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Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Real Lawyer Reacts to The Simpsons (Itchy & Scratchy Trial)

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- [Narrator] Thanks to Dashlane

for keeping Legal Eagle in the air.

- So you don't work on a contingency basis?

- No, money down.

Oops shouldn't have this Bar Association logo here either.

(tearing) (chewing)

- Yeah, he's just the best worst lawyer of all time.

(playful music)

Hey Legal Eagles, it's time to think like a lawyer,

and today we are covering one of my favorite episodes

of one of my favorite series of all time,

it's The Simpsons and it's episode where Itchy and Scratchy

get taken to court for copyright infringement.

It's called The Day the Violence Died,

and while I will be reacting to it,

I think I could probably quote this episode line for line,

it's really that good, it's one of my favorites,

it involves Lionel Hutz.

- [Lionel] No, money down.

- It's just, it's just, it's fantastic.

So as always, be sure to comment in the form of an objection

which I will either sustain or overrule,

and stick around until the end of the episode

where I give The Simpsons, The Day the Violence Died

a grade for legal realism.

So without further ado, let's dig in

to The Simpsons, The Day the Violence Died.

(playful music)

So the background of this episode is that

it is the 75th anniversary of Itchy & Scratchy,

which is a clear stand-in for Disney,

a much more violent version of the Walt Disney Corporation,

and the town of Springfield is throwing a parade

for the creators of Itchy & Scratchy,

which includes Roger Meyers Senior,

who is the guy who claims to have invented Itchy & Scratchy.

The parade goes into Bumtown,

where we find Bart about to meet a bum

who claims to have invented Itchy & Scratchy himself.

(upbeat music)

- Hey, wait up!

(tomatoes splattering)

(blows raspberries)

- Get out of Bumtown, you no talent bum.

- Bums. - Show some respect, man,

that no talent created Itchy & Scratchy.

- He didn't create Itchy, I did.

- Huh?

- He stole the character from me in 1928.

When I complained, his thugs kicked me out of his office

and dropped an anvil on me.


- So this is interesting, this is a normal copyright issue,

great issues going on already.

Here you have the theft of intellectual property,

and purportedly, the theft of a character.

Now a character as a part from a normal literary or

audiovisual work can actually receive copyright protection.

So for example we've seen many times in litigation

that James Bond has copyright protection as a character

apart from all of the 30 or 40 James Bond movies

that that character has appeared in.

So it is possible to quote unquote steal a character

from a copyright perspective, but remember,

you cannot steal ideas.

Ideas are not copyrightable, it's only the expression itself

and I think that's going to be a big theme

throughout this episode.

- You invented Itchy, the Itchy & Scratchy Itchy?

- Sure, in fact, I invented the whole concept

of cartoon violence.

Before I came along, all cartoon animals did

was play the ukulele, I changed all that.

- Well, I'm not calling you a liar but,

but I can't think of a way to finish that sentence.


- Here we have another argument,

which is that he invented the idea of cartoon violence.

Now that almost certainly he would not be able to have

copyright protection over.

The idea of cartoon violence or the idea of

a romantic comedy or the idea of a sci-fi space opera,

these are what we call scenes a faire,

which are not protectable.

They are stock scenes that we see over and over and over

again in many different industries

and different types of IP,

so he would not be able to have claim for

intellectual property over the idea of cartoon violence,

even if cartoon characters were only

just playing the ukulele before he came along.

- Itchy the Lucky Mouse in Manhattan Madness.

- That's the first Itchy cartoon ever made,

and it was made by me, Chester J. Lampwick.

Find me a 90-year-old projector and I'll prove it to you.

(playful music)

- (laughs) They go to the school.

(light piano music)

Okay so right off the bat, this film canister

contains the film of the original Itchy & Scratchy cartoon.

The thing is, that is something that

lends itself to a valid copyright.

The thing about copyright is that

you can't have to petition the government to get it.

