Hank Azaria Lawsuit: 'Simpsons' Star Wins Ownership of Character

Image: Hank Azaria Lawsuit: 'Simpsons' Star Wins Ownership of Character

Wednesday, 26 Feb 2014 12:52 PM

By Alexandra Ward

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Hank Azaria emerged victorious Friday in a lawsuit over ownership of a baseball announcer character he voiced in a 2010 Funny or Die viral video.

Azaria filed suit in 2012 after receiving a legal threat from Craig Bierko claiming that he invented the voice and character of Jim Brockmire, a sportscaster who has a breakdown on the air after finding out his wife is cheating on him.

In court documents obtained by The Hollywood Reporter, Azaria claims he first originated the character in the '80s and even once did a spontaneous Brockmire performance on the quad at his college in 1983.

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"The Simpsons" star met Bierko through mutual friends in 1990 and learned that Bierko apparently had his own similar baseball announcer character. The two reportedly traded tips about how they'd perfected the voice.

"After Azaria met Bierko in or around 1990, they started fooling around with the Azaria voice and the Bierko voice," the suit states. "Azaria and Bierko used to put the Azaria voice and the Bierko voice respectively on voice messages for each other for a period of about three to five years."

According to The Reporter, their relationship soured when Azaria wanted to turn the Jim Brockmire character into a movie and Bierko said no.

When the Funny or Die clip went viral in 2010, Bierko sent Azaria a cease and desist letter and Azaria fired back with the lawsuit.

On Friday, a U.S. district judge ruled that Azaria owns the Jim Brockmire copyright because his character is more developed than Bierko's. For example, Azaria's Brockmire has his own distinguishable characteristics — he's a middle-aged man who wears a plaid suit with a rose on the lapel. He owns a lucky pen, loves the movie "The Godfather," and has an uncontrollable temper.

"By contrast, the depiction of Bierko’s Sports Announcer Character is extremely vague," the judge said in the ruling. "Defendant has offered no description of him other than that he is 'a white, male baseball announcer,' who expresses himself in a 'uniquely American and arguably musical' fashion."

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