The filmmakers behind “Catfish” have battled charges that the documentary is more fiction than fact ever since the film debuted at Sundance last January.
A new lawsuit filed Friday uses the questions swirling around the movie’s veracity to claim that the team behind the documentary is skirting copyright laws.
In court filings, Threshold Media claims that the filmmakers failed to pay to include snippets of the song “All Downhill From Here” throughout the movie. The suit also alleges that the song is used without the permission of singer-songwriter Amy Kuney.
Kuney is a client of Threshold, and the suit charges that the “Catfish” is hiding behind false claims of being a documentary to avoid paying rights.
“These alleged documentary filmmakers are attempting to circumvent copyright law by saying there movie is a true documentary. This song pops up four or five times in this made-up documentary. It’s sad for our client, who has invested a substantial amount of money in the publishing of this music to miss out on rights payments,” Neville Johnson, an attorney for Threshold.
A representative for Relativity declined to comment; representatives for the filmmakers did not respond to TheWrap's requests.
The plaintiffs are seeking a share of the film’s profits and an enjoinment to prevent further violation of the song’s copyright.
“Catfish” focuses on a relationship between a young man and a girl he meets via Facebook. When cracks began to appear in the girl’s back story, the man makes an impromptu appearance at the girl’s home in rural Michigan. It’s the documentary’s twist ending that’s led many critics to allege it seems a little too gripping to be true.
It’s important that the plaintiffs establish that the movie is fiction, because if the film is a documentary, the producers and directors can claim fair use and are not obligated to pay for Kuney’s song.
Directors Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost, as well as producer Marc Smerling are named in the suit. Distributors Universal and Relativity Media, which snapped up the film after it caused a sensation as Sundance, are also named.
In addition to four separate appearances in the film, the suit says that “All Downhill From Here” appears over the closing credits.
“Each defendant either knew, or should have reasonably known that the sound recording was protected by copyright,” the suit reads. “As a direct and proximate result of their wrongful conduct Defendants have realized and continue to realize profits and other benefits rightfully belonging to Plaintiff.”
“Catfish” has made $3.2 million since opening this fall.