Real Lawyer Reacts to The Simpsons (Itchy & Scratchy Trial)
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Real Lawyer Reacts to The Simpsons (Itchy & Scratchy Trial)


– [Narrator] Thanks to Dashlane for keeping Legal Eagle in the air. – So you don’t work on
a contingency basis? – No, money down. Oops shouldn’t have this Bar
Association logo here either. (tearing)
(chewing) – Yeah, he’s just the best
worst lawyer of all time. (playful music) Hey Legal Eagles, it’s time
to think like a lawyer, and today we are covering
one of my favorite episodes of one of my favorite series of all time, it’s The Simpsons and it’s
episode where Itchy and Scratchy get taken to court for
copyright infringement. It’s called The Day the Violence Died, and while I will be reacting to it, I think I could probably quote
this episode line for line, it’s really that good,
it’s one of my favorites, it involves Lionel Hutz. – [Lionel] No, money down. – It’s just, it’s just, it’s fantastic. So as always, be sure to comment
in the form of an objection which I will either sustain or overrule, and stick around until
the end of the episode where I give The Simpsons,
The Day the Violence Died a grade for legal realism. So without further ado, let’s dig in to The Simpsons, The
Day the Violence Died. (playful music) So the background of this episode is that it is the 75th anniversary
of Itchy & Scratchy, which is a clear stand-in for Disney, a much more violent version of
the Walt Disney Corporation, and the town of Springfield
is throwing a parade for the creators of Itchy & Scratchy, which includes Roger Meyers Senior, who is the guy who claims to
have invented Itchy & Scratchy. The parade goes into Bumtown, where we find Bart about to meet a bum who claims to have invented
Itchy & Scratchy himself. (upbeat music) – Hey, wait up! (tomatoes splattering) (blows raspberries) – Get out of Bumtown, you no talent bum. – Bums.
– Show some respect, man, that no talent created Itchy & Scratchy. – He didn’t create Itchy, I did. – Huh? – He stole the character from me in 1928. When I complained, his thugs
kicked me out of his office and dropped an anvil on me. (laughs) – So this is interesting, this
is a normal copyright issue, great issues going on already. Here you have the theft
of intellectual property, and purportedly, the theft of a character. Now a character as a part
from a normal literary or audiovisual work can actually
receive copyright protection. So for example we’ve seen
many times in litigation that James Bond has copyright
protection as a character apart from all of the 30
or 40 James Bond movies that that character has appeared in. So it is possible to quote
unquote steal a character from a copyright
perspective, but remember, you cannot steal ideas. Ideas are not copyrightable,
it’s only the expression itself and I think that’s going to be a big theme throughout this episode. – You invented Itchy, the
Itchy & Scratchy Itchy? – Sure, in fact, I
invented the whole concept of cartoon violence. Before I came along,
all cartoon animals did was play the ukulele, I changed all that. – Well, I’m not calling you a liar but, but I can’t think of a way
to finish that sentence. (laughs) – Here we have another argument, which is that he invented
the idea of cartoon violence. Now that almost certainly
he would not be able to have copyright protection over. The idea of cartoon
violence or the idea of a romantic comedy or the
idea of a sci-fi space opera, these are what we call scenes a faire, which are not protectable. They are stock scenes that
we see over and over and over again in many different industries and different types of IP, so he would not be able to have claim for intellectual property over
the idea of cartoon violence, even if cartoon characters were only just playing the ukulele
before he came along. – Itchy the Lucky Mouse
in Manhattan Madness. – That’s the first
Itchy cartoon ever made, and it was made by me,
Chester J. Lampwick. Find me a 90-year-old projector
and I’ll prove it to you. (playful music) – (laughs) They go to the school. (light piano music) Okay so right off the
bat, this film canister contains the film of the original
Itchy & Scratchy cartoon. The thing is, that is something that lends itself to a valid copyright. The thing about copyright is that you can’t have to petition
the government to get it. There are reasons why you
would want to do that, but as soon as you put your
expression into a tangible form that’s supposed to be
semi-permanent or permanent, that is when you get the
copyright in the expression, and this film reel is
