Francesca Gregorini, who wrote, produced and directed the 2013 film The Truth About Emanuel, brought copyright claims against the creators of the Apple TV series Servant, including Apple, show creator and director M. Night Shyamalan, and the show’s producers, alleging that the first three episodes of Servant were substantially similar to The Truth About Emanuel. The district court dismissed Gregorini’s complaint, finding that the works were not substantially similar as a matter of law. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded.
The court noted that dismissal for lack of substantial similarity is not favored, even at the summary judgment stage, and that at the pleading stage, dismissal is only appropriate if “as a matter of law the similarities between the two works are only in uncopyrightable material or are de minimis.” In addition, it must be the case that discovery could not alter the conclusion that the works are not substantially similar as a matter of law. The court found that “reasonable minds could differ” on whether substantial similarity existed between Gregorini’s movie and the first three episodes of the television series. In addition, discovery—in particular, expert testimony—would be helpful in this case. In particular, the court noted that “expert testimony would aid the court in objectively evaluating similarities in cinematic techniques, distinguishing creative elements from scènes à faire, determining the extent and qualitative importance of similar elements between the works, and comparing works in the different mediums of film and television.”
Summary prepared by Melanie Howard and Alex Inman