MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
CHARLES S. HAIGHT, JR., Senior District Judge.
In this action brought under the Copyright Act of 1976, as amended, 17 U.S.C. § 101 et seq., plaintiff Dalia Gal ("Gal"), the author of the unpublished screenplay Immortalin (the "Screenplay"), alleges that the defendants infringed upon her copyright in the Screenplay through the publication of a novel credited to defendant Mary Higgins Clark ("Clark") entitled The Second Time Around (the "Novel").
In an opinion dated December 5, 2005, and reported at Gal v. Viacom Intern., Inc., 403 F.Supp.2d 294 (S.D.N.Y.2005) ("Gal I"), I denied motions made by defendants for dismissal of the action pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) and for sanctions pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 11. Following discovery, defendants now move under Rule 56 for summary judgment, and again for sanctions under Rule 11. For the reasons that follow, I grant defendants' motion for summary judgment and deny their motion for sanctions.
Plaintiff, a professional writer, asserts that she is the author of, and has at all relevant times held a valid copyright in, the screenplay Immortalin. See Amend. Compl. ("Compl."), ¶¶ 3, 15-18. Mary Higgins Clark is a best-selling author of mystery thriller novels who has authored 34 novels over the past 30 years. Aff. of Mary Higgins Clark, dated Oct. 5, 2006 ("Clark Aff."), ¶ 1. Plaintiff contends that Clark's 2003 novel The Second Time
In Gal I, the Court summarized and compared both works. See Gal I, 403 F.Supp.2d at 299-305. I reproduce those summaries in full. They form the necessary background for the Court's disposition of defendants' present motion for summary judgment.
Gal I, 403 F.Supp.2d at 299-302.
Id. at 302-04.
In Gal I, I denied defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint, holding that due to a number of similarities between the works, I could not conclude as a matter of law that no reasonable trier of fact could find the works "substantially similar" within the meaning of the applicable law. I also denied defendants' motion for sanctions, notwithstanding my concern about the failure by counsel for plaintiff to correct his error in referencing the wrong version of the Screenplay, even after having been notified about discrepancies by defendants' counsel.
Solely for the purpose of their motion to dismiss, defendants had conceded access to plaintiffs Screenplay Immortalin. Subsequent to the Court's denial of that motion in Gal I, the parties have engaged in extensive discovery. The evidentiary record concerning access, previously conceded, has now been fully developed. In addition, defendants have submitted evidence concerning other works written by Clark and other works in the mystery thriller genre. This expanded record informs the Court's decision on defendants' motion for summary judgment.
Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that a court shall grant a motion for summary judgment "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue of material fact
"The party seeking summary judgment bears the burden of establishing that no genuine issue of material fact exists and that the undisputed facts establish [that party's] right to judgment as a matter of law." Rodriguez v. City of New York, 72 F.3d 1051, 1060-61 (2d Cir.1995). In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, a court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences against the moving party. Vermont Teddy Bear Co. v. 1-800 Beargram Co., 373 F.3d 241, 244 (2d Cir.2004). "If, as to the issue on which summary judgment is sought, there is any evidence in the record from any source from which a reasonable inference could be drawn in favor of the non-moving party, summary judgment is improper." Chambers v. TRM Copy Ctrs. Corp., 43 F.3d 29, 37 (2d Cir.1994). However, "mere conclusory allegations, speculation or conjecture" are insufficient for a non-moving party to resist summary judgment. Cifarelli v. Vill. of Babylon, 93 F.3d 47, 51 (2d Cir.1996). The inquiry is "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 251-52, 106 S.Ct. 2505. See Vargas v. Transeau, 514 F.Supp.2d 439, 446 (S.D.N.Y.2007) (summary judgment in favor of defendants in copyright infringement action may not be avoided merely by producing an expert who testifies that the plaintiffs' musical composition was sampled, regardless of how conclusory the statement may be and whether it contradicts testimony of plaintiffs' other witnesses); Tisi v. Patrick, 97 F.Supp.2d 539, 549 (S.D.N.Y.2000) (issue of fact cannot be created merely by recitation by plaintiffs expert of "the magic words `strikingly similar' and `no possibility of independent creation'") (citation omitted).
