Rock band sued for over-use of Llamas

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Yes, you read that right. The American rock band Fall Out Boy are being sued by puppet maker Furry Puppet Studio for the excessive use of, well, llamas. In this article the MIA’s Intellectual Property partner, Briffa, explain that there is more to this story than just an eye-catching headline. It’s an important lesson in how crucial it is to fully discuss and agree on the scope of use when you give someone a license to use your creative work…

The puppet maker was commissioned to create two llama puppets to feature in the band’s video Young and Menace. The llamas proved so popular that the band began using them as props on stage during live shows, on merchandise, and various other content created by the band.

The extent of the use of these puppets was “so far beyond the scope of the initial project” according to the lawsuit that the Furry Puppet Studio sued the band on the basis that the project fee was insufficient. Indeed their lawyer (who happens to be Francis Malofiy, the lawyer acting for Taurus against Led Zeppelin on the ongoing Stairway to Heaven case) claims that:

“At no point was plaintiff ever told that the puppets would be consistently performing on stage, or for all 80 concerts on the tour. […] And it certainly could not be inferred that they were being used for merchandise (t-shirts, key chains, stuffed animals), GIFs, television appearances, emojis, apps and social media. At no point did plaintiff give permission for the puppets to be used/exploited in the widespread way they were”.

So what?

There is more to this story than an eye-catching headline. It is a reminder that whenever you are giving someone a license to use your creative work, it is crucial to fully discuss and agree on the scope of the use which will be made of the relevant work.

As a photographer or artist for example, if you allow someone to use your images, you need to ensure that it is clear to both parties how and where the images will be used, and for how long.

This will of course have a direct impact on the appropriate licence fee: if someone wants to use your image for one social media post, the licence fee will naturally be smaller than if the image will be used on a worldwide, multimedia advertising campaign.

Failing to discuss and negotiate these terms can lead to confusion on key parts of the deal, and ultimately cause disagreements and disputes. This can easily be averted by getting advice early on and ensuring that the terms of the licence are clear and agreed, and ideally documented in a written licensing agreement.

If you do have a licensing agreement in place which clearly sets out the limits of the use of a particular work, but you feel that the licensee is over-using the works (i.e. overstepping the boundaries set by the licensing agreement), you may have a claim for breach of copyright.

Written by Joshua Schuermann, Solicitor at Briffa

If you would like to avoid getting sued for overusing llamas (or any other furry animal for that matter) or if you would like to discuss licensing agreements or copyright infringement claims, please get in touch – we are always on hand to help.

Don’t forget that MIA members benefit from a free thirty minute consultation and special rates on all intellectual property and general commercial matters. Contact alice@mia.org.uk for the details if you’d like someone to ease your legal headache!

www.briffa.com