The battle between Quentin Tarantino and Miramax over script NFTs is shaping up as one of the most closely-watched in entertainment legal circles. Studio execs are just wrapping their heads around the potential value of movie memorabilia in the digital ecosystem. Last thing they want is actors or producers—or, god forbid, the writers—profiting in this burgeoning space.
If you missed it, Miramax, now run by C.E.O. Bill Block and jointly owned by a Qatari media company and ViacomCBS, sued Tarantino on Tuesday claiming he’s not entitled to sell “non-fungible tokens” of his handwritten Pulp Fiction script pages because Miramax owns the copyright and NFTs aren’t included in the “reserved rights” he negotiated back in the early ‘90s. The complaint, by a six-litigator team at Proskauer Rose, alleges breach of contract, copyright infringement, trademark infringement, and unfair competition.
I’m skeptical about this case because Tarantino specifically held onto the right to “publish” his screenplay. When his team negotiated the deal (agent Mike Simpson and lawyer Carlos Goodman are still with Tarantino today), they were consciously positioning him as an auteur filmmaker whose fans would potentially buy copies of his screenplays, like for Scorsese, Woody Allen and others. Which, over the years, they have, without Miramax objecting. To me, NFTs are just digital publishing.
Now it seems attorney and professor David Nimmer agrees, and I’m told he has joined the Tarantino legal team, alongside lead litigator Bryan Freedman. Nimmer is a big deal, one of the country’s most respected copyright experts, particularly in the entertainment context. He and his late father Melville Nimmer literally wrote the book, Nimmer on Copyright, that is taught in law schools and is probably the most-cited secondary source on copyright law. Given that NFTs are so new, I can see why Nimmer would be interested in this case.
Curiously, Miramax isn’t asking the court for an injunction preventing Tarantino from going forward with his token sales. So my guess is that this entire suit is an attempt to negotiate a piece of those deals in a settlement. But Tarantino is famously stubborn and has deep pockets, so let’s see how far this dispute goes.