Amazon Studios Hit With ‘Road House’ Copyright Infringement Lawsuit Involving AI Abuse Claims

A legal fight is brewing over the upcoming Road House remake, with the original film’s screenwriter suing Amazon Studios.

R. Lance Hill, in a lawsuit filed Tuesday in California federal court, accuses MGM Studios and its parent, Amazon, of copyright infringement for refusing to license his 1986 screenplay after he allegedly clawed back the rights to his work. He seeks a court order blocking the release of the movie.

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According to the complaint, Amazon instituted a self-imposed deadline to complete the remake. To meet this deadline, which was threatened by the actors strike, the suit claims Amazon resorted to using generative artificial intelligence to replicate the voices of the movie’s actors in violation of the collective bargaining agreements of SAG-AFTRA and the Director’s Guild of America.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Amazon MGM Studios said the lawsuit is “completely without merit” and that “numerous allegations are categorically false.”

“The film does not use any AI in place of actors’ voices,” the statement added. “We look forward to defending ourselves against these claims.”

The feud is the latest in a series of lawsuits mostly initiated by authors, who are taking advantage of a provision in copyright law that allows authors to reclaim the rights to their works after waiting a period of time, typically 35 years. It has become a massive thorn in the side of studios that face the prospect of losing franchise rights to iconic works from the 1980s. Litigation has ensued over Predator, Terminator and Friday the 13th, among several other titles and properties, with the majority of the suits settling.

According to the complaint, Hill, who goes by the pseudonym David Lee Henry, moved to recover the copyright to his screenplay on Nov. 10, 2021, meaning that he would claw back the rights to his work in two years. He alleges that MGM and Amazon refused to acknowledge the termination and to license his screenplay.

Instead, the studio “steamrolled ahead with the production of a remake of the 1989 Film derived from Hill’s Screenplay,” states the complaint, which notes that the movie was not completed until late January 2024, “well after the effective date of Hill’s statutory termination.”

Hill stresses that he wrote the screenplay “on spec,” meaning that he wrote it on his own volition in the hope of finding an interested buyer. United Artists, which was acquired by MGM, bought it, culminating with the release of the film starring Patrick Swayze in 1989.

The studios, however, objected to the termination, asserting that the screenplay qualifies as a work-made-for-hire under Hill’s loan-out entity Lady Amos, the suit says.

Although his deal, drafted by United Artists, said that the screenplay was written as a “work-made-for-hire” for Lady Amos, Hill argues that language was included as normal practice whenever transacting with an author’s loan-out entity regardless of the true circumstances of a work’s creation.

Works-made-for-hire are exempt from being clawed back under the U.S. Copyright Act.

According to the complaint, the upcoming remake exploits Hill’s 1986 screenplay.

“In summary, both the Screenplay and the 2024 Remake tell the story of Dalton, a master of various fighting disciplines who is hired to be a bouncer at a bar crawling with troublemakers,” writes Marc Toberoff, a lawyer for Hill, in the complaint. “With a body covered in scars but in peak physical condition, Dalton exudes a studied nature when it comes to his work, a sort of Art of War approach to being a bouncer.”

Hill was given a “story by” credit on the remake, as well as the credit “Based on the motion picture ‘Road House,‘ Screenplay by David Lee Henry.”

Hill seeks a court order that his 1986 screenplay does not constitute a “work-made-for-hire,” that his termination notice is valid and that Amazon Studios infringed on his copyright to his screenplay.

Prior to the filing of the lawsuit, director Doug Liman took issue with Amazon’s refusal to release the film in theaters and send it straight to its Prime Video streaming platform, like it did with Ben Affleck’s Air. He said he will boycott the movie’s premiere.

“MGM/Amazon seems intent on burying Road House (2024) in a streaming slot rather than releasing it on the big screen where great movies and movie stars belong,” Hill said in a statement. “They might as well erect a sign out front advising: TALENT BEWARE, NOT WELCOME HERE.”

In a statement, Toberoff stressed that studios continue to undermine the rights of creators.

“The asset base of all major entertainment studios is content, without it they have nothing,” he said. “It is time they respect the fundamental rights and artistry of creators on whose sweat and toil their empires are based.”

Properties in which authors have prevailed in clawing back the rights to their works include Friday the 13th and Jerry Siegel’s Superman.

In 2022, Paramount was hit with a lawsuit over the rights to Top Gun by the heirs of author of the 1983 California magazine story on which the original movie is based.

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