Miramax’s lawsuit against Quentin Tarantino over plans to release non-fungible tokens based on pulp Fiction opens a new front in the battle of the NFTs. The studio argues that it’s a zero-sum game: only one side should be allowed to profit from the new frontier of TV and film exploration. But the case may require a more nuanced outcome in the form of a decision allowing both sides to sell NFTs based on ownership of certain copyrights.
The lawsuit questions whether Tarantino, who wrote and owns the copyright to the screenplay for pulp Fictionhas the right to publish portions of the work through the sale of NFTs.
The case may fluctuate in the interpretation of the contract. Tarantino says publishing the NFTs is within his copyright. According to his agreement with Miramax, Tarantino has the rights to “print publication (including, without limitation, publication of screenplays, ‘making of’ books, comics and novelization, also in audio and electronic formats, as applicable) ” as well as media.”
“The allegations in the Miramax complaint make it clear that the primary content associated with the NFTs to be auctioned to the public consists of electronic copies of the ‘first uncut handwritten scripts of ‘Pulp Fiction,'” writes Bryan Freedman, representing Tarantino, in a statement. June 21 motion of judgment on the pleadings. “There is no doubt that this constitutes an electronic publication – a distribution of one or more electronic copies – of the Roadmap.”
Miramax, in turn, claims that its rights are more comprehensive and account for technology not yet created in 1996, when the deal was consummated. The company, which owns the film’s copyright, puts forward and centers comprehensive language in its contract that says it holds “all rights . . . now or in the known future. . . in all known media now or in the future.”
Seeking an early victory in the case, Tarantino urges the court to focus on copyright law. He argues that he is not infringing on any of Miramax’s copyrights as the NFTs will exploit the script to pulp Fiction and not the movie itself.
“A film screenplay is a copyrighted original work that precedes the film, and exclusive copyright in the screenplay – including elements such as dialogue, characters, plot and scene descriptions – resides with the author of the screenplay,” writes Freedman. “The film that is created from the script is a derivative work of it.”
Miramax’s copyright for the film only extends to new elements that are not derived directly from the script, such as the film’s presentation, the actors’ interpretations of the characters, and any added music or sound effects, according to Tarantino. The NFTs he plans to release, however, are a spinoff from the script. The primary content associated with the NFTs to be auctioned consists of electronic copies of the first handwritten scripts of pulp Fictionsays Tarantino.
A possible outcome of the case could be an order allowing both sides to sell NFTs based on their copyright.
“Both sides have their rights reserved and both sides have the ability to use NFTs to exercise those rights – Miramax in relation to the film and Tarantino in relation to the script,” says Jeremy Goldman, partner at Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz focusing on entertainment and technology law.
But this result will activate an order finding that NFTs are not covered by the rights reserved by either party. Miramax relies on contractual language maintaining that it has “all rights . . . now or in the known future. . . in all known media now or in the future”, but NFTs are not traditionally considered media.
“NFTs are not a form of distribution or media – that’s Miramax’s misunderstanding,” says Goldman. “They see NFTs as a means of distribution, part of how people view content. It’s not that. It’s just a registration of ownership.”
Miramax’s grievance with Tarantino’s plans may flow from the director initially including elements of the film in his NFTs. Early artwork, for example, featured images of Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta, which would likely have infringed on Miramax’s copyright on the film. They have since been replaced by images of Tarantino.