going to be something that could lend itself
to creating a copyright in this film itself and in the character of Itchy and/or Scratchy. (kids laugh) The concept of cartoon violence invented. – [Bart] All right Chester! (cheering) – [Millhouse] Way to go! – Oh, so this is a great
little tidbit here. It says copyright, that
little C in the circle, 1919. In 1919, you actually had
to put a copyright notice on any work that you had. If you didn’t put a copyright notice on your tangible expression, then you would not get a copyright. So back in the day, it was
really, really important to have that little symbol
to let everyone know that this was a copyrighted work. So if Chester J. Lampwick
had not put that notice on his film, he would not have a copyright and he wouldn’t have any claim to the Itchy & Scratchy fortune. United States did away
with that requirement in 1976 in the 1976 Copyright Act, which really wasn’t necessary at all. It was a trap for the
unwary to not include a copyright notice in
your actual expression, so now you still get a copyright regardless of whether you put the little C with the date that says
that there’s a copyright on your particular work. – That was Itchy all
right, you did invent him. When people see this,
you’ll be rich and famous! (tape crinkles) (laughs) (dramatic music) D’oh. – Yeah, as an evidentiary issue, that makes it much, much
harder to prove your case. – Well, that brought
back a lot of memories. – I Can’t Believe It’s
a Law Firm. (laughs) Okay, there are actual regulations that prescribe what
lawyers are allowed to put in terms of a name of their firms, and that name absolutely
does not comply with that, and it sort of implies that
it’s not actually a law firm. Although a query whether Lionel
Hutz is actually an attorney in The Simpsons, given
his run-ins with the Bar. Oh, Lionel Hutz is my
favorite character ever, he’s so good. – All right gentlemen,
I’ll take your case, but I’m going to have to
ask for a $1,000 retainer. – A thousand dollars? But your ad says no money down. – Oh, they got this all screwed up. (pen squeaking) (laughs) – As I’ve covered already on this channel, this is one of my favorite
lawyer jokes of all time, and it so plays into Lionel Hutz as being the most ridiculous,
terrible lawyer of all time. This is such a clear
violation of legal ethics, where you can’t put out an
ad like that to the public and then completely redline it right in front of your potential client and claim that you only work
with a retainer and money down, but the way that it works is
just so perfect, it’s so good. – So you don’t work on
a contingency basis? – No, money down. Oops, shouldn’t have this Bar
Association logo here either. (tearing)
(chewing) – Yeah, he’s just the best
worst lawyer of all time. – I thought I recognized you. I gave you a plate of
corn muffins back in 1947 to paint my chicken coop,
and you never did it. – Those corn muffins were lousy. – Paint my chicken coop. – Make me. (fists thudding) – Yeah, that would be a
totally enforceable contract, corn muffins for painting
the chicken coop, and Chester J. Lampwick
would be in violation of that contract for not
actually providing his labor. I think the statute of
limitations has probably run there now that it’s 80
years in the future, but it would have been
an enforceable contract. – Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, there’s an easy way to get rid of Chester without the guilt of sending
him back to the gutter. And all it will cost you
is a thousand dollars. (playful music) (laughs) – Got legal fees from some family. Okay, quick note, it
is possible to bankroll someone else’s lawsuit. Now traditionally, historically
that has been illegal, it’s been what’s called champerty, and that’s been a
violation of legal ethics. Those rules have largely been removed, and it is possible to bankroll
someone else’s lawsuit. This actually happened very recently when Peter Thiel, the tech billionaire, financed Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit
against Gawker the website for publishing Hulk Hogan’s sex tape. This is a part of a great
book by Ryan Holiday called Conspiracy, that
talks about Peter Thiel wanting to get revenge against Gawker, so he bankrolled this
lawsuit that eventually bankrupted the Gawker media enterprise. So it is possible to do, it is legal, might not be the nicest thing to do, but you are allowed to do it. (tense music) – Exhibit A, Stable Itchy, dated 1928, the very first Itchy & Scratchy cartoon, and the credits clearly state written, directed, and
