in the US for their controversial campaigns objecting to Christian statues and monuments and have soared in popularity since the election of Donald Trump in 2016. The group’s lawyer, Bruce Lederman explained that the reason the Baphomet statue was commissioned was to enable the group to have a symbolic statue they could display when they felt that the government wasn’t separating church and state.
The Temple claimed that the goat headed statue depicted in some four episodes not only infringed their copyright, but that their iconic statue was being associated with cannibalism, necromancy, murder and torture depicted on the programme. The Satanic Temple Co-Founder, Lucien Greaves commented that the use of the goat statue in the series detracts from their cause and that ‘a lot of people who haven’t heard of us (the Temple) first stand to recognise that monument as the ‘Sabrina’ monument, which dilutes and denigrates the entire project’.
Following the settlement, the Satanic Temple said: “The unique elements of the Satanic Temple’s Baphomet statue have been acknowledged in the credits of the episodes which have already been filmed. The remaining terms of the settlement are subject to a confidentiality agreement’. Both Netflix and Warner Bros. Entertainment have declined to make any public statement about the settlement with the Temple.
Copyright law in the UK and the US
In the US, Copyright is a registrable intellectual property right and infringement action can be brought due to non-authorised reproduction, derivation or distribution of a work or unauthorised public display of pictorial, graphic or sculptural work. Should settlement not have been reached, it is highly likely that The Temple would have been successful in their legal challenge in the US if they were able to successfully prove that they had ownership of the copyright in respect of their ‘Baphomet’ Statue and that it had been replicated in a 2D format in the Netflix series without their consent.
In the UK there is no register of copyright works. Provided certain criteria are met, copyright exists automatically upon the creation of any ‘original’ work as defined in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. In this instance, a statue or sculpture falls within the definition of ‘artistic works’. Ownership of copyright in such an artistic work will enable an owner to prevent unauthorised use of the work, for example, the making of unauthorised copies.
The key difference to note is that in the UK, you can reproduce ‘artistic works’, including sculptures without the owner’s consent, provided you uphold the owner’s ‘moral rights’. It is worth noting that ‘moral rights’ only relate to copyright in the context of literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works and films and not to sound recordings, broadcasts, typographical arrangements or other forms of intellectual property protection in the UK (such as registered designs or design right).
In summary, moral rights are:
- The right to be identified as the author or director of a copyright work (otherwise known as the ‘right of paternity’);
- The right to object to derogatory treatment of a copyright work (known as the ‘right of integrity’);
- The right not to suffer false attribution of a copyright work; and
- The right to privacy in respect of certain films and photographs. For example, should you commission a photograph for private and domestic purposes, this right would enable you to prevent the photograph from being made available to the public.
So, if the Temple were to decide to issue proceedings against Netflix and Warner Bros. Entertainment in the UK, it is highly likely that they would seek to bring copyright infringement action on the basis that their ‘moral rights’, as set out above, have not been upheld by either Netflix or Warner Bros Entertainment. The Temple would most likely argue that they have not been identified as the owners and creators of the original Baphomet sculpture and that treatment of it in the Sabrina series amounts to ‘derogatory treatment’.
Your intellectual property is a valuable business asset. Should you require any further assistance following on from this article or in relation to protecting your Intellectual Property generally, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the BPE Commercial team.
These notes have been prepared for the purpose of an article only. They should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice.