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A federal judge in California on Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit brought by Jeffrey Scott, a TV screenwriter who targeted Disney’s reboot of Muppet Babies. The reason why Scott lost the case is a pretty rare one. While Scott alleged that the new version infringed elements of the original Muppet Babies production bible he created in the 1980s, the judge rules he has no standing to bring the case since he never disclosed the production bible in a long-ago personal bankruptcy.
Scott’s lawsuit was filed last October and seemed primed to address the scope of protection afforded production bibles as well as whether the plaintiff — who had worked on other children’s shows including Spider-Man, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling — performed on a work-for-hire basis or really retained intellectual property.
Instead, the case made a detour thanks to Scott’s 2003 Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which Disney’s lawyers investigated.
A failure to disclose this asset potentially meant that his bankruptcy estate still owned it rather than him when he emerged from Chapter 7. Scott pointed to a list of 25 story ideas he had submitted to a bankruptcy trustee, which he argued was enough to put the trustee on sufficient notice to conduct an investigation.
But U.S. District Court Judge Stanley Blumenfeld responds that such assets can not be reasonably interpreted to include the production bible. “Because Plaintiff has no ownership interest in the Work or its purported copyrights, Plaintiff lacks standing to pursue the present lawsuit,” concludes the judge.
Scott at least wanted some time to reopen the bankruptcy and correct this problem, but Blumenfeld decides he won’t just pause the copyright case for some indeterminate amount of time. Instead, the judge dismisses Scott’s claims without prejudice, meaning if the writer is successful in reopening the bankruptcy and reclaiming any copyright, he can try again.
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