Judge Gives Warner Bros. a Victory in 'Trouble With the Curve' Lawsuit
UPDATED: The studio prevails by showing the judge that the plaintiff's script isn't very similar to its 2012 movie.
Warner Bros. has scored a summary judgment win in a copyright infringement lawsuit over the 2012 film, Trouble With the Curve, starring Clint Eastwood as a cantankerous aging baseball scout. On Tuesday, while not completely dismissing the case, the judge ruled in Warners' favor by saying the plaintiffs hadn't shown requisite similarity from an allegedly stolen script.
Gold Glove Productions and its leader Ryan Brooks filed the lawsuit last October and alleged that the film was similar to a screenplay titled Omaha. The plaintiff claimed to have hired a writer named Don Handfield to write Omaha, and after quarreling with Handfield, said that Omaha passed through the agency system, was camouflaged into Trouble With the Curve and became credited to another writer Randy Brown.
The lawsuit was nasty even by the standards of an entertainment industry accustomed to a good brawl.
In the complaint, the plaintiff spoke of "conspiracy," derided Brown as a nobody whose band played weddings at Monty’s Steak House and spoke about the "degenerating ethics" of Hollywood. Gold Glove promised the case would "serve as a beacon of light for those who wish to follow in an effort to rid the industry of such corruption"
After Warner Bros. answered the complaint by pointing to "indisputable" evidence that disproved Gold Glove's claims, the defendants unleashed scorn on the studio's experts. The parties spent day after day attempting to discredit each other's evidence.
While lawsuits over stolen ideas are common, this one was marked by hyperbolic language in court briefs and aggressive press outreach by the attorneys representing Gold Glove. As a result, the case picked up more media attention than the typical idea theft case.
Unfortunately for Gold Glove, none of that meant much inside a court. Ultimately, Gold Glove wasn't able to get past the same hurdle that trips up many plaintiffs in these kinds of cases. Judge Dale Fisher has reviewed the materials and doesn't find the scripts particularly similar. Her ruling was released on Tuesday and doesn't find that Gold Glove was particularly persuasive.
On a description of Omaha's plot, the judge writes it was "conveniently crafted in generalities, such that major differences in the two plots are either papered over or ignored. But even aside from these differences… the idea of a father-daughter baseball story is not protectable as a matter of copyright law."
On characters, the judge says that the main characters are both gruff, old-school, irascible, stubborn widowers who miss their wives and have difficulty communicating with their daughters. "But this is far from a unique character," says the judge. "Rather, it is one that “flow[s] naturally from the works’ shared premises” of an older baseball-devoted father attempting to become closer with his daughter."
Further, the judge says "the mood and pace also differ in the two works" and Trouble with the Curve "does not appear to copy Omaha's dialogue."
On themes, the judge says breaking down emotional barriers and illuminating the importance of family are "inherent to many father-daughter stories."
The case might have started out with the goal of exposing a conspiracy. Instead, it it is one of the quicker ones to summary judgment. The best analogy isn't a no-hitter. Rather, it's a little league game where one side talks tough but the other side puts up so many runs that the umpire decides to suspend the game in the early innings.
Here, Judge Fisher wasn't amused by the plaintiff's lawsuit, saying that the complaint "egregiously" violated Federal Rule of Civil Procedure" by going well beyond a "short and plain statement" to tout "Plaintiffs’ irrelevant accolades, providing unnecessary backstory, and insulting Defendants."
However, the lawsuit isn't quite over. Judge Fisher did allow the plaintiffs to file a new amended complaint before March 24. The plaintiff's attorneys have lost their copyright claims. They'll need to somehow salvage the remaining claims for breach of contract, tortious interference, unjust enrichment and the breach of covenant of good faith and fair dealing.
Warner Bros. was represented by Matthew Kline and Ashley Pearson at O'Melveny & Myers.
Responding to the ruling, Brown comments, "Anyone who knows me, knows my journey, how hard I’ve worked, and continue to work. And it’s incredibly disappointing that someone with money and malice can wreak such negativity."
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