'Sweet Home' script suit dismissed

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A federal court judge has dismissed a copyright infringement lawsuit against The Walt Disney Co. filed by Oscar-nominated producer Stuart Benjamin and three others, finding the movie "Sweet Home Alabama" was not based on their screenplay, "Rescue Me."

In his 22-page decision issued Dec. 12, U.S. District Court Judge George Schiavelli ruled that while there may have been some limited access to the "Rescue Me" screenplay by Disney executives, no "substantial similarities" between the two scripts exist.

"The general stories of 'Rescue Me' and 'Sweet Home Alabama' are similar only at the most abstract level," Schiavelli wrote. "Abstract story ideas, such as those here, are not copyrightable."

Benjamin, a producer on the Oscar-winning film "Ray," along with Alise Benjamin, John Schalter and Sheldon Cohn sued Disney in 2005, claiming that the 2002 movie starring Reese Witherspoon was an unauthorized adaptation of their screenplay.

The lawsuit alleged that the film's producer Stokley Chaffin and writer C. Jay Cox had access to the script via a tracking system in place at Chaffin's production company. But Schiavelli ruled there was no evidence to support that claim.

"Rescue Me" was sent to several Disney executives in 1997 and several beat outlines were made, but the project was eventually terminated. And while that establishes some type of access by Disney, Chaffin, Cox and "Sweet's" original writer Douglas Eboch provided "uncontroverted evidence" of independently creating and developing the screenplay," the judge ruled.
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