In an extraordinary about-face retired French schoolteacher Georges Lopez has begun legal proceedings against the makers of the documentary film Etre Et Avoir, which he dominated with his strict-but-fair handling of a junior school class in the Auvergne.
In the Paris high courts, Lopez is suing director Nicolas Philibert, the film's producers distributors and music supervisor for Euros 25,000. With the commercial arbitration service in Perpignan he is claiming a similar sum for appearance fees and a further Euros 29,000 of fines and costs.
The case in Paris alleges counterfeit and that Lopez' image rights had been infringed by the making of the film. His lawyer says that the film was made without Lopez' full consent and that the classes given by Lopez are an original artistic work that the film copied.
Roland Rappaport, defence lawyer for many of the accused, counters that the class-teaching is not the subject of the film, but the class itself and its unique village context. And that even if the teaching were to be judged the subject, it would be the property of the French Ministry of Education, not Lopez. According to Le Monde, Philibert says that Lopez was fully involved from start to finish and even sought out the necessary authorisations from the children's parents.
However bizarre the individual facts behind Etre Et Avoir and even before it goes to trial, the case is already worrying film producers and documentary-makers in France, which has some of the most rigorously enforced privacy laws. If permissions need to be sought for every person referenced and every brand name used on screen, film-making risks becoming bogged down in an impossible legal quagmire