Copyright law does not protect an idea, but only "the expression of an idea." Williams v. Crichton, 84 F.3d 581, 587 (2d Cir.1996) ("Williams"). In order to prevail on an infringement action, a plaintiff must prove "(1) ownership of a valid copyright, and (2) copying of constituent elements of the work that are original.'" Id. (quoting Feist Publ'ns, Inc. v. Rural Tel. Serv. Co., 499 U.S. 340, 361, 111 S.Ct. 1282, 113 L.Ed.2d 358 (1991)).
In the case at bar, defendants do not challenge Gal's claim to a valid copyright in the Screenplay. The Court's focus is therefore on the second requirement, that of unauthorized copying. The Second Circuit has held, "To demonstrate unauthorized copying, the plaintiff must first show that his work was actually copied; second he must establish substantial similarity or that the copying amounts to an improper or unlawful appropriation, i.e., (i) that it was protected expression in the earlier work that was copied and (ii) that the amount that was copied is more than de minimis." Tufenkian Import/Export Ventures, Inc. v. Einstein Moomjy, Inc., 338 F.3d 127, 131 (2d Cir.2003) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
Thus as an initial matter, a plaintiff must show that the defendant "actually
When establishing copying by circumstantial evidence, "[t]here is an inverse relationship between access and probative similarity such that the stronger the proof of similarity, the less the proof of access is required." Jorgensen v. Epic/ Sony Records, 351 F.3d 46, 56 (2d Cir. 2003) ("Jorgensen") (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Thus, "[i]f the two works are so strikingly similar as to preclude the possibility of independent creation, copying may be proved without a showing of access." Repp, 132 F.3d at 889 (citation omitted). Conversely, where the plaintiff has not demonstrated access, he or she must show that the works are not just "substantially similar" but "strikingly similar." Arnstein v. Porter, 154 F.2d 464, 468 (2d Cir.1946) ("If evidence of access is absent, the similarities must be so striking as to preclude the possibility that plaintiff and defendant independently arrived at the same result."). See Vargas, 514 F.Supp.2d at 443 ("Plaintiffs concede that access has not been proven and, therefore, rely solely on the contention that [the works] are strikingly similar."); Mowry v. Viacom Int'l, Inc., No. 03 Civ. 3090, 2005 WL 1793773, at *9 (S.D.N.Y. Jul.29, 2005) (because plaintiff did not demonstrate access, "defendants are entitled to summary judgment unless access can be inferred from "striking similarities" between the two works); Cox v. Abrams, No. 93 Civ. 6899, 1997 WL 251532, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. May 14, 1997) (finding that since plaintiffs offered no evidence indicating access, "[u]nless a reasonable jury could find striking similarity between [the two works], summary judgment based on lack of access is proper").
"Striking similarity exists when two works are so nearly alike that the only reasonable explanation for such a great degree of similarity is that the later was copied from the first." American Direct Mktg., Inc. v. Azad Int'l, Inc., 783 F.Supp. 84, 95 (E.D.N.Y.1992) (internal quotation marks and ellipses omitted). See also Vargas, 514 F.Supp.2d at 443 ("The court's task is to apply logic and experience to determine if copying is the only realistic basis for the similarities at hand.") (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Stated otherwise, "similarity is determined if an ordinary person could aesthetically recognize the copy as the appropriated work." Mowry, 2005 WL 1793773, at *10 (citation omitted). The "striking similarity" test is "stringent." Vargas, 514
As mentioned supra, in Gal I the defendants had conceded access solely for the purpose of their motion to dismiss under Rule 12. In consequence, the Court was obliged to assume that the access prong of copying was satisfied for the purpose of that motion; and the sole question became whether a jury question existed as to "substantial similarity" between the two works or, in the Second Circuit's more recent language, "probative similarity" between them. See Repp, 132 F.3d at 889 n. 1. However, on this post-discovery summary judgment motion, defendants most emphatically do not concede access; and the factual question of whether any of the defendants or persons in their employ had access to the plaintiff's Screenplay is a critical component of the analysis. If sufficient evidence in the record exists from which a reasonable juror could find or infer access, the similarity standard remains the same as in the prior motion to dismiss. If, however, there is insufficient evidence in the record from which a reasonable juror could find or infer access, summary judgment is appropriate unless the two works meet the more stringent "strikingly similar" standard.
