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Jonah Lomu doco stoush: Widow's cease-and-desist letter stalls project

Joseph Los'e,
Publish Date
Wed, 27 Sep 2023, 2:06pm
Nadene and Jonah Lomu with their kids.
Nadene and Jonah Lomu with their kids.

Jonah Lomu doco stoush: Widow's cease-and-desist letter stalls project

Joseph Los'e,
Publish Date
Wed, 27 Sep 2023, 2:06pm

A New Zealand Film Commission-backed documentary on the life of Jonah Lomu has stalled after his widow Nadene Lomu filed a claim on the rights to his story and alleged a breach of trademark.

Jonah Lomu’s widow Nadene Lomu has written a cease-and-desist letter to the New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC) over a proposed documentary about the rugby superstar, who died eight years ago, claiming she has sole rights to his story.

NZFC CEO Annie Murray said they had now provided advice to the documentary producers outlining Nadene Lomu’s grievance, and the project will not proceed until it has been resolved.

 “Lomu has received NZFC development funding and recently, a conditional offer was made to the production for NZFC production funding. We can confirm however, that we have not paid out any production funding for the film to date,” Murray said.

“Before advancing any production funding to a project, it is a standard condition of the NZFC’s that we carry out a full chain of title review and require a chain of title legal opinion from the production’s lawyer which states the producer has all required rights to produce and exploit the film. This condition also applies to this project.”

Murray does not believe intellectual property rights have been breached.

“However, we take intellectual property rights seriously and require any rights disputes to be resolved or managed before a project progresses.

 “We have therefore notified the producer on the project that a rights dispute has been raised regarding the film that would need to be resolved before the project progresses.”

Nadene Lomu and sons Brayley and Dhyreille.

Nadene Lomu and sons Brayley and Dhyreille.

The first global rugby superstar, Lomu died on November 18, 2015 at just 40, after a lifelong battle with a kidney ailment.

Today, Nadene Lomu told the Herald her letter to the Film Commission was a last resort because “someone has to fight and Jonah can’t, so I must, for our whānau”.

Nadene Lomu said she had trademarked and owned the intellectual property for “all and anything to do with my deceased husband”.

“I won’t be commenting further at this stage for the moment, however, it is beyond disappointing that it has come to this.”

Explaining her decision, Nadene Lomu told friends and family on Facebook: “As we approach eight years since our beloved Jonah devastatingly passed away leaving our side, there has been a lot that I have kept close to my heart.

“I just wanted to let all of our family and friends know about something very important that is unfortunately happening to us.

“On Monday September 25, I sent letters from myself to the New Zealand Film Commission and all producers of the Jonah Lomu documentary as I feel that a Jonah Lomu documentary, without my knowledge and consent, is wrong and illegal.

“I have attached to this post screenshots of the registered ownership Intellectual Property Trademark documents, which have been lodged, approved and registered with (IPONZ) Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand stating that all and anything to do with my deceased husband - Jonah Lomu’s name, likeness and image, including any film production and entertainment, must be approved and cleared through me as the owner of this IP.

The Jonah Lomu Trademark. Photo / Supplied

The Jonah Lomu Trademark. Photo / Supplied

“This stops anyone from trying to exploit and make money off Jonah and I want to protect the authenticity of his legacy for our two sons, Brayley and Dhyreille.

“In my letters to the New Zealand Film Commission, I have stated my support for their tireless and honest work on getting the New Zealand storytelling out to the world, and I fully support all they do.

“But on this instance, where my intellectual property rights have been violated on the production of a Jonah Lomu documentary, made without my authority or consent, nor have I been contacted by anyone in regards to the possibility that there might be a Jonah Lomu documentary. I have been forced to write a ‘cease and desist’ to the New Zealand Film Commission and the producers involved from continuing down the path that breaches and infringes on my intellectual property rights.

“The letters I wrote were from myself directly to the parties as my concerns are, and have always been, the protection of Jonah’s and my children.

“In saying that, I have no idea on what the storyline or direction of this documentary is taking or where the research has come from, nor has anyone in this process paid attention to see if there are any legal or copyright infringements.”

Nadene and Jonah Lomu with their kids.

Nadene and Jonah Lomu with their kids.

Nadene Lomu said over the years she had concern over how she felt she had been portrayed by the media.

“Personally, I have been painted in so many negative ways by the media and public, and bringing this issue up on social media could rekindle or bring up more negative things towards me, but as any mother with children would know, their protection of those they love is the most important thing to them, and negative publicity has always followed Jonah around, especially when he was at the top of his sporting career,” she said.

“If you are wondering why I have posted this, it’s in case the letters I wrote start to leak and I am again painted in a way that is misleading and untrue.

“This post is for my protection against any misconceptions about why I would write to the New Zealand Film Commission and the producers of the Jonah Lomu documentary, who have infringed on my rights.”

Nadene Lomu said she wrote the letters with aroha and thanked her supporters for understanding.

“Thank you from the bottom of my heart to each and every one of you that have continued to show your kindness and support to the Jonah Jrs and I; it is never unnoticed and we truly appreciate you all.”

The Film Commission‘s Murray said filmmakers were put through a robust checklist before funding for a project is given the go-ahead.

Funding information confirmed the NZFC board approved conditional offers to “one new feature film and additional equity to one feature film including a documentary, Lomu”.

Its logline is “experience the unstoppable force of Jonah Lomu, the greatest rugby player to walk the planet, whose indomitable spirit reshaped the game forever”.


Joseph Los’e joined NZME in 2022 as Kaupapa Māori editor. Los’e was a chief reporter, news director at the Sunday News newspaper covering crime, justice and sport. He was also editor of the NZ Truth and before joining NZME worked for 12 years for Te Whānau o Waipareira.

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