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The author and filmmakers behind the novel and feature film adaptation of Gone Girl are clear of claims that parts of the plot were stolen from an unproduced screenplay after an Illinois federal judge on Monday dismissed with prejudice the writer’s claims.
Leslie Weller in December sued Reese Witherspoon, David Fincher, author Gillian Flynn and other individuals and companies connected to the Gone Girl book and film, claiming the works ripped off her screenplay titled Out of the Blue. Weller claimed that, between the time she finalized the draft in 2008 and Flynn’s book was published in 2012, Flynn accessed the work through a network of literary connections and copied parts of Weller’s story.
In considering multiple arguments for dismissal, U.S. District Judge John Robert Blakey began with an analysis of the argument from Witherspoon, and her former producing partner Bruna Papandrea, who challenged the personal jurisdiction of Illinois federal court.
Weller argued that the duo negotiated with Flynn, an Illinois resident, to option her book and produce the film. Witherspoon and Papandrea argued that they made no creative contributions to the storyline of the film, exercised no control over its production, had no role in the distribution or advertising of the film and never visited Illinois in connection with the project.
“This inquiry turns on ‘the defendant’s contacts with the forum State itself,’ not her contacts ‘with persons who reside there,'” writes Blakey. “Here, Twentieth Century Fox’s efforts to distribute the film in Illinois cannot be imputed to Witherspoon and Papandrea on the basis of any independent contribution they made to the film’s production. … In short, Witherspoon and Papandrea’s suit-related contacts with Illinois are at best ‘fortuitous’ and ‘attenuated,’ and therefore cannot sustain this Court’s exercise of personal jurisdiction.”
With that, the court dismissed the vicarious copyright infringement claim against Witherspoon and Papandrea and moved on to the question of access.
Weller didn’t allege her screenplay was sent directly to any defendant, or even a close associate of one, but instead claimed the work was passed along through a network of individuals. Blakey found her theory to be purely speculative and unable to withstand a motion to dismiss.
Further, he found that even if Weller had successfully demonstrated access to her work, she failed to show the projects are substantially similar.
First, Blakey disregarded any alleged similarities between the works that are “standard to any story depicting a deteriorating marriage,” because they’re too commonplace to be protectable under the U.S. Copyright Act. Among the protectable elements of the characters, themes and plot, the court found no ordinary observer could conclude the works are substantially similar and dismissed the claims with prejudice.
The full opinion is posted below.
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