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White v. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Ninth Circuit affirms dismissal of copyright infringement claims related to Farrelly brothers’ films and television show, finding purported similarities generic and not protectable.

Plaintiff Stoddard White sued movie producer brothers Peter and Bob Farrelly, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, and others involved in creating and distributing the films There’s Something About Mary and Me, Myself and Irene, as well as the short-lived television show Unhitched, alleging that defendants had copied elements of his screenplays.

The district court dismissed plaintiff’s claims in full. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit summarily affirmed the dismissal, finding that plaintiff had failed to adequately allege substantial similarity. According to the court, the purported similarities were nonprotectable stock elements – such as a grocery store featuring shopping carts full of food. The court also found significant differences even among the allegedly similar elements. For example, while both works included a dogfight, the dog in plaintiff’s screenplay was not injured, whereas the dog in defendants’ movie was severely injured.

The Ninth Circuit also rejected plaintiff’s argument that the district court should have considered defendants’ screenplays. The issue, the court noted, was not whether plaintiff’s work shared substantial similarities with defendants’ screenplays, but with their publicly released films. The court also rejected plaintiff’s contention that the district court erred by not analyzing all of the more than one hundred alleged similarities. Finally, the court affirmed dismissal of plaintiff’s fraud claim, because plaintiff had not sufficiently alleged that he suffered any damages in light of the fact that his screenplays were not substantially similar to defendants’ works.