Hollywood Docket: Warner Bros. Wins 'Ghostman' Lawsuit

A roundup of entertainment law news including Resolution's reaction to an ex-agent's lawsuit and a few words that won't be heard at an upcoming trial against Hotfile.
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Jeff Berg

A judge in Massachusetts has dismissed a lawsuit brought against Warner Bros. after the studio acquired rights to the Ghostman, a planned film adaptation of Roger Hobbs' novel about a fixer who helps bank robbers disappear after botched heists..

Michael Kenney alleged that he had developed a comic book, screenplay and film also titled "Ghostman" and that Warner Bros. had copied elements of his works.

In a ruling on Friday, U.S. District Judge Richard Stearns notes that the plaintiff didn't have any direct knowledge of copying by Warner Bros., so Kenney had to show that the studio enjoyed access to his work and a substantial degree of similarity. Both necessities have proven fatal to Kenney's lawsuit.

The judge says that Kenney's registration of a screenplay with the Writer's Guild, publication of the screenplay through media interviews and a lack of materials offered on his website were "insufficient to show that studio had a reasonable opportunity of access."

Allegations of similar themes and "Ghostman" lead characters and titles also weren't enough to support Kenney's claims of having his work stolen.

In other entertainment law news:

  • Hollywood talent agent Martin Beck is suing Jeff Berg's Resolution Entertainment for breaching an oral contract and discrimination during a month of employment at the new agency. The lawsuit was filled with salacious bits about how Resolution was "floundering" and how Berg once "unsuccessfully attempted to secretly restructure" ICM, Berg's home for decades. Last week, Resolution brought a motion to strike the parts of the lawsuit it deemed to be "inflammatory, misleading" and with "absolutely no relevance" to Beck's claims of being terminated due to a disability. Among the allegations was that Berg had engineered a plot to lure away ICM's clients and agents to his "cash-strapped" new agency. Any reader of the lawsuit, Resolution complains in its motion, "would believe that the Complaint is some type of unfair competition charge made by ICM against Defendant and Berg. These paragraphs have nothing to do with Plaintiff."
  • After winning a summary judgment ruling that Hotfile is liable for massive copyright infringement, Hollywood studios will look to collect millions in damages at an upcoming trial. But don't expect to hear "piracy," "theft," "thieves" and "stealing" in the courtroom. The defendant sought to have those words precluded as "pejorative" ones that could inflame a jury. The judge agrees but has allowed room for "terms of art." The pre-trial ruling comes after the studios argued in a motion (read here) that it wouldn't be fair to force witnesses to testify using words they employ as part of their everyday job and instead resort to "awkward phrases and euphemisms." The studios also pointed out that some of their departments used the words in question in titles. For example, there's the head of Warner Bros.' Global Corporate Anti-Piracy division.
  • Amazon.com got some bad news on Cyber Monday. The U.S. Supreme Court won't weigh in on whether a New York law that requires the e-tailer to collect taxes from customers in the state violates the U.S. Constitution. The issue of online taxes has bedeviled Amazon, both in the U.S. and elsewhere. Court cases in other states are pending.
  • Paul LiCalsi, the attorney best known for his work for The Beatles, is moving law firms. He has joined Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi after years spent with Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp. LiCalsi has also handled work for Taylor Swift, Elton John, Billy Joel and ASCAP. He has also appeared on The Hollywood Reporter's "Power Lawyers" list.
  • The law firm of Hogan Lovells has also added a prominent entertainment attorney. Joining the firm's expanded L.A. office is Sheri Jeffrey, who has been lead counsel on films including Argo, The Departed, Hugo, The Aviator, Gangs of New York and the upcoming Jersey Boys. She also acted as lead bank counsel in The Lord of the Rings feature films and has been getting more involved in the interplay between Chinese media companies and Hollywood.