SATAN sues NETFLIX and WARNER BROS. for COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT for $150 MILLION!

Wow, if that isn’t a click-bait headline, I don’t know what is…but it’s true!

Well, technically, Satan isn’t suing anyone…but rather his followers are suing on behalf of the First of the Fallen for illegal use of his likeness.  Seriously!

Okay, I admit this has nothing to do with Star Trek or fan films, and on its face, this seems like a ridiculous, frivolous lawsuit barely worthy of anyone’s attention.  It doesn’t even have a Tardigrade!

But the further I followed this lawsuit down the rabbit hole (not all the way down—I don’t really want to go there), the more more intriguing it got!  This isn’t as frivolous as you might think, folks.  Personally, I find copyright law fascinating, and when I discover a juicy case like this one, I just can’t help but cover it.

So if you don’t mind indulging me diverting slightly off course from fan films for a short bit, I’d like to tell you a little about THE SATANIC TEMPLE of Salem, Massachusetts and why these Satanists are accusing two multi-billion dollar corporations of stealing their intellectual property (and their deity) and irreparably harming them to the tune of $150 million!

THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS

This lawsuit actually got a lot of media coverage last week when The Satanic Temple (TST), based in Salem, MA, made good on its threat to sue Netflix and Warner Bros. for illegal use of a statue of their demon deity, Baphomet, in the new streaming television horror series The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.

Now, you might be thinking, “Wait, religious celestial beings can’t be copyrighted!”  And you’d be right.  God, the Devil, Buddha, Moses, Mohammed, the Flying Spaghetti Monster…these aren’t exactly ownable and licensable.  But stop for a moment.  Thor is the god of thunder, but he is also a Marvel superhero.  Marvel doesn’t own all versions of Thor appearing throughout history, but Marvel DOES own the representation of Thor that appears in their comic books and movies.

And that’s what TST is claiming.

Back in 2013, members and managers of TST spent about $100,000 to design, commission, and build a 7-foot tall bronze statue of Baphomet, with a goat’s head and horns, human torso, angel wings, hoofed feet, and two children gazing up at Baphomet on his throne.  One child was a girl of Angl0-Saxon descent, and the other was a boy with African heritage.  Like Marvel’s character of Thor, it was a unique and personal depiction of their version of Baphomet, and TST actually copyrighted and trademarked the work.

Skip ahead five years to October of 2018, and the folks at Warner Bros. had decided to create a new television horror series linked to their popular Riverdale program on the CW, this one featuring Sabrina (the teenaged witch) and distributed through the Netflix subscription streaming service.

The “bad guys” in this show worship Satan, perform human sacrifice, and practice cannibalism…among other nefarious evil deeds.  Sabrina battles Satan and his religious zealot followers throughout the ten episodes of the series released so far.

In four of those episodes, scenes take place inside the Academy of Unseen Arts, a school for witches, which includes a statue of their leader Satan.  Take a look at the statue they created for the show…

A still frame from “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina”

Look familiar?  Here, let me provide a side-by-side comparison of the show statue to the original plaster cast of the statue that TST to sculpt the bronze one…

TOP: the original TST Baphomet statue BOTTOM: the Sabrina statue of Satan

While there are some extremely subtle differences (the curve of the wings, the thickness of the snakes on over the stomach), it’s obviously a VERY similar statue.  And when TST saw the trailers for the new series and saw a clip with the statue in it, they immediately contacted their attorneys at D’Agostino, Levine, Landesman & Lederman, LLP and notified Netflix and Warner of copyright violation and demands for corrective action on the part of the the two corporations…including pulling the series off of Netflix until the statue could be digitally removed from the episodes in which it appears (no easy task!).  The notification, sent on October 26, 2018, was ignored.  Eleven days later, a lawsuit for $150 million in damages was filed by TST.

SO WHAT THE DEVIL IS THEIR PROBLEM?

Yeah, I know what you’re probably thinking: “So they got their statue on TV…why is that such a bad thing?  It’s free publicity.  Just ask for a small licensing fee, take the money, and go back to whatever it is Satanists do.  Why make a Federal case out of it and demand $150 million?

To understand the answer to that question, we need to first take a closer look at TST and what they (and their statue) represent.  It’s not what you think…!