"Access means that an alleged infringer had a `reasonable possibility' — not simply a `bare possibility' — of hearing [or seeing] the prior work; access cannot be based on mere `speculation or conjecture.'" Jorgensen, 351 F.3d at 51. To support a claim of access, a plaintiff must offer "significant, affirmative and probative evidence." Id. Since it is rare in a copyright infringement action for plaintiff to have direct access of the defendant viewing and copying its work, courts have recognized that access may be shown by circumstantial evidence. Hamil Am. Inc. v. GFI, 193 F.3d 92, 99 (2d Cir.1999). As proof of access, a plaintiff may show that "(1) the infringed work has been widely disseminated or (2) a particular chain of events exists by which the defendant might have gained access to the work." Tomasini v. Walt Disney Co., 84 F.Supp.2d 516, 519 (S.D.N.Y.2000).
Plaintiff does not maintain that the Screenplay was widely disseminated. Where a work is unpublished, as in the case at bar, it is considered not to have been widely disseminated. See Mowry, 2005 WL 1793773, at *4; Silberstein v. Fox Entm't Group, Inc., 424 F.Supp.2d 616, 627 (S.D.N.Y.2004) ("This court has consistently recognized widespread dissemination giving rise to an inference of access exclusively in cases where the allegedly infringed work has had considerable commercial success or is readily available on the market."). Nor has plaintiff submitted evidence suggesting that any of the defendants are linked to her unpublished Screenplay through a chain of events. Gal conceded that she herself never submitted her Screenplay to any of the defendants or persons employed by defendants who were involved in the creation of Clark's Novel, and that she had no knowledge that any of the people to whom she had sent or shown any version or part of her Screenplay had shown it to any of the defendants or anyone connected with them. See Gal Tr., Ex.
Courts have rejected efforts by plaintiffs to establish access in the face of such sworn testimony unless there is probative evidence to the contrary. See Cox, 1997 WL 251532, at *4 (sworn testimony of defendants controverted plaintiff's speculative theory of access). Even where there is evidence that a defendant publishing company received a work that a plaintiff alleges was infringed by a work published by that company, courts have found that corporate receipt alone is insufficient to establish a chain of events leading to access, as that concept is used in copyright law. Jorgensen, 351 F.3d at 48 ("[E]vidence of corporate receipt of unsolicited work is insufficient to raise a triable issue of access where there is no evidence of any connection between the individual recipients of the protected work and the alleged infringers."). Here, plaintiff has not, established even such a partial chain of events as receipt of her Screenplay by defendant Simon & Schuster, much less a chain of events that could lead a reasonable juror to find that the persons involved in the creation of Clark's Novel had access to her Screenplay.
Instead of establishing a chain of events, plaintiff argues that access can be inferred from the speed with which Clark wrote the Novel.
Plaintiffs theory of access based on speed of creation is both unpersuasive and insufficient to raise a jury question as to access. At her deposition, Clark described her writing process, both in general and specifically with respect to The Second Time Around. She testified that she produces a mystery thriller novel every year and that she usually begins researching and writing at some point in the Fall and completes the novel around January or February of the following year. Clark Tr. at 21; Clark Aff. ¶ 11. The book is published in the Spring of that year, following which Clark embarks on a two-month publicity tour, which typically ends in or about
Korda has been Clark's editor at Simon & Schuster ("S & S") for over 30 years, joined for the past 15 years by Adams, another S & S editor. Korda, Adams, and Clark all testified as to the writing and editing process for Clark's works. After Clark completes approximately 25 pages or one or two chapters, she faxes them to Korda, who reviews them. Clark Tr. at 30; Korda Tr. at 16-17. He discusses the segment with Clark and then forwards his edits to Adams, who conducts a more detailed line-edit. Korda Tr. at 27; Adams Tr. at 16-17. Adams then forwards the edited pages for copyediting, after which the pages are typeset and passed back to Clark for final approval. Korda Tr. at 28-29; Adams Tr. at 18; Da Silva Tr. at 20. The entire process is repeated for each batch of manuscript pages that Clark faxes to Korda.
