Columbia Pictures is suing George Gallo, who wrote the story that became the 1995 action hit Bad boysto reassert his rights to the film franchise.
In a complaint filed Friday in California federal court, the studio argues that Gallo cannot take advantage of a provision in copyright law that allows authors to reclaim ownership of their works after a certain period of time. It’s asking the court to declare that Gallo wrote the story as a made-for-hire work, making it ineligible for termination.
Bad boys, Michael Bay’s first feature film and starring Martin Lawrence and Will Smith, has spawned two sequels and a TV spin-off. Sony is reportedly looking forward to a fourth installment of the franchise, and the duo is expected to return.
When news of those plans broke, Gallo served the studio with notices of termination intended to terminate the transfer of his copyrights to both Columbia Pictures and Sweet Revenge Productions, his own loan. He claims Columbia Pictures lost its US rights on June 27, 2022 to create new work based on his 1985 story Bad boys is based on called Bulletproof hearts.
U.S. copyright law gives authors or their heirs the option of reclaiming previously transferred copyrights, usually after waiting 35 years for newer works. Studios have recently engaged in legal battles over the rights to iconic franchises that emerged in the 1980s, including Top Gun, Predator, Terminator And Friday the 13th. But works made for hire cannot be terminated, which is Columbia’s main argument in its lawsuit.
In a 1985 contract, Gallo stated that he “created and/or wrote the story as a hire on Sweet Revenge,” the complaint said.
Gallo tries to sidestep the argument by claiming he had personal rights to the story which he then turned over to his production company, the lawsuit said. However, Columbia questions the representation. The studio emphasizes that in its cancellation notice, Gallo “claimed to Columbia Pictures for the first time ever that on September 23, 1985 – just one day before he and Sweet Revenge closed the deal – Gallo had transferred his supposedly personal rights in the story to Sweet Revenge. ”
If the allegation is true, the lawsuit says Gallo was “obliged to disclose the outright inconsistency” between the statements in his contract with Columbia Pictures and any allegation that he attempted to transfer a copyright to his story to his production company.
“Gallo can’t go both ways: He can’t make statements to secure the purchase of the story and then avoid the consequences of later claiming the statements were false,” the studio’s attorney Kelly Klaus writes in the complaint.
Writers, actors and directors, among other talent in the entertainment industry, often contract with studios through their lending companies. This provides them with several benefits, including substantial tax breaks and limits on personal liability. But the widespread use of these entities when artists create copyrighted works as employees of their own companies were not considered in the Copyright Act of 1976 restrictions on termination rights.
In 2019, artists sued Universal Music Group in an alleged class action alleging that the publisher ignored copyright termination notices. UMG’s primary defense was that the copyrights at issue in the case were not held by the artists themselves, but by their lending companies. Under the Copyright Act, only humans can initiate the termination process, the company said.
A federal judge sided with UMG. “Only grants ‘performed by the author’ (or legally designated successor) may be terminated,” the ruling said. “Therefore, third parties to a contract and lending companies, which ‘lend’ an artist’s services to employers and enter into contracts on behalf of the artist, are not entitled to termination under the law.”
In its ruling, the judge rejected arguments that lending is merely a tax planning tool. He found that “people can’t use a corporate structure for some purposes – to take advantage of tax breaks, for example – and then reject it for others.”
Sweet Revenge did not immediately respond to a request for comment.