First and most importantly, the group does NOT “worship Satan”—at least not the Prince of Darkness, Lord of Lies, evil seducer of the innocent, soul-stealing torturer of the guilty Satan that most of us usually think of.  Instead, they see Satan as a sort of freedom fighter for justice.  Yes, really.  Here’s what they say in their legal filing…

Satan, for TST, is a literary figure symbolic of the eternal rebel in opposition, rather than the personalization of evil. To TST, “Satan” is the literary Satan, meant to be a rebel against God’s authority, rather than an evil being, best exemplified by Milton and the Romantic Satanists, from Blake to Shelley to Antole France.

In short, rather than dancing naked around bonfires during the summer solstice and practicing evil witchcraft (basically the sort of thing that is being presented in the Sabrina series), they’re pretty much just libertarians.  Here’s what their members believe…

  • Undue suffering is bad, and that which reduces suffering is good.
  • One should strive to act with compassion and empathy towards all creatures in accordance with reason.
  • The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions.
  • One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.
  • The freedoms of others should be respected including the freedom to offend. To willfully and unjustly encroach upon the freedoms of another is to forgo one’s own.
  • Beliefs should conform to one’s best scientific understanding of the world.
  • People are fallible. If one makes a mistake, one should do one’s best to rectify it and resolve any harm that might have been caused.
  • Every tenet is a guiding principal designed to inspire nobility in action and thought. The spirit of compassion, wisdom and justice should always prevail over the written or spoken word.

TST is politically aware and has, among other things, opposed The Westboro Baptist Church, advocated on behalf of children in public schools to abolish corporal punishment, and has applied for equal representation where religious monuments are placed on public property.  In connection with its mission, TST believes that the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States mandates that the United States Government treat all religions equally.

Now, you might not agree with everything in the above list, but it’s certainly not what most people think of when they think of Satanists.  And therein lies the problem with Sabrina.

TST has spent many years building their reputation—their “brand,” if you will—which includes the Baphomet statue.  When first conceived, the statue was in response to a 6-foot monument of the Ten Commandments that had been installed in front of the Oklahoma City Statehouse by state representative Mike Ritze (partially paid for with $10,000 of his own money).   The reasoning given by Ritze was to promote the expression of religious freedom in America.  But others saw it as a blatant violation of the separation of church and state.  The American Civil Liberties Union sued, but TST had a different approach.

In a “well, two can play at this game” move, TST commissioned an even larger statue showing Baphomet in all his pentagram-wearing glory, created with two adoring children looking up at him.  TST brought the statue with them to the Oklahoma statehouse and placed it next to the Ten Commandments.  After all, Oklahoma was all about promoting the expression of religious freedom, right?  Well, that certainly would include Satanists as well as Christians…at least according to TST.

Their petition was quickly rejected by the state of Oklahoma, but the message still got through.  Shortly thereafter,  the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that the Ten Commandments monument violated the state constitution.

TST then brought Baphomet to Arkansas where yet another monument to the Ten Commandments had been erected.  It was quickly removed from there, as well, but a legal challenge to the original monument is still working its way through the courts.  Again, Baphomet did his job by delivering a message that was distinctly uncomfortable to some: religious freedom and equality must apply to ALL religions…not just the ones you like.  However, the strength of their message relied on a positive reputation of the Satanists as good, well-meaning people.  Rebels, yes, but not evil cannibals practicing witchcraft and human sacrifice.  The latter would make it much easier to justify rejecting their statue as promoting values harmful to the common good.

Unfortunately, using their Baphomet statue in Sabrina to represent the deity of a group of evil cannibals practicing witchcraft and human sacrifice had the potential to undermine all that TST had and could potentially accomplish in the future.

In other words, it’s not just about the copyright violation.  There’s some other real-world damages in play here.  (That’s why I find this case so fascinating!)

DID SABRINA REALLY STEAL THEIR STATUE?

Ultimately, that would be a question for a jury…just like the jury who had to decide if Led Zeppelin’s opening riff to Stairway to Heaven was illegally pilfered from the song Taurus by Spirit, or the jury that would have decided if Ray Parker, Jr. lifted the riff for the Ghostbusters theme song from Huey Lewis’ I Want a New Drug.