Clark testified that for this particular Novel, her initial conception was a book about a corporate scam, based on personal experience. Clark Tr. at 28; Clark Aff. ¶ 12. She did not recall any specific discussion with Korda and Adams, but she stated that she probably did have a discussion with them in the Spring of 2002 because each Spring she is required to outline the basic plot of her upcoming novel for the publisher's catalog copy. Clark Tr. at 27; Clark Aff. ¶ 8. She testified that in or around December of 2002 she became aware of the Imclone scandal and decided to focus specifically on the pharmaceutical industry as a result of it. Clark Tr. at 32; Clark Aff. ¶ 13. See also Korda Tr. at 21. Clark testified that she began the "nitty-gritty" writing in the "fall of 2002, late fall," Clark Tr. at 26; elsewhere she said that she "did not start writing intensely until about early December 2002." Clark Aff. ¶ 14. By "nifty gritty" she testified that she meant that she would "give every waking hour, which there were many, to the writing of that book." Clark Tr. at 26-27. She said that she finished writing "in or about the end of February." Clark Aff. ¶ 15. The book was released in April 2003. Clark Aff. ¶ 15.
Plaintiffs attempt to show that there is a factual dispute as to these dates is unavailing. Plaintiff quibbles with defendants' statement that the manuscript for The Second Time Around was completed "at the end of February 2003" by maintaining that because the entire editing process was "not completed later than February 28, 2003," according to the deposition testimony of defendants' witnesses, "Clark's writing was necessarily completed sometime before the end of February 2003." Pl.'s Response to Def.'s Stmt. Pursuant to Local Rule 56.1 ("Pl.'s Rule 56.1 Response"), ¶ 24. This is not a material discrepancy (if it is a discrepancy at all), since the question turns only on how long a span of time is encompassed by "the end of February." Due to the nature of Clark's particular process for creating her novels, it is certainly conceivable that Clark faxed her editors the last batch of pages sometime around the final week of February and the two finished editing those pages before the bell tolled the final hour of that month.
Plaintiff also argues that, in contrast to the time frame described by defendants,
I find no material issue of fact in the record before me. It is clear that Clark commenced writing the Novel sometime in early December of 2002 and finished it sometime towards the end of February 2003. A simple calculation leads me to conclude that it took Clark something shy of three months to write this Novel.
The question, then, is whether this is a suspiciously short time period, and if it is, whether suspicious alacrity constitutes evidence from which a reasonable juror could infer that Clark had access to the Screenplay. Plaintiff asserts that writing a book in the amount of time it took Clark to write A Second Time Around is suspiciously short "by Defendant Clark's own writing standards." Pl.'s Mem. in Opp'n, at 11. To support this proposition, plaintiff cites to Clark's affidavit, where Clark stated that her "concentrated writing process spans approximately five to six months, starting in the Fall to about January or February the following year." Clark Aff. ¶ 11 (cited in Pl.'s Mem. in Opp'n, at 11). Plaintiff, in other words, would have me compare this time frame falling short of three months to Clark's estimate of "five to six months" as her ordinary time frame for the concentrated writing process. However, plaintiff fails to cite the sentence immediately following the quoted one in Clark's affidavit, where Clark states, "In the years I collaborate with my daughter on our `Christmas book', however, I do not begin the intense writing of my next novel until somewhat later, and then, wholly devote my time to writing that novel over a three to four-month period to meet my deadline." Id. Since Clark did write a Christmas book in 2002, the year in which she also began writing The Second Time Around, see id. ¶ 14, the five to six month time frame proffered by plaintiff is inapposite, and three to four months is the appropriate time frame. For Clark to have completed The Second Time Around in something shy of three months is hardly a dramatic departure from this estimated period.
