Battleship v. American Battleship
Universal has had several problems with its recent wannabe blockbuster Battleship. The main problem is that it was a box-office bomb. Despite the fact that movie fans have been able to see this coming from miles away, Universal also decided to pick a fight with an obscure movie studio, Global Asylum, over an allegedly similar movie. To be fair, Global Asylum has been asking for this fight for a long time. Read on for the story of Battleship v. American Battleship.
Universal City Studios LLC and Battleship Delta Productions LLC filed a complaint against Global Asylum Incorporated and The Big Stick LLC for trademark and copyright infringement last month. Universal Studios, the company that produced the newly released movie, Battleship, sued Global Asylum for their production and intended release of a straight to DVD moviecalled American Battleship. According to the complaint, American Battleship is an intentional knock off Universal Studio’s Battleship, a movie that features substantially similar artwork, packaging, release dates, and film trailers compared to Universal’s motion picture. Hasbro, which created the game Battleship, owns federal trademark registrations for the word BATTLESHIP for board games, electronic games, and computer video games, and Universal Studios negotiated with Hasbro to be granted an exclusive license of the motion picture rights to the game.
The complaint claims that Global Asylum Incorporated intended to release their film four days after Battleship was released in order to purposely confuse people into believing that Global Asylum’s American Battleship is the same movie as Battleship. Universal Studios also claims that Global Asylum has adopted a virtually indistinguishable design and color for the movie title, similar artwork for the packaging of the movie and poster, and released a trailer similar to that of Universal Studio’s movie. Here’s the Battleship trailer; here’s the American Battleship trailer. I know which one I’d rather watch, and it doesn’t star Rihanna. Pictures of both movie titles and front design are included in the complaint, and the pictures and designs are substantially similar.
The complaint also discusses prior movies that Global Asylum has attempted to copy and sell as knock off DVDs in the past. Some of those knock-off movies include John Carter of Mars (John Carter), Snakes on a Train (Snakes on a Plane), and Transmorphers (Transformers). In order to show consumer confusion, Universal Studios includes reviews from Amazon.com of people who had bought Global Asylum’s “mockbusters.” These reviews stated the consumer thought they were buying the real movie and were disappointed with the product, feeling that it had been a scam.
This is also not the first time a company has threatened legal action against Global Asylum. Fox Studios decided to take legal action against The Asylum Studios over their film The Day The Earth Stopped, claiming that it infringed on their remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still. Fox issued a cease-and-desist against Global Asylum and hired attorneys, but no legal action ever happened afterward.
Furthermore, the complaint claims the low budget DVDs that Global Asylum produces do not mock, parody, or comment on the films they knock off, implying that Global Asylum’s movies do not deserve a fair use defense. Here’s a link to a previous blog post discussing the elements of a fair use defense.
Global Asylum Inc. released this statement in response: “The Global Asylum has promoted the feature film American Battleship for nearly a year while Universal raised no concerns. The timing of Universal’s recently filed lawsuit coincides with mixed reviews of its big-budget film Battleship — the first movie based on a board game since Clue. Looking for a scapegoat, or more publicity, for its pending box-office disaster, the executives at Universal filed this lawsuit in fear of a repeat of the box office flop John Carter of Mars. The Universal action is wholly without merit, and we will vigorously defend their claims in Court. Nonetheless, we appreciate the publicity.”
In the meantime, both parties have been in discussion, and Global Asylum has reportedly agreed to change the name of their movie to “American Warships.” However, the American Battleship movie was released for sale May 22 and premiered May 19th on Syfy.
From a legal perspective, there’s not a problem in theory with releasing a movie with “Battleship” in the title. IMDB lists 88 movies with “Battleship” or a similar word in the title. Battleship is certainly a common and descriptive term, and there are countless war movies released each year. However, looking at the facts in total, it’s clear that Global Asylum is deliberately attempting to create a connection in the minds of viewers between their movies and those of their larger competitors. Whether any of their films crosses the line and infringes on trademarks and copyrights is going to depend on the details of each individual case.