Whats Required to Allege a Copyright Infringement Claim?

December 6, 2010, 11:09 AM

In a recent unpublished decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit denied a plaintiffs petition for appeal and affirmed the district courts order denying plaintiffs copyright complaint against Black Entertainment Television, Inc. and other defendants. Bailey v. Black Entmt Television, Inc. (4th Cir. Sept. 1, 2010). Plaintiff had asserted a claim against defendants, claiming that the movie Dreamgirls was based on a screenplay written by plaintiff in 1992. The district court dismissed plaintiffs Complaint.

The district courts decision reaffirms the basic elements which a plaintiff must plead in order to allege copyright infringement when there is no evidence of direct copying. Bailey v. Black Entmt Television, Inc., No. 3:09-cv-00787-JRS (E.D. Va. May 3, 2010). Plaintiff must show ownership of a valid copyright and copying of constituent elements of the work that are original. In addition, plaintiff must show defendants access to plaintiffs work and substantial similarity between plaintiffs and defendants work.

In the Bailey case, Judge Spencer dismissed plaintiffs claim because plaintiff had not submitted any evidence or alleged any facts that showed defendants had access to his screenplay before 2000. Instead, the district court had before it a 1981 article from the New York Times which described and named the same three characters which were the subject of plaintiffs infringement claim against defendants. The district court concluded that it was not plausible that defendants committed copyright infringement when the Dreamgirls script was based on a play produced more than a decade before plaintiffs copyright registration. --Kristan B. Burch