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Screwed By The Lawyers / Film

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  • Hey There, It's Yogi Bear! and The Man Called Flintstone didn't get released on DVD until 2008, due to a dispute between Hanna-Barbera owner Warner Bros. and Sony Pictures, owner of the films' theatrical distributor Columbia. During the period of the dispute, the films continued to air occasionally on Boomerang.
  • Ralph Breaks the Internet:
    • Universal's acquisition of the Super Mario Bros. movie rights resulted in Mario getting removed from the final product despite prior rumors that he would appear in the film with a crucial role (a fate that was shared with Bowser, who had previously appeared in predecessor film Wreck-It Ralph). Mario was previously excluded from Wreck-It Ralph, but this trope was not the reason why; Word of God says that Nintendo was all for them including Mario, but that the writers couldn't find a way to incorporate him that didn't end up turning the film into essentially a full-blown Mario adaptation. To make up for Mario and Bowser's absence, an Easter Egg showed up where a stack of yellow question mark blocks — complete with the 8-bit look of the mark — were shown in the background of Spamley's shack.
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    • Oddly, the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise was also tied up with movie rights issues, with Paramount producing a feature film at the time, but Disney was able to make some sort of deal with Paramount and Sega in which Sonic and Dr. Eggman, both of whom appeared in the previous film, could appear again in much more limited roles. This arrangement was similar to the one Sega and Paramount made with Warner Bros. in regards to Sonic's appearance in Ready Player One.
  • As Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer proves, this can work against development studios as well. It's not that Rankin-Bass didn't try to keep the rights; in fact, a copyright of MCLXIV appears right in the opening credits. The problem: the special was made in 1964, or MCMLXIV, and the production crew forgot to check the opening credits for that crucial misspelling. Because of that missing M, the film is legally considered to have been copyrighted in the year 1164, and thus in the public domain for almost 800 years. It sounds stupid — after all, that was long before even the camera was invented — but the decision has actually been upheld over the years, meaning just about anyone can use the characters from the special however they please without having to ask Universal (which currently claims to own the rights) for permission. Essentially, all those Christmas toy store/phone commercials you see everywhere around the holidays, and that one bit from "Channel Chasers", are bootlegs, and there's not a thing Universal can do about it.


  • This trope is most likely the reason why the titular possessed doll from Annabelle was depicted as a generic glass doll instead of a Raggedy Ann doll as with the (supposedly possessed) real-life doll, as it seems the owners of the Raggedy Ann & Andy property wouldn't take kindly to a Raggedy Ann doll being depicted as a demonic object.
  • The indie slasher All the Boys Love Mandy Lane didn't see the light of day in the United States for years, due to the company that held the American distribution rights to it going bankrupt and closing its doors, leaving the rights in limbo and the film sitting on The Shelf of Movie Languishment. It didn't help that it was also Screwed by the StudioThe Weinstein Company dumped the film on the now-bankrupt distributor once they saw a number of horror films (most notably Grindhouse) go bust at the box office, despite having already paid $3 million for the rights to it. Luckily, the rights were eventually sorted out, and in 2013 it received a limited theatrical release before hitting DVD.
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  • Many people believe The Day the Clown Cried was unreleased due to poor taste but it was actually due to copyright issues over the script. In fact, Jerry Lewis was technically not supposed to finish it but he did, resulting in the movie being completed but rarely seen.
  • Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story was a sardonic biopic by Todd Haynes about Karen Carpenter's rise and bulimia-related death, with the additional gimmick that the Carpenters were represented by Barbie dolls. Due to the angry lawsuits from Karen Carpenter's estate and Mattel, the movie is unlikely to be screened legally again.
  • In a rare example of an actor being forced into servitude by a film studio (after the end of the contract player era), Mike Myers withdrew from a proposed adaptation of his Saturday Night Live sketch Sprockets due to Old Shame over a script he wrote for the film. This pissed off Universal so much that they sued him a year later for failure to abide by the contract he signed with them. He tried to countersue, but a settlement was eventually reached in which he was required to work on a different project for them. After Tim Allen withdrew from playing the title role for the Live-Action Adaptation of The Cat in the Hat, Myers was eventually brought in. This event, along with his reputation of being non-cooperative on set, contributed to his eventual downfall.
  • The Marvel Cinematic Universe was a big victim of this, being a shared universe for a handful of cinematic characters adapted from a shared universe for hundreds of comic book characters.
