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Mestre, et al. v. Vivendi Universal US Holding Company, et al.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in a copyright infringement suit brought against the authors, producers and distributors of the film Billy Elliot. The plaintiff claimed that the defendants stole her original screenplay titled The Sunday Hat. Contending that there were genuine issues of material fact regarding both access and substantial similarity, the plaintiff argued that the question of copyright infringement should be presented to the jury, but the Ninth Circuit disagreed.

The court held that while there were some general similarities between the works, they did not extend beyond generic plot lines or scenes a faire which are not protected by copyright law. The court quoted Funky Films, Inc. v. Time Warner Entm’t, 462 F.3d 1072 (9th Cir. 2006), and said that although “[a]t first blush, these apparent similarities appear significant[,] an actual reading of the two works reveals greater, more significant differences and few real similarities at the levels of plot, characters, themes, mood, pace, dialogue or sequence of events.” Moreover, the court stated that while in some contexts the particular sequence in which an author strings a significant number of unprotectable elements can be a protectable element (citing Metcalf v. Bochco, 294 F.3d 1069, 1074 (9th Cir. 2002)), in this case, the plaintiff had not demonstrated sufficient similarities in sequence to qualify for such protection. Concluding that the works were not substantially similar, the court did not address the issue of access.