EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Friday, July 27, 2012

William Friedkin, "Killer Joe," "The Exorcist," "The Possessed Razor," "Beyond The Door" & Valuing A Stolen Movie

Today marks the release of William Friedkin's "Killer Joe," his first theatrical effort since 2006's creepy "Bug." Friedkin has had his share of terrific films, including "The French Connection," "To Live and Die in L.A.," and "Sorcerer." But, of course, Friedkin's signature film and the one he's most known for is 1973's "The Exorcist." Unsurprisingly, that film is also the Friedkin film that is cited most often by courts. Also unsurprisingly, most court references to "The Exorcist" cite to the appearance and behavior of the Linda Blair character in the film:

-Gillette Co. v. Norelco Consumer Products Co., 69 F.Supp.2d 246, 249 (D.Mass. 1999) ("The commercial called 'The Possessed Razor' features what appears to be the same animated wet razor as in the 'Fire Breathing Razor' commercial. This time, however, the razor corrodes and twists its 'neck and head,'apparently in an effort to evoke recollection of a scene from the motion picture The Exorcist.");

-People v. Vargas, 2012 WL 1107712 (Cal.App. 2 Dist. 2012) ("According to Vargas, he was diagnosed as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. When Thompson fails to take her medication, she acts 'like something out of 'The Exorcist.'");

-Sophia S. v. Superior Court, 2011 WL 184549 (Cal.App. 2 Dist. 2011) ("The court noted that it had become concerned when A.A. suffered bruises and the caretakers provided several different explanations about how this occurred. After that, when the children appeared in court, the girls looked like the girl in The Exorcist, exhibiting zombie-like behavior."); and

-People v. Scott, 121 P.2d 366, 370 n.2 (Colo.O.P.D.J. 2005) ("Respondent's described his own voice as sounding like a character from 'The Exorcist.'").

And then, there are the cases involving the movie itself. One of these, Warner Bros. Inc. v. Film Ventures Intern., 403 F.Supp. 522 (C.D. Cal. 1975), saw the producers of "The Exorcist" suing the producers of "Beyond the Door" for copyright infringement. The court found no such infringement but did grant a preliminary injunction because of two problems with the following poster:

1. "It showed a partially opened door with light coming through into a dark room, just like a poster for "The Exorcist;" and

2. "The use of the letter "T" in the poster is intentionally designed to resemble a crucifix, which "created a suggestion that 'Beyond' is a sequel to 'The Exorcist' and possibly that it was produced by the same craftsmen who skillfully produced 'The Exorcist', and that it might be a film of the superior quality of ‘The Exorcist’, which it is not." (emphasis added).

And then there's United States v. Atherton, 561 F.2d 747 (9th Cir. 1977).

In Atherton, Raymond Atherton was convicted of five counts of an indictment charging him with copyright infringement and one count charging him with interstate transportation of stolen property. After he was convicted, Atherton appealed,, and the Ninth Circuit held that

Atherton's conviction for transporting a print of "The Exorcist" is violation of 18 U.S.C. s 2314 raises some interesting, almost metaphysical, legal issues. The most intriguing question is whether the intangible idea protected by the copyright is sufficiently reified by being embodied on a film that the copyright becomes "goods, wares, or merchandise" within the meaning of Section 2314. That question has been resolved against Atherton in United States v. Drebin, supra. Here, however, unlike Drebin, the Government failed to prove that the property was worth $5,000. The only evidence that the Government offered to prove value was the box office receipts of "The Exorcist," as it was then being shown by authorized licensees in theatres. The Government offered no evidence to show that the 16 millimeter print of "The Exorcist" that Atherton sold could ever have been the subject of theatrical distribution. On the contrary, the evidence that it introduced for other purposes makes crystal clear that 16 millimeter print could not and would not have been shown to general public at theatres. The Government's evidence also showed that if one buys from a party other than the copyright owner, the most one can legally expect to get is the right to use the film privately and the right to resell.

Therefore, the Ninth Circuit reversed Atherton's Section 2314 conviction, concluding that

Valuing a print in terms of the market value to film exhibitors who could not and would not have exhibited it, and who have licensing arrangements with the copyright owner, is incorrect.



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