In sum, I am unable to discern any evidence in the record from which it could reasonably be found or inferred that Clark's time-frame for writing the Novel in this suit was suspiciously compressed, given her habitually brisk schedule and her even tighter scheduling for the years in which she produces a Christmas book. That it took her something shy of three months of intense writing (which she describes as working day and night) to produce a 300-page novel with generous margins and relatively large font is certainly impressive,
Even if Clark's speed were somewhat suspicious (which it is not), courts only consider alacrity of creation as one factor among others indicating that copying had occurred. See Design Tex Group, Inc. v. U.S. Vinyl Mfg. Corp., No. 04 Civ. 5002, 2005 WL 2063819, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 24, 2005) ("compressed time frame"
Because plaintiff has raised no issue of fact regarding access, copying may only be proven through a demonstration that the two works are "strikingly similar." Plaintiff s reliance throughout her brief on the "law of the case" doctrine is therefore misplaced, because invocation of that doctrine presumes that on this motion the Court is to evaluate the two works according to the same "substantially similar" standard it applied to the earlier motion to dismiss. Because of my holding regarding access here, that more lenient standard is now inapplicable and, consequently, so are my conclusions in Gal I regarding its application to the two works.
"If . . . a plaintiff has failed to produce indirect evidence of copying (by demonstrating both access and `probative similarities'), he or she may defeat a motion for summary judgment by showing that the works in question are `strikingly similar.'" Dimmie v. Carey, 88 F.Supp.2d 142, 149 (S.D.N.Y.2000). Two works are considered "strikingly similar" if "creation of one is so dependent on the other as to preclude the possibility of independent creation." Id. (citing Repp, 132 F.3d at 889) (internal quotation marks omitted). As discussed supra in Part II.A.2.a, it is a stringent test. The mere existence of multiple similarities is insufficient to meet the test. See, e.g., American Direct Marketing, 783 F.Supp. at 95 (television commercials for tooth whitening system not strikingly similar despite similarities that included blond female principal models, a girl with braces, similar five-part lists of plaque, and other similar layouts). The works must be so strikingly similar that copying is the only realistic basis for them. See Vargas, 514 F.Supp.2d at 443.
On defendant's earlier motion to dismiss, I held that similarities between the Screenplay and the Novel, when compared side by side, prevented me from finding that no reasonable juror could conclude that the two were "substantially similar." While similarity is generally a question of fact for a jury, summary judgment is appropriate on the issue where "the similarity concerns only noncopyrightable elements of plaintiff [sic] work or no reasonable trier of fact could find the works . . . similar" to the requisite degree. Hogan v. DC Comics, 48 F.Supp.2d 298, 310 (S.D.N.Y.1999) (citation omitted). Comparing the two works through the lens of the more stringent "striking similarity" standard, and presented with additional evidence of third party works introduced into the record by defendants, I hold that no reasonable trier of fact could find the two works strikingly similar.
First, I revisit and enlarge upon my side by side comparison between the two works. In Gal I, I noted certain "obvious differences" between the Novel and the Screenplay and mentioned three:
Gal I, 403 F.Supp.2d at 307. The first of these differences concerns the narrative structure of the two works. Narrative structure is an important part of the expression of a literary work, and differences in narrative structure have been deemed significant in holding that the two works do not even meet the more lenient standard of substantial similarity. See, e.g., Kretschmer v. Warner Bros., No. 93 Civ. 1730, 1994 WL 259814, at *9 (S.D.N.Y. Jun. 8, 1994) (pace and structure of works "very different" where one plot was "neatly divided in two halves" whereas the other "deals almost exclusively" with the adventures of the main character).
The second and third of these differences implicate plot and theme. Another significant difference in plot is the different motivations animating the two protagonists, apart from their professional roles as reporters — the sickness of Alice's mother in the Screenplay, as opposed to Carley's family connection with Nick in the Novel. The romances in the two works are also very different, as Carley's love interest is an old friend and the love story develops as a completely separate plot element, whereas Alice's love interest is a key player in the primary plot.
