A Canadian court has ordered Tommy Wiseau to pay about $700,000 to the makers of an unauthorized documentary about his cult film, “The Room,” ruling that he thwarted the release of the documentary because it was unflattering.
The makers of the documentary, “Room Full of Spoons,” were working to release the project in 2017, to capitalize on Sony Pictures’ debut of “The Disaster Artist,” a biographical movie starring James Franco as Wiseau about his 2003 film “The Room.”
But Wiseau filed suit and obtained an injunction in Toronto, alleging that the documentary violated his copyright by using clips from “The Room” and invaded his privacy. The documentary revealed Wiseau’s origins in Poland, which he had been endeavoring to keep secret.
After a trial in January, Ontario Superior Court Judge Paul Schabas ruled in favor of the documentary makers on April 23. Schabas denied the copyright claims, finding that the documentary makers were entitled to use the clips under the doctrine of “fair dealing” (akin to “fair use” in the U.S.).
“In my view this action was brought for the improper purpose of preventing the release of a documentary disliked by Tommy Wiseau,” Schabas wrote.
Schabas ordered Wiseau to pay $550,000 to the documentary makers — Richard Harper, Fernando Forero McGrath, Mark Racicot and Richard Towns — in lost revenue due to the thwarted release. He also awarded an extra 200,000 Canadian dollars (about $140,000 U.S.) in punitive damages, citing Wiseau’s “oppressive and outrageous” conduct toward the documentary makers.
Schabas found that Wiseau had engaged in bad faith negotiations in an effort to forestall the release of the documentary.
“In doing so, the plaintiffs were concerned with protecting and maximizing the value of ‘The Disaster Artist,’ in which the plaintiffs have a financial interest,” the judge ruled.
Harper, the writer and director of the documentary, told Variety on Friday that he is now seeking distribution, likely on a streaming platform.
“This case is a very big deal for any creatives or documentary filmmakers here in Canada,” Harper said. “The case was very frivolous.”
“Room Full of Spoons” uses 69 clips from “The Room,” totaling about seven minutes. According to the ruling, the documentary makers sought to license the clips from Wiseau in 2015, but he demanded excessive sums and insisted on having final approval of the documentary. At one point, he demanded that the film have “more positivity by at least 60 percent.”
The documentary makers chose instead to proceed under the protections of “fair dealing,” which allows limited use of copyrighted material for the purpose of criticism or news reporting. Schabas found that while the amount of material taken was “not trivial, it is also not excessive.”
The judge also dismissed Wiseau’s claim that the documentary had violated his privacy by disclosing his birth name, birthdate and birthplace in Poland, finding that such information does not meet the high standard for a civil offense in Canada.
“This information was available from public sources, which is how the defendants obtained and confirmed it,” Schabas wrote. “Wiseau may be sensitive about this information because he has cultivated an aura of mystery around it, but disclosure of these facts is not, objectively speaking, something which can be described as ‘highly offensive.'”
The judge also noted that Wiseau had behaved erratically at trial, seeking last minute delays and then failing to show up for the first day. After the judge denied a request for Wiseau to testify by videoconference, he showed up on the third day of trial and testified.
“Much of Wiseau’s testimony was simply assertions without more,” the judge noted. “He avoided answering many questions and complained about the process. Wiseau gave lengthy self-serving answers in re-examination.”