    • As of March 20, 2019, all Marvel properties and characters can interact with each other within the MCU now that Disney's acquisition of 20th Century Fox has been finalized. Despite this, the only characters and franchises Marvel still have legal trouble with are Incredible Hulk, which they don't have the distribution rights to, and Spider-Man, which is just being shared between them and Sony.
      • On August 20, 2019, it was revealed that a dispute over co-financing and producer credits have jettisoned Spider-Man out of the MCU. Over a month later, on September 27, 2019, the dispute was overcome with Spider-Man returning for two more movies.
    • The reasons for this was because due of the way Marvel Studios operated back before they started making their own movies and the Marvel Cinematic Universe was conceptualized, where they had to sell off the film rights of many of their characters to other studios like 20th Century Fox, who gained the rights to the X-Men and Fantastic Four, and Universal Pictures, who gained the rights to the Hulk.
    • The main caveat with the film rights when Marvel sold them was basically "use it or lose it", meaning that if certain film rights aren't used, they would revert back to Marvelnote . Thus, Fox was rushing out X-Men films in rapid succession to keep the film rights away from Marvel, while Sony has decided to share the rights to Spider-Man with Marvel in hopes that they will be able to make more profits off the character than they did doing it alone; conversely, they both gave up entirely on Ghost Rider and Daredevil due to their box office weakness under their tenurenote . The whole rights debacle is also the main reason why the Spider-Man movies were rebooted note , and after the sequel somewhat flopped they struck the aforementioned deal with Marvel. As for the Fantastic Four, Fox hoped to get it right a second time to justify keeping the rights away from Marvel, but it ended up receiving the worst reception of any Marvel superhero movie.
    • This created a Catch-22: When Marvel did regain a new property, it was usually because the property's reputation had been too badly tarnished by the previous studio to continue making sequels. After The Incredible Hulk did poor business at the box office (which many blamed on the previous adaptation), Marvel decided not to rush to integrate these properties right away, instead opting to focus on newer characters like Black Panther, The Inhumans, and Captain Marvel. This is why Daredevil was relegated to a Netflix TV show instead of a full-fledged movie reboot (which turned out to be for the better, as the series was greatly acclaimed on release), and why it's unlikely we'll be seeing Blade or The Punisher movie reboots anytime soon (The Punisher, however, is a major character in Daredevil's second season, and eventually got his own show greenlit.)
      Kevin Feige: Whenever a character comes back to us, it's usually because the other studios don't want to make the movies anymore — and that usually means the [previous] movies may not have been particularly well-received. They all have potential, but we're not going to say "We got it back — make it."
    • According to Mark Ruffalo, the aforementioned legal issues involving Namor with Universal also apply to the Incredible Hulk as well, as Universal still retains some rights to make and distribute stand-alone Hulk movies (similar to how Spider-Man and Sony are now being handled), as they did with the original Hulk and The Incredible Hulk. Marvel can't seem to push them into giving the rights back, making the likelihood of another standalone movie featuring the Hulk unlikely.
    • Daredevil could not feature The Daily Bugle newspaper because, at the time, Sony and Marvel had not yet struck the deal to share the movie rights to the Spider-Man franchise. As a result, Ben Urich instead works for a paper called The New York Bulletin, and his boss J. Jonah Jameson was replaced with a Canon Foreigner named Mitchell Ellison.
  • The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension allegedly saw attempts at continuation blocked, despite interest, because rightsholder David Begelman feared that his creative bookkeeping might get exposed in the process.
  • Let It Be: Observers have said that the film is unlikely to be rereleased as long as Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr are still alive, due to its unflattering and downright painful look at the slow collapse and eventual breakup of The Beatles. Ironically, McCartney gets the least flattering portrayal in the film and is also one of the more eager to see it get an official release.
  • Nosferatu was nearly lost forever after the studio was sued by Bram Stoker's estate for its similarities to Dracula. It continued to be screened underground for decades, including by Walt Disney himself as an inspiration for his Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, before finally receiving its first official release in 1972 as part of PBS's Film Odyssey, a 26-episode anthology of films from the Janus collection.
  • The Janus Head (or The Head of Janus) was basically The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with the names changed, and it got sued by the R.L. Stevenson estate. The problem was that if they did it as a straight-up Jekyll and Hyde movie, it would give away the ending. Unlike Nosferatu, this one really seems to be gone forever.
  • After Robin Williams's death, Disney began arranging plans for a live-action Genie prequel as an origin story to Aladdin, but it got locked away thanks to a clause in Robin Williams's will. His estate informed the company the clause bars any further usage of voice recordings and likenesses that had not been already made available to the public for 25 years after his death, meaning Disney cannot move forward with using Williams's likeness until August 11, 2039. Disney also had plans to make a third sequel with unused Robin Williams recordings, but it ended up being scrapped for the same reason.
