As anyone who watches The Walking Dead knows, the most recent run of the lighthearted AMC romantic comedy ended abruptly with a poorly orchestrated cliffhanger. Since then, fans of the show have been theorizing about which character met his/her untimely end. Now, AMC is using a barbwire-wrapped cease-and-desist copyright demand to prevent one popular spoiler group from revealing that the newly deceased character was…
(We don’t actually know, but after that nonsense with Glen and the deus ex dumpster, we’re pretty sure that the newly dead [then soon to be undead, then finally dead again] character will be “Dwayne,” Rick’s mute half-brother who has been conveniently off to the side of the camera for the entire run of the show.)
If you’ve read the comics on which the AMC show is based, you already know who shuffles off this mortal coil (with a little help from “Lucille”), but since the show doesn’t treat its source material as canon, speculation has run rampant; the kind of buzz that AMC should be glad to have created and that most networks would kill for.
Instead, AMC is sending out legal letters to fan groups, threatening them with copyright violations merely for presenting theories about what might be revealed when the show returns.
In a letter [PDF] to The Spoiling Dead, a group that has had some success in getting the advance scoop on show details, a lawyer for AMC contends that “The release of plot summaries and particularly the types of crucial plot elements that you have stated you intend to release, have been found to constitute copyright infringement.”
The letter points to the 1993 federal appeals court ruling in Twin Peaks Productions v. Publications International, in which the producers of Twin Peaks claimed that a book publisher trampled on their copyright by publishing a book that contained detailed descriptions of eight episodes. Both the District Court and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the TV producers, that using 46 pages of the 128-page book to provide detailed synopses of these episodes crossed the line.
AMC argues that publishing spoilers of upcoming shows would be a violation of its copyright on The Walking Dead that would “greatly damage AMC, distributors of The Walking Dead as well as Walking Dead fans awaiting the new seasons’ release who wish to watch their favorite show unspoiled.”
Cutting to the chase, the letter tells The Spoiling Dead to “repudiate your intent to leak the ‘Lucille Victim’ by confirming that you will cease and desist from that illegal disclosure and/or assisting others in the illegal disclosure. Should you fail to do so, AMC will file a lawsuit against you to enjoin your harmful illegal activities and seek to obtain money damages and injunctive relief to address your conduct.”
In a Facebook post, The Spoiling Dead folks express their reluctance to abide by the demand letter.
“They say we can’t make any type of prediction about the Lucille Victim,” reads the post. “Their stance is that making such a prediction would be considered copyright infringement. AMC tells us that we made some claim somewhere that says we received ‘copyright protected, trade secret information about the most critical plot information in the unreleased next season of The Walking Dead‘ and that we announced we were going to disclose this protected information. We still aren’t sure where we supposedly made this claim because they did not identify where it was.”
The problem, explains the group, is that they now can’t even speculate about the fate of Dwayne ( in a meta twist, he’s been holding the camera this entire time, documenting the story; that explains the widely ridiculed POV cliffhanger shot), for fear of being right.
“[I]f we post our Lucille Victim prediction and we’re right, AMC says they will sue us,” explains the post. “Whether there are grounds for it or not is not the issue, it still costs money to defend. That is the way our justice system works. Would we have defenses? Sure. But it also costs money to mount that defense. If someone brings us a potential Lucille spoiler and we confirm it and it turns out accurate we could get sued.”
Sadly, they are likely right that they have a valid defense against this sort of bullying, over-reaching demand. Unlike the Twin Peaks case, in which the publisher provided detailed summaries of each episode, AMC would have difficulty arguing that the revelation of a single plot point — no matter who earth-shattering — is actually a violation of copyright.
At best, AMC could try — if it had evidence — to make a legal case that The Spoiling Dead obtained the confidential information illegally. In fact, in 2015, AMC issued subpoenas trying to find the identity of people who uploaded spoiler videos to services like Vimeo.
However, the folks at Spoiling Dead tell TorrentFreak that they have not done anything wrong.
“[AMC} say that we claimed we received some illegal, protected information and that we said we were going to disclose the Lucille Victim based on that information,” a rep for the site tells TorrentFreak. “But they never identified WHERE the claim they say we made was. Even in our response to them we said we could not repudiate that claim because they didn’t identify it… All we ever said is that we were close to a confirmation and should be able to post who we thought it was in a couple weeks. There are lots of ways to confirm things and plenty of them legal.”
The Spoiling Dead folks say they will continue to publish reports and details they get from on-set sources, but they just won’t give you all the details on poor Dwayne and how Rick will cry when he has to shoot his resurrected zombie brother in the forehead.
“We are by no means getting shut down,” writes the group. “It’s still business as usual here, we just won’t be spoiling the biggest moment so far.”