Actor Hank Azaria, best loved by people of a certain generation for voicing a multitudeof characters on The Simpsons and hopefully forgiven for his turn as Gargamel in the Smurfs franchise, won a decision in his favor in his copyright lawsuit against fellow actor Craig Bierko. The ruling was handed down in U.S. District Court on February 21 for the lawsuit filed by Azaria in November 2012. In the suit, both actors claimed to have created the character of Jim Brockmire, an eccentric baseball announcer portrayed by Azaria in a 2010 FunnyorDie video. Bierko and Azaria discovered they had been doing versions of a similar character for years when they met in 1990 at a party hosted by Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip star Matthew Perry (no word on if the party was immediately cancelled). Azaria approached Bierko in 1997 about the possibility of using the character in a project, but relented when Bierko asked him not to.
In his ruling, U.S District Judge Gary Feess determined that Azaria’s version of the character had enough expressed characteristics to warrant copyright protection; Bierko’s version was ruled to be too vague and largely indistinguishable from most baseball announcers found in the booth today. The judge also dismissed Bierko’s claim that he and Azaria had an implied contract following their 1997 discussion, saying there was no evidence at any point during this conversation or at their initial 1990 meeting that Bierko disclosed his voice and characterization as “for sale”.
The ruling allows Azaria to move forward with plans to make a film based on the Brockmire character. It is a common error for individuals working in more creative fields to forego protection for their Intellectual Property (IP), but a potentially costly one as Mr. Bierko may soon find out.
You don’t need to attend Hollywood Upstairs Medical College to know you need to protect your Intellectual Property. Think you’ve got a great idea? Avoid the Worst. Episode. Ever. and ID your IP!