Law School Case Brief
Forest Park Pictures v. Universal TV Network, Inc. - 683 F.3d 424 (2d Cir. 2012)
A federal court sitting in diversity jurisdiction applies the choice of law rules of the forum state.
This dispute over the concept for a television show presents the question of the extent to which the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 101 et seq., preempted contract claims involving copyrightable property. Plaintiffs-Appellants Forest Park Pictures, Hayden Christensen, and Tove Christensen (collectively, "Forest Park") developed an idea for a television series and created a writing that embodied it, known in the industry as a "series treatment." Forest Park submitted its idea, first by mail and then in person, to Defendant-Appellee USA Network, a division of Universal Television Network, Inc. ("USA Network"). Forest Park alleges an implied promise by USA Network to pay reasonable compensation if the idea were used. The District Court for the Southern District of New York held that the Copyright Act preempted a breach of contract claim based on idea submission, and granted USA Network's motion to dismiss. Plaintiffs appealed.
Were the plaintiffs-appellants breach of implied contract claim preempted by the Copyright Act?
The appellate court determined that the Copyright Act did not preempt the breach of implied contract claim because the equivalency requirement was not met since (1) there were several qualitative differences between the claim involving an implied-in-fact agreement requiring the network to pay plaintiffs for the use of the idea and a copyright violation claim, and (2) the alleged contract required the network to pay for the use of plaintiffs' ideas and did not simply require the network to honor plaintiffs' exclusive rights under the Copyright Act. Plaintiffs alleged an enforceable contract because, inter alia, they alleged that they agreed with the network to be paid the industry standard for the idea.
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