Legal Updates

Intellectual Property Law – Media Law – Copyright Law - Literary Copyright – Screenplay – Injunction – Copyright Infringement – Film Industry

The recent case of Obisanya v Ellis and Another [2008] involved a dispute relating to the literary copyright in a screenplay. The first defendant in this case wrote and made films, while the second defendant was a production company that made a short film. Subsequent to the production of the short film, a feature film entitled 'Cashback' was produced. The short film and the feature film were based on the first defendant's screenplay.

The short film was released in 2004, followed by the feature film in 2006. From 2001 until 2004, the claimant in this case worked on her screenplay called 'Cashback, Paper or Plastic'. She subsequently shortened this to 'Cashback'. Both screenplays and films had a common setting both were romantic-comedies.

The claimant issued proceedings against the defendants. She alleged that the films had infringed her copyright in her original work. The defendant counterclaimed for an injunction to restrain the claimant from alleging that they had copied her work. Furthermore, the defendant applied for summary judgment on the following grounds:

  • Firstly, that the claimant’s claim had no reasonable prospect of success at trial; and
  • Secondly, that there was no basis for the matter to continue to a full hearing.

Counsel for the defendants argued that the similarities the claimant relied on were coincidences which stemmed from the shared settings in the respective stories. They further relied on the chronology of events in that the claimant had not finished writing her screenplay when the first short film, on which the feature film was subsequently based, was completed.

The court held that considering the chronology of events in this case, the claimant could not establish that there was a possibility that the defendants could have accessed her screenplay. Additionally, any similarities between the stories could be explained by the fact that the stories shared a common setting.

Furthermore, considering the number of allegations made by the claimant and the terms that were used in respect of the accusations of copyright infringement by the defendants, the claimant was restrained from making any similar allegations in the future.

The court was therefore of the opinion that the claimant's claim should be struck out. In addition, an injunction was granted which restrained her from making further accusations that the defendants had copied her screenplay.

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© RT COOPERS, 2008. This Briefing Note does not provide a comprehensive or complete statement of the law relating to the issues discussed nor does it constitute legal advice. It is intended only to highlight general issues. Specialist legal advice should always be sought in relation to particular circumstances.


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