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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

I Believe that's my Idea


Recently the 9th U.S. circuit of appeals court reinstated a case where two writers argued that NBC stole their idea for a show, which is being aired as Ghost Hunters.  Bob Egelko of the San Francisco Chronicle states, “The court reaffirmed and broadened its 2004 ruling allowing suits against studios for allegedly misappropriating concepts from writers. The companies argued that such claims exceeded the scope of federal copyright law and were joined by other television networks and the Motion Picture Association of America.”
"It's a big issue for the entertainment industry," said Graham LippSmith, a lawyer for the plaintiffs. "It means the little guy is still going to be protected, people trying to find their way into the entertainment industry." Read more from the Chronicle here.

This ruling really changes the game of running new shows on a network, because it adds an element of breach of implied contract and uncertainty between a network like NBC and a writer pitching an idea, because even if the actual show is way different than idea there is still room to fight this battle in the legal system.

To give you a better grasp of this situation Eriq Gardner of the Hollywood, Esq explains
“The duo asserted a claim for a "breach of an implied contract," which essentially means that when a screenplay is submitted and accepted for review, there's an expectation that if the material is later used, the writer will get something. Smart plaintiffs have been arguing contract breaches instead of copyright infringement ever since the Grosso case six years ago involving the film Rounders prompted judges to set a high bar in analyzing similarities between copyrighted works and allegedly stolen ideas.”  To read more from this source click here.

Thomson Reuters provided statements that are in a disagreement with the ruling. Judge Diarmuid F. O'Scannlain said Montz expected to receive compensation and credit for use of his work only because he also expected copyright protection.  Nothing in the complaint qualitatively distinguished the breach-of-implied-contract claim from a copyright claim, the judge wrote.
Judge Ronald M. Gould also dissented, warning that the majority's decision will lead to uncertainty by making state law available to litigants who bring nebulous state law claims that in substance assert rights over copyright.  Read more from the article here.

What do you think?  Should this be used as a precedent for other writers hoping to connect a network show with their idea?  Or is this an example of how networks try and push away the “smaller” guy by taking their idea and changing it enough so they can claim full ownership?

Sources:

http://newsandinsight.thomsonreuters.com/California/News/2011/05_-_May/9th_Circuit_revives_‘Ghost_Hunters’_suit_against_NBC/

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr-esq/court-ruling-clears-way-nbc-185760

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/05/05/BU111JCGIO.DTL

http://www.bleed-green.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Court-Ruling-Gavel-Large.jpg

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