Friday, January 21, 2011

Copyright Ruling No Laughing Matter for Comedy Screenplay Writer

Cover of "Monster-in-Law (New Line Platin...Cover via AmazonFledgling comedy screenplay writer Sheri Gilbert may switch to horror films following U.S. District Court for the Central District of California Judge R. Gary Klausner's frightening ruling ordering her to pay defendants' attorneys' fees and cost in her unsuccessful copyright infringement suit, Gilbert v. New Line Productions, Inc. et al. (Case No. 2:09-cv-02231-RGK-RZ).

In a seven-page ruling, Judge Klausner ordered Gilbert to pay $894,983 in attorneys' fees and costs to the producers and stars of Monster In-Law (2005), who include Jennifer Lopez, Jane Fonda and Michael Vartan, as reported by Web site Gilbert filed suit in 2008 under the Copyright Act of 1976 [17 U.S.C. sec. 101 et seq.], citing "substantial similarities" between Monster In-Law and her screenplay, When Mom Is the Other Woman, drawn from her own experiences as the daughter-in-law of an overbearing mother-in-law.

Judge Klausner tossed most of Gilbert's claims in November 2009, finding "vast differences in characters, plot, mood and theme" between the two ouevres. Last August, he granted defendants' summary judgment motion dismissing the case and entertained their motion for attorneys' fees. The Copyright Act allows the court to "award a reasonable attorneys' fee to the prevailing party." [17 U.S.C. sec. 505.] Factors courts consider before making such a ruling include the defendant's success obtained on the claim, the frivolousness of the plaintiff's claim, the reasonableness of plaintiff's factual and legal arguments, and the need for deterrence and compensation.

In this instance, Judge Klausner said Gilbert's lawsuit was motivated by "bad faith." "TUOL" wonders why anyone would want to claim credit for the story that resulted in Monster In-Law, which film critic Roger Ebert awarded one star.
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