WME V. LEVEL 1 - IN DEPTH (UPDATED SEP. 30)
|Posted on Wednesday September 30, 2009 | 16:00pm||Comments: 8|
|Author: Matt Harvey | In channel: News|
On September 21st, 2009, the biggest ski media lawsuit in recent history began when Warren Miller Entertainment filed suit against Level 1 Productions.
Since then, there has been an unprecedented amount of buzz, speculation and, frankly, shit-talking on the internet and within the industry. There seems to be as much confusion as anything about what’s going on and why, so here are the basics of what is publicly available right now:There are three main parties involved in the lawsuit:
Plaintiff: Warren Miller Entertainment, Inc.
Defendant: Level 1 Productions
Third party intervenor: Warren Miller, the person
September 21, 2009
Warren Miller Entertainment, Inc. (WME) filed a lawsuit in US District Court for the District of Colorado against Level 1 Productions (Level 1).
The filing is, of course, too long to reprint here, but key points are that:
The suit states that Level 1 “deliberately and willfully used the Warren Miller name and marks” in Refresh and used such to advertise, without WME’s permission. The main point circulating on the internet since the lawsuit became public is that WME states: “Level 1’s unauthorized use… falsely indicates to consumers that Level 1’s products… are in some manor connected with” WME.
WME asserts that Level 1 is receiving the benefit of WME’s efforts to promote Warren Miller for its own gain. It also asserts that Level 1 has and will damage WME’s brand by misrepresenting the Level 1 movie as a WME production.And so WME is asking the courts to:
5. Force Level 1 to pay WME damages incurred by its brand, and legal fees spent to sue, with interest.
On the same day as filing the lawsuit, WME also filed a temporary restraining order against Level 1 in order to stop Level 1 from premiering Refresh in Boulder on September 23.
September 22, 2009
The case of a temporary restraining order (TRO) was brought to court on September 22, before Level 1 was able to respond. The TRO could be enforced by the judge without hearing from Level 1, if some factors were realized, such as it being obvious WME would win the lawsuit or that the premiere could cause harm to the public.
The court did not find that these, among other things, were necessarily true, and so the TRO could not be granted on that basis. The only basis left, then, was the claim of copyright infringement.
The court stated that it was hesitant to give strong protection to trademarks that are of proper names, i.e. Warren Miller. The court also found that Level 1 “should be entitled to identify [Warren Miller] to the public and advise the public that Mr. Miller does, in fact, appear in their film.” It went on to say that “These uses of Mr. Miller’s name are entirely consonant with the public’s interest in being able to truthfully identify a specific person.”
Judge Marcia Krieger denied the TRO, although WME is able to file another TRO and argue it again.
September 23, 2009
Level 1 premiered Refresh at the Boulder Theater in Boulder, CO. It was the first public showing of the film after the suit was filed.
September 24, 2009
Most people have read this by now, but on September 24, both Level 1 and WME issued statements:
“Level 1’s interview, and subsequent inclusion of Warren Miller in our new film, “Refresh,” was motivated by our desire to create a meaningful film that helped to bridge the generation gap and do something good for the sport of skiing.
Level 1 has never, nor will ever, have any intention or desire to deceive our audiences into thinking that our films are in any way related to Warren Miller Entertainment, or further, that we are trying to capitalize on the brand and image created and purveyed by Warren Miller Entertainment. To the contrary, we have always gone out of our way to promote the Level 1 brand and our films, as entirely unique within the skiing community.
Its disappointing that Warren Miller Entertainment would seek to put a stop to something that in all reality should serve to increase the reach and scope of the Warren Miller name, and in turn, the value of their own brand and films.
We’re very pleased by the Judge’s denial of Warren Miller Entertainment’s Motion for Temporary Restraining Order.” – Level 1
“On September 21, 2009, Warren Miller Entertainment (WME) filed a lawsuit against Level 1 Productions seeking to stop Level 1’s intentional misuse of WME’s registered trademarks to promote its latest film release.
Beginning with the pioneering work of ski and film icon Warren Miller, and for the last 20 years under WME’s stewardship, WME has invested significant resources in the development and preservation of the Warren Miller brand. The careful and creative use of that brand, and the annual Warren Miller ski films that form the centerpiece of WME’s business, have played an integral role in establishing and defining the ski film industry. Under the trademark laws, but even more critically under a common sense of fairness, WME believes it imperative to retain control of the use of the Warren Miller brand.
WME will continue its longstanding support of the ski film industry and its affinity with the community of outdoor enthusiasts, and assures its fans and followers that the regrettably necessary legal steps taken will not adversely affect WME’s support of, and collaboration with, independent film companies and filmmakers.” – WME
September 25, 2009
Warren Miller, the person, and his personal company, Warren Miller Company, put himself in the mix as a “third party intervenor.”
The basis of Miller’s intervention is that the lawsuit is misdirected. He argues that it is not a case of copyright infringement between WME and Level 1, but a contractual case between WME and Miller, which, according to Miller, has no merit.The court document that Warren Miller has filed, which attempts to inject himself as a third party intervenor, states:
WME “seeks to mislead this Court in order to obtain improper injunctive relief against” Level 1. It continues, “This is not a case about trademark infringement by Level 1. Rather, this is a case about… Warren Miller’s right to fairly use his name, voice and likeness as he chooses, including as a continuing contributor in ski films such as Level 1’s Refresh.”
It then goes on to say that the noncompete between WME and Miller expired in 1999, and thus he is free to do as he pleases, which is “exactly what Warren Miller did in authorizing Level 1 to use his name, voice and likeness…,” according to his filing.WME has not yet responded to the filing.
September 29, 2009
A court hearing was held on September 29 for planning purposes. Judge Agruello has set October 22 as the date that WME will argue its case.
According to the Aspen Daily News, the judge has asked WME to prove:
WME is also arguing that Warren Miller, the person, should not be granted status in the suit. WME must respond this week, and the judge will make a ruling on Monday (October 5).We asked Warren Miller today why he decided to involve himself in the case. Here is his response:
“I consider Josh my friend and I have been very impressed with his efforts as a film maker, and more so as a human being. He is a very nice young man, and I was honored to oblige his request to participate in Refresh. I have been invigorated by working with his group, whose passion for skiing matches my own.
WME made clear to me long ago that they did not want me involved in their films – so I’ve essentially cut all of my ties to them. I have a legal and moral right to freely use my name, voice, and likeness as I choose. By suing Josh, I feel that WME is challenging my rights as a person and public figure. I will not stand by and let a young, talented artist like Josh get shoved around by a group that, in my opinion, has no genuine regard for the fans.”—Warren Miller