IP/Entertainment Law Weekly Case Update for Motion Picture Studios and Television Networks - February 23, 2012


Table of Contents

 Benay v. Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc., USDC Central District of California, February 14, 2012

  • District court grants summary judgment in favor of defendants on implied-in-fact contract, finding lack of privity between plaintiffs and defendants.

In this long-running litigation, plaintiffs, authors of a copyrighted screenplay titled The Last Samurai, pitched their screenplay to defendant Bedford Falls, a production company, in 2001. Bedford Falls rejected plaintiffs’ submission, citing a similar film project already in development, which was released in 2003 and also called The Last Samurai. Plaintiffs sued Bedford Falls, as well as defendants involved in the writing, production, marketing and distribution of The Last Samurai film, for copyright and breach of an implied contract. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants on the copyright claims, holding that the works were not sufficiently similar to support a finding of copyright infringement, but reversed the district court’s dismissal of the contract claim, finding that the works could be similar enough to support a finding that defendants used the plaintiffs’ script in breach of what plaintiffs claimed was an implied contract.

On remand, all of the defendants except Bedford Falls moved for summary judgment on plaintiffs’ breach of implied-in-fact contract claim, arguing they lacked privity with plaintiffs, and could not be liable for breach of contract. All defendants also moved for summary judgment on statute of limitations grounds, as well as for termination of the case as a sanction for what they alleged was plaintiffs’ falsification of evidence.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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