Hank Azaria freed from copyright infringement claims by ruling

It’s not mandatory for a Los Angeles artist to register a copyright to have legal protection. Intellectual property laws cover registered and unregistered copyrights, but physical evidence comes in handy. Visible proof of a copyright beats a spoken claim when there’s a dispute over copyright infringement.

Actor and voice talent Hank Azaria proactively filed a lawsuit aimed at preventing legal arguments over a character creation. Azaria’s baseball-announcer character, named Jim Brockmire, was used in a widely-seen 2010 Funny or Die video. The actor wanted a court to confirm the character and copyright belonged to him.

Another voice talent and one-time friend of Azaria’s, Craig Bierko, argued in court that the baseball character and the character’s voice originally were his. A judge disagreed with Bierko. The court felt Bierko’s claim was “vague” and unproven, compared to Azaria’s well-defined, colorful character.

The two men met at a party in 1990 and connected over their separate versions of a sports-announcer character. Interest and expressions of the announcer characters continued another seven years before Azaria brought up the idea of using a sports character for commercial purposes. Azaria apparently shelved plans when Bierko rejected the idea.

Azaria’s 2012 claim was meant to fend off any legal arguments and it did. The judge ruled Azaria’s owned the Brockmire copyright exclusively. The decision clears the way for Brockmire to be used in a possible feature film.

The court said the Jim Brockmire character was distinct from work Bierko could prove he’d created. Bierko’s sports-announcer did not display unique attributes. Bierko also could not establish his character was fixed in a tangible medium or protected under an implied contract.

Idea sharing may fuel the creative spirit, but it can be a mistake. You’ve heard the expression “take an idea and run with it.” For copyright safety, handing off ideas casually is not recommended in case someone else decides to profit from them.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter, “Hank Azaria Wins Lawsuit Over Funny Baseball Announcer Character” Eriq Gardner, Feb. 24, 2014