April 14, 2010 / 4:53 AM / 9 years ago

Does anybody own Fellini's "La Dolce Vita"?

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - A New York District Court judge has dismissed a lawsuit against the creator of a two-part pornographic remake of Frederico Fellini’s classic film, “La Dolce Vita.” In the process he’s raised questions about whether anybody controls the legendary original.

In 2007, International Media Films sued Lucas Entertainment over “Michael Lucas’ La Dolce Vita,” an adult remake that garnered 14 awards at the gay porn industry’s equivalent of the Oscars (honours included best picture, best actor and best threesome). IMF alleged copyright and trademark infringement.

Fellini’s classic is famous for popularizing the orgy, so it would have been interesting to see a court examine the derivative nature of a porn film. Alas, the case took an unexpected direction that’s just as steamy.

Both parties disputed the chain of title on Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita.”

According to IMF, the original producers of the film assigned the rights in 1962 to Cinemat, S.A., which transferred rights in 1980 to Hor A.G., which transferred rights the following year to Oriental Films, which transferred rights in 1998 to Cinestampa, which then transferred rights in 2001 to IMF. A year later, IMF filed a registration with the US Copyright Office on a restoration copy of the Fellini film.

The defendant argued for an alternative chain of custody that resulted in the picture being controlled by Paramount Pictures. Questions were also raised about the authenticity of the Cinemat-Hor, Hor-Oriental, and Oriental-Cinestampa agreements, pointing to inaccuracies in dates and signatures. Experts on Italian copyright law were meticulous in examining the details.

Interestingly, the film was briefly in the public domain in the mid-1990s and may still be there today. IMF claims it was restored to copyright protection thanks to legislation enacted as part of an international treaty, but the court is dubious.

“In fact, it is possible for the Fellini film to be in the public domain,” writes Judge John Koeltl in his opinion, issued March 31. “It is the plaintiff who bears the burden of proving that its chain of title is valid.”

Judge Koeltl says IMF has failed to show sufficient admissible evidence that it is in fact the copyright owner of the Fellini film. Naturally, the question becomes whether anybody can show indisputable evidence now.

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