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IP/Entertainment Case Law Updates

Flaherty v. Filardi, et al., USDC S.D. New York

Court granted summary judgment for defendant movie producers and distributors of Bringing Down the House, finding that drafts of screenplay created during development and production of a movie that was a published, non-infringing work were not actionable under the Copyright Act. Court held in abeyance defendant screenwriter’s motion for summary judgment because there was no competent evidence as to what document defendant screenwriter actually sold to the film production defendants.

Plaintiff Marie Flaherty wrote a screenplay called Amoral Dilemma. She filed suit against the screenwriter, producers and distributors of the film Bringing Down the House for copyright infringement, and against Tobia and his law firm for allegedly agreeing to represent her. Flaherty alleged that Tobia represented herself and Filardi (who wrote the screenplay for Bringing Down the House) at the same time, that Tobia showed Filardi her screenplay which he plagiarized, and Tobia then sold Filardi’s screenplay to producers who subsequently made the movie Bringing Down the House.

In an earlier proceeding, the court had partially granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment on the copyright infringement claim relating to plaintiff’s screenplay and the movie Bringing Down the House because the court found that the two works were not substantially similar. In the instant action, the plaintiff asserted that drafts of the screenplay Bringing Down the House that were prepared during film development and production infringed her screenplay. The defendants argued that interim drafts of a published, non-infringing final work are not actionable under the Copyright Act, and the court agreed, citing several cases in which courts refused to consider early drafts of screenplays in copyright infringement claims against a finished movie. The court also granted summary judgment for the defendants on the plaintiff’s Lanham Act claim, explaining that an alleged author of a screenplay embodied in a publicly-released film is not the originator of the film and is therefore not protected by the Lanham Act.

The court held in abeyance the motion for summary judgment relating to the plaintiff’s claim against the lawyer Tobia and the screenwriter Filardi for allegedly selling to the producers a screenplay that infringed the plaintiff’s copyright. The court found that there was no competent evidence as to what document Filardi actually sold to the film production defendants, so the court allowed the parties to make additional submissions to the court on this issue. The court also granted the defendant lawyer and law firm’s motion for summary judgment relating to claims of legal malpractice, breach of fiduciary duty, and breach of contract, because the plaintiff failed to prove that Tobia agreed to represent her.