California Intellectual Property Blog


Netflix Sued for Copyright Infringement over Tiger King

San Diego – Apparently, Carole Baskin isn’t the only one with a grudge against Netflix’s hit Tiger King series.

In a copyright lawsuit filed September 14, 2020, Timothy Sepi, the sole owner of Whyte Monkee Productions, is alleging that the Netflix documentary series, Tiger King, features clips shot and owned by Sepi. These clips, he claims, were shown without giving him proper credit or monetary compensation for his work.

Tiger King premiered on Netflix in March of 2020, and quickly became a viral sensation. The documentary focuses on the life of Joe Exotic, a zookeeper and convicted felon, whose breeding of tigers in the United States caused controversy with conservationists and politicians alike. His feud with the CEO of Big Cat Rescue, Carole Baskin, is heavily documented in the series, as well as his intense personal life drama. The success of the series has been linked to the COVID-19 pandemic, as the show premiered when many Americans were quarantined and following stay-at-home orders. The show was reportedly viewed by over 34 million Netflix users in the first ten days of its release.

Sepi began working with Joe Exotic, whose legal name is Joseph Maldanado-Passage, at the Garold Wayne Zoological Park in March of 2015. The plaintiff alleges that his role was a graphic designer and photographer, and he was not employed as a videographer. In the same month that Sepi began working at the Park, a fire reportedly destroyed much of the existing footage of Exotic, filmed before Sepi started working there.

In May of 2015, Sepi formed Whyte Monkee Productions as its sole owner, in a move that was reportedly approved by Exotic. The company was created with the sole aim of producing videos of Exotic and the Park. Whyte Monkee Productions went on to produce videos of Exotic, and uploaded many of these videos to YouTube, with notices that White Monkee Productions owned the copyright to the videos. The plaintiff alleges that in five out of eight episodes in the Tiger King series, footage shot by Sepi and owned by Whyte Monkee Productions is shown without his permission. Some of the footage is copyrighted by Sepi, while some clips are currently pending copyright registration.

On April 10, 2020, Sepi’s counsel sent a letter to Netflix, providing a notice of copyright infringement, and requesting that some sort of licensing agreement be reached. Netflix reportedly ignored the letter, and now Sepi’s counsel is moving forward with litigation.

If Netflix is found guilty of copyright infringement, they could be responsible for Sepi’s attorney fees, as well as any profits gained by the unlawful use of his footage. Considering the success of the series, this would be no small sum.


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