MacGyver Creator Fails to Understand Law, Sues ‘MacGruber’

By  · Published on February 4th, 2010

If you’re like me, you love mullets. You also love parody and spent several years of your life earning beer money with it. You also got a masters degree in political science with an AOE in Constitutional Law – which is why you laugh your ass off whenever a U.S. Congressperson says we can’t try enemies of the Constitution in courts.

But you probably don’t laugh whenever there’s a lawsuit looming in the wings.

According to Latino Review (or rather a poster named Pinche Taco (who is either a rabid fan of the site or actually one of the LR writers himself (or herself)), Lee Ziotoff, the creator of “MacGyver” is threatening to sue Relativity over copyright infringement caused by its upcoming MacGruber flick.

One view of this is that Ziotoff has every right to earnings made from the film, that his work is being stolen, and that copyright laws regarding parody are incredibly strict.

This would be the wrong view.

Like any public figure or cultural icon, MacGyver is subject to parody, lampooning, satire and honest good ribbings. As legal scholar Pinche Taco claims, there are stringent limits to parody which keeps it to the realm of 4-minute sketches. But that’s not necessarily true.

The best film example I could give is Airplane! which directly spoofs the film Airport 75 (although admittedly, the creators were smart enough to buy the rights to Zero Hour!, the film it’s based on).

But we’d need to turn to Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music Inc. in order to check out this quote from the Supreme Court regarding parody which states that it is:

…the use of some elements of a prior author’s composition to create a new one that, at least in part, comment’s on that authors work.

If Relativity Media has trouble proving that MacGruber directly comments on Ziotoff’s work, they don’t deserve to stay open as a business.

But he’ll probably end up getting a pay out simply because the threat of a lawsuit is often enough to strike fear into the hearts of accountants. All those billable hours and the messy contracts. Handing over cash is easier.

So will the movie move forward? Of course it will. It’s endearing for Mr. Ziotoff to join the cadre of individuals who sue comedians and lose, and part of me understands his frustration (none of us wants to see something we love or create mocked openly), but ultimately the rule about putting it out into the world means that you have to be open to seeing it ridiculed.

Let’s all brush up on copyright law and watch things blow up, shall we? Thanks, Fair Use Doctrine!

What do you think v. Schechter Poultry Corp.?

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