Monday, October 18, 2010

Theft Of Idea Claims:

It has been our experience that almost all screenwriters, when given the chance, will pitch their screenplay to a studio, production company, producer, or the like without fully understanding the legal consequences of this type of disclosure. When submitting a creative work to any third party, it is not only wise - but necessary - for screenwriters and their agents to be knowledgeable about the current legal standards for protecting a creative work. Copyright protection and “idea submission” laws are constantly changing and it is hard to know for sure how and if your ideas will be protected. Take the Benay brothers for instance. They collaborated on a screenplay in the late 1990’s entitled The Last Samurai. They took the right first step and registered the copyright in their screenplay with the U.S. Copyright Office. Their agent pitched their screenplay to Bedford Falls Productions, Inc., an affiliate of Warner Bros. Entertainment, and thereby created what the brothers claim was an “implied contract.” But, as fate would have it, the studio passed on their idea – only to later release their version of a film called “The Last Samurai” starring Tom Cruise.

The Benay brothers naturally filed suit against Bedford Falls and its affiliates for copyright infringement and for theft of their idea. Recently, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected their claim of copyright infringement due to their failure to prove substantial similarity under their two-part similarity test: proof of extrinsic and intrinsic similarity. However, although the brothers lost their copyright infringement claim, they were able to convince the court that there might have been a breach of an implied contract to pay them for the use of their idea(s). In other words, the case will now be sent back to the trial court to determine if the tacit agreement made between the brothers’ agent and the folks at Bedford Falls was not honored and whether the Benays should be compensated for the use of their ideas.

Moral of the story: 1) Register your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office; and 2) make sure your pitches to third parties are clear that your expectation is that you will be compensated if they use your ideas even if they don’t use your screenplay itself.

Saturday, October 9, 2010


This is the second in the series:


Do you have employees - or better yet disgruntled ex-employees - who might be tempted to turn you in for a million dollar reward? If so, the Business Software Alliance ("BSA") has for several years been offering "rewards" of "up to" $1 million to anyone who turns in a business that is using software that is not properly licensed. [The BSA is a trade association made up of a few little companies like Apple, Microsoft, Symantec, Adobe and about 10 others].

And what does the BSA consider to be "not properly licensed"? Even if you purchased the software you are using legitimately, if you haven't kept the proofs of purchase, receipts, etc., then as far as the BSA is concerned you are guilty of copyright infringement and subject to financial damages of up to $150,000 per infringement. The BSA also considers Microsoft Office to be five (5) separate programs, so if you have an unauthorized copy of Office the BSA claims you are liable for up to $750,000 in damages.

The BSA has been very successful in scaring businesses into paying huge sums of money to avoid a lawsuit. The irony is that sometimes the BSA extracts financial settlements from businesses that exceed what the damages would be if the business went to court and then worked out a court-supervised settlement with the BSA.

Forewarned is forearmed. We have helped several businesses negotiate resolutions of these kinds of disputes with the BSA.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


We recently wrote an article called "10 FOR '10: TEN HOT IP TIPS FOR LAWYERS AND THEIR CLIENTS" which highlights ten interesting intellectual property law legal developments and topics. Rather than reprint the whole article here, we will post one of the tips every few days in order to give each of the tips some room to breathe and an opportunity for comment. Here is the first one:

IP TIP #1: Photo-Shock:

Did your website designer grab some nice photos from somewhere to put up on your website? If so, it's time to check the terms and conditions of the license your web designer entered into for you (or didn't!) to make sure you have the right to use those photos for what you are using them for. Three large photo libraries (Corbis, Getty Images, and MasterFile)have recently embarked on a massive campaign which threatens big-time lawsuits in order to extract thousands of dollars (or more) from innocent businesses who have no idea they are using photos on their websites that aren't properly licensed.

We have handled several of these cases just within the last year.