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IP/Entertainment Case Law Updates

Scott-Blanton v. Universal City Studios Productions LLLP, et al.

A pro se plaintiff sued producers of the movie “Brokeback Mountain” for copyright infringement, claiming that even though her novel was published after the date of copyright registration of the screenplay and after post-production of the movie, defendants had access to her novel, revised the screenplay using elements of her novel, and shot new scenes for the movie based on her novel. Plaintiff requested limited discovery before the court ruled on defendants’ motion for summary judgment, and the court denied plaintiff’s motion.

Faced with evidence that the short story “Brokeback Mountain” was written in 1997, a screenplay was completed in 1998 and the motion picture was “locked” on January 14, 2005, plaintiff contended that after the release of her novel “My Husband Is on the Down Low and I Know About It,” first published on March 15, 2005, the defendants (1) wrote a new 180-page screenplay and based the motion picture on this screenplay; (2) wrote four “new” scenes for the screenplay that are similar to her novel; and (3) relied on both the short story “Brokeback Mountain” and her novel during the production of the motion picture.

In support of these contentions, plaintiff relied on various statements made by Larry McMurtry (one of the screenwriters), Annie Proulx (author of the short story), director Ang Lee and actress Michelle Williams in interviews. The court found that although plaintiff identified specific facts that would defeat defendants’ summary judgment motion if true, plaintiff failed to show a reasonable basis to suggest that discovery would create a triable issue of fact. In reaching this conclusion, the court stated that “plaintiff’s allegations that the defendants included four ‘new’ scenes in this ‘final’ screenplay is contradicted by overwhelming evidence” presented by defendants and that plaintiff’s reliance on comments made in interviews about progress of the movie were mere speculation. The court concluded that plaintiff did not offer a reasonable basis to demonstrate the need for discovery.

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