A Legal Minute: A little bit of the legal side of the biz you can read in a minute.
The mid 90’s introduced America to a number of great comedic actors through Saturday Night Live, and one who has been able to create a remarkable post-SNL career, is Adam Sandler. One of my favorite Saturday Night Live sketches of all time is the famous Adam Sandler Thanksgiving Song. It was one of the better performances on Weekend Update of all time.
Since SNL, from Billy Madison to That’s My Boy, Sandler has built quite a media empire, and even with the flops, he still is counted on to produce a box office winner (even if it will also be a Razzie winner). One of his more recent endeavors was Just Go with It, a 2011 romantic comedy that paired him with Jennifer Aniston and Brooklyn Decker. It was box office success, grossing over $200 million, with a budget of $80 million.
After commercial success, the film made it back into the news when, Happy Madison Productions, Sandler’s production company, was sued for copyright infringement by a woman who claimed that Just Go with It, was a rip off of a script she had her son hand over to Happy Madison for consideration, called, Georgie.
As Marina Bar claims it, she had her son drop off a script for a film titled Georgie at Happy Madison productions in 2008. A month letter she received a rejection letter that they were not interested in her script. Of course, once Just Go with It was released, Ms. Bar filed suit stating the script was used without her permission. After nearly a year of litigation, a U.S. District Court judge in California ruled that, unfortunately for Ms. Bar, the scripts were not substantially similar enough for her to win, a very unhappy decision for the author of Georgie.
Luckily for Happy Madison Productions, this is a pretty big victory. But it brings up the interesting subject of idea submission in Hollywood and the state of the law surrounding it. More recently, a case in which a person alleges a submitted script was infringed upon is a non-starter in Hollywood. Usually, if someone were bold enough to use a script without permission, the penalties for infringement, including the imposition of having to pay for attorney fees for the party who wins the case, would be large enough to prevent the script theft. Thus, if ideas in a script are lifted, they are rarely verbatim. And the closer one moves into the realm of “stealing an idea,” the less chance to win a copyright infringement case, as ideas in and of themselves are not copyrightable, only a deliverable derivation of an idea, like a script.
Now a days there are more suits that are instead being filed on the premise that submission of a script or show or film idea brings with it an implied contract that the party pitching enters with the party being pitched. Recently, Hayden Christensen won an appeals court decision, claiming that he had an implied contract with USA Network to whom he pitched an idea for a show that was very similar to the show USA released later, Royal Pains. So while Happy Madison dodged a bullet in this case (and it is very possible they did not lift any ideas from Georgie), a stronger claim might have been an implied contract claim. And if the court decisions move the way Christensen’s case moved, then it stands to reason we will se a lot more implied contract causes of action, and less copyright infringement.
Roberto “R.C.” Rondero de Mosier is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, California, New York and Illinois. He is a partner at Gonzalez & Mosier Law PLLC. His practice specializes in Entertainment Law and Intellectual Property rights. In his spare time he enjoys watching television and films, and writing about it. Follow him on Twitter @showbizattorney, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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