However, just like my Thor analogy above, while the god of thunder has been represented in many forms over the centuries, only Marvel ever portrayed him in the costume on the right…

The same is true for Baphomet.  His first visual representation was a drawing by Eliphas Levi, published in Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie (“Dogma and Rituals of High Magic”) in 1854.  He described Baphomet as “The Sabbatic Goat” with wings, hooves, male arms but female breasts—both beast and human, man and woman, angel and mortal.

Eliphas Levi’s drawing of Baphomet in 1854

Since then, most drawings of Baphomet included the large breasts (’cause who doesn’t like big breasts, right…even on a satanic goat?).  But the TST version has a distinctly male torso.  Also, the TST statue has the two children at the base—one Caucasian and one African—gazing up at the deity.  That is also unique.  Both of the above elements (male torso and kids) appear in the Sabrina statue, as well.

Coincidence?

The production designer for the Sabrina series, Lisa Soper, not surprisingly said as much in an interview a few days after Warner and Netflix were notified of the copyright infringement by TST…

I think that’s kind of a coincidence.  When you look at Baphomet, there’s really only a couple of statues of him—which, they have their statue, and we’ve got our statue in the show.  If you look at Goya paintings, if you look at a lot of the tarot cards, or the Alistair Crawley iterations of him—because there’s hundreds and hundreds of iterations of him, he’s always seen with his people around him and it’s more of like a father figure kind of thing. So depicting his children with him, that kind of stuff, and those kinds of elements are all kind of the same.  But it’s no different from, in my opinion anyhow… from any other of the mass amounts of iterations of him that have been around.

Will a jury buy it?  The defense would need to come up with some examples to support the above claims…including images of Baphomet without breasts and with children.  According to the legal filing by TST, such pieces of art—either drawn or sculpted—simply do not exist.  And of course, likely Ms. Soper would need to testify under oath that her version of the Baphomet statue was not influenced in any way by TST’s statue…and lying under oath is  felony.

SO WHAT’S GONNA HAPPEN NEXT?

I’m not surprised that Netflix and Warner’s first response was to not respond at all.  After all, just crossing their fingers and hoping the Satanists go away costs them nothing.

And that’s why I’m also not surprised that TST went ahead and not only sued for copyright infringement (at $50 million) but also “false designation of original, false description, and forbidden dilution under trademark dilution” (basically accusing them of saying falsely that the Baphomet was created by their fictional bad guys rather than TST, who owned the copyright—it would be like saying on your TV show that Star Trek was created and owned by George Lucas).  So that claim was an additional $50 million.  And just for good measure, tack on damages for injury to business reputation for another—you guessed it!—$50 million.

So, with a $150 million price tag in the complaint (you can read it all here), Netflix and Warner Bros. could no longer use the “hope it goes away” approach.  Now it’s unlikely that a jury would award the whole $150 million, but just playing devil’s advocate, it’s hard to imagine that TST wouldn’t still win the lawsuit considering how similar the Sabrina statue is to theirs.  At the very least, it’d be a huge risk to Netflix and Warner and could, if they lose, potentially force them to remove four episodes of a popular series from their streaming service.

So I am completely NOT surprised by the latest development: settlement talks.  On Friday, a spokesperson for TST told Business Insider that the group was in “the process of finalizing an amicable settlement with Warner Bros. now.”  What that settlement will look like is unclear, and we may never know the full details (most legal settlements remain confidential).  I suspect there will be some money paid to TST—perhaps a fair amount—and I would not be surprised to see Warner and Netflix either have to digitally remove the statue from those four episodes or, more likely and less costly, reshoot those scenes with a different statue and replace the previous versions.

Whatever happens—settlement or trial—this is gonna cost Warner and Netflix…either in legal fees, a jury award, or post-post-production expenses.  The only question is which cost they want to deal with.  But with settlement talks going on right now, we should know something soon.  Stay tuned!

25 thoughts on “SATAN sues NETFLIX and WARNER BROS. for COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT for $150 MILLION!”

  1. Lets hope Satan wins in this case. On the surface it looks strong plus the complainants seem to have the deep pockets and the time required to drag it through the courts and of course the longer those images are out the more damage is being done and the larger the payout will be.

    It seems fitting that the studios are getting a taste of their own medicine perhaps the should employ Alex Peters as a consultant in the matter?

