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A Federal Court Analyzes Whether One Manuscript Allegedly Violates the Copyright Protection of Another

A Florida Federal Court recently discussed the standard for determining if one manuscript violates the copyright of another. Brian Dodd v. Chris James Woods, Film Ranch International, Inc., 2010 WL 2367140 (M.D.Fla. 2010).
The Underlying Facts
The plaintiff in that case, Brian Dodd (“Dodd”), alleged several causes of action which “arose after Defendant Chris Woods allegedly stole Dodd’s manuscript entitled “Anonymity” and gave it to Defendant Film Ranch International, who allegedly used it in producing a film entitled “Brainjacked.” Id. at 1.
The Legal Standard for Alleging Copyright Infringement
The Court explained that “[t]o establish a prima facie case of copyright infringement, ‘two elements must be proven: (1) ownership of a valid copyright, and (2) copying of constituent elements of the work that are original.’ Feist Publ’ns, Inc. v. Rural Tel. Serv. Co., Inc., 499 U.S. 340, 361, 111 S.Ct. 1282, 113 L.Ed.2d 358 (1991). ‘To satisfy Feist’ s first prong, a plaintiff must prove that the work … is original and that the plaintiff complied with applicable statutory formalities.’ Bateman v. Mnemonics, Inc., 79 F.3d 1532, 1541 (11th Cir.1996) (citations omitted). A plaintiff may show copying by demonstrating that the defendants had access to the copyrighted work and that the works are ‘substantially similar.’ Oravec v. Sunny Isles Luxury Ventures, L. C., 527 F.3d 1218, 1223 (11th Cir.2008) … .If the plaintiff cannot demonstrate access, he still may establish copying by showing that the works are “strikingly similar .” Id. (citing Corwin v. Walt Disney Co., 475 F.3d 1239, 1253 (11th Cir.2007)).

“Substantial similarity exists “where an average lay observer would recognize the alleged copy as having been appropriated from the copyrighted work.” Id. (quoting Original Appalachian Artworks, Inc. v. Toy Loft, Inc., 684 F.2d 821, 829 (11th Cir.1982)). In particular, a copyright plaintiff “must establish specifically that the allegedly infringing work is substantially similar to the plaintiff’s work with regard to its protected elements.”   Leigh v. Warner Bros., Inc., 212 F.3d 1210, 1214 (11th Cir.2000). ‘Thus, in an action for infringement, it must be determined both whether the similarities between the works are substantial from the point of view of the lay [observer] and whether those similarities involve copyrightable material.’ Herzog v. Castle Rock Entm’t, 193 F.3d 1241, 1248 (11th Cir.1999).” Id. at 3.

The Court Determines That the Complaint Fails to State a Claim for Copyright Ownership Because it Failed to Allege Facts that the Manuscript was Substantially Similar

The Court held that the complaint failed to state a claim for copyright ownership because “[i]n a copyright action, the similarity between two works must concern the expression of ideas, not the ideas themselves. Oravec, 527 F.3d at 1224. Here, Dodd has only generally alleged that the two works are similar in concept and method, and that a character from Brainjacked has the same name as the main character from Anonymity. As an initial matter, copyright protection does not extend to Dodd’s ideas, concepts or methods. See 17 U.S.C. § 102(b) (“In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, … method of operation, concept, … regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.”). Therefore, aside from a character from each work sharing a name, (which by itself could not amount to substantial similarity), Dodd has failed to allege any other specific aspects of Anonymity and Brainjacked that are similar.” Id. at 4-5



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