Reality television show themes and movie plots are among the theatre forming the new platform for the evolving area of state jurisdiction over ‘idea submission’ theft in New York and California courts. Arising from the case in which Jeff Grosso sued Miramax for Miramax’s movie, “Rounders”, the Ninth Circuit held that while Grosso failed to prove copyright infringement and therefore had no standing in federal court, the issue of idea theft was not pre-empted for resolution in state court.
Since the Ninth Circuit ruled in Grosso v. Miramax, there have been many state cases filed by the emboldened plaintiff’s bar in both New York and California.
In California, four Californians sued Fox Broadcasting in July alledging that the reality television show, “So You Think You Can Dance” was stolen from an idea that the four conveyed in a meeting at Fox in 2003. At that meeting, the four individuals told a Fox executive of the idea and agreed to write, produce and direct it. No outline of the idea was written down; no script was written; no contract was signed; no confirming letter was sent; and no copyright application was filed.
In New York, two cases were filed this summer. The first is a suit against Warner Brothers filed by and author, Matthew Benay, for stealing the idea for the movie, “Samurai”. The second is a suit against NBC by author, Maurice Fraser, who claims to have pitched a reality television show theme and idea which was not acknowledged or paid for, but which is about to be released in the fall show, “World Vision: An American Anthem”.
These Californian and New York plaintiffs are optimistic that their claims of idea theft will fare better than Grosso’s. This month, the California Court threw out Grosso’s state case that “Rounders” was stolen from Grosso’s script, “Shell Game”.
Adding to the complexity, the standards for which ideas and under which contextual circumstances idea theft may be actionable vary widely between New York and California law. Which means that reality television is likely to spawn more litigation as ‘reality’ and television seem to be increasingly entwined.