Israeli Children’s Book Illustrator Sues Habima for Copyright Violation Over Production

Yaniv Shimonyn claims that a character from his 'Uncle Leo's Adventures' is being used in Habima's Hanukkah production without his permission

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The 'Uncle Leo' series, Yantz Levi
The 'Uncle Leo' series, Yantz LeviCredit: Dudu Bachar

The illustrator of a popular Israeli series of children’s books is suing the country’s national theater for intellectual property infringement.

Yaniv Shimony illustrated the Uncle Leo’s Adventures series (“Dod Aryeh” in Hebrew), written by Yannets Levi. He is demanding 300,000 shekels ($85,000) from Tel Aviv’s Habima Theater, claiming it used the character in a Hanukkah production without his permission.

Yaniv ShimonyCredit: Moti Milrod

Shimony asked the Tel Aviv District Court to stop the production, “Uncle Leo’s Adventures and Ragepunch the Witch,” the first performance of which is scheduled for Thursday. He also requested the removal of ads in which the Uncle Leo character appears.

The court, which gave Habima until Tuesday to respond, will hear arguments on Shimony’s request for a restraining order next Thursday. The judge advised the parties to try to reach an out-of-court settlement.

Habima said in a statement that the suit has no merit and that the scheduled performances will take place.

The play, starring Tal Mosseri, was developed in cooperation with Levi.

The first book in the series, “Uncle Leo’s Adventures in the Romanian Steppes,” was published in Hebrew in 2007. Five additional volumes have appeared since then, all of them illustrated by Shimony. (Several have been translated into English and other languages). Shimony was awarded the Israel Museum prize for illustrated children’s books for the series.

A Shimony illustration.

“There’s no need to even use one’s imagination to see the resemblance between the character the plaintiff designed and the one that appears on the respondent’s infringing advertisements and in the infringing development of the two-dimensional character the plaintiff created into the three-dimensional character played by an actor, which clearly shows that this is a material reproduction that is completely copied from the works of the plaintiff,” Shimony argued in the request for a restraining order. His suit accuses Habima of intellectual property theft, copyright infringement and commercial wrongdoing.

“The respondent didn’t even make any effort to camouflage its actions,” the request says. “It simply took the character, copied it and/or created a derivative work, and adapted it to a new medium, from a two-dimensional character created by the plaintiff to a three dimensional anthropomorphic character represented by an actor, for the purpose of staging a play for an audience.”

In a statement, Shimony’s lawyer, Dror David Nahum, described his client as “one of Israel’s top illustrators, who over the past 20 years has illustrated, designed, and created characters for dozens of books for children and teens. Yaniv is the exclusive holder of the copyright for the Uncle Leo character; he is the one who created its appearance, shape and external appearance; he’s the one who gave [the character] its soul.”

According to the statement, “Shimony contacted Habima and demanded that it not violate his rights but Habima chose to ignore his demands and only yesterday afternoon said that it rejects his claims, leaving Shimony no choice but to immediately turn to the court.”

In a response, Habima said it will present its arguments as needed in court.”