Just how true is “Catfish”? The film, directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman and centered on Schulman’s brother Nev and his internet relationship with someone in the Midwest, has raised questions as to how nonfiction it actually is since its Sundance premiere.
And now Eriq Gardner at the Hollywood Reporter notes that the filmmakers and producers, along with distributors Universal and Relativity Media, are the subjects of a lawsuit that could give some insight into how much staging, acting and fiction went into the film.
And naturally, it’s all thanks to a licensing issue. (Spoilers follow).
Threshold Media is behind the lawsuit — that’s the company that owns the rights to Amy Kuney’s “All Downhill From Here,” a live YouTube version of which Angela, the woman on the other end of many Facebook sockpuppets, tries to pass off as her own. The song also plays over the closing credits. Gardner writes:
For some time now, Threshold has been attempting to get filmmakers to pay licensing fees for the song. According to the new copyright infringement lawsuit, the producers have rejected doing so. According to Threshold’s LA lawyer, Neville Johnson, the producers claimed that since the song was part of a real-life documentary, it was a “fair use” of the copyright.
But what if those were staged scenes – and filmmakers knowingly exploited a copyrighted song? Wouldn’t the “fair use” defense crumble?
He also points out that “the film’s producers may stick to their story that the whole thing was authentic, but they will have to do so under oath, and Threshold will enjoy a discovery proceeding to ferret out the truth.”
The stickier question is what happens if, as I’d suspect, the film is a mix of staged scenes and true ones — how much concoction does it take for a film to no longer be considered a documentary and therefore no longer fall under the protection of fair use? Now there’s a real 21st century dilemma.