Differences between the two works in character, tone, and theme are still more significant. Alice is an aggressive character, barging into the private corporate meeting, self-consciously playing the sleuth (such as when she rips an address out of Leary's address book while he is otherwise engaged); whereas Carley is more modest and methodical. Since these are the two protagonists, differences in their portrayal impact the overall feel of the works. See Flaherty v. Filardi, 388 F. supp.2d 274, 287-88 (S.D.N.Y.2005) (no substantial similarity where, among other elements, characters of the protagonists in each work were different); Williams v. Crichton, 860 F.Supp. 158, 168-69 (S.D.N.Y.1994), aff'd 84 F.3d 581 (2d Cir.1996) (no substantial similarity where plaintiff selected only a few characters as the basis for similarity and where characters in plaintiff's work were "much more thinly developed than those of [defendant's]"). The story of Ned is not only a major plot element particular to the Novel but one that adds significantly to the Novel's tone by adding a dark psychological thread. In addition to this theme of psychological unraveling that runs through the Novel but not the Screenplay, a theme of community mistrust and disappointment (and anguish for those whose family members have cancer) also plays a prominent role in the Novel alone.
Indeed, the thrust and feel of both works are different: overall, Immortalin is a thriller focusing on the pettiness and greed of corporate elite, whereas The Second Time Around is a mystery drama and a psychological thriller. For instance, while both the Screenplay and the Novel feature affairs involving the spouses of high-ranking pharmaceutical corporate executives, their treatment is entirely different: in Immortalin these affairs are known to the characters and serve to showcase the fast-rolling and dissolute nature of corporate culture, whereas in The Second Time Around the unrevealed identity of Lynn's lover provides a significant source of suspense — and, ultimately shock value — to the story. In the Screenplay, Baron is not so much missing as he is difficult to locate for a short time; the suspense of the story derives riot from a mystery surrounding his disappearance, as the reader learns relatively quickly where
Since copyright law does not Protect an idea, but only "the expression of an idea," Williams, 84 F.3d at 587, the works must share a "similarity of expression." Hogan, 48 F.Supp.2d at 309 (similarity of expression evinced by "similarities of treatment, details, scenes, events and characterization, or a similarity in their total concept and feel") (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Differences in total concept and feel are of great significance when determining the degree of similarity between the two works. See Williams, 84 F.3d at 589 (affirming summary judgment against plaintiff children's author and holding that "the total concept and feel of the two works differ substantially" where defendants' works are "high-tech horror stories with villainous characters and gruesome bloodshed" and plaintiffs are "adventure stories and, although suspenseful in places, have happy endings."); Mowry, 2005 WL 1793773, at *11 (while both works possess the idea of a television program based on secret recording of a person's life, works not strikingly similar due to differences in plot, theme, character, mood, setting, and total concept and feel); Hogan, 48 F.Supp.2d at 311 (difference in plaintiffs' and defendants' expression of similar ideas, "including the differences in [the works'] total look and feel, the interactions of the characters and the plot," are "so pronounced" as to preclude finding of substantial similarity); Cox, 1997 WL 251532, at *6-*7 (finding of striking similarity precluded by differences in tone, plot elements, and development of characters in two works about the recovery of a male lawyer subjected to a brain injury).