  • Mario Bava's masterpiece Rabid Dogs remained unreleased until 1998 because, after principal photography was completed, the movie's producer Roberto Loyola declared bankruptcy and sat on the movie's copyrights against the wishes of Mario Bava's family.
  • For over two decades, Nintendo has had a strict policy of refusing to allow any of their video game franchises to be adapted into films or film series. This was enforced after the Live-Action Adaptation of Super Mario Bros. became a catastrophic flop with both fans and critics. This policy caused a proposed film adaptation of Metroid to be scrapped and The Legend of Zelda fan-movie The Hero of Time to be hit with a cease-and-desist. note  However, beginning in late 2014, Nintendo might be relaxing this policy. Leaked emails stolen from Sony Pictures as part of a cyber attack against the studio revealed that the studio was in negotiations with Nintendo to acquire the film rights to Mario and adapt the franchise into an Animated Adaptation, with Spider-Man producer Avi Arad spearheading it. If the negotiations hold up, this would be the first time a Nintendo franchise outside the Pokémon series has ever been adapted into a film since the live-action Mario film of 1993 in the West or the Animal Crossing anime film of 2006 in Japan. Shigeru Miyamoto himself hinted such reconsideration.
  • In a similar vein, Sega followed Nintendo's footsteps after the failure of the film adaptation of House of the Dead. Like the Nintendo example above, the anime Sonic X and the Sonic Boom tie-in television series averted this because of the shows being commissioned by Seganote , and not being licensed. However, a decade later, they decided to make another go, first by selling the film rights for Sonic the Hedgehog to Paramountnote  and then announcing six months later that they intend to bring many of their franchises to television, film, and digital streaming.
  • Probably the longest case of a franchise being bogged down by legal issues is James Bond, as it had one that lasted forty to fifty years.
    • One of James Bond's greatest villains in the original novels was SPECTRE (and its leader Ernst Stavro Blofeld). The novel that introduced SPECTRE, Thunderball, was originally conceived as a film. The screenplay was a collaboration between James Bond's author Ian Fleming and screenwriter Kevin McClory. When plans for the film fell through, Fleming released Thunderball as a novel. McClory then sued Fleming for releasing the novel without his permission; this led to McClory being awarded the film rights to Thunderball as well as ownership of SPECTRE. Initially McClory allowed UA to use SPECTRE for some of their Bond films, but this agreement expired in 1975. Thus, SPECTRE was retired from the Eon Productions Bond films. 1977's The Spy Who Loved Me was originally going to have Blofeld as a villain, but he was replaced by Expy Karl Stromberg. Blofeld would then make a Lawyer-Friendly Cameo in 1981's For Your Eyes Only where he gets killed off. Meanwhile, McClory made his own version of Thunderball under the name Never Say Never Again in 1983, which starred former Bond Sean Connery and competed against Eon's Octopussy.
    • In 1997, McClory announced that, in partnership with Sony Pictures, he would remake Thunderball again, this time under the title of Warhead 2000, with another former Bond actor, Timothy Dalton, being considered to play 007, which would launch a rival Bond series. MGM (UA's successor) sued Sony over the decision, leaving the latter to give up on the property. MGM would subsequently acquire all rights to Never Say Never Again in 1997, as well as the rights to the novel Casino Royale and its earlier film adaptation from Sony two years later.
    • Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace introduced a SPECTRE expy named Quantum. And then, shockingly, the legal issues were resolved in 2013. This led to James Bond fighting SPECTRE once again in the 2015 film... Spectre. Quantum being a SPECTRE expy did not go uncommented in Spectre, where it was retconned into a division of SPECTRE.
    • A lawsuit between MGM and Bond rights-holder Danjaq over the sale of television rights in the early-90s led to the cancellation of a third Bond film starring Timothy Dalton and led to a six-year gap where no Bond film was released, the longest gap in the franchise's history.
  • This trope affected the Kickstarter-funded HD Restoration of Manos: The Hands of Fate. In 2011, Ben Solovey started up a Kickstarter to restore the movie after he discovered that he ended up buying the original 16mm print of the film. With the blessing of Tom Neyman and his daughter Jackie Neyman Jones (who played The Master and little Debbie respectively), Solovey worked on the restoration. However, Joe Warren, son of writer/director/actor Harold P. Warren, was angry at being left out and attempted to assert copyright on the film. Just one catch: Hal copyrighted the script, then called "Lodge of Sins". He didn't copyright the actual movie, essentially making the movie a Public Domain film. The movie was ultimately released by Synapse Films on October 15, 2015, and the restored print now resides in cold storage in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Film Archive.
