Worldwide: Claiming For Unlawful Prophets – $50 Million Satanic Netflix Suit Settled

Last Updated: 21 February 2019
Article by Luke Hill

What got the Satanists' Goat?

A group called The Satanic Temple recently sued Netflix and Warner Group for $50 million on the basis that Netflix had infringed the copyright in their statue of the deity Baphomet. Briefly, a statue depicting the hircine deity appeared in a number of episodes of the Netflix series, "The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina". The statue closely resembles a statue that The Satanic Temple had commissioned some years previously, and it was upon this resemblance that the case was brought.

Although the case has now been settled out of court, it still serves as an interesting example of real life, high profile and (potentially) expensive allegation of copyright infringement.

The terms of the settlement are mostly confidential. However, we do know that Netflix must now acknowledge "The unique elements of the Satanic Temple's Baphomet with Children statue...in the credits of episodes which have already been filmed".  While this is not an acknowledgement of liability, it is at the very least an acknowledgement that the claim was not unfounded.

Clear Cut?

In the normal course of developing a film or TV programme, the production company would go to great lengths to "clear" the use of third-party rights – these rights routinely include trade marks, locations, appearances of actors, extras and third party copyrighted material (a "license and release agreement").  So, why was the suit brought in this case?

In this instance it appears that the producers not only failed to clear the use of the statue but actually went to the lengths of making their own copy of it for inclusion in the program, without obtaining permission from The Satanic Temple to do so.  As a result, Netflix would appear (at least on face value) to have carried out two acts of copyright infringement – one in making a copy of the statue and another in then allowing the statue to appear in the programme.

This highlights the importance of obtaining the necessary clearances to allow other parties' intellectual property in a production.  The case also shows how important it is to keep a practical eye on the productions as they are filmed – it is quite possible that the reason that the statue wasn't properly cleared is because it was commissioned.  If Netflix had simply borrowed The Satanic Temple's statue, they would have obtained the necessary releases.  It is quite possible that clearances were not obtained as the production company owned the statue (but not the underlying copyright it embodies).

Statue of Limitations

Netflix could have avoided a big headache by commissioning their statue based on the earliest known depiction of Baphomet (see image) – a work created by Eliphas Levi in the 19th Century, and given the time period, well out of copyright.

Eliphas Levi's work was the inspiration for the Satanic Temple's statue and therefore shares many of its characteristics: the goat head, horns, wings, raised left hand the coiled motif across the body.

A timely reminder that – come hell or high water – producers should ensure rights are cleared when cameras roll.

This article first appeared in Advertising Week.

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