Hollywood studio Miramax is suing director Quentin Tarantino for trying to sell artifacts from his iconic film Pulp Fiction as non-fungible tokens (NFT).
Earlier this month, Tarantino announced plans to auction off unique digital versions of items from the 1994 cult classic, including scanned copies of script pages for seven scenes that didn’t make the final cut. The “secret” NFTs will only be viewable by whoever purchases them.
But here’s the five-dollar shake: Miramax claims these NFTs are not Tarantino’s to sell.
The director signed away “nearly all of his rights to Pulp Fiction (and all its elements in all stages of development and production)” to the production company back in 1993, the studio alleges in a lawsuit (pdf) filed on Tuesday (Nov. 15).
After a Nov. 4 cease-and-desist letter failed to deter Tarantino, the production house, co-founded by the disgraced Harvey Weinstein, is dragging him to court for breach of contract, copyright infringement, trademark infringement, and unfair competition.
“Tarantino’s conduct has forced Miramax to bring this lawsuit against a valued collaborator in order to enforce, preserve, and protect its contractual and intellectual property rights relating to one of Miramax’s most iconic and valuable film properties,” says the American entertainment company, which has produced other Tarantino hits like Jackie Brown and Kill Bill: Volumes 1 and 2 as well.
The company doesn’t want anyone else doing what Tarantino is attempting. “Tarantino’s conduct may mislead other creators into believing they have rights to exploit Miramax films through NFTs and other emerging technologies, when in fact Miramax holds those rights for its films,” the lawsuit says.
Pulp Fiction, Tarantino’s second movie after Reservoir Dogs, starred John Travolta, Samuel L Jackson, Uma Thurman, and Bruce Willis. It earned $200 million worldwide.
Before the NFT sale next month, there’s only one way to resolve this legal tug-of-war: Deciding who owns the rights to Pulp Fiction‘s unique digital assets.
According to the contracts, Tarantino’s “reserved rights” include, among other things, “screenplay publication”—the clause the filmmaker’s team’s response to the cease-and-desist letter cited. However, Miramax, which stopped making movies in 2010, argues that Tarantino’s rights “are far too narrow for him to unilaterally produce, market, and sell the Pulp Fiction NFTs.”
In the 1990s, when these contracts were forged, nobody could have predicted this situation. The first ever NFT was created in 2014.
Defining these boundaries is now both tricky and critical. There’s big money on the line. NFTs amassed nearly $11 billion in sales between June and September this year, and Miramax may want to cash in on its own terms.
Already, several studios are placing their bets. For instance, Warner Bros is selling NFTs from The Matrix and Space Jam: A New Legacy. ViacomCBS, which owns a 49% stake in Miramax—Qatar-based beIN Media Group owns the rest—has partnered with NFT platform Recur to market digital collectibles from shows and films across brands like CBS, MTV, Showtime, Paramount Pictures, BET, Nickelodeon, and Comedy Central.
Some think Tarantino has the upper hand. “The novel question is whether a script NFT is covered by the publication right. I think it is. So does the WGA (Writers Guild of America)!,” tweeted David H. Steinberg, executive producer and showrunner of Netflix’s No Good Nick.
The intersection between intellectual property and NFTs remains a gray area, and directors and producers are just two stakeholders. What of the actors appearing in clips, musicians whose scores play in the background, and other talent? This lawsuit could set the tone for what’s to come—an unending stream of legal battles, or an ironclad definition of NFTs related to movies.