Tarantino Sues Gawker. Hellz Yeah!

I am dying to hear the rationale for this one.  According to several stories this morning, Quentin Tarantino is suing Gawker for leaking and promoting access to the full screenplay for a feature in late-stage development called The Hateful Eight.  According to the LA Times, the director says he’s depressed over the leak and is shelving the production, but meanwhile, he’s suing Gawker for copyright infringement.  The first report I read stated that a rumor was circulating that the whole kerfuffle is a publicity stunt by Tarantino, but I doubt it; and I certainly hope not.  Tarantino doesn’t need a publicity stunt.  His films, like them or not, are provocative enough to be their own publicity stunts.

There are times when copyright cases contain shades of gray, but this isn’t one of them.   What possible social justification can anyone offer for leaking the screenplay of a motion picture in development? If you think you have an answer to that, find someone to administer a dope slap because your ego is eating the rest of your psyche.  Assuming there’s nothing more to this story, what Gawker is doing is an outright hijacking of a process that represents many hours and many dollars worth of stranded investment. What journalist does that absent any actual news that serves the public?  Have we become so debauched that we think we have a right to read an author’s work mid-process, let alone a component of a multi-million-dollar product in development? Tarantino should not only sue Gawker, but the responsible parties should have to clean his house without pay for six months.

It is apt that this story breaks this morning, when the House Judiciary Committee readies to hold another round of hearings on copyright review.  Today will be focused on the subject of fair use, and we will undoubtedly hear testimony from parties arguing to expand fair use, despite the fact that the U.S. already has the most liberal application of the principle among countries who uphold copyright.  Regardless, while there may be nuance to consider in this regard, this Tarantino case serves as a timely example of the fact that certain website owners would strain the legal foundation of fair use until the only part left is the use. This is what happens when people grow accustomed to making money for doing nothing: they become self-righteous about exploiting people who actually work for a living.

I don’t love every film Quentin Tarantino produces, but his voice certainly makes its presence known in the chorus of American cinema; and the world would be duller without him.  Gawker?  Really?  It could disappear tomorrow, and what?  Where would we ever find another team of lazy-ass gossip-mongers?  Check under the nearest rock.

© 2014, David Newhoff. All rights reserved.

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8 comments

  • “This is what happens when people grow accustomed to making money for doing nothing: they become self-righteous about exploiting people who actually work for a living.”

    That pretty much says it all, David. It’s an attitude I’ve seen in far too many comments and in far too many forums over the past few years.

  • Completely agree on the moral dimension of the case. There is absolutely no public interest justification here. The only possible exception I can see is if the stuff about it being a publicity stunt by Tarantino is true and I simply don’t see that being likely. Waving lawsuits around if you leaked something yourself is way too risky.

    It’s less legally clear then you seem to think though. Despite some of the stories, Gawker didn’t leak or host the script themselves. They linked to a site that did. So the charge is contributory copyright infringement, not direct copyright infringement. At which point, we’re in untested legal waters. I still doubt they’ll win this. Their main defense seems to be “we linked to something that our readers would be interested to” which is not a public interest defense and, taken literally, would allow links to child pornography or snuff videos. On top of which, the way they presented it makes it look like a Gawker sponsored infringement. But this is going to be a test case if it goes forward. Which it may not do; there’s a good chance Gawker will settle.

    But my main disagreements with you are on some of the interpretations and conclusions you’re drawing from this.

    Trying to link this to fair use is somewhat opportunistic, considering Gawker haven’t actually raised that as a defense at this stage. While they’ve used fair use in what I consider to be an illegitimate way in the past, that’s been after a lawsuit, they really aren’t committed to it ideologically. (Their own business is partly based on copyright). Besides, their statement quite obviously is trying to lay the ground for a public interest defense. Surely that doesn’t invalidate how important the principle of the public interest is for journalists?

    It’s not accurate to suggest that Gawker don’t work for a living. I’m afraid they do, it’s not an amateurish operation and I’d bet money their editors are working way more then 40 hour weeks. They’re odious, but in the same way that celebrity mags that print photos of women and insult them for being fat are, and most of those magazines are primarily paper publications still. This one they have crossed even that line on. But the line they’ve crossed is similar to the News of the World phonehacking scandal, as opposed to anything Google or Facebook have done.

    I think you’re trying to shoehorn this into your ‘big tech’ analysis, where it simply won’t go. Gawker are far more of a big media organisation. This is journalists behaving badly, not techies. The internet is the platform, not the content.

    • All fair criticisms, Sam, and there’s no question that the initial leak itself is pretty weird. If Tarantino is misusing an infringement claim here, I’ll criticize him for it. I also recognize Gawker hasn’t claimed fair use as yet, but I don’t think raising the matter will prove to be that big a stretch if Gawker does offer a defense. Like you, I have my doubts this case will go very far.

      Admittedly, Gawker is like pre-digital yellow publications, and I don’t mind implying those people don’t work for a living, if you’ll allow some license with the phrase not to be taken too literally. I’m being smug but am absolutely saying people who report on celeb cellulite don’t “work for a living.” And you’re right that Gawker is just a rag that happens to be online, but the technology and its economics play a role here. If nothing else, a paper magazine can’t generate traffic to bolster its ad value by linking to a leaked 146 page document that happens to infringe someone’s copyrights.

      • Actually, having looked into it further, you’re probably right that will be their likely defense. It seems to be another difference between the UK and the US. Our “public interest” defense is a lot wider and can be used by journalists to justify otherwise illegal activities whereas yours seems to be much narrower and mostly about leaking state secrets.

        Part of the issue with the not working for a living argument is that it can have wider ramifications. There are certainly people who would argue that journalism as a whole is not a real job and I’m really reluctant to provide them that kind of ammunition. As an analogy, I’d see it like this. A Neo-Nazi band are against everything we both stand for, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t producing music.

        On the other hand, I suspect Gawker are less likely to pay someone to go through celebrity’s bins. Nor do I think that they’d somehow discover ethics if they were existing in the pre-digital age.

        You have a point on advertising pressures though. I think, in cases like Gawker, that does drive standards downwards. Mostly because advertising online is almost entirely based on traffic and hits, whereas traditional newspaper advertising is concentrated a lot more on readership demographics. So someone like the Guardian wouldn’t have a commercial motivation for this kind of gutter journalism, because it would drive their advertising rate down.

  • This goes to the laissez-faire attitude to artist rights and other people’s property in general on the inter-webs. There’s nothing a good number of websites wouldn’t do to get a few extra ‘clicks’. Respect for others is something that is fading away and being replaced with ‘gimme gimme gimme’ more for me me me gotta have it now now now!

  • Interestingly, Gawker is getting a kicking in the comments over at Know Your Meme- http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/sites/gawker-media

  • (Obviously, it’s KYM, so you’ll have to find the relevant comments in between people trolling and rabbits wearing pancakes).

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