It would be an understatement to say there’s a lot of trouble surrounding “South Park” and its creators. Since its premiere in 1997, the animated series has been getting into a lot of trouble for its unapologetic and shameless sense of humor and jokes, including the uncountable times that they’ve mocked celebrities, other shows, cultural events, and a lot more.

While it isn’t surprising that “South Park” has had its fair share of legal issues for their showrunners’ creative decisions, in early 2023 a legal battle over the show started for very different reasons ensued between the companies currently owning its streaming services.

So what is it really about? Stay here to know all about the feud between Warner Bros. Discovery and Paramount over “South Park”, on top of also getting an insight into some of the most controversial and memorable lawsuits the show has faced in the past.

What Is the Lawsuit About?

Regardless of the backlash and countless controversies caused by “South Park” throughout its long run on TV, there’s nothing more appropriate than a multi-millionaire legal battle about it to prove how lucrative the show still is.

Said legal battle started in March 2023, when Warner Bros. Discovery sued Paramount, South Park Digital Studios, and MTV’s production unit for alleged breach of contract, stating in the $200 million lawsuit that the companies producing the show had engaged in an ‘illicit scheme’ which broke their partnership agreement.

These issues go back to the time in 2019, when the old WarnerMedia bought streaming rights for the existing catalog and three future seasons of “South Park” from Paramount. The impressive $500 million deal played in favor of WarnerMedia’s streaming service HBO Max, though it didn’t take long for the show’s production to stagnate due to the pandemic, resulting in the creation of fewer but longer special episodes which were aired on Paramount. The latter company also launched the show on its streaming service, which Warner Bros. Discovery now argues broke the exclusivity deal previously made between the companies.

In their counter lawsuit, Paramount stated that Warner Bros. Discovery’s lawsuit didn’t have any merit, and revealed the fellow company had so far failed to pay for $50 million in fees related to the show’s streaming.

While it’s still early to know what the outcome of this harsh legal battle will be, the fact that two entertainment giants are fighting over “South Park” just speaks volumes about the show’s impact and success.

Other “South Park” Legal Issues & Rumors

Even though the legal battle over “South Park”s streaming rights is quite a potentially lucrative one, it isn’t by far the most scandalous legal issue which has ever come out of the show. Here are some of the biggest “South Park” controversies, not all of which didn’t take the show and its creators to court but almost certainly did.

Tom Cruise’s Episode

While it’s already acknowledged that “South Park” isn’t afraid of mocking anyone they want to, that doesn’t mean that everyone is going to take those jokes lightly. One of the most famous examples of that was the ninth season episode “Trapped In The Closet” from 2005, which mocked the Church of Scientology and one of its most notable members Tom Cruise, going all out on it by mentioning the words ‘scam’ and ‘lawsuit’ to refer to the church, on top of questioning Cruise’s sexual preferences.

Soon enough, several rumors started about Cruise possibly quitting the promotional tour of his then-new movie “Mission: Impossible III” to show his contempt towards the episode, though that was later denied by his team. As well, “South Park”s former voice actor and Scientology member Isaac Hayes quit the show following the episode’s airing, though it was later alleged that it was a member of the church who released a press statement announcing Hayes’ departure, and not himself.

Following airing issues about the “Trapped In The Closet” episode started what became known in popular culture as ‘Closetgate’, though in the end the episode was put on normal syndication.

Regarding this memorable time in “South Park”s history, showrunners Matt Stone and Trey Parker admitted that the risk of having legal issues was a big motivator for them to create that episode: ‘I think that got us going. The Tom Cruise episode was really about getting sued’, they told the podcast “Basic!” in 2023 – maybe any publicity is ‘good’!

Yelp’s Lawsuit Junk News

True to its nature of mocking everyone, “South Park”s creators have their fair share of laughs while parodying several businesses, including the user review website Yelp. In the 19th season episode “You’re Not Yelping”, several “South Park” characters are portrayed as using their Yelp-customer status in all kinds of unfair ways, including bullying a classmate who was the son of a local restaurant owner.

While the episode was full of the common humor and satire that “South Park” audiences are used to, things took an unexpected turn when several news portals announced that Yelp was suing the show for $10 million over the alleged misrepresentation of their company.

According to these portals, Yelp’s representatives described the episode as ‘beyond ridiculous’ and in response, showrunners Parker and Stone had supposedly rated Yelp with one star on their website. Nevertheless, the alleged lawsuit and statements from the show’s creators were all fact-checked as untrue. Even Yelp itself went out of its way to clear up that they weren’t suing anyone and even claimed that the team behind “South Park” was fantastic, but at that point, the junk news had already spread like wildfire on the internet.

“Lollipop Forest” Lawsuit

Another in the long list of issues caused by “South Park” had to do with the trilogy “Imaginationland”, in which the characters are sucked into an imaginary world, though that was when trouble started for all of them.

While “Imaginationland” first aired in 2007, it wasn’t until 2012 that the episode brought some trouble to “South Park”, when a man named Exavier Wardlaw sued the show for allegedly plagiarizing both his children’s animated show “Lollipop Forest” and the character Big Bad Lollipop. According to court documents obtained by TMZ, Wardlaw wanted all references to the supposed rip-off from his work to be removed from “South Park”, on top of also criticizing how the show contained mature and crude themes which were clearly against everything “Lollipop Forest” was about.

According to court reports, the legal battle ended in May 2013 after Wardlaw voluntarily withdrew the lawsuit, hinting that an out-of-court deal was reached between the parties, or that the case didn’t go anywhere. Whatever happened, it was one of those rare occasions in which “South Park” couldn’t get out of trouble that easily.

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Music Video Lawsuit

The “Lollipop Forest” case wasn’t the first time that “South Park” was sued over copyright infringement. A similar case took place in 2010, when Brownmark Films sued the show for allegedly using the song “What What (In the Butt)” by Samwell unauthorized in the 2008’s episode “Canada on Strike”, which made fun of the impact of the internet viral videos.

The lawsuit didn’t go far though, as a Wisconsin judge dismissed the case, considering that it was fair use, also ordering Brownmark Films to pay the show $31,525.23 for interfering with free speech rights. The award was initially over $45,000, but was lowered by the judge for considering Brownmark Films was too small a company to pay that much.

Though this latter case turned out well for “South Park”, also in 2010 the show went through controversy over ripping-off lines from a skit created by the internet comedy website CollegeHumor.com about the movie “Inception”. Though this incident didn’t result in a lawsuit and the parties talked things through, it led showrunners Stone and Parker to apologize publicly for their careless use of these dialogues, and admit that they hadn’t researched further before airing the episode, thinking the lines were original from the movie.

Other Recent Issues

While it’s been a while since “South Park”s creators were taken to court over content, they’ve been close to being sued again. The most recent case was related to the 2023 aired episode “The Worldwide Privacy Tour”, centered around the fictional Prince of Canada and his wife, whose physical resemblance to Prince Harry and Meghan wasn’t easy to ignore.

Though it was strongly feared that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex were most likely suing the show over the episode, a representative for the royal couple was quick to dismiss these rumors, describing them as ‘nonsense’ and ‘totally baseless’. Nevertheless, it was clear that the controversy created by the parody became so big that there was a need for an official statement, again indicating how huge the impact of “South Park” content is in popular culture.

While it’s sure that the show will keep getting into a lot of trouble, there are still no limits to what “South Park” is capable of parodying yet.

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