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Stromback v. New Line Cinema

United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

June 8, 2004, Argued ; September 14, 2004, Decided ; September 14, 2004, Filed

Nos. 02-2387/02-2388

Opinion

 [****1546]   [*289]  [***2]   GORDON J. QUIST, District Judge. Plaintiff, Douglas Alan Stromback ("Stromback"), sued Defendant, New Line Cinema ("NLC"), and others, alleging violations of the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 106, and the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1125, and alleging various state law claims under Michigan and/or California law. Stromback's claims all arise out of his allegations [**2]  that the movie "Little Nicky," which is owned and distributed by NLC, infringes Stromback's poem entitled "The Keeper" as well as his original treatment and outline of a screenplay based upon "The Keeper" poem entitled "The Keeper." 2 The district court granted summary judgment to NLC on all of Stromback's claims and dismissed  [***3]  the case. Stromback filed this timely appeal. We affirm on all issues.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

In late 1998 and early 1999, Stromback, an actor, aspiring screenwriter, and former professional [****1547]  hockey player, created an original poem entitled "The Keeper." Stromback then created an original treatment and original outline of a screenplay based upon "The Keeper" poem [**3]  and entitled each one "The Keeper." Later, Stromback created several original screenplays of "The Keeper." Stromback registered the poem and a version of the screenplay with the Copyright Office. Stromback also registered several versions of the screenplay with the Writers Guild of America.

Stromback alleges that in early 1999, he shared the poem and the screenplay with Larry Hess and John Apothaker to solicit their comments on his work. According to Stromback, Hess and Apothaker subsequently passed copies of "The Keeper" poem and screenplay to NLC. In November 2000, NLC released a movie it produced called "Little Nicky," starring Adam Sandler. Stromback alleges that after seeing "Little Nicky" in the theater, he realized that it contained substantial similarities to his works, including similarities in theme, character treatment and development, idiosyncratic character traits, and scene selection. A description of the two works follows. 3

 [**4]  [*290] The Keeper

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384 F.3d 283 *; 2004 U.S. App. LEXIS 19229 **; 2004 FED App. 0314P (6th Cir.) ***; 72 U.S.P.Q.2D (BNA) 1545 ****

DOUGLAS ALAN STROMBACK, Plaintiff-Appellant/Cross-Appellee, v. NEW LINE CINEMA, Defendant-Appellee/Cross-Appellant, LARRY HESS, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

Subsequent History: Rehearing denied by  Stromback v. New Line Cinema, 2004 U.S. App. LEXIS 21704 (6th Cir., Oct. 8, 2004)

Prior History:  [**1]  Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan at Detroit. No. 01-73898. John Corbett O'Meara, District Judge.

 Stromback v. New Line Cinema, 2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 21969 ( E.D. Mich., Oct. 28, 2002)

Disposition: Affirmed.

CORE TERMS

screenplay, preempted, misappropriation, district court, trade secret, substantially similar, poem, copying, similarities, infringement, copyright infringement, preemption, summary judgment, exclusive right, subject matter, movie, expert testimony, evil, rhyming, qualitatively, misappropriation of trade secrets, copyright protection, state law claim, allegations, murder, scenes, confidential, unauthorized, equivalency, extrinsic

Civil Procedure, Appeals, Standards of Review, De Novo Review, Copyright Law, Copyright Infringement Actions, Civil Infringement Actions, General Overview, Judgments, Summary Judgment, Summary Judgment Review, Standards of Review, Entitlement as Matter of Law, Ownership Rights, Displays, Elements, Copying by Defendants, Presumptions, Scope of Copyright Protection, Collective & Derivative Works, Derivative Works, Business & Corporate Compliance, Adaptations, Infringement, Moral Rights, Reproductions, Ownership Interests, Subject Matter, Statutory Copyright & Fixation, Original Works of Authorship, Copying by Defendants, Access, Substantial Similarity, Relief From Judgments, Extrinsic Tests, Intrinsic Tests, Intrinsic Tests, Ordinary Observer Test, Appropriateness, Standards for Granting Summary Judgment, Online Infringement, Determinations, Evidence, Admissibility, Expert Witnesses, Types of Evidence, Testimony, Expert Witnesses, Helpfulness, Expression & Idea Distinguished, Protected Subject Matter, Limited Protection for Ideas, Literary Works, Characters, Scope of Protection, Demonstrative Evidence, Photographs, Visual Formats, Federal Unfair Competition Law, False Designation of Origin, Reverse Palming Off, Trademark Law, Likelihood of Confusion, Lanham Act, Constitutional Copyright Protections, Federal & State Law Interrelationships, Federal Preemption, Common Law Copyrights, Fixation Requirement, Governments, Fiduciaries, Trade Secrets Law, Federal Versus State Law, Uniform Trade Secrets Act, Courts, Common Law, Trade Secrets Law, Civil Actions, Antitrust & Trade Law, Intellectual Property, Bad Faith, Fraud & Nonuse, Misappropriation Actions, Elements of Misappropriation, Acquisition, Existence & Ownership, Use, International Trade Law, Torts, Intentional Torts, Breach of Fiduciary Duty, Elements, Breach of Confidence, Confidential Relationships, Trade Secret Determination Factors, Confidentiality, Unfair Competition, Reviewability of Lower Court Decisions, Preservation for Review, Economic Value, Protection of Secrecy, Prospective Advantage, Intentional Interference, Business Torts, Commercial Interference, Procedural Matters, Preemption, Defenses