SIGNIFICANCE: WILDMON V. BERWICK UNIVERSAL PICTURES

Case NameWildmon v. Berwick Universal Pictures 
Citation: 803 F.Supp. 1167 (N.D. Miss. 1992) 
TopicsContracts; Copyright & Fair Use; Privacy and Publicity Rights

In 1990 a British film producer interviewed Donald Wildmon, a religious leader and arts funding opponent, about his involvement in the censorship of artwork in the United States. Wildmon objected to the use of his interview in the final documentary product, as it was interspersed with the very images he found morally offensive.

In this suit Wildmon attempted stop the distribution of the documentary in the U.S. on the basis of his contract with the film company. The Court found the contract itself to be ambiguous, so looked to pre- and post-contract conduct to discern the parties’ intentions. The Court concluded the most reasonable interpretation of the whole agreement was that that Wildmon had control only over the interview, and did not have control over the distribution of the entire film. The Court suggested Wildmon knew or should have known that the film could contain graphic images. The Court tried not to consider public policy and First Amendment arguments, restricting the case primarily to contract law.

This case is significant for the Court’s unwillingness to look beyond the contract when both sides made arguments based on the First Amendment and public policy.

These materials are not intended, and should not be used, as legal advice. They necessarily contain generalizations that are not applicable in all jurisdictions or circumstances. Moreover, court decisions may be superseded by subsequent rulings, and may be subject to alternative interpretations. Corrections, clarification, and additions are welcome here.