November 16, 2001
SONY DENIED INJUNCTION IN REGARD TO ZORRO
Sony was denied its request for an injunction to stop distribution of the syndicated television program “Queen of Swords.” Sony had alleged that the program infringed its copyright and trademark rights to Zorro. Sony had recently produced and distributed the feature film “The Mask of Zorro,” starring Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Zorro is a fictional character originally created by pulp magazine writer Johnson McCulley. Movie rights were sold to Douglas Fairbanks Sr. who starred in a number of Zorro films including the silent film “The Mask of Zorro.” The copyrights to the original magazine story and the movie “The Mask of Zorro” have now expired.
Sony contended that the “Queen of Swords” TV program was similar to its “Mask of Zorro” film. The court disagreed, finding that the two were not similar in regard to the copyright protected aspects of Sony’s Zorro. The case illustrates how difficult it may be to prove infringement when another party creates material based on a public domain story or character. Sony Pictures Entertainment v. Fireworks Entertainment Group, 137 F. Supp. 2d 1177, 2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 4549 (C.D. Cal. 2001).
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