  • If The Other Wiki is to be believed, this has also happened to Michael Jackson's Moonwalkernote  because of "specific music and film licensing" for any North American DVD or Blu-Ray release (the U.K. region free Blu-Ray release notwithstanding).
  • Played with the Child's Play series. A remake of the original film took a long time to get off the ground because, while MGM owns the original film, Universal got the rest of the series after United Artists passed on producing Child's Play 2. On the bright side, both studios are keen on cooperating on Blu-ray collections of the films, and the most recent Direct to Video sequels still follow continuity with the original films.
  • This trope is the reason why Princess Giselle from Enchanted is not an official Disney Princess. In order to include her in the line-up, Disney would have to secure lifelong rights to the likeness of her actress Amy Adams.
  • A sequel to the well-received Master and Commander would be possible if the rights weren't tied up with three different studios, specifically 20th Century Fox (which was bought by Disney in 2019), Miramax Films (at the time owned by Disney until it was sold in 2010, now co-owned by beiN and ViacomCBS), and Universal (now owned by Disney rival Comcast).
  • With all of the above, it's gratifying to find that this trope comes into play, but against major studios at least twice in regards to very popular movies: both Charade and Night of the Living Dead (1968) both fell into the public domain immediately upon release. In the case of Charade, it was because the studio only placed the date of publication and the copyright holder, and not the clear assertion of copyright ("Copyright", "Copr." "(C)" or the like) as was necessary under the copyright statutes before 1989. In the case of Living Dead, the studio did place the required notice on the title frames beneath its original title, Night of the Flesh Eaters—but the distributor changed the title, removing the only copyright notice on the original studio prints, and neglected to put a new copyright notice on it.
  • 20th Century Fox's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie was heavily altered from the comic book for a lot of reasons, but this was one of them. The filmmakers were forced to replace the original Invisible Man with a Legacy Character named "Rodney Skinner" because Universal still owned the movie rights to the original, and they Adapted Out the League's handler Campion Bond (who was heavily implied to be the grandfather of a certain MI6 agent) to avoid a lawsuit from Eon Productions and MGM.
  • Ever wondered why Star Trek (2009) was a soft reboot? It was largely due to the 2006 split between CBS and Viacom, the latter the parent company of Paramount which prior to the split owned the rights to Star Trek. The split led to Viacom keeping Paramount's film properties while CBS retained the studio's TV properties, including Star Trek, whose film rights were subsequently licensed to Paramount. This meant that Paramount received no profits from merchandise that didn't feature concepts originating from the films, which is why all the Kelvin Timeline designs got tweaked just enough that they can make distinct merchandise of it (even in cases where it doesn't make much sense for the design to be different, like the Klingons). However, in December 2019, Viacom and CBS remerged, meaning that Paramount now owns Star Trek completely.
  • The Beaver Trilogy is an anthology of three short films telling loosely the same story (one documentary and two adaptations of it using actors), all of which center around a drag performance set to a recording of "Please Don't Keep Me Waiting" by Olivia Newton-John. It has limited availability due to rights issues relating to the use of the song, which is considered too crucial to the film to be removed or replaced. At first the only way to see the film was at festivals and other screenings; As of 2020, its director, Trent Harris, is selling DVDs through his official website, but any wider home-viewing release is unlikely for the same reason.
  • Toho wanted to have a remake of King Kong vs. Godzilla for the Heisei series of the Godzilla films in the early 90s. However, Turner Entertainment (the copyright owners of the original King Kong films at the time) demanded exorbitant fees for use of Kong, so Toho scrapped the idea in favour of another iconic Godzilla foe, making Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah instead. This also prevented ideas of Godzilla fighting Mechani-Kong from being conceptualized, simply because Mechani-Kong too closely resembled his organic counterpart. Note that this was not long after a rather infamous lawsuit by Universal against Nintendo claiming trademark infringement of King Kong with their Donkey Kong game (which they ended up losing).
  • Shushybye: My Best Friend, based on the show Shushybye Baby, was produced entirely by Baby First and it had no involvement with The Shushybye Company, who owns the Shushybye Baby IP. Because of this, Baby First had to redesign the characters's costumes from scratch. The difference between the characters is VERY noticeable between the show and the movie.

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