Quote of the Day - I'm all in favor of keeping dangerous weapons out of the hands of fools. Let's start with typewriters.
Back in November, MIPTC covered the consequences of the Ninth Circuit's decision in Grosso v. Miramax, a jilted screenwriter suing a Hollywood studio over a screenplay called "The Shell Game." It's "the pitch" that's in issue. You know, "I have an idea for a movie about a poker game. These two guys play poker, see ... and then ...," and the ideas go on from there, all the way to the full screenplay.
Grosso, the screenwriter, pitched his story about a poker game to Miramax. Miramax politely declined the idea. Grosso then alleged that his idea showed up in "Rounders,' movie about a poker game, and he sued. Grosso lost at trial, and then appealed. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit originally split the baby, holding for the studio on the copyright violation, but holding for Grosso on his state law claim of breach of implied contract.
The Ninth Circuit agreed with the trial court's ruling that "The Shell Game" was different enough from "Rounders" so that Miramax did not violate Grosso's copyright on his screenplay. But that's as far as the Court was willing to go. They apparently saw enough similarities between the two to allow Grosso to establish his claim against Miramax for breach of contract.
The studios were worried. Miramax filed a Motion for Reconsideration, but just two days ago, the Ninth Circuit denied the motion, and sent the case back to the trial court for further proceedings. One thing is for sure: this case is far from over.
The Ninth Circuit's decision emphatically states that it will not entertain an en banc (full court) hearing, and it's done with this case for now. In other words, the parties will now return to the ring and duke it out in trial. Cause and effect? Expect the studios to alter their submission agreements to deal with the legal consequences of this case.
One of the key lines in the movie in dispute, "Rounders," could be the lead-in for the Plaintiff at trial: "Listen, here's the thing. If you can't spot the sucker in the first half hour at the table, then you are the sucker." The question seems to be whether the screenwriter will get played for the sucker or whether the movie studio will be.
Is "the pitch" a thing of the past? Are handshake deals doomed? Most likely. Welcome to movies made through lawyers. Studios and writers will now have to turn to lawyers to ensure that their rights are protected.
Maybe we'll become the new pitchmen. Isn't that what I already do?