Hollywood Docket: 'Royal Pains' Settlement; 'Men in Black' Timepiece; CBS' 'Brooklyn D.A.'
A roundup of entertainment law news including a new trial over a "Point Break" parody stage play and an appellate hearing on Superman rights.
Universal Television Networks has settled a lawsuit that contended that the idea for USA's television series Royal Pains was stolen.
The claim was brought by Hayden Christensen, best known for his role as Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars prequels, his brother Tove, and their production company, Forest Park Pictures.
The plaintiffs alleged that in 2005, they brought the idea for a concierge doctor show titled Housecall to USA and provided a treatment, character biographies and show ideas. Two years ago, a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit, ruling that copyright law pre-empted the implied breach of contract claim, but in a big 2nd Circuit appellate ruling last June, the lawsuit was revived following determination of qualitative differences between a contract claim and a copyright infringement claim.
Earlier this month, both sides submitted paperwork to dismiss the lawsuit with prejudice. Both sides have agreed to bear their own costs. No further details of the agreement have been made public. An attorney for the plaintiff confirms the resolution but otherwise declines to comment.
The dispute's most significant impact might be to make it slightly easier for writers to pursue stolen ideas in court on breach-of-implied contract claims. In last year's 2nd Circuit ruling, an appeals judge said that to survive copyright preemption, plaintiffs need to bring proof of an "extra element."
The judge revived the lawsuit after looking at the allegation that when USA Network took a pitch meeting, it voluntarily accepted Christensen's ideas "knowing full well that Plaintiffs had submitted those ideas in confidence and for economic gain, and with the clear expectation of payment in the event those ideas were utilized by USA Network."
In other entertainment law news:
- The two watchmakers involved in a lawsuit over a timepiece that appeared in Men in Black 3 have also come to a settlement. Last year, the Swatch Group sued Stuhrling Original, alleging that the defendant had stolen its design and touted a watch as having been seen in the film. According to the terms of the settlement, Stuhrling paid just $1 to Swatch, with the money going to charity. The agreement was entered into “without any admission of liability,” but Stuhrling has agreed to refrain from selling two particular watch models including the one that prompted the lawsuit.
- A New York judge has refused to stop the premiere of CBS' Brooklyn D.A., which features local district attorney Charles Hynes. The series prompted a lawsuit from Hynes' political opponent, Abe George, who contended that giving hours of free air time to Hynes amounted to an illegal campaign contribution. After a hearing last week where CBS' lawyers argued that the newsworthiness of the show gave them a First Amendment right to air the program, New York Supreme Court judge Paul Wooten declined any preliminary injunction with further arguments on whether to allow the lawsuit to be heard at a later date.
- Last December, a jury awarded $250,000 to Jamie Keeling, the playwright of a parody stage version of the 1991 film Point Break. Keeling was victorious after convincing the judge that parodies are copyrightable and that New Rock Theater Productions had no right to stop paying her royalties while continuing to use her work. Now, the judge in the case has ordered a new trial to assess the liability of Ethan Garber, one of the biggest investors in New Rock, who allegedly pressured the producer to take a strong stance before a lawsuit was filed. Garber contends that later he urged the producer to stop staging infringing productions of the play.
- The dispute over Superman rights continues. The latest hearing came at the Ninth Circuit last week when attorney Marc Toberoff argued that a lower court was in error by ruling that a 1992 agreement between Superman co-creator Joe Shuster's sister and DC Comics precluded Shuster's family from executing rights to terminate a copyright grant on Superman. Toberoff argued that the '92 agreement was a simple, one-page pension deal that couldn't have included termination rights while DC's lawyer countered that the sister was Shuster's sole beneficiary and extracted an increase in benefit payments in return for giving up those rights.
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