Rupert Murdoch must be letting out a massive “Doh!” in whichever palace he is padding around this weekend.
His Fox unit has just been slapped with a lawsuit by Hologram USA, and another billionaire, Alki David, for patent theft. And with Homer Simpson at the heart of it, its sure to catch the public’s attention. (And the irony that the man behind legal actions over “copyright’ that have slowed advancements in television is now strung up in his own net over thievery won’t be lost on consumers).
At this year’s Comic-Con, Fox held an enormously buzzed about panel for the 25th anniversary of The Simpsons. Fox and James Brooks‘ Gracie Films trotted out the show’s creator Matt Groening, executive producer Al Jean and others and had them interact with a three dimensional projection of Homer Simpson. The hologram used patented technology for which Hologram USA and its partner Musion, own the exlusive rights to. Groening and the organizers of the Comic-Con event even had the audacity to make joking reference Tupac Shakur’s hologram appearance at Coachella in 2012—the most well known example of recent holography and one which paid the appropriate license fees.
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Over a thousand people are thought to have witnessed the panel at Comic-Con, and nearly a million have viewed video clips of the Homer Simpson hologram via YouTube—clips, the suit points out, that have Fox advertising embedded in them. Fox and Gracie Films have reportedly recently struck a $1 billion dollar deal that will create an online archive of all Simpsons episodes and has unleashed a flood of merchandising products from Legos and make-up to baseball jackets by cult Japanese clothing designer A Bathing Ape.
“Again Fox Television displays magnificent hypocrisy,” David said in a statement to Tv Mix. “Most producers and content owners in the TV business will tell you that companies like Fox are nothing but thieving hypocrites who hide behind their own self made rules and manipulation of the law. Not this time Rupert.”
This is not the first major lawsuit Hologram USA has filed to protect its rights to the patent.
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The technology that revolutionizes the old carnival trick “Pepper’s Ghost” was invented by Uwe Maass, who is named as a plaintiff in the suit along side Giovanni Palma, the owner of Musion. The technology referred to in the complaint as patent 519, is the only quality 3d representation method that delivers the lifelike holograms that have wowed crowds around the world. It’s the technology that got Narerndra Modi elected Prime Minister of India, and it’s been used by Prince Charles and many others to make important appearances.
Hologram USA and Musion’s control over the patents is widely acknowledged. The Washington Post recently featured Hologram USA on the cover of its Sunday magazine after the firm opened a Washinton D.C. office to aid political campaigns and the federal government with hologram projects. The New York Observer, the Nation Journal and others have also recently written stories about Hologram USA’s rapid growth that confirm ownership of the patent.
Fox has issued the expected statement that says the suit is without merit.
Eriq Gardner in The Hollywood Reporter broke the story. As he points out a funny bit the shows Fox’s knowledge of its own hypocrisy: “The lawsuit comes months after The Simpsons featured the issue of piracy in an episode. After being caught by a friend pirating a movie and given some direction, Homer responds, ‘Theaters? All I need to see this movie is a laptop and a website based in a country that’s really just an offshore oil platform.’”
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