March 15, 2013

E! Sued For Copyright Infringement Over “Opening Act” Reality TV Show

copyright-idea-submission-lawsuit-reality-show-entertainment-attorney-lawyer.jpgReality TV writer Henry Haraway filed a copyright infringement and breach of contract case against E! Entertainment Television and William Morris Endeavor talent agency, just to name a few. To see the rest of the defendants and to read the entire complaint, click here. Plaintiff alleges that he wrote a one page synopsis for a reality TV competition called “Opening Act”, described as “battle of the band type of competition local bands with dreams of big time recording contracts will battle it out for a chance to perform as the opening act for a major recording artist in their genre of music.”

As any prudent writer should do, Plaintiff registered the synopsis with the U.S. Copyright Office in 2003. He then submitted it to E! Entertainment and executed its submission agreement. It’s also alleged that William Morris and E! both executed an agreement confirming receipt of the synopsis and acknowledging that the material would not be used without compensating Plaintiff.

Unfortunately for Plaintiff, this appears to be an extremely tough case to win. Copyright law does not protect ideas, only the author’s expressions of that idea. For example, one cannot protect an idea for a reality TV show where contestants sing and are voted off by either judges or viewers, otherwise American Idol would sue America’s Got Talent. Similarly, the authors of the movie Tombstone could not sue the authors of Wyatt Earp, even though both movies told the story of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday and the shootout at the O.K. Corral. But if Wyatt Earp copied the script of Tombstone, a copyright infringement claim would arise.

Plaintiff’s breach of contract claim against E! does not look promising either. The “Submission Agreement” referenced is E!’s form agreement wherein the submitting party agrees and acknowledges “that no contract or obligation of any kind, other than those arising pursuant to the express terms of the Agreement, is assumed by [E!] or may be implied against [E!] by reason of [E!’s] review of the Material and/or discussions or negotiations we may have.” And it specifically states that the submission neither creates nor constitutes an implied-in-fact or implied-in-law contract regardless of industry norms.

The case is Haraway v. E! Entertainment Television, CV13-00628 FMO (C.D. Cal. 2013).

August 1, 2011

Court: Disney/Pixar’s Cars Don’t Infringe Mandeville-Anthony’s Copyrights

judgment-pleadings-pixar-cars-disney.jpgThe race for Mandeville-Anthony was over before it even began. In March of this year, Plaintiff sued Disney and Pixar alleging that the Cars and Cars 2 animated motion pictures infringed his copyrights. Also, Plaintiff claimed that Disney and Pixar stole his idea for the motion pictures from his work that he submitted to Disney and Pixar employees.

Disney and Pixar quickly filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings under FRCP 12(c), which means after the complaint, answer, counterclaims and reply, if any, are filed, a defendant can seek early judgment that – based on the pleadings alone – a plaintiff cannot meet its burden of proof. In a short one page opinion, the Court dismissed the copyright infringement claim because the parties’ works are not substantially similar as a matter of law: “[a]mong other things, the protectable elements of the parties’ respective works are dissimilar in plot, sequence of events, pace, themes, dialogue, mood, setting, and characters.” As to the second cause of action for breach of implied contract (aka idea submission), the Court found that the claim was untimely because it was filed after the applicable two-year statute of limitations. Cal. Code Civ. Pro. 339(1).

Reviewing Defendants’ motion shed’s light on the flimsy nature of Plaintiff’s allegations: “How Plaintiff can contend these characters [pictured here] are similar is mystifying. . . In short, the parties’ expressions of the general idea of animated, anthropomorphic cars are extremely different. Any suggestion that the parties’ characters are similar – let alone, substantially similar – would defy the Ninth Circuit’s exhortation that copyright law protects only the specific details of an author’s rendering of an idea, and not the idea itself.”

The Court agreed with Defendants’ contention that the statute of limitations period begins to run on the date defendants first began to use plaintiff’s idea without compensation. Because Cars was released in June 2006, Plaintiff’s complaint was filed about three years too late.

The case is Jake Mandeville-Anthony v. The Walt Disney Company, CV11-02137 VBF (C.D. Cal. 2011).

