Zlotoff retained the right to make a movie based on the show via his "separated rights" under WGA rules and is producing a film adaptation of the original series that's in development at New Line, The Hollywood Reporter’s Esq. blog notes. However, Relativity Media's MacGruber is already set for release in April via Universal. Now it's reported that Zlotoff's attorney has begun sending cease-and-desist letters to Relativity execs.
The case presents a potentially interesting twist on typical parody situations because the MacGyver and MacGruber films are being developed simultaneously and the parody will hit theaters before the original, as THRE notes.
"We feel they're infringing our rights," Zlotoff lawyer Paul Mayersohn told THRE. As the film's April 23 release date approaches, Mayersohn says he's meeting with litigators to determine a course of action, which might include filing a copyright and/or trademark lawsuit and attempting to get an injunction against the film's release.
Mayersohn told THRE an unfair competition claim could be part of a Zlotoff lawsuit, but litigator sources told the blog he still faces an uphill battle on free speech grounds.
"There's a broad right to parody, and in this instance it's clearly parody," Alonzo Wickers, a First Amendment attorney, told THRE. "I don't think a viewer will believe the MacGyver folks authorized this."
As to whether MacGruber infringes any MacGyver copyrights, Martin Katz, an entertainment litigator, told THRE that Zlotoff's case could hinge on whether the MacGruber parody makes a "fair use" of the MacGyver rights.
"If he's got separated rights and the right to make a motion picture is his, the out for that would be if the work falls within fair use," Katz said.
MacGruber is a recurring Saturday Night Live sketch parody of the 1985-1992 adventure series MacGyver.