On February 26, 2013, RMS Titanic, Inc. and Premier Exhibitions, Inc. (collectively “RMST”) initiated suit in the Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division, against Thomas Zaller, Imagine Exhibitions, Inc., and Imagine Exhibitions PTE, Ltd. (collectively “Zaller”), for conversion, contractual breach, unjust enrichment, fraud and fraudulent inducement, trade dress (Lanham Act), and misappropriation of trade secrets.

Last year marked the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.  The wreckage was discovered in 1985 by RMST and over the course of eight research and recovery expeditions conducted by RMST as salvor-in-possession, an extensive exhibition of artifacts, simulated rooms, hallways, and even the ocean floor and “compelling human stories” were written, edited, assembled and packaged by RMST as “Titanic … The Artifact Exhibition” (the “RMST Titanic Exhibition”).

Click here to see picture.

Pictured here is the RMS Titanic departing Southampton on April 10, 1912 as shown by Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RMS_Titanic

RMST uses the Complaint as a vehicle to relate a compelling story of corporate intrigue and systematic piracy of an entire Titantic exhibition by a former employee and subsequent contracting party.  RMST frankly describes its business model and exhibition plans, including its systematic employment of historical fact, digital duplication, and creative license to design and build an exhibition depicting detailed recreations of the Titantic and its surroundings, both as it was or could have been.  The public is intimately involved with the exhibition through the use of digitally reproduced tickets tied to a specific passenger (with personal information on that passenger provided).  Thus, a personal connection is achieved with an individual ship passenger, as the various components of the exhibition are experienced over the intricately designed and constructed layout.  At the conclusion of the exhibit, each exhibition visitor can check the passenger manifest to determine the fate of the person whose ticket he or she holds.

RMST’s recreations may track historical information or be created “without historical reference” but with the intent of generating the quality and appearance of a novel and unique room on the Titantic, thus containing “an original expression of ideas fixed in a tangible medium subject to legal protection under the Copyright Act.”  RMST alleges that “decades and millions of dollars” were required “to assimilate historical information, create stories, draft text, take photographs and video” to design and build the RMST Titanic Exhibition.

According to the complaint, Zaller facilitated as a promoter the placement of the RMST Titanic Exhibition in Singapore, which was ultimately governed by the Singapore Exhibition Agreement executed on June, 13 2011.  In that process, Zaller insisted on detailed information relating to the exhibition, including CAD drawings of the Exhibition layout, photos, and digital copies of exhibit materials.  After initially denying Zaller’s request as covering proprietary information, RMST inserted provisions in the Singapore Exhibition Agreement to protect it from the promoter’s use of those materials in a competing enterprise for three years.

The complaint asserts that Zaller used this proprietary information in contravention of RMST’s contractual rights, property rights, and copyright to create “a striking copy of the RMST Exhibition” which was marketed and sold to Macau and to market its competing exhibition over the world.  Zaller is accused of incorporating underwater videos owned by RMST to promote its own exhibit, in conjunction with showing photographs of the Singapore exhibition as if it had been created by Zaller.

This case truly encompasses a titanic dispute spanning the globe and may require an assessment of the interplay of intellectual property rights, trade secrets, contractual considerations, and tort law (such as the conversion alleged) from many sovereign jurisdictions.  The seas over which this dispute is being fought may be fraught with icebergs, but for now it is full speed ahead for RMST as it alleges damages suffered in the U.S., spelled out in five counts – conversion, breach of contract, unjust enrichment, fraud, fraudulent inducement, trade dress, and Lanham Act violations.  It remains to be seen whose ship will be righted by this proceeding, but in the meantime everyone is invited to throw either of the parties a line by submitting a comment.

The case is RMS Titanic, Inc. and Premier Exhibitions, Inc. v. Thomas Zaller, Imagine Exhibitions, Inc., and Imagine Exhibitions PTE, Ltd., No. 1:13-cv-625-WSD, filed 2/26/13 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division, and has been assigned to U.S. District Judge William S. Duffey, Jr.