    Not strictly on topic but the chilling adventures was very yawn worthy and I gave up halfway through the first episode. I don’t know if just me or if the ratings bore out my own taste in the matter. As to reboots did anyone see charmed it looks as if they employed Chinballs the DW showrunner to sprinkle his heavy handed SJW and Diversity “Magic” over it another one I couldnt get through the first episode.

    What is it with the studios? these are highly educated people in a multi billion dollar industry and they can’t come up with something original for the image of Satan? Perhaps this is just a symptom of a wider issue I am trying to think of a reboot which was as good as the original series and indeed with Sabrina you are talking a low bar here but the last Sci Fi / fantasy series I can think of was BSG. Sadly I include Discovery in this though I do have hopes for series 2.

    Could it be that the Sci Fi community has higher standards? On the whole with some notable exceptions and perhaps because of its very nature it attracts Intelligent, creative and open minded people. These “Satanists” are not promoting evil or sitting down to a meal of roast babies but trying to promote tolerance and religious freedom. Values slap bang in the wheelhouse of most Sci Fi even Robert A Heinlein wrote books touching these issues though admittedly from a more political standpoint.

    This laziness in not checking copyright for an image something I would imagine is Show business 101 is a symptom of a greater malaise in the industry they simply don’t care about quality. It is not as if they are not capable of producing Good Sci Fi/ Fantasy GOT and The Expanse come to mind it just seems they don’t care.

    1. Don’t underestimate the pressure a production designer is under to deliver graphically compelling content in a short period of time for little budget. Sometimes shortcuts are taken. In this case, though, the cut was too short and the designer left her designated lane and might get penalized.

  2. Well there exists a third presumably less costly option right? Bring TST into the fold both in terms of writing and presenting the TST’s view on the show and turn this from a negative into a positive, having the show present TST’s Satanism on the show, better than the show going ahead without TST’s statue but still demonising Satanism right?

    You could have in show the TST coming in joining forces with Sabrina and working to defeat the “bad guys” version of Satanism, showing the “bad guys” the error of their ways and how they have corrupted Satanism and their statue. No reshoots needed, no post-post-production needed, and everyone wins big, simples!

      1. Well now sounds like the perfect time to start! Do Hollywood television programmes bring in scientists to help them with the scientific aspects of their shows?

        But yes, I was just pondering whether financial compensations would do enough given that damage has already been done, and thus a public acknowledgement of their wrong doing by presenting the TST pov in the show could help alleviate that and actually bring in some factual content to the show :).

        1. I just don’t think Warner is looking to bring in a real-world organization into a fantasy-horror TV show…especially one as controversial as TST. They aren’t necessarily good guys either. They are political activists who like to stir the pot but also have gone a little overboard at times in protesting. I would doubt that anyone even passingly familiar with them would believe they would go after an occult group practicing real magic. They’d get slaughtered. And to represent TST as some kind of Talamasca (a reference to Anne Rice’s “Vampire” series) or magic-resistance group does as much damage to their reputation as what is happening now. They are not Knights Templar or Vampire Slayers or whatever. They are simply libertarians who believe in less authority and more freedom and also in maintaining a separation of church and state.

          And finally, when shows work with scientists to get scientific input or doctors to get medical guidance or lawyers for legal consultation on plot lines, it’s to augment stories that have already been written by staff writers. What you are suggesting seems more like bringing on TST to help write the stories…and Hollywood ain’t gonna do that. Heck, even well-trained, experienced writers who’ve been in the industry for decades have to constantly hustle to find work. They ain’t gonna let outsiders flutter in out of nowhere and start dictating plot lines. 🙂

          1. Well not dictate plot lines, but as you say, to augment stories. It just strikes me from what you have written (and all I know about this comes from what you have written), that the show slanders Satanists by continuing a false (judging by what you have written) stereotype of Satanists.

            When I write about the TST POV in the show, I don’t mean you actually need the real TST appear in it, but more as a general direction of that, something like that, invent a new group of Satanists who come in and change things up a bit. Buffy did this a lot, you had plenty of good demons presented in the show for instance. You even had characters like Spike who started off evil and then became good and saved the world.

            But yeah, I don’t mean to tell the writers how to do it, just to illustrate that the possibility of a 3rd option exists that could lead to a Win-Win for both sides depending on what clever solution the writers can come up with that would appease the TST.

