Amazon’s AI Accused of Mimicking Striking Actors’ Voices in ‘Road House’ Scandal – Lawsuit Reveals!

The forthcoming redo of the film “Road House,” with Jake Gyllenhaal in the lead, has stirred up a legal storm as the writer of the original movie has lodged a lawsuit against Amazon Studios.

R. Lance Hill, the individual behind the script of the cult classic from 1989, took legal action against Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios and Amazon Studios, their parent company, on Tuesday, accusing them of copyright infraction and asking for declaratory relief.

Under the pseudonym David Lee Henry, Hill contends that the Seattle-based e-commerce titan overlooked his legal right to recover the rights to his 1986 screenplay, “Roadhouse,” as laid out in the U.S. Copyright Act. This script led to both the original film and the current reboot, which stars Gyllenhaal as a former UFC fighter grappling with his past.

In his lawsuit, filed in the U.S. Central District Court in Los Angeles, Hill claims that he submitted the necessary paperwork to the U.S. Copyright Office in late 2021. He requested the copyright to be returned to him upon the end of United Artists’ claim in November 2023. The original film, featuring Patrick Swayze, was released by United Artists.

However, according to the lawsuit, Amazon, which possesses the “Road House” rights through its purchase of MGM’s film catalog, neglected his copyright claims and pushed forward. Amazon even took measures to sidestep the SAG-AFTRA strike to try and complete the film before the copyright expired.

The lawsuit brought by Hill alleges that Amazon resorted to drastic measures, including the use of AI, to meet the November 10, 2023 deadline. The online giant allegedly used AI to mimic the actors’ voices in the 2024 remake during the SAG-AFTRA strike last year, according to the suit.

According to the lawsuit, the movie was finished in January, approximately two months after the copyright expiration date.

Furthermore, the lawsuit claims that the use of AI to simulate actors’ voices breached the collective bargaining agreements between major studios, including Amazon, and the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, as well as the Directors Guild of America’s agreement with the studio alliance.

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However, an insider close to the studio, who is not authorized to speak publicly, suggested that AI was only used during initial cuts of the film if it was used at all. This individual stated that studio executives directed filmmakers to exclude any AI or nonunion performers from the final cut.

In a statement, an Amazon MGM Studios spokesperson called Hill’s lawsuit regarding ‘Road House’ baseless. They strongly denied the allegations, stating that the film does not use any AI in place of actors’ voices. They look forward to defending against these accusations.

The suit seeks to halt the film’s distribution, which is set to be available on Amazon Prime Video on March 21.

The reboot has already sparked controversy. Director Doug Liman has expressed his intention to boycott the film’s premiere, which is scheduled to take place at the South by Southwest Film & TV Festival in Austin, Texas next month. In an essay published on Deadline last month, Liman voiced his disappointment that Amazon has decided to stream the movie on its Prime Video platform instead of having a wide theater release.

When Amazon Studios announced the movie in mid-2022, it stated that the film was greenlighted as a streaming title.

In the redo, Gyllenhaal’s character, Dalton, encounters a roadhouse bar owner, portrayed by Jessica Williams (“The Daily Show” and “Shrinking”), who requires a bouncer to safeguard her Florida Keys bar from hooligans who introduce a character played by real-life mixed martial arts fighter Conor McGregor.

In the original, Swayze played the muscular bouncer, also named Dalton, who mainly maintained order at the Double Deuce bar in Missouri.

The behind-the-scenes battles over “Road House” offer a clear glimpse of the consolidation of Hollywood and its implications. United Artists, a company established more than a hundred years ago by several film legends, including Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford, was acquired by MGM in 1981.

In 2006, MGM brought in Tom Cruise and producer Paula Wagner in a joint venture to revitalize the film label. However, the rebooted UA only released two movies, “Lions for Lambs” and “Valkyrie,” before Wagner left her position as CEO. MGM regained full control of the historic label in 2012, and its assets were included in Amazon’s $8.5-billion acquisition of MGM, a deal that was finalized two years ago after a lengthy regulatory review.

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According to Hill’s lawsuit, on Nov. 10, 2021, he notified United Artists and its successor companies of his plans to regain the copyright to his screenplay, delivering the so-called “statutory notice of termination,” as outlined in the Copyright Act.

However, the lawsuit alleges that Amazon refused to acknowledge that Hill had ended the studio’s rights to use the source material.

The lawsuit claims that instead of securing a new license for the film and ancillary rights, the defendants went ahead with the production of a remake of the 1989 film, derived from Hill’s screenplay.

The lawsuit’s central point of contention between Hill and Amazon is whether Hill wrote the original screenplay “on spec,” intending to market it to movie studios once he finished the script, or if he was under contract to United Artists when he wrote it.

The lawsuit mentions a “literary purchase agreement” between UA and Hill’s personal company, Lady Amos Literary Works Ltd. The copyright assignment for all rights to the screenplay was made with Lady Amos and Hill.

According to the lawsuit, “Hill had neither an employment nor a contractual relationship with United Artists when he wrote the screenplay. Instead, United Artists obtained the 1986 grant from Hill well after the screenplay had been completed.”

Rowdy Herrington directed the original movie, produced by Joel Silver, who is also credited as a producer on the 2024 remake.

As reported by Variety, Silver was sidelined last fall due to tensions with the studio.

Marc Toberoff, a Malibu-based lawyer specializing in intellectual property law, is handling Hill’s case.

Toberoff has an extensive track record, including victories in similar Copyright Act cases on behalf of “Friday the 13th” creator Victor Miller and the children of music icon Ray Charles. He represented the family of “Superman” co-creator Jerry Siegel, helping them reclaim a half-interest in the copyright for the iconic character.

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In the past, Toberoff has represented the heirs of creators of Marvel characters, including the family of Jack Kirby (“Thor,” “X-Men” and “Black Panther”), in high-profile cases against Marvel Studios and later, Walt Disney Co. This case was settled before the U.S. Supreme Court could hear it. He also represented Steve Ditko (“Spider-Man”), Larry Lieber (“Thor,” “Iron Man”), Don Rico (“Black Widow”), Gene Colan (“Guardians of the Galaxy”) and Don Heck (“Iron Man” and “Black Widow”).

U.S. copyright law permits authors to reclaim the rights to their material that was transferred after 1977.

In such cases, the author has “a five year period beginning 35 years after the date the rights were transferred” to terminate the copyright held by the studio, according to Hill’s lawsuit.

According to the law, “Notice of termination can be served by the author any time between 10 and two years before the effective termination date.”

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