Just in time for Halloween, a contract and copyright dispute over the rights to a documentary that may be coming soon to a venue near you: Your Mommy Kills Animals.
Plaintiffs Richard Berman and Maura Flynn and Flynn’s business, Speakeasy Video, say they had a deal with defendant Curt Johnson, of Indie Genius Productions, for joint production of the documentary YMKA that was supposed to focus on People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the animal rights movement.
Berman, the money man, operated a D.C. public affairs company that opposed PETA and advocated for consumer choice. Flynn had worked with Johnson as a producer on “Michael Moore Hates America.” The “Your Mommy” title purportedly comes from a comic book produced by PETA.
With cameos from stars like Jessica Biel, James Cromwell, and Katherine Heigl, the documentary YMKA displeased the plaintiffs because they said it devoted little screen time to PETA and a lot of screen time to another animal rights group presented as champions of free speech. The plaintiffs won contract damages and copyright protection in Berman v. Johnson.
Flynn conducted interviews and provided contacts for the movie, according to Senior U.S. Judge T.S. Ellis III’s Oct. 19 decision in Berman. Ellis recognized Flynn as a joint author under federal copyright law. Ellis applied a test for joint authorship test used by the 2nd and 7th Circuits, rejecting a test from the 9th Circuit.
A jury awarded Berman of $360,000 in contract damages and $10,000 in compensatory damages. Ellis denied Berman’s post-trial claim to an exclusive right to promote the film, saying he was not entitled to both contract damages and specific performance.