created by Roger Myers. Music by Roger Myers and George Gershwin, produced by Roger Myers
and Joseph P. Kennedy, copyright 1928 by Roger Myers. – So we’ve already talked
about how important that copyright notice was. I don’t know why they are jumping right to closing argument here,
there would normally be years of discovery and motions on paper. This is the sort of thing
that would be dealt with on summary judgment because
there is no evidence on behalf of Chester J. Lampwick, but as with most fictional
portrayals of legal proceedings, they’re just getting
right to the juicy parts. – You will also notice Mr. Myers’s name and copyright notice on
the original drawings of the other members of the
Itchy & Scratchy family, Brown-Nose Bear, Disgruntled Goat, Flatulent Fox, Rich Uncle
Skeleton, and Dinner Dog. – My client’s film predates all
of those things, your Honor. – You can’t argue in the
middle of a statement. – Oh yes, I’ve forgotten, your famous film, the one you
destroyed before the trial and haven’t been able to
able to find another copy of. Oh yes, that film. – Yes, you don’t have a copy, do you? (laughing) – Now that sounds ridiculous,
and it is ridiculous in the middle of trial like that, but in real life, Lionel Hutz
would have been able to ask if the owners of Itchy & Scratchy have old copies of the 1919 film that is the basis for his claim. And if they did, they would be
obligated to turn that over. Now you might think that’s crazy, why would you turn over negative
evidence against yourself? Well the rules of civil
discovery require you to turn it over because we
don’t want trial by ambush, we want everyone to put all
of their cards on the table, and if there’s evidence that you have that’s bad for your case, you have a duty to turn that over to the other side if you get to that part
of the discovery process. So Lionel Hutz, you know,
he’s a terrible lawyer, but even a blind squirrel
finds a nut sometimes. – [Nelson] Ha ha! – So uh, good job for him. – Roger Myers didn’t create
any of his characters, he stole them all. (dramatic music)
(crowd murmurs) The only characters Myers
could ever come up with were pathetic stick figures with the words Sarcastic Horse and Manic
Mailman printed on them. And they stank. – So who is the voice
of Chester J. Lampwick? That sounds really, hold on a second, I need to look this up because that guy sounds really familiar. (dinging) (gasps) It’s Kirk Douglas. Oh, I didn’t know that, that’s fantastic. – Mr. Hutz, we’ve been
in here for four hours. Do you have any evidence at all? – Well your Honor, we’ve
got plenty of hearsay and conjecture, those
are kinds of evidence. (laughs) That’s actually true,
hearsay and conjecture are kinds of evidence. They’re not good forms of evidence, but technically they
are types of evidence. Many of the lawyers that
I know use that line all the time, it’s a staple
among lawyers, it’s fantastic. (dramatic music) – I knew I had seen this
exact scene somewhere else. It was in the movie
Mr. Lampwick showed me. Ladies and gentlemen, this
drawing was made in 1919, nine years before Roger
Myers made his first Itchy & Scratchy cartoon. – Hmm, yeah, but how do we
know that that’s authentic? There’s a whole authentication process that you have to go through to prove that the evidence that you are putting forward is what it purports to be. I don’t think this evidence would be admissible at this point. – Okay, maybe my dad did
steal Itchy, but so what? Animation is built on plagiarism. If it weren’t for someone
plagiarizing the Honeymooners, we wouldn’t have the Flintstones. If someone hadn’t ripped
off Sergeant Bilco, there’d be no Tomcat. Huckleberry Hound,
Chief Wiggum, Yogi Bear, ha, Andy Griffith. – One of the all-time great
side gags of the Simpsons is to break the fourth
wall and say that the idea of Chief Wiggum is stolen
from somewhere else. Just, just A+, and there’s some truth
to what he’s saying, that these characters are often homages and frankly, stolen from other places. So whether you get copyright protection over a specific character
itself is up for grabs, and not all taking is illegal,
not all copying is illegal. – Well Itchy & Scratchy are gone, but here’s a cartoon that
tries to make learning fun. (giggles) (groans) Sorry about this, kids. – Oh I know what this is. This is one of the most
brilliantly-written parodies of all time, I can sing this entire song. – Hey, who left all this garbage
