Hank Azaria, who provides the voices for a host of characters on "The Simpsons," including Moe Szyslak and Chief Wiggum, is suing over the rights to one of his characters.
Azaria and his How to Pictures, Inc. filed suit Wednesday against "Leap Year" actor Craig Bierko in U.S. District Court in Central California on Wednesday, saying that Bierko is jeopardizing a potential movie deal by falsely laying claim to a voice that Azaria claims he created nearly 30 years ago. Also read: "The Simpsons" No More? Voice Actors, Studio Have a Cow Over Salaries Don't worry, though; Springfield's favorite curmudgeonly bartender and inept police chief won't be affected.
According to the suit, Azaria created a voice for a "a colorful baseball announcer who speaks with peculiar speech inflections" in 1983 or beforehand, and introduced the voice to Bierko after meeting him in 1990. In 2010, Azaria used the voice in a Funny or Die skit in which he played a sportscaster named Jim Brockmire, which employed the voice in question. (The suit also notes that the Brockmire character employed other attributes, such as a plaid jacket and a back story about his wife abandoning him.) Also read: Hank Azaria Mounts Twitter Campaign to Save "Free Agents" The video became a hit, the lawsuit says -- so much so that Azaria was able "to entertain discussions to develop a feature-length motion picture based upon the Jim Brockmire Character who uses the Azaria Voice."
It also drew the attention of Bierko, who subsequently contacted Azaria and claimed to have created the voice either independently or in collaboration with Azaria, the suit says. (The complaint says that Bierko never made clear which it was, and that Azaria denies the claim in either case.) The suit claims that Bierko's claim to ownership on the voice "has created a cloud over the rightful ownership of the Azaria Voice (which is an integral part of the Jim Brockmire Character) such that Plaintiffs' ability to develop a feature length motion picture based upon the Jim Brockmire Character is being significantly impeded." A representative for Bierko has not yet responded to TheWrap's request for comment. Azaria is seeking a declaration that the sportscaster voice alone isn't copyrightable, but that the Brockmire character is, plus a declaration that Bierko as no claim to the voice. (He also wants Bierko blocked from laying claim to the voice.) The suit also asks for attorney's fees and court costs. Pamela Chelin contributed to this report.