Brains, Blood, Sweat, and Tears: Derivative Works and the Walking Dead Licensing Controversy

Regardless of how you feel about character development and innovative plot progression, AMC’s The Walking Dead (TWD) is an undeniable hit. Based upon the comic book of the same name by Robert Kirkman, TWD, for the past five years has consistently been one of the top rated TV shows on television, even outperforming Sunday Night Football. It averages 13 million viewers per episode, and about two-thirds of those viewers are in the coveted 18-49 demographic. Three-time Oscar nominee Frank Darabont (The Green Mile; The Shawshank Redemption) brought the TV show to life. He wrote, directed, and produced the pilot episode, and served as the showrunner and executive producer (often-synonymous positions) for its smash-hit first season. It was surprising then, when AMC suddenly fired Darabont while Season 2 was in production, and after sending him to promote the series at Comic-Con. Darabont sued in New York State Court in December of 2013, and recently amended his complaint to include the lack of accreditation and profits allegedly owed him from AMC’s “companion series,” Fear the Walking Dead.

The thirty-page complaint gives a lot of information about Darabont and AMC, but everything generally comes down to the following: Instead of having an unaffiliated company produce TWD, per the original negotiations, AMC produces the show itself. Because AMC both owns and produces TWD, it does not have to negotiate any licensing fees. Thus, when AMC decided to produce TWD in-house, Darabont required AMC, by contract, to use an “imputed” license fee with its production affiliate priced at fair market value. AMC, however, allegedly used a drastically low license fee, forcing production of TWD at a considerable deficit. Thus, although TWD is a hit show, it has unusually low profits and Darabont has not been properly paid. . . For the rest of the story, check out IPWatchdog!

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