Sunday, April 1, 2012

HBO Files Series of Lawsuits in Landmark Intellectual Property Rights Battle

Key Script Elements for "Game of Thrones" and "Boardwalk Empire" Have Been Pirated and Leaked by Literary and Textbook Publishers

NEW YORK, N.Y. (Bennington Vale Evening Transcript) -- Home Box Office (HBO), the second largest premium cable television network in America, is known for its innovation and history of firsts. HBO pioneered the creation of original programming in the paid television space, building a storied canon of made-for-cable series that have consistently received wide acclaim for their theatrical quality and artistic excellence. The appeal of HBO's shows has also led the company to lucrative syndication deals. But executives from Time Warner, HBO's parent, have become increasingly concerned about intellectual property theft, copyright infringement, and the protection of their content. "Now, more than ever, it's about anti-piracy and plagiarism," said HBO Films' Junior Assistant Vice President Tom Alena. As a result, HBO attorneys launched a series of lawsuits Friday against publishers whom they accused of stealing their original content -- among them, Bantam Books and educational textbook publisher Houghton Mifflin.

"Even at the smallest levels, spoilers are jeopardizing this industry," Alena remarked, adding that last year, hours before the airing of the pivotal second-to-last Game of Thrones episode, reports of Lord Stark's beheading had appeared online. He feels more action should be taken, and new enforcements established, to protect the content of the shows.

"Divulging the plot secrets we worked hard to conceal -- which we contractually obligate our actors not to discuss -- is as large an offense as reproducing our works without permission. Our profits plummet, we can't recoup the losses for the production costs, and then we're forced to raise our rates. Beyond obvious intellectual property theft, we're hoping these suits will set a precedent to prosecute the shut-in, attention-starved pariahs who print spoilers."

But the lawsuit primarily seeks sweeping penalties for traditional copyright infringement claims, which HBO believes have become more prevalent and more brazen in recent years. Two of the most popular series threatened by intellectual property theft are Boardwalk Empire and Game of Thrones.

Game of Thrones begins its anticipated second season Sunday night, but Alena warned that the shocking revelations to come might already have been compromised. He said: "The creator of the story, George R. R. Martin, and his team of scriptwriters have spent years cobbling together this masterpiece for their fans. And for what?"

According to Alena, an HBO intern on a weekend shopping errand discovered five novels under the Bantam Books label that reproduced, verbatim, the entire Game of Thrones saga.

"And these books are everywhere -- Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Walmart. Those bastards didn't bother to change the character names, the settings, or the dialog," Alena fumed. "They only altered the title...something stupid and pretentious like 'Fire and Ice Music.' I've never seen such hubris, but this could ruin us. Anyone with the fortitude to shop at Walmart now has access to the next four years of 'Thrones'...before the episodes have even been filmed."

Time Warner directly named three publishing houses in the litigation: Bantam Books (North America), Voyager Books (United Kingdom and Australia) and AST (Russia). All three companies have pirated and published HBO's medieval fantasy epic under the title A Song of Fire and Ice.

HBO also plans to go after textbook publishers McGraw-Hill, Houghton Mifflin, and Little Brown for the lesser crime of divulging spoilers that will negatively impact the return of award-winning Boardwalk Empire. According to the suit, these companies have extensively revealed critical plot elements that could destroy the franchise.

"It's all in there," Alena explained. "Key details about developing characters like Al Capone and President Warren Harding, the complete history of Atlantic City, and even the outcome of Prohibition -- the driving force behind the show's plot. So, again, there's really no surprise in store for fans if they happen upon one of these awful books."

Lawyers for Time Warner are seeking a court injunction to remove the books from store shelves and schools until the case can be tried before a jury. They are also proposing legislative reforms for the publishing and film industries. Lawyers for the named defendants have declined to comment.