Appeals Court Backs Adam Sandler, Sony in Lawsuit Over 'You Don't Mess With the Zohan'
Is the idea to use a hair dryer as a weapon copyrightable? No, says appeals court.
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed a lower court's ruling that Adam Sandler, Judd Apatow, Sony Pictures and Sandler's Happy Madison didn't infringe a writer's comic book in the creation of the film You Don't Mess with the Zohan.
The lawsuit was filed in 2009 by Robert Cabell, who wrote a comic about a Navy SEAL-turned-hairdresser-turned-crime-fighter-with-a-blow-dryer. Cabell's work, entitled "The Hair-Raising Adventures of Jayms Blonde," allegedly was pitched to Columbia in 2007.
Last year, a district court dismissed the case on summary judgment with an amusing discussion of the copyrightability of blow-dryers-as-weapons. The judge found this concept to be an idea -- not expression -- and further noted the differences between Cabell's work and what was shown in the movie:
"Blonde holds a blow dryer that purports to be a ‘mini Uzi blowdryer’ with a black muzzle — a real weapon disguised as a blow dryer. In contrast, Zohan’s blow dryer is just that, with glowing red heating elements visible in its muzzle.”
On appeal, Cabell dropped the allegation that the plotline of Zohan infringed his work, instead focusing on the promotional material, such as the movie poster where Sandler is pictured holding a menacing blow dryer. (Or at least as menacing as blow dryers get.)
The Second Circuit again finds that brandishing a blow dryer as a weapon is an unprotectable idea and so too is the character's fighting pose.
"There is no plausible basis for a reasonable jury to find that the parties’ respective expressions of the concept of a crime-fighting hairdresser are substantially similar," says a panel of judges at the circuit.