on the steps of Congress? – I’m not garbage. ♪ I’m an amendment to be ♪ ♪ Yes an amendment to be ♪ ♪ And I’m hoping that they’ll ratify me ♪ ♪ There’s a lot of flag burners ♪ ♪ Who have got too much freedom ♪ ♪ I want to make it ♪ – First Amendment violation. ♪ Make it legal for
policemen to beat them ♪ ♪ Because there’s limits
to our liberties ♪ ♪ At least I hope and
pray that there are ♪ ♪ Because those liberal
freaks go too far ♪ (laughing) – Dad, can we have $183,000? – What for? – Lisa and I want to finance
a series of animated cartoons. – Oh, forget it. – Animation Legal Precedents. Copyright Law 1918 to 1923. That is such a great little detail there because there actually was an amendment to the Copyright Act in 1923
that changed copyright law, and in fact, because of the
change in copyright law, all works before 1923
are out of copyright, so ironically although the
litigation over this case of a copyright from 1919
is raging in this episode, now looking back, all of this
would be out of copyright. The copyright in Itchy & Scratchy would be null and void and all of that stuff would have entered into the public domain. So it’s a great little detail
that they are looking at the correct copyright law for the time, and since the work was created in 1919, you’d have to look at the law that existed before the Copyright Act of 1923, because that’s how you sort of
retroactively apply the law. Just, just from top to bottom, one of the best Simpsons
episodes of all time. – When no one could think of a plan to resurrect Itchy &
Scratchy, a young boy, a wonderful, irrepressible young boy took it on his own to solve the problem. He discovered that the
postal service’s Mr. Zip was just a rip-off of my father’s stick figure character Manic Mailman. (laughs) So the government gave me
a huge cash settlement. – So that sounds totally ridiculous and there are still the
questions of whether you can even have a copyright in
a not really thought-out character like that, but
a situation almost exactly like that actually did
happen in a famous case involving the US Postal Service. The US Postal Service created a stamp where they took a photo
of the Korean War Memorial in Washington DC, which
is a series of statues with soldiers who were
wading through the snow, and they put it on a stamp. The thing is, the artist
who created the statues still had a copyright in the statues. You can have a copyright in statues just look you can have a
copyright in paintings or a novel, so when they created this
stamp without his permission, they committed copyright infringement in the same way that the US
Postal Service supposedly created copyright infringement
in this particular case. So things like that actually do happen and you can sometimes get
a big cash settlement from the government when they
involve copyright infringement. – And Itchy & Scratchy
Studios is back in business. (triumphant music)
(electricity buzzing) Thanks to you, Lester. (gasping) – What the hell is going on? – And they end the episode
poking fun at the fact that their own characters are derivative, just so good. (playful music) But now it’s time to give
this episode of the Simpsons a grade for legal realism. (gavel bangs) So on the one hand, you
have a brilliant story involving some really detailed aspects of copyright law that you
really don’t see all that often, and for the most part it
gets the copyright stuff exactly right, right down
to the dates involved where the copyright law changed. You have probably one
of the best depictions of a Schoolhouse Rock
parody that is not only, I think hilarious but exactly
right on First Amendment law. But on the other hand,
you have a trial that is abbreviated to be the
shortest trial known to man, without any of the boring parts, and the worst lawyer known to man in the form of Lionel Hutz, but in some sense, the writers must know what they’re doing because
there’s no way to write a lawyer that bad without
knowing what a lawyer should do. So all in all, I will give this episode of the Simpsons an A-. Maybe I’m giving them a
high grade just because I love this episode so, so much, but it’s my show and I
can do whatever I want. – There’s something unsettling about that. – The ideas for Itchy &
Scratchy may have been stolen, but your passwords and payment
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all completely seamlessly, even across laptops and phones running different operating systems. So even Roger Myers can’t
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LegalEagle at checkout. So do you agree with my grade? Leave your objections in the comments, and check out my other real
lawyer reactions over here where I’ll see you in court.

