Halloween is still a month away, but Charlotte Hornets guard Terry Rozier has already received a treat: He won an infringement litigation over similarities between the “Ghost Face” mask from the 1996 slasher film Scream and the “Scary Terry” clothing line Rozier launched in 2018.
On Monday, Judge Kiyo Matsumoto of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York granted summary judgment to Rozier. Three years ago, the 27-year-old guard was sued by Easter Unlimited, a costume company that manufactures the Ghost Face mask and holds trademark and copyright registrations for it. In the mid-1990s, Easter licensed the use of Ghost Face to Dimension Films for Scream. The mask became highly popular thereafter.
The two sides tell different tales about Ghost Face’s original author. Easter argues it hired a Hong Kong-based sculptor to create the mask, while Rozier contends a separate studio had earlier developed the “Wailer” mask and, as Judge Matsumoto observed, Wailer and Ghost Face “bear far more than a passing resemblance.” While the two sides debate its origin, Ghost Face and others like it are clearly inspired by Edvard Munch’s 1893 “The Scream” painting.
More than a century after Munch’s artistic talents drew him fame, Rozier’s basketball artistry transformed him into a household name—at least for about six months in the Greater Boston area. Rozier, a Celtics first-round pick in 2015, was a backup to Kyrie Irving in January 2018 when Irving went down with a season-ending knee injury.
Rozier landed his first career start on Jan. 31, 2018, when the Celtics played the New York Knicks. It was a stirring debut.
“Mr. Rozier,” Judge Matsumoto wrote in her 85-page ruling, “became the first NBA player since the 1970-71 season to earn a triple-double in his first career start.”
Rozier, who is represented by attorneys Patrick Kabat and Paul Safier in the litigation, continued to exceed expectations. Aided by swagger and confidence, he became something of a folk hero in New England. At some point, Boston fans and media began to routinely call him Scary Terry, a nickname that Terry said began to gain traction after his game-winning steal and dunk against the Indiana Pacers in December 2017.
As Judge Matsumoto explained in her opinion, the nickname reflected several dynamics. For one, “it was intended to humorously invoke the fear that Mr. Rozier’s ‘dangerous’ ability to score supposedly instilled in his opponents.” It also embodied Rozier’s “love for scary movies, and what they meant [for] his own story.”
Rozier sought to quickly capitalize on his newfound fame, marketing a line of T-shirts and hooded sweatshirts inspired by his nickname. He was heavily involved in the design of “Scary Terry,” even hiring a mural artist to create the cartoon figure of Rozier wearing his Celtics #11 jersey and the Ghost Face mask.
Judge Matsumoto explained that Rozier “made this request for sentimental reasons,” including the affection he had for the film as a child. In court documents, Rozier’s attorneys explained that Scream was “very important to him” and its “mix of violence and humor provided solace and escapism in a childhood surrounded by violence.’” Rozier’s fandom of Scream, which spawned Scream 2, Scream 3, Scream 4 and the planned 2022 reboot—dubbed Scream—continued into adulthood. He had an image of Ghost Face tattooed on his arm in 2017, Rozier told GQ’s Clay Skipper.
Rozier, who played a key role in the Celtics’ unexpected run to the Eastern Conference Finals later that postseason, would go on to earn about $150,000 in gross sales revenue from Scary Terry clothing, which was sold through Barstool Sports and other vendors. Advertisements for Scary Terry made no mention of Scream.
Easter produced evidence of ownership of a valid copyright and unauthorized copying by Rozier. Rozier, moreover, fully admitted that Scary Terry draws from Ghost Face and pays homage to one his favorite movies as a kid. Yet, he insists he broke no law.
Judge Matsumoto agreed, mainly due to the principle of “fair use,” wherein a defendant’s copying reveals a different purpose from that of the creator. A claim of copyright infringement will fail when the copying was fair use.
Here, Judge Matsumoto stressed, Ghost Face “was licensed for use in the Scream films, in which it was worn by a serial killer and was instilled with meaning beyond a Halloween ghost costume.” In contrast, Rozier’s “use of the Scream mask to create a humorous embodiment of an NBA basketball player who was known as a ‘killer’ scorer further transformed the Ghost Face mask with new meaning, expression and messaging.”
The judge added that Rozier “did not simply replicate” Ghost Fask. Instead, the mask, as worn by the cartoon rendition known as Scary Terry, “appears in cartoon form” and “is accompanied by and appended to the cartoon and child-like figure of Mr. Rozier in his NBA uniform.”
This very different context of the mask is not about killing people, but rather, Judge Matsumoto reasoned, “invok[ing] ‘killer’ players who vanquish opposing teams.”
Judge Matsumoto also found that Rozier’s copying reflected both parody and satire, both of which advance a fair use defense.
“The Scary Terry cartoon,” the judge emphasized, “successfully uses a cartoon rendering of [Easter’s] licensed Scream mask on a cartoon basketball player to lampoon the famous mask-wearing movie villain and killer in the context of NBA players, NBA fans and even the NBA media.” She added that Rozier’s “use of a mask widely associated with a film’s (fictional) serial killer provides a means of satirizing and ridiculing the perception of ruthless, high-scoring athletes in the NBA, as well as underscoring the humor in the Scary Terry.”
Rozier’s legendary status in Boston unfortunately saw a demise. Returning to a mostly reserve role in 2018-19, he saw his production diminish and began to author cryptic tweets that some interpreted as revealing unhappiness in Boston. But in 2019, the former Louisville star joined the Hornets, where he has been a starter since. Last season Rozier averaged 20 points per game, and in August Charlotte signed him to 4-year, $97 million extension.
While Easter might find Judge Matsumoto’s ruling something of a nightmare, perhaps they’d find more success should they appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
After all, as any Scream fan would tell you, sometimes sequels have different endings.