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Netflix must face revived 'Tiger King' copyright claim, US appeals court says

Post Time:2024-03-28 Source:Reuters Author: Blake Brittain Views:

March 27 (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court on Wednesday revived part of a cameraman's copyright lawsuit against Netflix (NFLX.O) over the use of clips from his videos in its hit documentary series "Tiger King."

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver rejected an Oklahoma federal court's determination, opens new tab that Netflix made fair use of one of Timothy Sepi's videos in the show, though it affirmed that the streaming service had the right to use seven others.

Representatives for Netflix and Sepi did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the decision.

"Tiger King," a true crime series set in the world of private zoos and their eccentric owners, became a hit for the streaming service on its release in March 2020. The show focused largely on Joe Exotic, the owner of an Oklahoma animal park who was later convicted of wildlife crimes and hiring hitmen in an attempt to kill big-cat rescue activist Carole Baskin.

Exotic, whose given name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage, hired Sepi as a cameraman for the park in 2015. Sepi left the job in 2016.

Sepi sued Netflix and "Tiger King" producer Royal Goode Productions in 2020, seeking monetary damages for using eight of his video clips in the series without his permission. U.S. District Judge Timothy DeGiusti determined in 2022 that Netflix had rights to seven clips Sepi created as a park employee and that it made fair use of an eighth clip, of a eulogy Exotic gave at his husband's funeral, that Sepi filmed independently.

A three-judge 10th Circuit panel affirmed Netflix's rights to the clips Sepi made for the park, but said DeGiusti should not have found before a trial that Netflix made fair use of the eulogy video.

The appeals court cited a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on Andy Warhol's art in finding that Netflix's use may not have been "transformative" enough to be fair use.

Netflix's "purported commentary did not 'comment' on the original composition, but rather targeted a character in the composition," Chief U.S. Circuit Judge Jerome Holmes said. "And Warhol has deemed such a use to not be sufficiently transformative."

DeGiusti also erred in finding that Netflix's use would not harm the market for Sepi's work, Holmes said.

The case is Whyte Monkee Productions LLC v. Netflix Inc, 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 22-6086.