Quentin Tarantino Vs. Gawker, The Legal Breakdown (By An Actual Lawyer)

All right: stop what you’re doin, cause I’m about to ruin the image and the style that you’re used to.

Why I’ve called you all here. There is only one legal story going on right now, or at least, only one that delayed the next Quentin Tarantino movie. True, it has already been discussed on this site by Mon-CHEE-nee and A. Night Burns, two names synonymous with not being me.

In case you’ve been under The Rock–which, mazel tov, he’s a very attractive man–the key points of the Tarantino situation to date are thus:

1) QT announces not long ago that his next movie will be a western called The Hateful Eight;
2) he allegedly provides the script to only “six motherf*cking people”;
3) the script is leaked online;
4) an angry Tarantino announces that, as a result of the [synonym for leak], H8ful will now NOT be his next movie;
5) Defamer, a site owned by Gawker, posts links to the ill-gotten script. A weekend passes, and boom, we reach
6) Q files a lawsuit.

Sadly, he skipped step 5.5) speed dial B. Finch, but apparently somebody is still salty about Uma Thurman moving on with her life, I mean JESUS, she said you were through, man, it was years ago, write a duet with Taylor Swift or some sh*t. Anyway, he then had his lawyers rapidly file a complaint. Gosh, why does Tarantino always seem so hurried and excitable?

If you’ve ever wanted to see what a civil complaint written with a quickness and based on semi-rational rage looked like, your tedious, pedestrian dream has come true. Though it lacks the heinous, apparently-Microsoft-Word-has-a-“random”-setting prose of the Trouble With the Curve document filed in October, it is hardly a model of legal wordsmithery.

“This action is necessitated by Gawker Media’s, and the other defendants’, blatant copyright infringement by their promotion and dissemination of unauthorized downloadable copies of the leaked unreleased complete screenplay for Quentin Tarantino’s motion picture The Hateful Eight (the ‘Screenplay’).”

And we’re off! That’s the first sentence. A comma embargo is apparently in progress, because they should have used a couple more of them here. Seriously, try reading that out loud without sounding like a sophomore explaining Inception after his third Red Bull. To be fair, they are in a hurry to get the screenplay and the links to it taken down, so they neither dillied nor dallied when they wrote this. But I’m not here to be fair. There are typos and redundant explanations, which you would really want to avoid in a document that you knew would get a lot of attention.

Also, you can’t attribute everything to time constraints:

“Gawker Media has made a business of predatory journalism, violating people’s rights to make a buck. This time they went too far.”

That’s a type of writing known in these parts as “old timey.” “You’ve gone too far, friend of mine! Trying to line your pockets with some poor saps’ hard-earned scratch, airing dirty laundry and calling it news. Well that’s fish three days old, see, and I won’t buy it. And get a load of the gams on that dame!” Also, I don’t think they mean that the rights of people to make a buck were being violated, but that Gawker is violating peoples’ rights in order to make a buck for itself. I’ll stop saying “buck” now.

They go on to say that the screenplay was posted not on a Gawker site, but on a “conveniently anonymous URL.” Not a fan of the “conveniently.” Since the anonymity of the infringing websites is actually not convenient for Tarantino’s lawyers, they seem to be using the word sarcastically, and that just reads as passive-aggressive.

Fortunately for Tarantino, Gawker’s response is considerably more dickish. Here’s a taste:

“As far as I can tell (but I’m no lawyer!), no claim of contributory infringement has prevailed in the U.S. over a news story.”

Never, ever brag about not being a lawyer, junior. As if your parents are high fiving each other because their prolapsed rectum of a son runs Gawker.

Laying down the law. Contributory infringement, you say? Briefly, the accusation is that while Gawker didn’t actually publish the misappropriated screenplay–doing that would be direct infringement–they encouraged or induced the infringement. That’s from the Supreme Court, son (the Grokster decision, as if you care). Gawker says that all they were doing was reporting news.

I call bullsh*t on Gawker’s excuse. As Filmdrunk has proven in its posts on the topic, including this column itself, it is pretty easy to report on the story without supporting the infringers. I won’t even link to the post that contains the links to the screenplay. It’s OK to make people aware of the fact that they could find the screenplay online; at least, I hope Tarantino’s lawyers feel that way and leave us alone. We’re big fans over here, QT.

Will he win? Dicey. Courts are reluctant to punish sites for their links. How do I know this? I read, sure, but I also have personal experience.

Perfect 1o v. Me. Way back in my days as a wee litigator, I worked on one of the many, many cases filed by Perfect 10. For those of you whose erotic tastes run to things that are actually erotic, let it be known that Perfect 10 is, or was, a nudie magazine specializing in “natural” models; to wit, those without breast implants. It was founded by Norman Zadeh (who later changed his name to Zada, for reasons unclear to me), whose idea was to print quality photographs of topless women on high-grade paper. He funded the venture with the fortune he’d made as an investor. Sadly, he launched his dream in the late 90’s, making it the most ill-timed business model since Jedediah Ezekial Confederacy founded a slave market in 1867. Nobody wanted their bare boobies on paper instead of the Internet, and nobody, nobody wanted a publication that offered nothing more ribald than shirtlessness.

Rather than attribute his failure to stupidity and an odd squeamishness about actual sex (he gave some weird interviews on Howard Stern), Zada said damn, I’d be on top of the world if I wasn’t facing so much unfair competition from websites that steal images from me (although there were very few cases of this) and other sources, making their costs low. So he began suing everyone he could think of–anybody who published his pictures at first, but then anybody who processed payments for the infringing sites, and then anybody who linked to any infringements.

What any of this has to do with Tarantino is that Perfect 10 started suing search engines, like Google, and the court decisions were pretty influential. They’re fairly complicated, but the courts basically said that Google was not at fault for linking to sites that had infringing material, as long as they were responsive to complaints from copyright owners.

But this ain’t that. The law seems to favor Gawker here. But Google provides links to massive numbers of sites, and can’t realistically be expected to know which ones are problematic unless they are told. Gawker, however, is linking to a few sites it knows damn well contain infringements.

Also, Tarantino is much more sympathetic than Perfect 10. I got to depose Zada and review a lot of his magazines, because being a lawyer is awesome. Anybody who can bore me with pictures of hot women is a bad, bad person, and Zada did that. Also, he had a weird attraction to women wearing boxing gloves, and I do not swing in that manner. Moreover, he’s a dick, whereas QT is charmingly bizarre.

Verdict. Tarantino might not win but he should. Still, I think he should put more effort into going after the real culprit–the person he gave the script to who then offered it up to the masses. But in this as in so much else, f*ck Gawker.

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Photographs via Getty Image