Tarantino’s “Hateful” Revenge: Director Pursues Copyright Claim Over Hyperlink To Leaked Script

QTQuentin Tarantino probably wasn’t offended when the Hollywood gossip website Defamer, owned by Gawker Media LLC, compared him to a petulant child and accused him of throwing a “temper tantrum.”  After all, the colorful characters in his films have uttered far more incendiary insults.  But when the website published a story about Tarantino’s leaked script for the upcoming film The Hateful Eight, and included with the story a link to a PDF file of the entire leaked screenplay, Tarantino took his tantrum straight to the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.

The Hateful Eight

Following the success of his 2012 Academy Award winning screenplay for Django Unchained, Tarantino decided he would pen another western-themed project, The Hateful Eight.  In a subsequent interview with Deadline, he claimed that he only gave that finished script to six people, including three actors, and soon realized it had been leaked when individuals outside of this inner circle began contacting his agent to pitch other actors for roles in the film.  Upon discovering the leak, Tarantino immediately shelved the project and claimed he would publish the script as a book.

After the interview, Defamer published a story entitled “Quentin Tarantino Throws Temper Tantrum After Script Leak,” which described the leak and Tarantino’s resulting decision regarding the film’s release.  However, the story also asked readers “to name names or leak the script” to Defamer via the website’s “tips” email address.  The very next day, Defamer circulated a post with the headline: “Here Is the Leaked Quentin Tarantino Hateful Eight Script.” The post contained a hyperlink to an anonymous posting of the entire script on AnonFiles.com, a website not affiliated with Gawker.

Tarantino’s Theory: Solicitation of Infringing Link

Tarantino’s complaint alleges that Gawker Media, by soliciting and then linking to the leaked script, was engaging in “predatory journalism” that went beyond mere news reporting and constituted contributory infringement of Tarantino’s copyright in the work.  While Tarantino concedes that publishing a news story regarding the leak is within Gawker’s rights as a news outlet, he claims that Gawker also promoted itself as the primary resource for the public to read the entire screenplay illegally, and that this “crossed the journalistic line.”  The complaint goes on to state that Gawker’s behavior amounts to “facilitating and encouraging the public’s violation of [Tarantino’s] copyright in the screenplay.”

Gawker Media has responded to the complaint by filing a motion to dismiss the case for failure to state a claim. Gawker argues that linking to source material in its report qualifies as non-infringing fair use under 17 U.S.C. § 107.  Gawker further argues that the First Amendment guarantees its right to disseminate news to the public, as well as the public’s fair use of the work in the context of news consumption.  Tarantino has opposed Gawker’s motion, maintaining that Gawker’s commercial use of the script to generate traffic to its website exceeds the protection of the fair use doctrine.  In its reply brief, Gawker noted that there was no precedent for holding a news website liable for merely hyperlinking to newsworthy material, and that Tarantino “does not cite even a single case in which an entity engaged in the business of reporting news . . . has been found to be infringing because its news report included a link to allegedly infringing material that was the subject of the report.”

The case raises an interesting question.  A mere link to infringing material may generally be understood not to give rise to secondary liability for copyright infringement.  But what if the defendant has solicited that link, and then profits from its association with that link?

Tarantino is requesting an injunction preventing further dissemination of his screenplay and at least $2 million in damages. Formal discovery is expected to commence pending the Court’s issuance of a ruling on Gawker’s motion to dismiss.  The case has been referred to private mediation to be completed no later than September 8, 2014. The leaked script is no longer available on been Anonfiles.com.

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