'The Purge' Studio Hit With Idea Theft Lawsuit

Douglas Jordan-Benel alleges he submitted his "Settler's Day" screenplay to United Talent Agency, which represents the credited writer of "The Purge."
"The Purge"

The premise of 2013's The Purge — a box-office smash that grossed nearly $90 million worldwide — is this: In the very near future, the American government has established an annual 12-hour period where all crime is legal, including murder and, presumably, copyright infringement. The sequel, The Purge: Anarchy, opened in theaters yesterday — and according to a complaint filed that same day in California federal court, the lawlessness hasn't been confined to the big screen.

Stepping forward to claim The Purge is based on his own original material is Douglas Jordan-Benel, who says he has successfully written numerous screenplays, teleplays and comic books. One of his screenplays is called Settler's Day, which he alleges is the basis for Universal's hit film released last year starring Ethan Hawke.

"The plot in both works is also virtually identical," states the lawsuit. "A family must withstand a siege of its fortified home on the one night of the year that killing is legal."

Jordan-Benel alleges other similarities in theme, setting, sequence of events, characters and dialogue. Here's the full complaint.

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Historically, proving copyright infringement is notoriously tough. The law isn't completely anarchistic, but judges demand to see substantial similarity in expression rather than some congruity in generic ideas. Even then, defendants get an out if they can show a work was developed independently.

The plaintiff hopes to beat the odds two ways.

The complaint cites the opinion of UCLA Film School professor Richard Walter that the similarities between the two works are "so striking that it is a virtual impossibility that the former [Settler's Day] could have been created independently from the latter [The Purge]."

Jordan-Benel also alleges a theory of access on the part of the defendants, which include Universal Studios, United Talent Agency and Purge writer James DeMonaco.

According to the complaint, the plaintiff's manager submitted Settler's Day to UTA agents David Kramer and Emerson Davis in July 2011. It's then noted that DeMonaco is represented by another UTA agent, Charlie Ferraro, who works under Kramer.

Besides suing for copyright infringement and noting that DeMonaco has given various interviews crediting The Purge's inspiration this way (films like Dog Day Afternoon), that way (Canadian news), another way (his wife after a road rage incident), and yet another (a Star Trek episode), Jordan-Benel is also asserting a claim for breach of implied-in-fact contract. Basically, he feels that he submitted his ideas with the expectation of compensation if used. He's now demanding all profits no less than $5 million, credit and a preliminary and permanent injunction.

THR has reached out to the defendants mentioned above and will update with anything they have to say.

Email: Eriq.Gardner@THR.com
Twitter: @eriqgardner