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Rogue Pictures, a division of Relativity Media, is being sued for allegedly lifting the idea behind the 2009 horror film The Unborn from a novel published nearly two decades earlier.
The claim was made Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court by a relative of Erna Segal, who published in 1990 a book entitled Transfers under the pseudonym Erna Olinger before passing away in 2003.
According to the complaint, the plaintiff’s novel is about a young woman who is haunted by the spirit of her dead twin sister, so much so that it leads to a facial abnormality that caused the main character to seek psychiatric treatment. The character undergoes an exorcism, which leads to a colossal and exhausting fight with the dead twin.
The book was copyrighted and allegedly submitted in 2005 to Pat Dollard, a partner at Relativity. Segal’s heir says he had conversations with Dollard but talks broke off.
Eventually, the plaintiff saw the film, which grossed nearly $20 million in its opening weekend, and concluded that multiple elements contained in the film were substantially similar to elements contained in the novel. The plaintiff concluded that David Goyer, the director and writer of The Unborn, who worked previously with Relativity on Ghost Rider, had access to and used a substantial amount of ideas contained in the novel.
The complaint lists various similarities in theme, plot, characters and sequence of events, but the plaintiff’s success will likely depend on showing there was an understanding between the parties that ideas were submitted with the expectation that if the ideas were later used, compensation would be rendered. The plaintiff isn’t alleging copyright infringement, but rather a breach of an implied contract, with damages alleged to be in excess of $1 million. The plaintiff also seeks an accounting and full credit.
Relativity hasn’t responded yet to requests for comment.
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