While it is true that dissimilarities between the works will not serve to automatically relieve the infringer of liability, as "no copier may defend an act of plagiarism by pointing out how much of the copy he has not pirated," Rogers v. Koons, 960 F.2d 301, 308 (2d Cir.1992), these differences are not only relevant but are of even greater significance when the standard applied is that of striking similarity. See, e.g., Price v. Fox Entm't Group, Inc., 05 Civ. 5359, 2007 WL 1259101, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Apr.27, 2007) (no striking similarity between plaintiffs' 2001 screenplay Dodgeball: The Movie and defendants' 2004 movie Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story because "no rational juror could find that the works are so similar as to preclude coincidence and independent creation"); Cox, 1997 WL 251532, at *6-*7 (no striking similarity due to differences between the works); Corwin, 475 F.3d at 1248 n. 5, 1254 (affirming district court's holding that due to differences enumerated by the court between defendant's theme park and plaintiffs painting, there was no genuine issue of material fact as to whether
Additionally, examination of the context of Clark's other works and the genre as a whole indicates that many of the similarities shared by the works are common to the mystery/thriller genre as a whole and/or Clark's own prior works. Courts have found context of this type to diminish the relevance of similarities between the works, because stock elements will not be considered: "[m]aterial or themes commonly repeated in a certain genre are not protectible by copyright," nor are "so-called scenes à faire." American Direct Marketing, 783 F.Supp. at 95. See Brown v. Perdue, No. 04 Civ. 7417, 2005 WL 1863673, at *8 (S.D.N.Y.2005) (noting, in response to plaintiffs argument that Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code infringed on his thriller that also incorporates religious themes, that the ideas and themes "find their origin in historical facts, events and figures, as well as pre-existing works"); Tisi, 97 F.Supp.2d at 543 (structural similarities between parties' musical compositions "are not significant because they are uniformly shared with most modern popular rock music"); Historical Truth Prods., Inc. v. Sony Pictures Entm't, Inc., No. 93 Civ. 5529, 1995 WL 693189, at *8 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 22, 1995) (noting that "conspiracies" and "advanced technology" are "unoriginal and uncopyrightable stock elements of the action-adventure and science fiction film genres"); Jones v. CBS, Inc., 738 F.Supp. 748, 754 (S.D.N.Y.1990) ("basic plot ideas" not protectible); Russ Berrie & Co., Inc. v. Jerry Elsner Co., Inc., 482 F.Supp. 980, 986 (S.D.N.Y.1980) (shared characteristics of both parties' Santa toys of a "traditional red suit and floppy cap, trimmed in white, black boots and white beard" and "nose like a cherry" are common to all Santas and therefore not probative of copying).
The following are elements present in both the Screenplay and the Novel: 1) a corporate meeting held at the Grand Hyatt (though it is a corporate announcement meeting in the Screenplay and a shareholder meeting in the Novel); 2) a female journalist protagonist; 3) the development of a miracle drug (an anti-aging drug in the Screenplay and an anti-cancer drug in the Novel); 4) an inventor of a drug who disappears; 5) an affair between the inventor's wife and another corporate executive; 6) competing pharmaceutical companies; 7) a murder; 8) a hit-and-run accident; 9) the names "DeCarlo," "Lynn," and "Greene." See Def.'s Summ. J. Mem., at 18. Defendants, however, cite a number of third party works featuring corporate greed in the pharmaceutical industry and centering around the development of miracle drugs. I take judicial notice of three cited by defendants and listed in Exhibit O to the Paul Affidavit. One is The Delta Factor, by Thomas Locke (1994), in which two scientists work on a miracle drug to conquer viral disease and are entwined in a net of corporate greed and deception. In Elixir, by Gary Braver (2001), a chemist journeys to the fountain of youth but becomes a target for a manhunt when his bosses discover that he has successfully synthesized a formula for immorality. In The Cure, by Jack Hunter (2003), companies vie to own the next potential cure for cancer, making use of corporate espionage, blackmail, and murder; the scientist even
When viewed in this larger context, many of the similarities between the Screenplay and the Novel are indeed either stock elements of Clark's own works, or general elements of the thriller genre, or plot elements that naturally flow from the similar idea of the two works (namely, the corporate greed surrounding the development of a miracle drug). See Hogan, 48 F.Supp.2d at 310 ("The two works share a similar basic underlying idea: they both involve a half-vampire character who is on a quest that leads him to discover his origins. Almost all of the remaining similarities between the works are unprotectable themes and concepts that flow predictably from this idea,"); American Direct Marketing, 783 F.Supp. at 95 (similar content and organization of commercials are largely "common items when one considers the genre of television commercials for direct telephone sale of consumer goods"). The character names shared between the two works are common names and are used differently in the two works,
Since plaintiff has not presented any circumstantial evidence from which a reasonable juror could conclude that Clark actually copied plaintiff's Screenplay, there is no need for defendants to present evidence of independent creation in rebuttal, Indeed, when the analysis is whether the works are strikingly similar, "[t]o show a
Pre-trial discovery in this case has caused every witness with any knowledge of the pertinent facts to submit affidavits or be deposed, and every pertinent document to be produced. It is impossible to imagine what evidence, testimonial or documentary, would be elicited at a full plenary trial that would add to the record of this case. Having considered all the evidence in the record, I hold that no reasonable juror could find that the works are "strikingly similar," which in the absence of any proof of access is the level of similarity plaintiff must show to justify an inference of copying. Because plaintiff cannot make the threshold showing of copying by direct or indirect evidence, I do not reach any further stage in the analysis or address any alternative bases for dismissal, and the defendants are entitled to summary judgment dismissing plaintiff's complaint.
