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Court decision re copyright infringement analysis

Court decision re copyright infringement analysis

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Published by Daniel Ballard
Court decision evaluating allegation of infringement of book by similar-themed play
Court decision evaluating allegation of infringement of book by similar-themed play

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Published by: Daniel Ballard on Oct 06, 2009
Copyright:Public Domain


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 08 Civ. 1228 (JGK)OPINION AND ORDER JOHN G. KOELTL, District Judge:
 The biblical story of the betrayal of Jesus Christ by JudasIscariot is well known. It is also a well known part of thatstory that Judas, wracked with despair, committed suicide byhanging himself from a tree. Can the insights from thosestories be brought to life through the convention of a fictionaltrial of Judas Iscariot in which the issue is: should Judas beadmitted to heavenly paradise? That is the background for thiscopyright case in which the author of a novel about a trial ofJudas Iscariot before a fictional World Court of Religionpresided over by Solomon and held in the Federal Courthouse inNew York’s Foley Square claims that the author of a play about atrial of Judas before a fictional judge held in Hope (a place inPurgatory) infringed the copyrights for the novel.The trials depicted in the two works are dramaticallydifferent in substance, setting, plot, theme, language, and theoverall thrust and feel of the works. Stripped of unprotectible
elements—such as the biblical characters and biblical story—theworks are not substantially similar. While some of the ideas inthe two works are similar, it is black letter law that ideas arenot copyrightable and, for the reasons explained below, noordinary reader would view the expression of the ideas assubstantially similar. Therefore, the defendants’ motion forsummary judgment must be granted.More specifically, author Michael Porto (also known as “GuyMichaels”) (“the plaintiff”) brings this action allegingcopyright infringement, vicarious and contributory copyrightinfringement, and common law unfair competition againstplaywright Stephen Adly Guirgis, LAByrinth Theater Company,actor and director Philip Seymour Hoffman, and publishersDramatists Play Service, Inc. and Faber and Faber, Inc.(collectively, “the defendants”). The plaintiff alleges thatthe defendants’ play The Last Days of Judas Iscariot violatesthe copyrights for his novel Judas on Appeal.
 The defendants have moved to dismiss the complaint underFederal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state aclaim upon which relief can be granted or, in the alternative,for summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 onthe basis that the defendants’ play is not substantially similar
The Last Days of Judas Iscariot was written by defendant Guirgis, performedin New York City by defendant LAByrinth Theater Company, directed bydefendant Hoffman, and published by defendants Dramatists Play Service andFaber and Faber.
to the plaintiff’s novel and therefore does not infringe anycopyright protection for that work. The defendants also movefor an award of costs and attorneys’ fees under 17 U.S.C. § 505.Because the defendants have submitted evidentiary materials insupport of their motion, and have given appropriate notice tothe plaintiff pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(d),this Court will treat the defendants’ motion as a motion forsummary judgment.
The standard for granting summary judgment is wellestablished. Summary judgment may not be granted unless “thepleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, andany affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to anymaterial fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as amatter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see also Celotex Corp.v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Gallo v. PrudentialResidential Servs. Ltd. P’ship, 22 F.3d 1219, 1223 (2d Cir.1994). “[T]he trial court’s task at the summary judgment motionstage of the litigation is carefully limited to discerningwhether there are genuine issues of material fact to be tried,not to deciding them. Its duty, in short, is confined at thispoint to issue-finding; it does not extend to issue-resolution.”3

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