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IP/Entertainment Case Law Updates

Maharam v. Patterson, et al.

Second Circuit affirms summary judgment for defendants author, illustrator and publisher in copyright infringement action relating to children’s book based on defendants’ evidence of independent creation.

Plaintiff children’s book author claimed that defendants author, illustrator, and publisher of book titled SantaKID infringed the copyright in her book titled ‘Kid’ Santa Clause. The district court granted summary judgment to defendants based on defendants’ substantial, uncontradicted evidence that their children’s book was created independently of plaintiff’s work and because plaintiff failed to show that her work was “widely disseminated.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision for “substantially the reasons stated by the district court.” The appeals court also noted that plaintiff’s expert witnesses specifically declined to offer the opinion “that the respective works were so strikingly similar as to preclude the possibility of independent creation.” The court also held that there was no issue of material fact with respect to independent creation, partly based on defendants’ numerous affidavits, including those of non-parties, such as the author’s former agent and secretary, supporting their argument of independent creation, as well as documentary evidence, in the form of 11 drafts and numerous memos with editorial notes, corroborating the affidavits.

Finally, the court found no abuse of discretion in the district court’s denial of plaintiff’s recusal motion. According to the court, the record demonstrated that neither the district judge nor her husband had a disqualifying financial interest and, when the judge discovered that her son had owned a potentially disqualifying interest during the pendency of the litigation, she properly determined that, because her son sold the stock before the judge was aware that he owned it, recusal was not warranted. In addition, the court stated that neither the fact that the district court judge and a defendant once lived on the same floor of an apartment building, nor plaintiff’s general and unsubstantiated allegations about the district judge’s social connections to the defendants, “would cause a reasonable person to question the court’s impartiality.”

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