Those who remember the earliest days of “Saturday Night Live” may have fond memories of comedienne Gilda Radner, who died in 1989 of ovarian cancer. Many likely looked forward to the documentary, “Love, Gilda,” which was released last month. For one New York journalist, however, the release of the intimate portrait of the beloved star was a shock, especially when the writer realized the movie used her intellectual property without her knowledge.
Just before Radner’s death, the journalist helped Radner write her autobiography by orchestrating a series of interviews, which were recorded on audiotape. Radner maintained possession of those tapes, which, the journalist claims, prevented the writer from registering their copyrights. The tapes, thought to be lost, came into the possession of a filmmaker who used them in the documentary about the comedienne.
Because she used creative skill to develop the questions that drew Radner’s intimate responses, the journalist feels she is the co-owner of the tapes along with the late comic. The journalist claims she and Radner worked as partners on the autobiography, and that any use of the tapes without credit and compensation violates her rights. She has asked the court for an injunction so she can register the copyrights and for a fair share in the profits from “Love, Gilda.”
Similar lawsuits in the past have settled on undisclosed terms, so it may be difficult to predict how this dispute will resolve. However, New York writers and artists will certainly watch carefully to see how the courts will rule regarding the ownership of recorded interviews. They may find it helpful to seek the counsel of an attorney if they face violations of their own intellectual property rights.