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Brian Wainger, the in-house counsel at Atlanta-based Premier Exhibitions, says that his company’s lawsuit against a Michigan rival is no more than a dull contract dispute. Perhaps, but most dull contracts don’t concern cadavers. At issue in Premier’s suit, filed last month in federal court in Atlanta, is “Bodies Revealed,” a Premier show in Mexico City. It features an array of partially dissected, preserved cadavers stripped of their skin to reveal organs, nerves, and muscular structure. The bodies are displayed in a variety of poses, such as dancing or throwing a ball, much as one would pose a model. The cadavers have been made impervious to decomposition through a polymerization process, using acetone and liquid silicone, called plastination. Premier’s suit illustrates the fierce competition among body exhibits. Premier recently settled a federal suit in Ohio in which the company owned by the German anatomist who developed the body preservation techniques accused Premier of violating its copyrights. The defendant in Premier’s Atlanta suit is Exhibit Human: The Wonders Within Inc. Premier claims Exhibit Human breached an agreement under which Exhibit Human provided Premier — through a subsidiary — with the polymer-preserved bodies that Premier is showing in Mexico City. Premier also has versions of its exhibit touring in the United States. JUST CONTRACTS Premier’s suit stems from an effort to settle a dispute. Premier claims that it agreed to end its contractual relationship with Exhibit Human and pay $400,000. In return, Premier seeks the “ownership rights” to the Mexico City exhibit. According to e-mails attached to the complaint, the extension of a noncompete agreement is also at issue. “We’re talking about rights to exhibit,” says Wainger. In correspondence attached to the suit, Exhibit Human denies that any agreement was reached and says that earlier offers to settle had “not been made in good faith.” The Atlanta suit appears related to recently settled litigation in Ohio, in which Premier was the defendant. PROTECTED POSES The Ohio suit was brought by a competitor, Plastination Co., which owns “Body World Works,” the granddaddy of the polymerized cadaver exhibits. Plastination Co. is owned by Gunther von Hagens, who originated the process by which cadavers are preserved. According to the Plastination claim, von Hagens holds U.S. copyrights and trademarks associated with the plastination process and the polymerized cadavers, as well as for exhibit-related merchandise. In the suit, von Hagens claimed that the preserved cadavers, the manner in which each is partially dissected, and their display in “unique and informative positions” are all subject to copyright protection as “an original expression of ideas fixed in a tangible medium.” The suit alleged that Premier representatives met with von Hagens in 2002, viewed the “Body World Works” exhibit, and then copied it as “Bodies Revealed.” In its court filings, Premier acknowledged that it had created “reproductions and images” based on “Body World Works.” But it also argued that von Hagens’ U.S. plastination patents had expired and that the posed cadavers were “uncopyrightable.” WHOSE BODIES? In a counterclaim, Premier accused von Hagens of circulating rumors “questioning Premier’s acquisitions of bodies, even though Plastination knew that Premier had documents authenticating” those purchases. The New York Times and London’s The Guardian have reported that human rights advocates in China queried whether the cadavers were those of executed prisoners sold for profit. Both von Hagens and Arnie Geller, Premier’s president, have repeatedly denied in news reports that the cadavers in their touring exhibits were secured illegally or were the corpses of executed Chinese prisoners. Instead, von Hagens and Geller have asserted that the bodies died naturally and were donated to medical science, primarily to Dalian Medical University in northern China, where both companies have acquired corpses. After going to arbitration, the federal suit in Ohio settled out of court on April 6. That same day, Premier filed the current litigation in Atlanta.
R. Robin McDonald is a reporter for the Daily Report , an ALM publication in Atlanta where this article first appeared.

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