100 Comments

  • Miho Chicoine

    Interesting tidbit, lampwick is also the name of a child in pinocchio that encourages pinocchio to smoke and such, and the name lampwick is a reference to Lucifer

  • Robert Norman

    I know this has nothing to do with law, but man I miss those first ten or twelve seasons of the Simpson. Best cartoon ever, I watch a new one every now and then and it just isn't even close to as funny as back then, hardly even the same cartoon. Anyway sorry for the rant I really enjoy your videos thanks for the great content.

  • gunzakimbo

    Objection! You did not show the part where they find the letter to Meyers Sr on the picture of the original scratchy from Chester after they break it open. Also, should we not address you as your honor since you are the jury and judge your honor?

    Also side note, totally missed one of the best lines/parts from Hutz in the episode. "I swear if I hear objection and sustained one more time I'm going to scream!" "Objection." "Sustained." *screams……. xD

  • P F

    I would love to hear your Legal Opinion on the British TV series "Judge John Deed". It would be interesting to see how English Law and procedures hold up to American Law.

  • Gbelk

    As someone who can also sing An Amendment To Be from memory, seeing a break down of this iconic Simpsons episode from an actual legal perspective was fantastic.

  • David DeRose

    Permission to approach the bench!
    First, big fan, love your videos. Now to business!
    For the past 7-10 years, the Sunday before Christmas, my best friend and I have watched Arnold Schwarzenegger's all time holiday classic Jingle All the Way. (Don't ask why, neither we nor our friends can remember why this started or is still a thing) Two years ago, we decided to add a twist to our viewings and count how many times Arnold breaks the law and last year we did the same with Sinbad. They range from speeding to animal abuse to domestic terrorism. I think it would make an interesting holiday Laws Broken episode (a segment I miss).
    Keep up the good work. Every time I see a new episode pop up in my subscriptions, it's the first one I watch.
    Thanks!

  • DOSBoxMom

    Great explanation of copyright law, a subject I had previously read about on Jonathan Lane's "Fan Film Factor" blog (devoted to Star Trek fan films).

  • DOSBoxMom

    My spouse's law firm frequently has parents (of adult clients) pay his retainer, or parents (of adult defendants) pay off the balance owed in a collections matter. (The parents aren't benefiting, though, other than perhaps by having their broke adult kids out from underfoot!)

  • darkjannn

    First off, compliments to your singing. Also, there's a Dutch proverb that basically translates to "better well stolen than badly thought of yourself": beter goed gejat dan slecht bedacht (it does lose some lovely hard g's in translation, though). The underlying concept could fit your observations on the Chief Wiggum side gag completely: recognizing a good idea when you see one should not be something criminal in and of itself, but rather be encouraged and the law should allow for that.

    I would love to see you elaborate one day in detail on how you percieve copyright law should be applied when making legally sound YouTube videos. I have a personal interest in wanting to publish reviews on copyrighted scientific articles in quite some detail to a worldwide YouTube audience, but I'm not getting started with it because I don't have a clue as to how much of a chance I would stand in court when I'd be challenged for using this material. I've been putting off this project for years now. To what level of accuracy am I allowed to show the images in the article? Can I just get the articles from a friend with library access or do I have to purchase them as a private consumer/company? I am thoroughly interested in anything you could share with the world in regard to using copyrighted information as a source for creating content online. What are our basic rights, restrictions and responsibilities?

  • Gabrielle Foster

    Oh I know a great react option, how bout for Halloween the case of Annalise michaels which was the inspiration for the courtroom movie “exorcism of Emily rose”

  • Gambit08

    14:45 Objection! Although under Texas v. Johnson flag-burning is protected under the first amendment, a proposed and ratified amendment, which was congress’s initial grumblings of that ruling, would carve out a legal exception as not being protected under the First Amendment!

  • Erik Englund

    I would love to see your interpretation of the trail in Star Trek 6 Undiscovered Country of Kirk. What are the actual legal readings on being found guilty of murder by proxy.

  • VampyrumFerox

    Here’s the thing about copyright infringement. It don’t mean shit unless you have the money to sue the person who stole it. Same with trademarks.

    Speaking from experience where 3 different lawyers basically told me “sucks to be you” when people stole my IP.

  • 3m4n

    It's so crazy to see someone from such a completely different walk of life (professional lawyer) sit there amused and chuckle with a slack jawed gaze while watching The Simpsons loving exactly all the subtle nuances the same way I would. #soulmates #nohomo lol

  • hogfather22

    In one episode, Grampa Simpson got a cease and desist order for doing an impersonation of Jimmy Durante. Would this be legally enforcable?

  • Dekuscrub Spenstar

    There are several episodes of “Raising Hope” that involve terrible lawyering and weird court trials that I would love to see your reaction on/of.
    I just saw a special where the voice actor of that lawyer died 20 years ago when his wife murdered-suicided. I remember him from “News Radio” the most.

