Satanic Copyright Infringement Case

by Goeun Son

When you go through possible copyright infringements in your film, issues don’t always arise from a screenplay, background music, or songs. Sometimes a prop that shows up behind actors can be also a possible copyright infringement for its design.

If you subscribe to Netflix (I believe lots of you do), you may have heard of the new series, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina that was just launched on Netflix. This fantasy and horror drama, targeting the Halloween season, is based on the Archie comic. At this time, however, it was not adaptation, but a statue shown in one of scenes that became a copyright issue.

In the show, Sabrina Spellman attends The Academy of Unseen Arts. At the school, a statue of goat deity Baphomet is shown several times. And The Satanic Temple was not happy about that. TST’s co-founder Lucien Greaves posted on Twitter, saying the temple is taking legal action against the series “for appropriating our copyrighted monument design to promote their asinine Satanic Panic fiction.” He also shared an image of the two statues next to one another.

Some may argue that that design was already created very long time ago in 1856 by the French occultist Eliphas Levi. He envisaged a winged hermaphrodite with a torch between his horns and a pentagram on his forehead. He drew two fingers on the right hand point up and two on the left hand point down. And two children stand at both sides looking up at the figure. That became the most common representation.

TST claims it has expended efforts in the design and creation of their particular expression of Baphomet, the goat-headed deity. Thus, it argues, this statue is an original work and has been associated exclusively with TST all around the world.

I would say the issue is whether TST’s statue is original. If you still remember the last post, an original work 1) must be independently created and 2) has to have minimum quantum of creativity. Since Levi’s first drawing came out more than 150 years ago, it must be considered under public domain. Everyone can easily get access to the image and copy it for free. This image spreads everywhere. As a lay person, I also came across that image in movies and books. For this reason, I doubt that TST came up with the design independently. In addition, religion-related groups like TST may have been used to seeing satan or occult images. It doesn’t matter how much effort, as TST argued, it put in creation of the statue. There existed a rule called “sweat of brow”, which is not in use anymore. An author obtained copyright because of the effort, time and money invested by the creator. But now under “minimum creativity” rule, the author needs to show his or her creativity.

Although it may have nothing to do with copyright, as I’m far from the occult world, that image doesn’t even remind me of TST, unlike its argument (it’s founded in 2012!).

The takeaway is you need to check every possible copyright infringement in your work. But I think even Netflix and Warners may not expected that the commonly-used image would be the copyright issue.

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