I’ve been a fan of The Simpsons ever since I was a small child. Every day after school I would tune in to Channel 5 to watch an hour of the Simpson family’s shenanigans, from Homer getting drunk at Moe’s Tavern to Lisa meeting Michelle Obama.
Even though some might consider adult animation shows to be “stupid” or “immature,” I always appreciated how the residents of Springfield taught viewers moral lessons through outrageous comedy.
Earlier this week, however, I heard some news about The Simpsons that I initially found to be quite bizarre: Goodfellas actor Frank Sivero has filed a lawsuit against the creators of The Simpsons, asking for $250 million for ripping off the character he played in the 1990 film to create The Simpson’s character Louie.
For those of you who aren’t aware, Louie is a side character in the show; he along with Legs are Fat Tony’s henchmen who partake in organized crime around Springfield. Together, they are all part of the Springfield Mafia.
In a 12-page complaint obtained by Deadline Hollywood, Sivero states that Simpsons producer James L. Brooks was “highly aware of who Silvero was, the fact that he created the role of Frankie Carbone, and that The Simpsons character Louie would be based on this character.”
It looks like Sivero was biding his time to file the suit, considering Louie’s first appearance on The Simpsons was back in October of 1991. The lawsuit claims that The Simpsons has generated around $12 billion in total revenue through TV, a movie, video games and more, while [Sivero] “has suffered, and continues to suffer severe financial damages in the form of lost income [the] Plaintiff should have received in compensation for his name and likeness being used in the manner described herein.”
After reading the complaint, I had to laugh. The Simpsons, along with other sitcom and sketch shows such as Family Guy, South Park, and Key and Peele, are notorious for impersonating and creating parodies of real-life people. If Sivero wins his case against The Simpsons, should The Simpsons, as well as other sitcoms, be expecting similar lawsuits from Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mike Tyson, or the Kennedy family anytime soon?
The answer to this is absolutely not. The use of a parody is protected by the fair use and copyright law, which states that “fair use is a doctrine that permits limited use of copyrighted material without acquiring permission from the rights holders.” Examples of fair use include commentary, search engines, criticism, parody, news reporting, research, teaching, library archiving and scholarship.
Ultimately, Sivero should have been watching The Simpsons for the past twenty-four years. The Simpsons, along with dozens of other sitcom shows, have been creating hundreds of parodies and satires for years. Yes, The Simpsons have earned a lot of money over the years, but the sidekick to Fat Tony is not the reason why. Sivero, get the joke.