The Hollyweird Legal Round Up: Cowboys & Aliens & Harper Lee

Greetings, future defendants!

Expensive restaurant/famous people/yard of Lohan’s Little Helper (term of art) in the men’s room/horrible idea/instant greenlight/va$t $um$/five percent attorney’s fee. How was *your* morning?

To the Lawmobile!

1.  Cowboys & Aliens & Ted & Alice:

What It Is

Cowboys and Aliens comic writer sues Cowboys & Aliens moviemakers and graphic novel writers.


Defendants’ version changed “and” to an ampersand, because originality & marketing expertise & sh*t. Why did they not improve the rest of the title? I’m picturing a meeting whose transcript would look something like this.


Judge dismisses suit in a notably dickish manner (too long for you mouthbreathers to read but there are some highlights below).

Baby Got Background

In 1995, a writer named Steven John Busti (pretty sure he was breastfed) publishes the 11-page first installment  “Cowboys and Aliens” in “Bizarre Fantasy,” and why he didn’t call it Busti’s Bizarre Fantasy I have no idea because thanks to that title I already have a boner on spec. This is also the last installment because the promised sequel never materializes.

Post-Millennium Tension

We jump forward to 2006. 9/11 changes everything, except the idea that “Cowboys &/and Aliens” is a great title, because a “Graphic Novel”/Picture Book for Dopes by that name appears. The pillars of My Beloved Industry say dude, we are so movieing that, and lo, it came to pass.

Major Studios vs. Failed Comic Author: Who ya got?

This one didn’t even go to a jury. Judge Sam Sparks, who, based on his name, presumably dispenses a different form of justice at night, granted summary judgment as requested by the defendants, primarily Universal and Dreamworks. Meaning—Sparky decided that the plaintiff had a weak sauce case (term of art) and tossed it.


Oh, but the way he tossed it. Instead of the usual studio asskisseteria you might expect, where a judge is all, how could an amateur compete with an auteur, we get:

“Despite the big names, the film Cowboys & Aliens is not very good. Fortunately, Busti’s claims against the Movie hinge on the fact it is derivative of the Graphic Novel, and not upon any direct copying in the film. Accordingly, the Court was spared the necessity of watching Cowboys & Aliens more than once, and this opinion will not dwell on the Movie any further.” Court Order, page 3 [emphasis added so nobody would miss the burn]

A federal judge wrote that. My legal opinion—WHAT IN THE F*CK. Yeah, he goes on to provide the precedential and statutory basis for his finding that there was no infringement, but he neglects to explain why any swinging dick would care whether or not he liked the movie. “Whee, your idea is original, and sh*tty. Next case.”

Case filed in Texas

The Court Order begins with a quote from a Johnny Cash song. No, really—go look, it’s on page 1.

Get Your French On

There’s an idea in movie law called the scene a faire. This means that just because there are similarities between his story and yours doesn’t mean he ripped you off—perhaps any movie of a certain genre is going to include a few basic scenes. Like, if you write a tornado disaster story, there are going to be scenes where trailers get destroyed (including, optimally, this one). The judge largely decided that the stories weren’t identical, and the similarities were things the defendants could have come up with on their own. Also, nobody read my man’s comic.


You write a comic called Cowboys and Aliens that starts with a spaceship crash in the desert, after which some Indians gets killed by aliens, and then somebody else does the same sh*t a few years later?  And the judge says you don’t have a case? That’s a hard-ass lyric.

2. Trademarky Mark and the Litigious Bunch

Brief Precís

To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee’s hometown museum uses her name and book title to attract tourists and sell merch. She no likey.


Probably she’s going to win. Or die trying. She is way old.

Real quick, I have places to be

My interest in this is summed up by an excerpt from page 6 of the complaint: “the novel was adapted into a motion picture starring Gregory Peck as the story’s hero, Atticus Finch.” What kind of dicktarded name for a lawyer is Atticus Finch?

Boiling it down more

Lee says that the Monroe County Heritage Museum in Monroeville, Alabama can’t claim that it is using her trademarks “historically” because her book was fiction, not history. To be fair, the town probably gave her the idea for wrongly convicting black dudes. They probably gave her that idea a lot.

Lessons learned, because this site occasionally smartens you

a) Lee is described as a “world-famous author.” Know how many books she’s published? If you guessed 1, bullSH*T, you looked that up on the google. I was sperm more recently than girlfriend was an author, you don’t see me leading with that on my resume.

b) TKAM has, according to the complaint anyway, sold 30 million copies and still sells over a million every year. Kids, write a book—that’s where the real money is.

c) This is a trademark case. I verified this: the book came out on July 11, 1960. Lee applied to get federal trademark protection for the title on September 12, 2012. DUDE—you waited 52 years because you were what, too busy not writing? Mr. Busti (never not funny) in the Cowboys case waited 16 years to apply for a copyright in 2011, after the movie came out. And on a daily basis, he spent even more time not writing than Lee did, so what’s his excuse?

I implore you, my readers: protect what’s yours. It is surprisingly easy and potentially lucrative.


3. Curvé Villechaize

The Mockingbird complaint effectively demonstrates that not all lawyers write like this. Latest observation: in the Trouble with the Curve screed, the word “irascible” appears 18 times. That’s twice as many times as Ferris skipped school, and 17 more times than I’ve used “irascible” in 3 decades. Seems kind of much.

Avoid the Noid, knuckleheads.