Fourth Circuit Endorses New Law in Copyright Field

October 4, 2010, 4:02 PM

In a recent unpublished decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit endorsed new law in the copyright field. For the first time, the Court affirmed the dismissal, as a matter of law, of a copyright claim at the motion to dismiss stage of litigation. Affirming the trial courts use of law from the Ninth Circuit, the Court approved the trial courts comparison of two works and its finding, as a matter of law, that there was no substantial similarity as required by copyright law.

A script writer brought the copyright claim, along with other claims, against NBC Universal (NBC), alleging that she had provided NBC with a treatment and video for a show entitled Parenting Your Parents that dealt with how baby boomers should cope with the problems associated with aging parents. NBC did not produce that program but, instead, several years later, ran an investigative reporting series entitled Changing Places that chronicled several NBC journalists efforts to deal with their aging parents. NBCs program featured Tom Brokaw, the late Tim Russert and other notable personalities. Previous cases within the Fourth Circuit had left the issue of whether two alleged programs were substantially similar for purposes of copyright infringement for summary judgment or trial. NBC, however, moved to dismiss the claim as a matter of law under precedent from the Ninth Circuit and other district courts outside of the Fourth Circuit. The lower court agreed to hear the issue, ruled as a matter of law that the two works were not substantially similar, and dismissed the claim along with other, related claims. The Fourth Circuit affirmed.

Stephen E. Noona represented NBC in the matter. Click here to view copies of the Fourth Circuitand District Court opinions. --Stephen E. Noona