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Goodbye to Leslie Nielsen, a Parody Law Icon

On Nov. 28, actor Leslie Nielsen passed away. While his fans will miss him for his great work in movies such as Airplane! and Naked Gun, the Entertainment Law Matters blog adds that Nielsen should also be remembered by intellectual property lawyers. Nielsen, it turns out, was at the center of two of the leading cases in the field of "copyright infringement litigations in advertising where defendants successfully asserted parody as a defense."

In the first of these two cases, Nielsen appeared in a Coors Beer ad that parodied the then-popular Eveready "Energizer Bunny" commercials. According to ELM, "a life-sized Leslie Nielsen wearing rabbit ears and carrying a full-sized drum interrupted a more mundane beer commercial much in the same way that the Energizer Bunny interrupted the commercials for Eveready." This led Eveready to sue for copyright infringement. The federal court hearing the case ruled that Coors "had established a defense of parody, defeating Eveready’s claims of copyright and trademark infringement."

The second case involved a movie poster for Nielsen's Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult. ELM explains that the poster was a "purported parody of Annie Leibovitz’s famous photograph of a pregnant Demi Moore that appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair." 

Leibovitz filed a lawsuit against the producers of the movie, claiming that the poster infringed upon her copyright.  The 2nd Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the case, holding that the poster "could reasonably be perceived as a parody, commenting on the 'seriousness, even the pretentiousness, of the original.'''

ELM concludes that these two landmark cases "guarantee that Leslie Nielsen’s legacy will live on, not only for his movie performances, but also due to his unique place in the law of parody."

Posted by Bruce Carton on December 7, 2010 at 12:11 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)


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