Thursday, January 27, 2011

You Don't Mess With the Sony

Cover of "You Don't Mess With the Zohan (...Cover via AmazonRest easily--the end of copyright infringement lawsuits against Hollywood comedies may be at hand.

A week after a federal judge in California ordered Sheri Gilbert to pay nearly $900,000 in costs and attorneys' fees for bringing a frivolous copyright infringement lawsuit alleging her screenplay was purloined to make the Jennifer Lopez/Jane Fonda vehicle Monster In-Law (see "TUOL" post 1/21/11), a U.S. District Court Judge for the Southern District of New York has socked author Robert Cabell with $1,000 bill in attorneys' fees and costs for his copyright infringement suit against the makers of You Don't Mess With the Zohan (2008).

In May 2010, Judge William H. Pauley III granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment, dismissing Cabell's copyright infringement and unfair competition claims in Cabell v. Sony Pictures Entertainment, Inc. et al, (Case No. 09-cv-1610), 714 F. Supp.2d 452 (2010). Zohan starred Adam Sandler as a former Israeli special forces soldier who comes to the U.S. to become a hairdresser. Cabell alleged the screenplay infringed on his series of light-hearted stories featuring a gay ex-U.S. Navy Seal named Jayms Blonde and his archnemesis ZENRON (Zealous Environmental Nazis Ruthlessly Obliterating Nature). Hmm, sounds more like a Rob Schneider movie than an Adam Sandler flick.

To prevail in a copyright infringement action, Cabell had to show that the defendants had access to his copyrighted Blonde tales and that there was a "substantial similarity" regarding protectible materials in the Blonde and Zohan stories. Judge Pauley found no such similarity, noting that Cabell's stories parody secret agent 007 James Bond and are replete with innuendo, whereas Zohan's humor was derived from extreme stereotypes of Israelis and Arabs. 

The Copyright Act allows a 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.
Attorneys for the defendants sought attorneys' fees and costs against Cabell in the amount of nearly $570,000. Judge Pauley agreed with defense counsel that the plaintiff's claims were objectively unreasonable, but based on Cabell's financial circumstances, ordered him to pay $1,000.

Ideas themselves may not be copyrighted. Not a problem here, because there are no ideas in You Don't Mess With the Zohan, comedic or otherwise.

Enhanced by Zemanta

No comments:

Post a Comment