The Copyright Act empowers a court to "award a reasonable attorneys' fees to the prevailing party" in an infringement action. 17 U.S.C. § 505. In Fogerty v. Fantasy, Inc., 510 U.S. 517, 527, 114 S.Ct. 1023, 127 L.Ed.2d 455 (1994), the Supreme Court stated that "defendants who seek to advance a variety of meritorious copyright defenses should be encouraged to litigate them to the same extent that plaintiffs are encouraged to litigate meritorious claims of infringement." The Court identified a number of non-exclusive factors a district court should consider in determining whether to award attorney's fees: "frivolousness, motivation, objective unreasonableness (both in the factual and in the legal components of the case) and
Defendants seek the awarding of attorney's fees because "Gal's assertion of access based on a wholly unsupported rumor while having full knowledge of the absolute lack of nexus between Gal and defendants, is not only objectively unreasonable, but is patently frivolous and sanctionable." Def.'s Summ. J. Mem., at 24. This is a reference to the previously noted ghostwriters rumor, see n. 5, supra. However, the notion of a ghostwriter came up only in a short exchange in Gal's deposition. It was never a legal theory advanced by counsel for plaintiff. Because it was not advanced as a legal theory, its frivolousness or non-frivolousness has not been considered by the Court. In consequence, awarding attorney's fees on this basis would be inappropriate, and I decline to do so.
Defendants seek sanctions, available under Fed.R.Civ.P. 11(c), for violations of Fed.R.Civ.P. 11(b), infra:
Fed.R.Civ.P. 11(b)(2)-(3). Defendants argue that sanctions under these provisions are warranted because "[f]rom the outset, as discussed at length above, there simply was no factual or legal basis for plaintiff's claim of copyright infringement," and in addition plaintiffs counsel "persists in prosecuting this action even after engaging in the proverbial fishing expedition through discovery to try to uncover some shred of evidence of access." Def.'s Sanctions Mem., at 24. Defendants maintain that they "move for Rule 11 sanctions because [counsel for plaintiff] filed a complaint for copyright infringement . . . that completely lacks evidentiary support for access, a requisite element of a claim for copyright infringement." Def.'s Sanctions Mem., at 1. Defendants fault plaintiff for pressing her claim when "[u]nder these circumstances, a reasonable attorney would not have instituted this action, not to speak of continuing it once discovery failed to produce a shred of evidence." Id. at 1.
Defendants argument fails. First, the Court's denial of defendants' motion to dismiss undermines the argument that plaintiffs copyright infringement action was utterly baseless. Second, plaintiffs theory of access was not frivolous. Plaintiffs theory did indeed rely principally on the speed with which the Novel was created, arguing that the unusual speed, combined with Clark's dearth of preparatory notes, sufficed to create an issue of fact for the jury. This theory of access is weak and, I have concluded, not borne out by facts which cannot reasonably be disputed, but it was based on case law indicating that unusual alacrity of creation can be a
Finding nothing in counsel for plaintiff s conduct deserving of sanctions, I deny defendants' motion to impose them.
For the foregoing reasons, defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted. The Clerk of the Court is directed to dismiss plaintiffs complaint with prejudice and without leave to replead.
Defendants' motion for sanctions, fees and costs is denied.
It is SO ORDERED.