Honda sued for allegedly using sculpture in commercial without permission

By John Suayan, Galveston Bureau | May 6, 2013

HOUSTON - Houston residents Dan Havel and Dean Ruck accuse Honda, McGarry Bowen, The Mill Group and Rogue Films of using a sculptural piece of theirs in an advertisement without permission, recent court papers say.

A lawsuit filed May 3 in the Houston Division of the Southern District of Texas claims the entities featured the plaintiffs' copyrighted Inversion sculpture in a recent promotion for the Honda CR-V Leap.

According to the original petition, Havel and Ruck created Inversion in 2005, which is made from the wooden boards of a house and shaped into a portal-like conical structure leading from the front of a house to the back, in 2005 and registered it with the U.S. Copyright Office the same year.

The suit explains that Rogue Films and The Mill Group asked Ruck last year if they could use a portal through a wooden house in an advertising campaign for Honda, adding Ruck reportedly had no problem with their presentations since the conical mockups did not resemble Inversion.

But the near-finished video to which Ruck was provided a link revealed "an identical version of a house with conical portal as created by the plaintiffs and copyrighted as Inversion," it says.

The video was a commercial for the CR-V and depicted a car being driven into the sculpture’s large opening with narration dubbed over by Garrison Keillor, host of the radio show, The Prairie Home Companion, and the voice of Honda's commercials.

The complainants assert the respondents admitted to committing copyright infringement, and though the latter claimed to have obtained a license to use the subject work, there "is no written license or other grant of rights from Havel or Ruck to anyone associated with the Honda commercial."

Meanwhile, the commercial purportedly featuring a recreated copy of Inversion was shown worldwide and on YouTube as well as used "in videos, television ads, print ads, and internet pages, and various derivative works have been created that also show the copyrighted work."

"The defendants prominently display infringing works in their marketing materials and on their websites," the suit says.

"The defendants worked together on this ad campaign and contributed to the creation of several infringing works."

A jury trial is requested.

Attorney Arthur S. Feldman of The Feldman Law Firm P.C. in Houston is representing the plaintiffs.

Case No. 4:13-CV-1291

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