Law School Case Brief
Anderson v. Stallone - No. 87-0592 WDK (Gx), 1989 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11109 (C.D. Cal. Apr. 25, 1989)
Under 17 U.S.C.S. § 106(2), the holder of a copyright has he exclusive right to prepare derivative works based upon his copyrighted work. A work is derivative only if it would be considered an infringing work if the material which it had derived from a prior work had been taken without the consent of the copyright proprietor of the prior work.
An actor wrote a series of successful motion pictures. After viewing the third movie in the series, a screenwriter wrote a treatment for a fourth movie and met with studio executives to discuss the treatment. The studio subsequently released a fourth movie that bore some similarity to the treatment. The screenwriter filed suit alleging that the studio appropriated his ideas. Thereafter, defendants, actor, studio, studio president, and associated individuals, filed a motion for summary judgment in plaintiff screenwriter's action alleging breach of contract, tortious breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, copyright infringement, unfair competition, unjust enrichment, and breach of confidence.
Can the defendants’ motion for summary judgment be granted in light of the circumstances presented?
Yes and no
The court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment as to the screenwriter's claims for copyright infringement, unfair competition, unjust enrichment, and breach of confidence. The court denied the motion as to the screenwriter's claims for breach of contract and tortious breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.
The court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment as to the screenwriter's claims for copyright infringement, unfair competition, unjust enrichment, and breach of confidence. The court held that whether the contract claims were time-barred could not be decided on summary judgment because the date of accrual of the claims was dependent on disputed contract language. Moreover, the breach of confidence claim was barred by Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 339(1) because the screenwriter filed suit more than two years after the actor disclosed the allegedly appropriated ideas on television. The Court also ruled that the unjust enrichment and unfair competition claims were preempted by federal copyright law. Furthermore, the Court posited that the treatment was not entitled to copyright protection because the screenwriter appropriated characters developed by the actor and created a derivative work without permission. Thus, the Court ruled that the screenwriter could not prevail on his infringement claim because the fourth movie was not substantially similar to the treatment.
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