Comedy III Entertainment Vs. Will Ryder Productions: Finally, The Three Stooges Take on Porn Valley’s Parody King, Jeff Mullen, for Intellectual Property Infringement – PRAY: for COMEDY III to Take Down Goliath

EDITORIAL: You can’t tell me that no one else in Hollywood has rights to their intellectual property so it took The Three Stooges to have the jewels to finally take on this battle. You would’ve thought George Lucas would’ve cared about his work enough when they made the XXX parody of Star Wars. I mean, EVERYONE talks about how great George Lucas is when he sold out the souls of his millions of fans when he let Porn Valley get away with desecrating his work. The Three Stooges creators and owners show that there are still good people out there with principals. Thank God!! Looks like nowadays, the rest of them in Tinseltown have sold their souls to the Devil for a dirty dollar deal with Porn Valley!!

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Gene Ross writes: Being a fan of them since I was a young lad, I’m dying to see the new Three Stooges movie.

Having enjoyed every one of their pie fights down to the last appetizing lick, I expect to be highly entertained. What I didn’t expect was a fair review of the Farrelly Brothers confection from the LA Times which hates anything that smacks of lowbrow. So guess what? The Times loved the movie. Even better.

 

Because I generally go to the AMC multiplex in Woodland Hills I checked for times and schedules. So here’s where it gets intriguing, and no one seems to be reporting this: the fact that the Times has been systematically omitting the AMC Theater listings. This has been going on for at least a week now.

When I first noticed it last Friday, I thought there must have been some printing goof, except, every day and a week later, that doesn’t seem to be the case. No listings? What’s going on here I wonder. Someone didn’t pay their advertising bill?

I also wonder what’s going on with the legal tiff between Will Ryder who’s got a Three Stooges parody ready to come out and Comedy III Entertainment which claims to own the copyright to anything that’s the Three Stooges.

Robert N. Benjamin, attorney for C3 [or Comedy III] Entertainment, declares that the company “is the owner of all intellectual property pertaining to The Three Stooges® Brand and the characters known as The Three Stooges comedy team.”

Benjamin should know because he and his brother, Earl, at least according to the Hollywood Reporter, are the legitimate owners of the intellectual property. Or at least that’s the impression lent. In an article this week The Hollywood Reporter detailed the whole genealogy.

States the Reporter: “When The Three Stooges slaps its way into theaters April 13, it will be due in no small measure to Earl and Robert Benjamin, brothers whose full-time job the past 15 years has been to manage the surprisingly lucrative Stooges brand.

“Despite the bumbling onscreen personas of Larry, Moe and Curly, the Stooges made an astute business move during their lifetimes.

“In 1958, after departing Columbia Pictures, which still owns TV rights to more than two dozen movies and nearly 200 comedy shorts, the Stooges set up the [Glendale-based] Comedy III Productions to exploit the brand they had built. But nearly 40 years later, the company lapsed into chaos as surviving family members fought over how to share profits and expand the business.”

According to the Reporter article, The Stooges brand used to rake in several million dollars a year from TV royalties and licensing of products ranging from lottery games to slot machines to Arby’s Curly Fries. Though during the early 1990s, “income reportedly stagnated at about $250,000 a year.”

The Benjamins, continues the Reporter, are a part of a new legal trend that combines estate planning with intellectual property law with the Benjamins being at the forefront of the trend.

Earl Benjamin is the stepson of “Curly Joe” DeRita, the third actor to play Curly in the Stooges act. Earl Benjamin recruited his brother Robert, then a partner at the Paul Hastings law firm, to step in and save the brand.

The two brokered a peace among the heirs, then they were hauled into court by Columbia, which claimed rights to the Stooges’ image. The suits were settled quickly, allowing merchandising to begin.

The Benjamins filed applications at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and began battling infringers. In 2001, Robert argued a case before a California appellate court that led to a seminal decision upholding celebrities’ constitutional rights of publicity.

Soon, the Stooges began appearing on all sorts of products, from beer to replica driver licenses.

“There has never been as clear a title of rights as the Three Stooges,” says Robert proudly.

