Many people consult with psychics. Not an unusual thing to do (certainly not in California). But not a lot of people spend the next 38 years adding rooms to their houses because the soothsayer said spirits would kill them if construction ever stopped. At least one person is reported to have done so: Sarah Winchester, the widow of the son of the famed gunmaker. By the time the heiress died in 1922 at age 82, her seven-room farmhouse had become a seven-story, 160-room Victorian-style mansion, replete with winding dead-end passageways, interior windows, and doors to nowhere.
These types of legends make good movies, which is why a production company approached the owner of the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California, to request permission to film there. The owner turned it down, stating that another company had already acquired the rights to the Winchester story. The filmmakers went ahead and made their movie anyway, calling it Haunting of Winchester House and putting a Victorian-style mansion on the DVD cover. You can guess what happened next.
The case that followed, Winchester Mystery House, LLC v. Global Asylum, Inc., represents a classic battle seen frequently in the world of entertainment litigation: the trademark owner who wishes to preserve his exclusive rights to a particular name vs. the artist who wishes to use that name as part of a creative work. And the battleground? The First Amendment, of course. So what happens when the owners of one of America’s most famous haunted houses take on the filmmakers who have gone renegade to tell its (highly fictionalized) story?