May 4, 2011

Montz Wins Ghost Hunters Idea Submission Case At Ninth Circuit (en banc)

montz-ghost-hunters-idea-submission-en-banc-ninth-circuit-implied-in-fact-contract.jpgThe Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s ruling and found that Montz’s idea submission/breach of implied-in-fact contract claim was not preempted by the Copyright Act. Montz v. Pilgrim Films & Television, Inc., __ F.3d __ (9th Cir. 2011) (en banc). In 1981, Larry Montz, a parapsychologist, came up with an idea for a TV show that would follow paranormal investigators to different locations to investigate paranormal activity. From 1996 to 2003, Montz pitched the idea to TV studios and producers, including NBC and the Sci-Fi channel. NBC and Sci-Fi had several meetings with Montz, wherein screenplays, videos, and other materials were presented. NBC and Sci-Fi indicated that they were not interested. But several years later, Sci-Fi debuted “Ghost Hunters” that was eerily similar to Montz’s idea.

In November 2006, Montz filed a complaint alleging copyright infringement, breach of implied contract, breach of confidence, and several other causes of action. The district court granted defendants’ motion to dismiss the complaint because it did not allege facts sufficient to state a copyright claim and determined the state-law claims were preempted. The parties dismissed the copyright claim and appealed the dismissal of the state-law claims, which ruling the three-judge panel affirmed. Montz v. Pilgrim Films & Television, Inc., 606 F.3d 1153 (9th Cir. 2010) (non-citable). The 9th Circuit, sua sponte, ordered an en banc rehearing of the case.

An idea for a TV show cannot be copyrighted; however, the concept can still be stolen if there’s a violation of

Continue reading "Montz Wins Ghost Hunters Idea Submission Case At Ninth Circuit (en banc)" »

May 2, 2011

Copyright Infringement Claim Against Gillette and EA Sports Should Be an Idea Submission Claim

idea-submission-attorney-implied-in-fact-contract-copyright-ea-sports-gillette-voss-knotts.jpgSan Diego, CA – Ron Voss is suing Gillette and EA Sports for copyright infringement and unfair competition, but judging from the facts of the case, he should have asserted an idea submission or an implied in fact contract claim. People mistakenly believe that a copyright registration protects the “idea” contained therein, instead of the particular expression. In fact, §102 of the Copyright Act specifically states that copyright protection does not extend to any “idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.”

Voss alleges that he wrote and copyrighted a treatment entitled “Cyber Sports Championship Challenge,” which concept involves televising video game tournaments that pit gamers against celebrities and famous sports stars as contestants. Voss contends that co-defendant Jerry Knotts “misappropriated [the copyrighted work] and delivered it to EA. Afterward, EA and other defendants infringed Mr. Voss’ copyright by creating and distributing on commercial television (via the Spike Channel) and the World Wide Web “Gillette®-EA Sports™ Present Champions of Gaming powered by Xbox 360 LIVE” (the “program”).” The complaint, however, fails to specify how the expression of the copyrighted work was copied, separate and apart from the alleged “misappropriation” of the general idea. Plaintiff’s §17200 unfair competition claim is based on the copyright infringement facts and is preempted. Fractional Villas, Inc. v. Tahoe Clubhouse, 2009 U.S. Dist. Lexis 39522 (S.D. Cal. 2009)(dismissing § 17200 claim because it was preempted by the Copyright Act).

The 9th Circuit has yet to rule after the en banc rehearing of the “Ghost Hunters” case, Montz v. Pilgrim Films & Television, Inc. The three-judge panel affirmed the district court’s order that Montz’s implied in fact contract claim was preempted by the Copyright Act. Montz v. Pilgrim Films & Television, Inc., 606 F.3d 1153 (9th Cir. 2010) (non-citable). The Court sua sponte ordered an en banc rehearing of the case and withdrew the three-judge panel’s published opinion. Based on the en banc panel’s questioning, I – as a non-clairvoyant – predict a reversal of the district court’s ruling and a finding that Montz’s idea submission claim is not preempted by the Copyright Act, in line with Grosso v. Miramax Film Corp., 383 F.3d 965 (9th Cir.2004) and Desny v. Wilder, 46 Cal.2d 715, 299 P.2d 257 (1956). Watch the video of the Ninth Circuit's en banc rehearing:

The case is Ron G. Voss v. Jerry E. Knotts, et al., CV11-0842 H WMc (S.D. Cal. 2011).