IP Opportunities And Challenges In The Filmmaking Industry

Stephen Stolfi,

The 93rd Academy Awards take place on Sunday, April 25, 2021 and will honor the movies released in 2020. With nominees for Best Picture including The Father, Judas and the Black Messiah, Mank, Nomadland, and Promising Young Woman, it will be a very tough call for the Academy to choose one Oscar winner for this category!

The creative process and business models of filmmaking have changed fundamentally over recent years and screenwriters, film score composers, producers, and even actors may all encounter the various IP opportunities and challenges that exist within the changing legal and commercial environment for film.

In this article, I examine the challenges that digital piracy of streamed content brings to the film industry and the solutions available to copyright owners. I also outline the benefits that trademarks can bring to movie studios and showcase the trademark activity of three Oscar-winning movies.

Shining a light on digital piracy

Like all creative works, original movies should be protected by copyright law. Despite the best efforts of content owners to protect their copyright against digital piracy, however, the increasing speed of the Internet and the availability of online streaming has made online piracy commonplace. In 2019, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Innovation Policy Center estimated that there are 26.6 billion illegal views of movies produced by U.S. organizations annually.

Predictably, as the appetite for legitimate content grew during 2020, so did piracy. Google Trends data demonstrates that as pandemic-related stay-at-home orders were observed in spring 2020, worldwide searches for the notorious Pirate Bay website doubled between April 2019 and 2020. You can read more about this topic in Malia Ladd’s insightful article: “Anti-piracy and the New Economy of Streaming, TV, & Movies.”

Anti-piracy solutions for content owners

Now, more than ever, anti-piracy software for movies and TV, particularly analyst-led solutions that take down infringements and direct online traffic to legitimate sources, can support content owners to secure their places in a changing digital economy. To learn more about Corsearch’s anti-piracy services, please visit the website.

The benefits of trademarks in the movie industry

While movies are protected by copyright, the wider marketing of a title through websites, merchandise, and licensing partnerships may more commonly rely on the clearance and protection of trademarks. One of the main benefits of registering trademarks for film titles is that it becomes much easier to put in place a brand protection strategy capable of protecting the profits of the movie studio and its commercial partners.

Here are three examples of Oscar-winning movies well protected by a trademark portfolio.

Three Oscar-winning movies and their marks

1. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King won Best Picture (and ten other Oscars) in 2003. Directed by Peter Jackson, the plot involves Gandalf and Aragorn leading the World of Men against Sauron's army in order to draw his gaze from Frodo and Sam as they approach Mount Doom with the One Ring.

At the time of writing, there are over 40 live (valid and pending) trademarks containing the mark text THE LORD OF THE RINGS THE RETURN OF THE KING owned by The Saul Zaentz Company, based in California, USA. The brand is most heavily protected by trademark registration in the United States (18.2%), followed by Indonesia, Mexico, and South Africa (11.4%). Merchandise that is protected by trademarking can be seen when viewing the top product descriptions for this brand name — seen most notably in Nice Class 9 (Electrical and Scientific Devices) — with “Video game discs” taking the top spot with a 38.6% share.


2. Braveheart

Braveheart won Best Picture in 1995. Directed by and starring Mel Gibson, the movie was awarded five Oscars that year. The storyline follows Scottish warrior William Wallace as he leads his countrymen in a rebellion to free his homeland from the tyranny of King Edward I of England.

The picture was distributed by Paramount Pictures and 20th Century Fox. Between them these two trademark owners once held more than 20 BRAVEHEART marks, of which 45% are still valid today. The benefit of trademarking movie merchandise within a wide scope of Nice Classes can be seen by examining the Classes in which these valid marks are still registered — 26 years later — with top Nice Classes 41 (Education and Entertainment) taking the largest ratio share of 26.3% of all registrations, followed by Nice Class 3 (Cosmetics and Cleaning Preparations) with 21.1% and Nice Class 9 (Electrical and Scientific Devices) taking a 15.8% share.


3. Forrest Gump

When Forrest Gump was released back in 1994, it took Best Picture and six Oscars overall at the Academy Awards. Directed by Robert Zemeckis and co-starring Tom Hanks and Robin Wright, this heart-warming movie spans the presidencies of Kennedy and Johnson, the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal, and many other historical events, which unfold from the perspective of an Alabama man with an IQ of 75, whose only wish is to be reunited with his childhood sweetheart.

The film was distributed by Paramount Pictures, who filed eight trademarks for the FORREST GUMP brand name — 38% of which remain valid today. Top products are all found in Nice Class 16 (Paper Goods and Printed Matter), with “greeting cards”, “printed matter”, “posters”, “photographs”, paper and cardboard” and “aprons” all found at the top of the list.

Final thoughts

Incorporating the trademark screening process into movie naming sessions can save brand owners and trademark professionals time and money as it enables them to narrow down the list of trademark candidates before moving onto trademark clearance and a full trademark search.

With instant results, they can eliminate non-starters almost as fast as any creative or marketing team can come up with them!

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*The above-mentioned brands are noted for factual reporting purposes only, the listing of the brands does not imply any relationship with Corsearch or its related entities.

By Stephen Stolfi
Stephen Stolfi a member of the Corsearch Executive Leadership Team. He has been with Corsearch for over 20 years and has worked in the brand clearance and protection solutions industry for close to 30 years. Throughout his career, Stephen has guided and trained numerous individuals at corporations and law firms on effective trademark search and brand protection strategies. He has also guest lectured on trademark clearance and protection at various colleges and universities throughout the U.S., as well as at local and global intellectual property associations. He has written a number of articles and has been quoted about brands in various industry publications and industry blogs. Stephen is Corsearch's Chief Commercial Officer.