The Benjamins then got behind the Farrelly project after MGM declared bankruptcy and the original lineup of Jim Carrey, Sean Penn and Benicio Del Toro abandoned ship.

The Benjamins, with the help of their own lawyers at Los Angeles’ Myman Greenspan firm, eventually convinced 20th Century Fox to make the movie for about $35 million with Will Sasso, Sean Hayes and Chris Diamantopoulos starring.

“They were the most patient and loyal guys in the entire process,” says Peter Farrelly of the Benjamins.

Besides the The Three Stooges properties, the Benjamins handle other older stars, including Hee Haw regular Barbi Benton and Grizzly Adams actor Dan Haggerty.

“The first thing I tell a celebrity these days is, ‘Trademark your name,’” says Robert.

“It always surprises me how many times people don’t think that will one day become important.”

A prudent and wise man will tell you never pick a legal fight with a man named after a hundred dollar bill. But on March 26, 2012, Will Ryder Productions received a letter from Robert Benjamin to the fact that Ryder’s company “is producing a pornographic movie using The Three Stooges Trademark and other proprietary material belonging to C3,” and on behalf of C3, Benjamin is demanding that Ryder “cease and desist such infringement immediately.”

Ryder, who put out a press release today announcing that his movie will be coming out the end of April www.adultfyi.com/read.php?ID=53896,thus flying in the face of the Benjamins, is being represented by attorney Michael Fattorosi.

In comments to AVN this week, Ryder says, “Obviously, we have legal precedents; we have a great leg to stand on.”

But Ryder also adds, “If we lost this lawsuit, which I don’t think we’ll do, it would basically set the precedent and end parody in porn.”

[In truth, Mark Kernes’ biased take on the case fails to note that in the early Nineties Warner Brothers successfully shut down Fresh Video, a company owned by Nick Cramer and Mad Dad Dan, for their Batman parody called Splatman. Then Nabisco followed suit by litigating against Al Borda Productions, thus shutting them down for trademark violation of the Nabisco logo. Absolute Vodka waged a similar suit against Private Video for trademark violations and Harley Davidson came after Anabolic Video owner Christopher Alexander for unauthorized use of their product in a gangbang movie. The fact that the extremely litigious Lucasfilm hasn’t sought out Axel Braun or Vivid Entertainment for their Star Wars parody remains rather puzzling.]

Regardless, in a letter to Robert Benjamin attorney Fattorosi states, “After review of my client’s production tapes, I can assure you that his movie falls squarely within the definition of parody and is therefore not infringing on any of your client’s intellectual property or the rights contained therein.

“Any attempt to chill my client’s protected free speech will be met with an anti-SLAPP motion,” [“Strategic lawsuit against public participation”]

Benjamin returned volley with this comment: “You claim on behalf of your client, Will Ryder Productions, that the low budget, clearly pornographic, film your client intends to sell by infringing upon The Three Stooges® Brand is protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as a ‘parody.’ Such a claim of parody has no merit.”

Benjamin and Fattorosi then proceeded with the jurist equivalent of a pissing contest by citing cases and precedents.

Fattorosi, who contends that the only currently-existing registered trademark for “The Three Stooges” is for bottled beer, also argues that no one in his/her right mind is going to mistake Ryder’s Not The Three Stooges XXX hardcore parody for anything to do with The Three Stooges characters or trademarks that Comedy III may own the rights to.

Fattorosi also points out that Comedy III’s trademark registration application for The Three Stooges brand is still pending in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, something which wasn’t noted in the Hollywood Reporter piece.

In his exchanges with Benjamin, Fattorosi calls Comedy III’s lawsuit “meritless” in light of current case law.

So who wins this case, the Benjamins, or Will Ryder?

Attorney Fattorosi argues that Comedy III’s trademark application is still pending and they don’t have a leg to stand on. The Hollywood Reporter article gives a totally different impression of who’s the boss, and Will Ryder might stand strong on the grounds of the “fair use” doctrine.

I know one thing. Whoever loses is, in the immortal words of Curly Howard, “a victim of soicumstance.”

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