October 18, 2010 / 9:55 AM / 8 years ago

PETA accused of exploiting filmmakers

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Few organizations have created more hot viral videos on the web than People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

Two members of People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) protest against the use of bear skin in Sofia, July 28, 2008. REUTERS/Oleg Popov

The animal rights group has created confrontational spots that featuring celebrities, ambushed consumer brand products, and disrobing supermodels. In many of these videos, a bit of eye-candy is delivered with some hard medicine. For example, in PETA’s famous spot, “State of the Union Undress,” a woman talks about animal cruelty while taking off her clothes, before a montage of animal brutality is shown to the viewer, such as beaks removed from chickens.

But where does PETA get these nasty images? One would hardly expect the group to participate in the activity it deems repellant, right? Here may be a partial answer.

In 1982, Victor Schonfeld and Myriam Alaux created a controversial and critically acclaimed feature documentary, “The Animals Film,” narrated by the actress Julie Christie, about the exploitation of animals. The documentary is widely credited for raising awareness for animal cruelty, and since then, animal rights organizations like PETA have been using some of the film’s scenes.

In September, the rights-holder of the films, Beyond the Frame Ltd, wrote to PETA, quite angry about the group’s alleged exploitation of the “Animals” film.

Beyond the Frame pointed to several PETA videos that used scenes from its film and then encouraged users on YouTube to share them. The film company was also upset that scenes were used in a documentary produced in 2007 by PETA for HBO entitled “I am an Animal; the Story of Ingrid Newkirk and PETA.”

The letter included a draft of a lawsuit that was to be filed in the U.K., threats of another lawsuit in the U.S., and demands for compensation.

According to the letter, “Our client would have been very reluctant to grant a license to your client/PETA Inc given Mr. Schonfeld’s well-publicized views about PETA and its sexualized efforts to attract publicity. In the circumstances, had it been prepared to grant a license, it would have charged a substantial premium.”

The letter states that the license fee charged would be on a per minute basis, similar to the top rates charged by top independent film companies. Sony Pictures Classics is cited as charging between 50,000 pounds to 100,000 pounds ($80,000 to $160,000) per minute for worldwide Internet rights.

PETA’s offer of 8,000 pounds ($12,800) was rejected.

Schonfeld wanted 470,000 pounds ($750,000).

PETA has now responded by asking a California federal judge for a declaratory judgment that it has not infringed on copyright. The group also wants a permanent injunction prohibiting Beyond the Frame from publicly charging it has infringed a copyright.

Both parties abhor animal cruelty. But they will soon be fighting to the bone against each other in court.

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