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IP/Entertainment Case Law Updates

Hill v. Gaylord Entertainment, et al.

Pro se plaintiff Leonard Aaron Hill sued the producers and distributors of the film Donnie Darko, claiming that the film infringed his copyright in his unpublished manuscript called “Tiny Little Virus: HIV, Death, Resurrection, and the Second Coming.”

As a preliminary matter, the district court noted that the Supreme Court has established that a pro se litigant should be afforded wide leeway in pleadings. However, the district court also recognized that even pro se litigants are “required to meet certain essential burdens in their pleadings.”

The district court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim because the plaintiff only alleged that the plot of the two works have a strong similarity and that he mailed his manuscript to “publishers and literary agents for possible publication.” The court explained that these assertions, without additional facts, were not enough to properly allege copying.

In addition, the plaintiff did not allege that any of his expression, rather than his ideas, was copied. For example, in his response to the motion to dismiss, the plaintiff claimed that Donnie Darko and the director’s cut of the film “are Plaintiff’s memories.” The district court held that “[t]o withstand a motion to dismiss, the Plaintiff would have to allege specifically what aspects of the movie Donnie Darko encompass his particular expression. As the complaint reads at present, the court can only conclude that Plaintiff seeks protection for the ideas in his manuscript, and not for Plaintiff’s original expression.”

The court also granted two out-of-state defendants’ motions to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. In his response to the motion to dismiss, the plaintiff argued that personal jurisdiction exists because Donnie Darko has been broadcast on cable and satellite television within the state of Florida. The district court noted that this allegation had not been included in the complaint and went on to state that, even if it had been, it was not clear which prong of Florida’s long-arm statute the allegation would satisfy. The district court found that the plaintiff was not relieved of his burden of demonstrating that the court had proper jurisdiction over the defendants simply because the plaintiff “is ignorant of the law and has no concept of ‘jurisdiction.’”