Published: December 5, 2000
SOUTHBURY, CONN. – Don Troiani, military historian and renowned artist, recently settled his lawsuit with Sony Pictures, producer of The Patriot. A suit brought against Sony Pictures on behalf of Troiani claimed copyright infringement involving Troiani’s costume designs.
Last year Sony Pictures approached Troiani, stating they were interested in having research conducted to determine period authentic uniforms for cast members and for Mel Gibson, who starred of The Patriot. Communications between the two parties ceased after Troiani voiced his desire to be given recognition for his work with a screen credit and stated that research would not continue without this assurance. It was at this point Sony stopped discussing the movie and Troiani did not hear from them further.
Before the movie was released in time for the Fourth of July weekend, Troiani viewed the motion picture’s Web site, where he found almost exact copies of his costume designs, a color change being the only difference.
“You could overlay my original artwork on the image and it would match exactly,” Troiani said. “I was astonished at what I was seeing so I filed a lawsuit in Federal Court requesting a jury trial where the criteria for infringement states if the images look the same to the ‘casual viewer’ there is a violation of a copyright.” Troiani had stated earlier that he was eager for the case to be presented to a jury.
One point of the lawsuit states, “Using [the] Plaintiff’s artwork, [the] defendants made the focal point of the movie the uniforms as they served to authenticate the period referenced and to distinguish the American Freedom Fighters from the British government forces.”
Sadly, lawsuits are not new to Troiani; he has needed to defend his copyrights several times already and most defendants have settled before going to court. He discovers five or six infringements a year and believes there are many others he does not know about. “I have better things to do than chase infringement cases,” he has said.
The source of the infringed images is Don Troiani’s book, Soldiers in America, 1754-1856, which contained a print of the minuteman uniform which the historian and artist claims is the very template of Mel Gibson’s uniform in The Patriot. The book was started in 1990 and was published in 1998. Sony had been given copies of the book for review and it is believed the infringed images came out of the same book.
Troiani’s work has been called “the finest treatment of the American Civil War ever put to canvas” (Stephen W. Sylvia). He has been described as “a historian who conveys his research on canvas instead of in words” (A. Wilson Greene).
Troiani uses his Internet contacts, individuals who specialize in many areas, to add to his broad knowledge base, and is in constant contact with them. Many hours have been spent in trying to pin down every possible detail of militia costumes.
William H. Guthman, the author of March to Massacre, has written, “I think Don Troiani is the most historically accurate military artist working today. His intimate knowledge of uniforms and weapons makes it impossible for any other living artist to equal the accuracy of his scenes.”
Troiani says he is very happy the lawsuit was settled; the amount of the award is confidential, but sends a clear signal to the film industry involving copyright infringement. He added, “It seems the perception in the art community and film industry is that if a few details of a costume design are changed, the costume can be used by the person altering it. I hear this time and again and it is wrong. Call me first before using my work.”
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