Mendieta Estate v. Amazon Studios

September 28, 2018, the estate of Cuban American Artist, Ana Mendieta filed suit against Amazon Studios for copyright infringement of her work in a Seattle federal court, Mendieta Estate v. Amazon Studios, Case No. 2:18-cv-01426. The dispute claims that the Amazon’s cinematic production, Suspiria directed by Luca Guadagnino, a remake of the 1977 horror film of the same directed by Dario Argento, extrapolates its content from Mendieta’s work. Guadagnino the director of award-winning film Call Me by Your Name, 2017, clarified his interest in Mendieta as inspiration, citing feminist artists in development of his film productions. The case exhibits how estate fiduciaries can protect copyrights to artistic assets under federal law.

Cease and Desist

The estate claims two of the scenes from the movie derive narrative from Mendieta’s photographic work, Rape Scene, 1973, and her performance Untitled: Silueta Series, Mexico, 1978. Amazon was served with a cease and desist letter in July of this year. Damages for the use of Mendieta’s work without express consent of the estate were demanded. Amazon’s response to letter has been to remove the contested scenes from the movie’s trailers.

Redress of Damages

The estate filed the lawsuit in the interest of correcting the copyright violation. To present, copyright permissions for use of Mendieta’s work have been solely for art history publication studio or academic journals where the focus is the artist’s life and work, rather than commercial reproduction. According to the estate’s legal counsel, mere inspiration is not enough to satisfy the conditions for permissions, and lawsuit redresses damages suffered by Mendieta in connection with reproduction of her work in Suspiria without the estate’s permission.

Limited IP Protections

Suspiria premiering at the Venice Film Festival in September 2018 to mixed reviews, was subject to further due diligence by Amazon Studios resulting in identification of additional scenes and imagery referential to Mendieta’s life. Set for release October 26, the film is slated to play in select theaters in Los Angeles and New York prior to universal release in November.

Estate IP Law

Contract rights to estate IP assets are subject to federal law. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) registered intellectual property assets such as art, innovation, and science. Estate executors responsible for administration of USPTO registered IP assets have a fiduciary obligation to file a lawsuit in case of copyright violations. Protect an estate’s IP assets by consulting with a licensed attorney at law experienced in matters of trust and intellectual property litigation.

Ask and attorney about transfer of registered artistic assets and other USPTO protected value to an estate.

Estate Law Attorney Practice

Ettinger Law Firm is a licensed New York attorney practice specializing in estate planning and probate litigation. Contact Ettinger Law Firm to schedule a consultation about an estate law matter concerning intellectual property assets.       

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