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Buchwald v. Paramount Pictures, Corp. - 1990 Cal. App. LEXIS 634

Rule:

An inference of copying may arise where there is proof of access to the material with a showing of similarity. Where there is strong evidence of access, less proof of similarity may suffice.

Facts:

Plaintiff Art Buchwald, an internationally renowed writer and humorist, prepared an eight page screen treatment entitled “It's a Crude, Crude World,” which was presented to defendant movie producers at Paramount Pictures, Inc. Pursuant to an agreement of the parties, plaintiff was entitled to payment if defendants produced a feature length motion picture based on plaintiff's work. In 1988, Paramount released “Coming To America,” but no screenplay credit was given to Buchwald. Plaintiff brought suit against defendant for a breach of the parties' agreement when he did not receive payment after a film substantially similar to that contained in his screen treatment was produced by defendants.

Issue:

Should movie producers and studio be held liable for an alleged breach of contract?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The court found that defendant movie producers breached the agreement of the parties as the movie produced by the defendant was substantially similar to the plaintiff’s screen treatment. According to the court, the similarities between the treatment and the movie made were sufficient to impose contractual liability on defendants. Further, similar gimmicks in both the movie and the treatment provided compelling evidence that the evolution of plaintiffs’ idea provided an inspiration for the movie. Hence, the court held the defendants liable.

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