  • Fernando Gramajo

    Any chance you'd react to the court scene from the Netflix show, Disenchantment (s02e9&10)? I'd love to hear your thoughts on its absurdity.

  • Carl Runsten

    @
    LegalEagle Love your work and this is gold haha
    Maybe sometimes you could add some bonus facts after the sponsor notice … I'm sure you could find some great stuff to add 😉

  • Brad MacArthur

    I've always wondered how old Chester Lampwick was in this episode. Let's say he was 20 years old when he created 'Manhattan Madness', and this episode aired in '95 or '96, then he must be at least 95 years old.

    Sidenote: Kirk Douglas, who voiced Chester Lampwick, is now 102.

  • Chris Katko

    OMG. OMG. Do the South Park where Cartman forces Kyle to legally suck his balls because he proved that Leprechauns are real.

  • Karstens Creations

    "He's the best worst lawyer of all time."

    Motion granted…I'll allow it.

    However, second runner-up for me is the lawyer that Henry Winkler plays on Arrested Development drapery. That guy is a bumbling Ness and absolutely hilarious.

  • Karstens Creations

    "I don't know why they're jumping straight to closing arguments here…"

    This always makes me laugh when you mention this…

    Dude.

    It's a half hour cartoon, LOL… Sort of compressed for time, you know?

  • Loren and Lois Stevenson

    In objection, based on the weight of the evidence you gave against this episode, one could argue you gave them a low grade to keep from showing favoritism. You spent a great deal of this episode praising the accuracy of this episode, but the argument you gave against the realism of the speed of the case could have been abbreviated to allow for the whole story to be told in one episode. Remember that time is broken in the Simpson universe, considering no one has aged, so you could argue that this story takes place over a vast amount of time, you would be able to prove by the age of the characters. I know they use time as a reference, but there may be some event that occurred that broke their aging process. I would have used the closing argument at the beginning of the trial instead. The lawyer is the best character on the show, in my opinion.

  • Adam

    Didn't that same copyright law screw over George Romero for Night of the Flesheaters aka Night of the Living Dead? He only owned that original title, so they just changed it and took his credit and royalties.

  • 1.21 JJWatts

    I object. If it please the court, I would like to see a lawyering of Sleepers. Not much courtroom, but it's the third act payoff.

  • sinofsanity

    I think I should bring up the schoolhouse rock parody, but it's obvious, although I don't really have an excellent idea on US politics or law

    so the first thing to note is although most of this simpsons episode is about law, the cartoon krusty has to show is actually political, it doesn't really teach it's viewers about law.
    outright mentioning liberals and the "worrying" idea that they have too much freedom makes it a right wing cartoon, although you see today many people on the liberal side saying something like "hate speech is not free speech" the left is supposedly not actually supporting free speech, neither does the schoolhouse rock parody, in fact, both sides might have tried before in the past to make amendments to the first amendment right for their own goals.

    also, right wing political cartoons are pretty easy to spot by the nature of right wing politics itself, left wingers often try to change public opinion on certain things before getting into the legal system, right wingers will often just get straight to the point and tell people that they must support what they want to put into the legal system

    I may have gotten that entirely wrong… but the end joke is entirely correct, if you can change amendment rights that have stood for so long, you can change the shape of the entire legal system

  • Camden Tellkamp

    Objection: If the first "official" Itchy and Scratchy cartoon was copyrighted in 1928 by Roger Myers, then the original Itchy and Scratchy would have been out of copyright due to the change in the law in 1923. So Chester Lampwick had no claim, since it wasn't stolen before 1923.

  • t e r I N E E D L E R

    I used to think they were saying the 'statue' of limitations! I think I was around 8?. Thereabouts. I also thought there were 10 years in a duck egg!

  • raven belowthemoon

    i have a question for you, and sorry for my english but what do you think about the sue 500 japanese animators presented against disney for lion king…I mean clearly lion king is a copy of kimba the while lion…there are videos where you can see that clearly all lion king characters are a copy of lion king…but i cant find enough info about the trial, so maybe you can explain a bit about that. Thanks a lot.

  • Keith Decesare

    Great channel!
    I have a suggestion for movies to check the legality of.
    Don't tell mom the babysitter's dead.
    There's fraud, embezzlement, car theft and much more!

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