There are reasons why you would want to do that,

but as soon as you put your expression into a tangible form

that's supposed to be semi-permanent or permanent,

that is when you get the copyright in the expression,

and this film reel is going to be something

that could lend itself to creating a copyright

in this film itself and in the character

of Itchy and/or Scratchy.

(kids laugh)

The concept of cartoon violence invented.

- [Bart] All right Chester! (cheering)

- [Millhouse] Way to go!

- Oh, so this is a great little tidbit here.

It says copyright, that little C in the circle, 1919.

In 1919, you actually had to put a copyright notice

on any work that you had.

If you didn't put a copyright notice

on your tangible expression,

then you would not get a copyright.

So back in the day, it was really, really important

to have that little symbol to let everyone know

that this was a copyrighted work.

So if Chester J. Lampwick had not put that notice

on his film, he would not have a copyright

and he wouldn't have any claim

to the Itchy & Scratchy fortune.

United States did away with that requirement

in 1976 in the 1976 Copyright Act,

which really wasn't necessary at all.

It was a trap for the unwary to not include

a copyright notice in your actual expression,

so now you still get a copyright

regardless of whether you put the little C

with the date that says that there's a copyright

on your particular work.

- That was Itchy all right, you did invent him.

When people see this, you'll be rich and famous!

(tape crinkles)


(dramatic music)


- Yeah, as an evidentiary issue,

that makes it much, much harder to prove your case.

- Well, that brought back a lot of memories.

- I Can't Believe It's a Law Firm. (laughs)

Okay, there are actual regulations

that prescribe what lawyers are allowed to put

in terms of a name of their firms,

and that name absolutely does not comply with that,

and it sort of implies that it's not actually a law firm.

Although a query whether Lionel Hutz is actually an attorney

in The Simpsons, given his run-ins with the Bar.

Oh, Lionel Hutz is my favorite character ever,

he's so good.

- All right gentlemen, I'll take your case,

but I'm going to have to ask for a $1,000 retainer.

- A thousand dollars?

But your ad says no money down.

- Oh, they got this all screwed up.

(pen squeaking)


- As I've covered already on this channel,

this is one of my favorite lawyer jokes of all time,

and it so plays into Lionel Hutz as being

the most ridiculous, terrible lawyer of all time.

This is such a clear violation of legal ethics,

where you can't put out an ad like that to the public

and then completely redline it

right in front of your potential client

and claim that you only work with a retainer and money down,

but the way that it works is just so perfect, it's so good.

- So you don't work on a contingency basis?

- No, money down.

Oops, shouldn't have this Bar Association logo here either.

(tearing) (chewing)

- Yeah, he's just the best worst lawyer of all time.

- I thought I recognized you.

I gave you a plate of corn muffins back in 1947

to paint my chicken coop, and you never did it.

- Those corn muffins were lousy.

- Paint my chicken coop.

- Make me.

(fists thudding)

- Yeah, that would be a totally enforceable contract,

corn muffins for painting the chicken coop,

and Chester J. Lampwick would be in violation

of that contract for not actually providing his labor.

I think the statute of limitations has probably run

there now that it's 80 years in the future,

but it would have been an enforceable contract.

- Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait,

there's an easy way to get rid of Chester

without the guilt of sending him back to the gutter.

And all it will cost you is a thousand dollars.

(playful music)


- Got legal fees from some family.

Okay, quick note, it is possible to bankroll

someone else's lawsuit.

Now traditionally, historically that has been illegal,

it's been what's called champerty,

and that's been a violation of legal ethics.

Those rules have largely been removed,

and it is possible to bankroll someone else's lawsuit.

This actually happened very recently

when Peter Thiel, the tech billionaire,

financed Hulk Hogan's lawsuit against Gawker the website

for publishing Hulk Hogan's sex tape.

This is a part of a great book by Ryan Holiday

called Conspiracy, that talks about Peter Thiel

wanting to get revenge against Gawker,

so he bankrolled this lawsuit that eventually

bankrupted the Gawker media enterprise.

So it is possible to do, it is legal,

might not be the nicest thing to do,

but you are allowed to do it.

