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The IP of the Academy Awards

The story of Hollywood is quite interesting, and as IP practitioners, it is fascinating to think of all the intellectual property rights (trademarks, copyrights, etc.) for films, owned by the studios, creators as well as the rights owned by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) itself.

The Academy Awards, or the Oscars, are a set of awards for artistic and technical merit in the film industry. It is the oldest worldwide entertainment awards ceremony and is now seen live worldwide. In case you did not know it, the shape of the statute, or Oscar, is protected under many trade dress registrations some of which, I decided to include as part of this publication.

Given annually by the AMPAS, the awards are an international recognition of excellence in cinematic achievements as assessed by the Academy's voting membership. The various category winners are awarded a copy of a golden statuette, officially called the "Academy Award of Merit", although more commonly referred to by its nickname "Oscar". A total of 3,072 Oscar statuettes have been awarded from the inception of the award through the 90th ceremony in 2018.

For more information about the AMPAS IP rules, please visit the following link at:

Talking about movies, we are all pretty familiar with the FBI warning displayed at the beginning of every motion picture as depicted below:

But do you know what that means? The FBI Anti-Piracy Warning reads as follows: “The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of a copyrighted work is illegal (1). Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain (2), is investigated by the FBI (3) and is punishable by fines and federal imprisonment. (4)” Yes, it shows up on every movie screen, and you’ve seen it a hundred times.


Fair Use is spelled outunder Section 107 of the Copyright Act, and it’s a baseline for making sure copyrights protect and encourage the imagination of individual creators, but not throttling the creative process altogether. Generally speaking, if you’re using a creative work for one of these purposes, you’re probably (but not definitely) in the clear: Criticism, Comment, News reporting, Teaching, Scholarship, Research.

It’s certainly a delicate line to walk, to make sure creators get fairly compensated for their work, while also leaving the laws open enough so others can share the work and be inspired and educated. Fair Use claims are evaluated on a case-by-case basis. The U.S. Copyright Office looks into: (1) the purpose and character of the use; (2) the nature of the copyrighted work, (3) how much of the copyrighted work was used, and (4) whether your use of the copyrighted work will affect the creator.


The rule of thumb is if you are using the copyrighted work without monetary gain, you do not owe any damages. However, MIT student David LaMacchia freely distributed “countless commercial software programs” causing the software companies the loss of a ton of money.

The NET Act closed that loophole, so now the rule of thumb is if you’re using copyrighted material in a way that harms the original creator, it’s probably illegal. The process of a copyright infringement investigation typically follows these steps:

  1. Evaluate the situation

  2. Figure out the scope ofthe copyrighted work

  3. Determine who the violator(s) are

  4. Gather Evidence anddetermine damages

  5. Notify the violators ofthe situation and the proposed remedies.

If a court finds infringers guilty of willful infringement, those statutory damages awarded to you can range between $30,000 to $150,000 per registration, plus attorney’s fees. As far as prison time goes, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, first-time copyright infringers could get up to five years in prison, repeat- offenders could be on the hook for up to ten.


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