August 13, 2014 / 9:20 PM / 4 years ago

Graffiti artists sue Monty Python star over mural knockoff

(Reuters) - Casting him as a “repeat infringer,” a group of street graffiti artists sued former Monty Python star Terry Gilliam and others, saying he ripped off their psychedelic wall mural in Buenos Aires for a new film he directed.

Director Terry Gilliam poses during a photocall for his movie "The Zero Theorem" during the 70th Venice Film Festival in Venice September 2, 2013. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

The artists accuse Gilliam and the film’s production and release partners, including Voltage Pictures and Amplify, of “blatant misappropriation” of their mural in the movie, “The Zero Theorem.”

The lawsuit, filed on Wednesday in federal court in Chicago, comes as the film is set for release in U.S. theaters next month.

The plaintiffs said that Gilliam has demonstrated a “repeated disregard” for copyright law.

The director and his production crew were sued in connection with a torture chair depicted in the 1995 film “12 Monkeys” that was “obviously based” on a drawing by artist Lebbeus Woods, according to the complaint. Woods eventually settled the case.

“Mr. Gilliam,” the complaint added, “did not learn his lesson.”

A spokeswoman for Voltage declined to comment on the case.

Gilliam could not immediately be reached for comment.

The movie stars Academy Award winner Christopher Waltz, who plays Qohen, a reclusive computer genius trying to find the meaning of existence.

Qohen lives in a burned-out church, whose exterior, along with that of an adjacent sex shop, is covered in graffiti that the artists said is a knockoff of their work.

In the complaint, the artists show a side-by-side comparison of the real and the film versions of the mural parts: a turbaned man, a human-like rat and a face unspooling into a tangle of colorful ribbons.

As in the Woods case, the complaint said, “here Mr. Gilliam and his cohorts ‘cannot seriously contend’ that they did not draw their inspiration” from the artwork because the mural in the movie copies the real one in “striking detail.”

The artists, Franco Fasoli and Nicolas Romero of Argentina, and San Francisco-based Canadian Derek Mehaffey, collaborated on the mural in 2010 and eventually registered a copyright on it in Argentina in 2013. They called it “Castillo,” which is Spanish for “castle.” It has become “internationally recognized” in the art world, they said.

Woods was granted an injunction to stop the distribution of “12 Monkeys.” The Castillo artists are also seeking an injunction as well as damages, including profits from the film, which has already been released in other countries.

The case is Franco Fasoli (a/k/a “Jaz”), Nicolas Santiago Romero Escalada (a/k/a “Ever”) and Derek Shamus Mehaffey (a/k/a “other”) v. Voltage Pictures, LLC, The Zanuck Co d/b/a Zanuck Independent, Mediapro Pictures, Well Go USA Inc, Amplify Releasing, David Warren, Terence Vance Gilliam, and John Does 1-10, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, No. 14-cv-06206.

Reporting By Andrew Chung; Editing by Ted Botha and Jonathan Oatis

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