(tense music)

- Exhibit A, Stable Itchy, dated 1928,

the very first Itchy & Scratchy cartoon,

and the credits clearly state

written, directed, and created by Roger Myers.

Music by Roger Myers and George Gershwin,

produced by Roger Myers and Joseph P. Kennedy,

copyright 1928 by Roger Myers.

- So we've already talked about how important

that copyright notice was.

I don't know why they are jumping right to

closing argument here, there would normally be

years of discovery and motions on paper.

This is the sort of thing that would be dealt with

on summary judgment because there is no evidence

on behalf of Chester J. Lampwick,

but as with most fictional portrayals of legal proceedings,

they're just getting right to the juicy parts.

- You will also notice Mr. Myers's name

and copyright notice on the original drawings

of the other members of the Itchy & Scratchy family,

Brown-Nose Bear, Disgruntled Goat,

Flatulent Fox, Rich Uncle Skeleton, and Dinner Dog.

- My client's film predates all of those things, your Honor.

- You can't argue in the middle of a statement.

- Oh yes, I've forgotten,

your famous film, the one you destroyed before the trial

and haven't been able to able to find another copy of.

Oh yes, that film.

- Yes, you don't have a copy, do you?


- Now that sounds ridiculous, and it is ridiculous

in the middle of trial like that,

but in real life, Lionel Hutz would have been able to ask

if the owners of Itchy & Scratchy

have old copies of the 1919 film

that is the basis for his claim.

And if they did, they would be obligated to turn that over.

Now you might think that's crazy,

why would you turn over negative evidence against yourself?

Well the rules of civil discovery require you

to turn it over because we don't want trial by ambush,

we want everyone to put all of their cards on the table,

and if there's evidence that you have

that's bad for your case, you have a duty

to turn that over to the other side

if you get to that part of the discovery process.

So Lionel Hutz, you know, he's a terrible lawyer,

but even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes.

- [Nelson] Ha ha!

- So uh, good job for him.

- Roger Myers didn't create any of his characters,

he stole them all.

(dramatic music) (crowd murmurs)

The only characters Myers could ever come up with

were pathetic stick figures with the words

Sarcastic Horse and Manic Mailman printed on them.

And they stank.

- So who is the voice of Chester J. Lampwick?

That sounds really, hold on a second,

I need to look this up because

that guy sounds really familiar.


(gasps) It's Kirk Douglas.

Oh, I didn't know that, that's fantastic.

- Mr. Hutz, we've been in here for four hours.

Do you have any evidence at all?

- Well your Honor, we've got plenty of hearsay

and conjecture, those are kinds of evidence.


That's actually true, hearsay and conjecture

are kinds of evidence.

They're not good forms of evidence,

but technically they are types of evidence.

Many of the lawyers that I know use that line

all the time, it's a staple among lawyers, it's fantastic.

(dramatic music)

- I knew I had seen this exact scene somewhere else.

It was in the movie Mr. Lampwick showed me.

Ladies and gentlemen, this drawing was made in 1919,

nine years before Roger Myers made his first

Itchy & Scratchy cartoon.

- Hmm, yeah, but how do we know that that's authentic?

There's a whole authentication process

that you have to go through to prove that

the evidence that you are putting forward

is what it purports to be.

I don't think this evidence

would be admissible at this point.

- Okay, maybe my dad did steal Itchy, but so what?

Animation is built on plagiarism.

If it weren't for someone plagiarizing the Honeymooners,

we wouldn't have the Flintstones.

If someone hadn't ripped off Sergeant Bilco,

there'd be no Tomcat.

Huckleberry Hound, Chief Wiggum, Yogi Bear,

ha, Andy Griffith.

- One of the all-time great side gags of the Simpsons

is to break the fourth wall and say that the idea

of Chief Wiggum is stolen from somewhere else.

Just, just A+,

and there's some truth to what he's saying,

that these characters are often homages

and frankly, stolen from other places.

So whether you get copyright protection

over a specific character itself is up for grabs,

and not all taking is illegal, not all copying is illegal.

