‘Fifty Shades Of Grey’ Porn Lawsuit Heats Up: Is The XXX Adaptation Illegal?

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February 2, 2013 6:26 AM EST

It looks like the porn industry may be in for some hard core discipline, courtesy of Universal Pictures.

The studio is attempting to shut down the Smash Pictures porn adaptation of E.L. James' “Fifty Shades of Grey” because they believe the film is a threat to their own adaptation of the kinky BDSM tale.

Deadline reports that the studio and Fifty Shades Ltd, which holds the rights to the bestseller, are asking for a preliminary injunction against “Fifty Shades Of Grey: A XXX Adaptation.”

“Plaintiffs ask this Court to enjoin the marketing, sale, and distribution of Defendants’ infringing adaptation of the Fifty Shades Trilogy," reads the lawsuit, "a quickly and cheaply produced pornographic work that is likely to cause Plaintiffs irreparable harm by poisoning public perception of the Fifty Shades Trilogy and the forthcoming Universal films."

Universal cites the Copyright Act in the request and are thoroughly concerned with protecting their massive investment in the forthcoming adaptation.

FSL licensed (the rights to the film) to Universal for purposes of film adaptations of the ‘Fifty Shades Trilogy,’ after determining that Universal was the studio best equipped to ensure that the motion pictures faithfully and convincingly portray the books’ passionate love story. In turn, Universal paid valuable consideration for exclusive motion picture rights and has invested or will invest substantial resources in producing high-quality film adaptations that will satisfy fans of the novels while also presenting the trilogy’s romantic story to a broader audience.”

Universal initially called the adult film “blatant trademark infringement” in a lawsuit filed back in November.

Many pornagraphic films can legally riff on mainstream films of same or similar names, as parody is protected by Fair Use. But Universal insists that Smash Pictures' project does not qualify for such protections.

“The first XXX adaptation is not a parody, and it does not comment on, criticize, or ridicule the originals. It is a rip-off, plain and simple,” the studio claimed in the lawsuit.

While adult flicks like “Pulp Friction” or “Lord of the G-Strings” merely use a rephrased title of previous works, the XXX version of “Fifty Shades” is said to feature “exact dialogue, characters, events, story and style from the ‘Fifty Shades trilogy.”

Smash Pictures' catalogue includes porn parodies of various Hollywood hits like “Bridesmaids” and “Halloween,” which have strikingly different storylines than the film’s they’re based on.

It’s clear from the “Fifty Shades” trailer that the film is indeed faithful to the series—incorporating narrative and dialogue from the first “Fifty Shades of Grey” and its sequel “Fifty Shades Darker.”

According to Gano Lemoine, an entertainment lawyer who specializes in copyright law and fair use, Universal has a valid case.

“Copyright law does not protect the idea of a work, only the specific execution of the idea - the specific language used by the author, or the specific characters, plot, plot points and transitions, etc,” Lemoine said in an email. “So while copyright law protects the specific execution of those elements, the Constitution's First Amendment allows others to make their own execution of the same general idea.

“That ability to make an individualized execution of a general idea is what allows seemingly similar porn versions of mainstream movies,” he added.

“But if the porn version too closely adopts - or even plagiarizes - the specific elements of the original work - dialog, characters, plot and plot points, transitions, etc., that version may stray too far from its First Amendment freedom and into the territory of copyright infringement.”

The film, which was released in September, is currently listed as “unavailable” on Amazon but may be purchased on smaller sites like Holistic Wisdom.

In May, Universal shelled out $5 million for the rights to the book after an all-out bidding war between such top studios as Warner Brothers and Sony Pictures. In July, Michael De Luca and Dana Brunetti, the team behind “The Social Network,” were chosen to produce the film: A job they had to compete against the likes of Brian Grazer and Michael Shamberg to get.

It was announced in October that Kelly Marcel, who penned the highly anticipated “Saving Mr. Banks,” was hired to write the film’s screenplay.

Ironically, “Fifty Shades” began as “Twilight” fanfiction and contains several characters (though their names were altered) and plot points from the popular franchise—leading some to call it “Fifty Shades of Plagiarism.”

Yet “Twilight” author Stephenie Meyer has publically declared her support for the erotic trilogy and Summit Entertainment, the studio behind the film adaptations of the series, has taken no legal action against it.

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