          2. I doubt Warner wants its writers held hostage to the whims of an outside group that must approve their new storylines in order not to sue, Jack. When when I worked as a creative director, my greatest frustration was the client who said, “No, that’s not it either. I can’t tell you exactly what it is that I’m looking for, but I’ll know it when I see it.” Those kinds of clients need to either be educated or fired ASAP…for the sake of everyone’s budget (unless money is no object to them, in which case, sure…we’ll just keep throwing darts in the dark room until we hit your invisible target). 🙂

            No, my friend, I strongly suspect that Warner wants this problem to go away as quickly and cleanly as possible. If it costs $5 million or $10 million to make that happen, so be it. But the last thing they likely want right now is to be in bed with these Satanic a-holes one second longer than necessary.

  3. I’m guessing that it will be a windfall for STS and the statue will have to be digitally replaced. My question is who will get canned for it?

    1. The most obvious choice for firing would be the production designer…however, it’s not a given. Good PDs are hard to find, and once they’ve set an art direction for the look of a show, the tendency is to keep them on. Look, it’s obvious that she “borrowed” (heavily) from a statue she’d seen from doing some Internet research. And the assumption that the statue was NOT trademarked or copyrighted was a fair one to make. Most statues of Jesus or Buddha (not Mohammed—can’t represent him visually!) or Krishna or any of countless saints are typically not considered intellectual property. The Vatican never bothered trademarking the David or The Last Supper. Religions typically don’t bother doing so. Thus, this was an “honest mistake” made in the course of doing many things for the show simultaneously. Yeah, Ms. Soper screwed up, and it’ll cost Warner. But that doesn’t mean she’s got a target on her back.

      1. And here I’d feel guilty when I’d fry a few hundred dollars worth of PC. I guess crap happens whether it’s myself and a laptop, my father with a ~$300k carbon fiber wing, or this Ms. Soper and her statue. It has to hurt though.

  4. “Devil’s Advocate”. Ha, ha, Johnathan. Very funny. 🙂

    I heard about the case about a week ago, and it IS interesting. For starters, it’s not like Hollywood’s treatment and depiction of Satanic churches and cults has been overly obsessed with ACCURACY. Satan-like groups make great villains in these shows, sort of like Nazis, and this particular religion and it’s offshoots have commonly been thrown if you need a convenient bad guy with chants, robes, and dark halls lit with a bazillion candles and decorated with pools of blood and a stone altar.

    Hell, if Satanists don’t work, they also like to show an equal desire(snort!) to display an accurate depiction of voodoo.

    It’s funny that this involves a show about “Hollywood witchcraft”(Wicca, unless it’s evil) because this reminds me of the depictions of witchcraft in Buffy. When people think of witchcraft in the Buffyverse, they tend to think of the whole Tara/Willow coupling and the generally POSITIVE depiction. A lot of people may have forgotten that the FIRST depiction of witchcraft was a more conventional portrayal involving Amy Madison(In the appropriately titled “Witch”) whereas the character was body-swapped with her vain mother. This mother apparently decided that Wanda Holloway(portrayed in “The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom”) was a role model and decided to sabotage cheerleader tryouts in a network-safe fashion. Needless to say, she was defeated, imprisoned in a statue, and Amy made several return appearances to eventually become a villain.

    I can’t comment about shows like “Charmed” and the film and series “The Craft” because I haven’t seen them.

    Jesus, this is like shopping at Costco. The post was NEVER supposed to be this long.

    1. Yeah, I don’t usually set out to write 2,400-word blogs either. It just happens!

      As for witches–sometimes they’re good, sometimes they’re bad. Just look at Samantha Stevens and her family. Mostly well-meaning witches and warlocks, some more tolerant of mortals than others, meddling in Samantha’s and Darren’s marriage but never permanently harming him. And let’s not forget Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Sure, you’ve got your Voldemorts, Grindlewalds, and Death Eaters, but most of the wizarding world of Harry Potter is fairly benign for us muggles. 🙂

  5. I need you to know that you should go after both of the company that you have put down here of the names. They should not use no part of your art work when you work hard to keep it in your name, and get a lot of the money that you should have got from the start back in the first time it came out of that year.

      1. “Why the devil…?” Har-de-har har.

        There you go again, Jonathan.

        Seriously, is this on purpose? 🙂

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