- Well Itchy & Scratchy are gone,

but here's a cartoon that tries to make learning fun.



Sorry about this, kids.

- Oh I know what this is.

This is one of the most brilliantly-written parodies

of all time, I can sing this entire song.

- Hey, who left all this garbage on the steps of Congress?

- I'm not garbage.

I'm an amendment to be

Yes an amendment to be

And I'm hoping that they'll ratify me

There's a lot of flag burners

Who have got too much freedom

I want to make it

- First Amendment violation.

Make it legal for policemen to beat them

Because there's limits to our liberties

At least I hope and pray that there are

Because those liberal freaks go too far


- Dad, can we have $183,000?

- What for?

- Lisa and I want to finance a series of animated cartoons.

- Oh, forget it.

- Animation Legal Precedents.

Copyright Law 1918 to 1923.

That is such a great little detail there

because there actually was an amendment

to the Copyright Act in 1923 that changed copyright law,

and in fact, because of the change in copyright law,

all works before 1923 are out of copyright,

so ironically although the litigation over this case

of a copyright from 1919 is raging in this episode,

now looking back, all of this would be out of copyright.

The copyright in Itchy & Scratchy would be

null and void and all of that stuff

would have entered into the public domain.

So it's a great little detail that they are looking at

the correct copyright law for the time,

and since the work was created in 1919,

you'd have to look at the law that existed

before the Copyright Act of 1923,

because that's how you sort of retroactively apply the law.

Just, just from top to bottom,

one of the best Simpsons episodes of all time.

- When no one could think of a plan

to resurrect Itchy & Scratchy, a young boy,

a wonderful, irrepressible young boy

took it on his own to solve the problem.

He discovered that the postal service's Mr. Zip

was just a rip-off of my father's

stick figure character Manic Mailman.


So the government gave me a huge cash settlement.

- So that sounds totally ridiculous

and there are still the questions of whether you can

even have a copyright in a not really thought-out

character like that, but a situation almost exactly

like that actually did happen in a famous case

involving the US Postal Service.

The US Postal Service created a stamp

where they took a photo of the Korean War Memorial

in Washington DC, which is a series of statues

with soldiers who were wading through the snow,

and they put it on a stamp.

The thing is, the artist who created the statues

still had a copyright in the statues.

You can have a copyright in statues

just look you can have a copyright in paintings or a novel,

so when they created this stamp without his permission,

they committed copyright infringement

in the same way that the US Postal Service supposedly

created copyright infringement in this particular case.

So things like that actually do happen

and you can sometimes get a big cash settlement from

the government when they involve copyright infringement.

- And Itchy & Scratchy Studios is back in business.

(triumphant music) (electricity buzzing)

Thanks to you, Lester.


- What the hell is going on?

- And they end the episode poking fun at the fact

that their own characters are derivative,

just so good.

(playful music)

But now it's time to give this episode of the Simpsons

a grade for legal realism.

(gavel bangs)

So on the one hand, you have a brilliant story

involving some really detailed aspects

of copyright law that you really don't see all that often,

and for the most part it gets the copyright stuff

exactly right, right down to the dates involved

where the copyright law changed.

You have probably one of the best depictions

of a Schoolhouse Rock parody that is not only,

I think hilarious but exactly right on First Amendment law.

But on the other hand, you have a trial that is

abbreviated to be the shortest trial known to man,

without any of the boring parts,

and the worst lawyer known to man

in the form of Lionel Hutz,

but in some sense, the writers must know

what they're doing because there's no way to write

a lawyer that bad without knowing what a lawyer should do.

So all in all, I will give this episode

of the Simpsons an A-.

Maybe I'm giving them a high grade just because

I love this episode so, so much,

but it's my show and I can do whatever I want.

- There's something unsettling about that.

- The ideas for Itchy & Scratchy may have been stolen,

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So do you agree with my grade?

Leave your objections in the comments,

and check out my other real lawyer reactions over here

where I'll see you in court.

The Description of Real Lawyer Reacts to The Simpsons (Itchy & Scratchy Trial)