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Lawsuit: Who owns a character?

Sometimes, audiences associate a character so strongly with an actor or actress that it gets difficult to differentiate between the two. Can Los Angeles readers picture anyone other than Sarah Michelle Gellar playing Buffy The Vampire Slayer, for example? (Random trivia sidenote: The character of Buffy was actually first portrayed in a movie by Kristy Swanson.)

An interesting entertainment lawsuit has developed over who "owns" a character. The character is Jim Brockmire, an "old-timey" baseball announcer featured in a series of short films on the website Funny or Die.

If you haven't heard of Jim Brockmire, there's a chance you might soon -- evidently, the character was so well-received there is interest in developing a film revolving around Brockmire.

That's what led to this lawsuit. The actor who voices Brockmire, Hank Azaria, recently sued another actor, Craig Bierko. Evidently, when Bierko heard Azaria's Jim Brockmire character, he felt that "Jim Brockmire" was a rip-off of a character he had voiced for Azaria as far back as 1990.

Apparently, Bierko has been making noise to the effect that Azaria "stole" his character. Azaria is concerned that this might interfere with plans for the feature film, so he is suing Bierko to assert his rights to the character and to get Bierko to stop making his claims.

If this lawsuit proceeds, it's likely to hinge on whether "Jim Brockmire" is a distinct character or whether the idea of a baseball announcer who speaks in a certain fashion is too generic an idea to be copyrighted.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter, "Hank Azaria Sues Craig Bierko to Keep Ownership of Baseball Announcer Character," Eriq Gardner, Nov. 16, 2012

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