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Gilbert v. New Line Productions, Inc., et al.

  • Court grants in part plaintiff’s motion for reconsideration of copyright infringement claims. In earlier ruling, court compared defendants’ movie to plaintiff’s screenplay and granted defendants’ motion to dismiss, holding that the works were not substantially similar; on reconsideration, court allowed plaintiff to re-assert her claims relating to defendants’ screenplay (as opposed to defendants’ movie).
Plaintiff wrote four versions of a screenplay called “When Mom Is the Other Woman” and claimed that defendants copied her screenplay and turned it into the movie “Monster in Law.” Plaintiff obtained copyright registration for the second, third and fourth versions of her screenplay.

In November 2009, the court granted defendants’ motion to dismiss, finding that defendants’ movie and the second, third and fourth versions of plaintiff’s screenplay were not substantially similar. The court also held that since plaintiff did not obtain copyright registration for her first screenplay, she could not hold defendants liable for its infringement. The court also dismissed plaintiff’s RICO claims.

The plaintiff then filed a motion for reconsideration, arguing that she should be able to assert infringement claims based on defendants’ screenplay (as opposed to defendants’ movie), and the court agreed. As the court stated, plaintiff’s “screenplay claims remain viable, even after the Movie has been found not to infringe. Since Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss focused on substantial similarity between the Movie and Plaintiff’s works, and since Plaintiff failed to bring attention to her independent screenplay claims in the Opposition to Motion to Dismiss, the Court did not address the screenplay claims. Nonetheless, the screenplay claims are part of the Second Amended Complaint and [are] legally viable.” The court stated, however, that this ruling “does not concern the merits of the screenplay claims. It merely allows Plaintiff to litigate the screenplay claims as separate and independent allegations of infringement against Defendants.”

The court also allowed the plaintiff to re-assert her racketeering claims against defendants to the extent those claims are based on defendants’ screenplay.

The court held that the remaining arguments in plaintiff’s motion for reconsideration “are improper attempts to re-argue matters that the Court has already decided.” The court provided the following three points “for clarification.”

According to the court, plaintiff seemed to argue that similarities between the earlier versions of the defendants’ screenplay can establish that the movie itself infringed plaintiff’s works. “This Court already rejected that argument, as the Ninth Circuit has squarely held that earlier drafts of defendant’s work are irrelevant for the purpose of establishing similarity between the plaintiff’s work and the later drafts of the defendant’s work.” (citing See v. Durang, 711 F.2d 141 (9th Cir. 1983)).

The court also admonished the plaintiff for claiming that the court had “admitted” 140 similarities between the movie and plaintiff’s works in its November order. “That is not so. In footnote 1 and 2 of the November 16 Order, the Court listed many of the alleged similarities and rejected Plaintiff’s comparisons of the works.”

Finally, the court held that the issue of substantial similarity can be decided on a motion to dismiss. “Plaintiff correctly states that determination of substantial similarity often requires expert testimony and detailed analysis of the facts. Plaintiff also correctly states that where access to the plaintiff’s work is undisputed, a lesser degree of similarity is required to satisfy the substantial similarity test. But it does not follow that the Court should always allow discovery in copyright infringement cases--no matter how dissimilar (and unsubstantially similar) the parties’ works--simply because the case is at the motion to dismiss stage or because access is not at issue.” (citations omitted) According to the court, in close cases, the court would be inclined to allow the matter to proceed to summary judgment or trial to ensure that the parties’ arguments are not shortchanged. However, in this case, the court stated that the issue of substantial similarity between plaintiff’s works and the movie is not a close one.