HBO's new docuseries, Allen v. Farrow, only premiered on Sunday, but with such a public and controversial case at the center of its story, you can believe that many people are paying very close attention to it and debating the information it lays forth. While it probably wasn't completely unexpected that the docuseries would bring up more issues surrounding Mia Farrow and her daughter, Dylan, accusing Woody Allen of sexually abusing her when she was a child, now there's already a possible lawsuit in the works because of Allen v. Farrow.
According to Deadline, the four-part docuseries, which details those allegations of sexual abuse, could now be at the center of a lawsuit. Skyhorse Publishing is considering taking legal action against HBO, as well as filmmakers Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick, on the grounds of copyright infringement, because the company believes that audio from the audiobook version of Woody Allen's 2020 memoir, Apropos of Nothing, was used without proper authorization.
Representatives for the publishing house say that no one at Skyhorse was ever contacted by the filmmakers or HBO about gaining the rights to use those audiobook excerpts, and that, at the end of last week, the company received "second hand" information which alerted them to the fact that each episode of Allen v. Farrow, supposedly, "makes extensive use" of audio from Allen's book. Furthermore, Skyhorse also noted that when they got the warning, they sent a letter last Friday to the in-house counsel at the premium cabler to let it be known they were considering taking legal action, but still have yet to get a response from HBO.
In a statement, those at Skyhorse also said:
Having now seen the first episode, we believe that its unauthorized use of the audiobook is clear, willful infringement under existing legal precedent, and that the other episodes will infringe, too, if they appropriate the audiobook in a similar manner. We will take the legal action we deem necessary to redress our and Woody Allen’s rights in his intellectual property.
So, what is the potential that Skyhorse has a real case against HBO and the directors behind Allen v. Farrow? Apparently, Allen-narrated audiobook excerpts are used in each of the four-part series, with over three minutes of the recordings used in just the first episode. While the Fair Use Doctrine does allow for works which hold a copyright to be used without explicit permission in some instances (such as research, teaching, criticism, news reporting, and in other ways), it usually only permits less than 10 seconds of such material to be used without a license. And, just by the usage seen in the first episode of Allen v. Farrow, it's quite possible that Skyhorse has a very sturdy legal leg to stand on.
One of the reasons that the filmmakers appear to have resorted to using bits of Allen's audiobook, was simply to represent his side of the story in their investigation of the sexual abuse case. Allen v. Farrow gained full access to Mia and Dylan Farrow, as well as several family friends and others who have first hand experience with the allegations and the lawsuit which followed, but Woody Allen and his wife Soon-Yi Previn were contacted but declined to participate. About the docuseries, a spokesperson for Allen said:
These documentarians had no interest in the truth. Instead, they spent years surreptitiously collaborating with the Farrows and their enablers to put together a hatchet job riddled with falsehoods. Woody and Soon-Yi were approached less than two months ago and given only a matter of days ‘to respond.’ Of course, they declined to do so. As has been known for decades, these allegations are categorically false. Multiple agencies investigated them at the time and found that, whatever Dylan Farrow may have been led to believe, absolutely no abuse had ever taken place. It is sadly unsurprising that the network to air this is HBO – which has a standing production deal and business relationship with Ronan Farrow. While this shoddy hit piece may gain attention, it does not change the facts.
A representative for the filmmakers, Ziering and Dick, who directed the docuseries, said in a statement Monday that they "legally used limited audio excerpts from Woody Allen’s memoir in the series under the Fair Use doctrine," but it appears that Skyhorse will not see it that way once those at the company have had a chance to watch the rest of the episodes.
Allen v. Farrow airs Sundays at 9 p.m. EST on HBO.