Describing the realm of television writing credits as “the law according to Humpty Dumpty,” a federal judge ordered 20th Century Fox Film Corp. and producer Chris Carter to give two comic book authors better credit on the television series “Harsh Realm.”
In the process, the court ruled a Writers Guild of America contract is no defense to a trademark claim.
On Monday, U.S. District Judge John Martin of the Southern District of New York issued a preliminary injunction requiring Fox to display the following credit at the beginning and end of each episode: “Inspired by the Harsh Realm comic book series, Created by James D. Hudnall and Andrew Paquette, Published by Harris Publications, Inc.”
The “inspired by” credit must run in close proximity to the “Created by Chris Carter” credit, the judge ruled.
The original Paquette and Hudnall credit was a “Special Thanks” that ran far from the “created by” credit. That credit was modified as a result of the litigation to “inspired by,” but it was still far away from Carter’s “created by” credit and did not occupy a full screen.
A Fox spokesman said the company was satisfied with the ruling. “We are pleased that the court vindicated our position that Chris Carter is the creator of the ‘Harsh Realm’ television series and that the court adopted the ‘inspired by’ credit that Fox had already included in the show as a good-faith effort to resolve this matter.”
The comic book series, “Harsh Realm,” created by Paquette and Hudnall, was licensed by Fox for the 1999 television series in which the hero enters a virtual reality world and experiences life and death adventures. The creators filed suit while the series was airing on Fox, claiming that the “Created by Chris Carter” credit violated the Lanham Act, the federal trademark statute, because, they claimed, it is false and misleading as to the source of the series.
Although the show was canceled, it was recently sold to the FX cable network.
In issuing his order, Martin rejected Fox’s defense that Carter’s credit was required by its contract with the WGA. Pointing out that plaintiffs are not members of the WGA, Martin wrote, “If the listing of the credits violates the plaintiffs’ rights under the Lanham Act, the fact that the violation is pursuant to a contract with a third party is no defense.”
Attorney Ray Bragar, who represented Paquette and Hudnall, said, “This case presents a conflict between a common-sense view of confusion under the Lanham Act with the Hollywoodesque technical view of credit under the Writers Guild.”
The WGA, which is not a party to the suit, declined to comment.
Acknowledging that the “Created by” credit has taken on special meaning, the judge did not address Carter’s right to the “Created by” credit, although the two sides vigorously dispute just how similar the comic book and television series are.
But in issuing his ruling, Martin found that there was sufficient similarity that “it would be misleading” to describe Carter as the creator without giving adequate recognition to Paquette and Hudnall’s contribution.
The preliminary injunction will stay in effect until after a trial on the lawsuit.