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"The Purge" Creators Sued for Copyright Infringement

Douglas Jordan-Benel, a successful Hollywood screenwriter, charges that Universal City Studios, United Talent Agency ("UTA"), and writer James Demonaco stole his ideas from his Settler's Day screenplay to create the movie, The Purge. The movie is about a futuristic America that is functioning very well economically and socially due to The Purge, which is a 12-hour period that occurs once a year where all crime is legal.

Jordan-Benel claims that the film is extremely similar to Settler's Day in terms of theme, setting, plot, characters, dialogue and more (http://www.scribd.com/doc/234372046/Purge pg. 7-15). His complaint alleges that this is not mere coincidence, as he believes Demonaco got a hold of Settler's Day through his connections with UTA, which decided to "'pass' on the Plaintiff Screenplay" (http://www.scribd.com/doc/234372046/Purge pg. 5). Jordan-Benel also points to the fact that Demonaco has given many different sources of his inspiration for the idea as evidence that he stole the original idea. In separate interviews, Demonaco credits his wife, foreign news programs, and even episodes of Start Trek (http://www.scribd.com/doc/234372046/Purge). Jordan-Benel argues that the similarities between the screenplay and the actual film "are so striking that it is a virtual impossibility that the latter could have been created independently from the former." (http://www.scribd.com/doc/234372046/Purge pg. 14).

In addition to the complaint of copyright infringement, Jordan-Benel is bringing a claim of breach of implied-in-fact contract because he alleges The Purge used his main ideas and the defendants should have paid him, credited him for his writing, and let him assist in the production of the movie. (http://www.scribd.com/doc/234372046/Purge pg. 17).

Proving copyright infringement can be very difficult. After showing his ownership of the screenplay and that Demonaco, in fact, gained access to it, Jordan-Benel will have to establish that Settler's Day and The Purge are substantially similar, which can be a difficult standard to meet. Proving substantial similarity requires meeting an extrinsic element, which involves showing similar parts (themes, characters, etc.) and an intrinsic element, which "is an examination of an ordinary person's subjective impression of the similarities between the two works." (http://www.theiplawblog.com/2007/02/articles/copyright-law/the-complexity-of-proving-copyright-infringement/).

Jordan-Benel seeks at least $5 million in damages due to missing out on profits from The Purge. The case will proceed in the United States District Court for the District of Central California.

The legal team at SFMS has significant experience litigating such intellectual property matters and recently was called upon to advise a screenwriter in a similar situation. If you have any questions regarding this subject or this posting, please contact James E. Miller (jmiller@sfmslaw.com), Ronald F. Kravitz (rkravitz@sfmslaw.com), Valerie L. Chang (vchang@sfmslaw.com) or Michael Ols (mols@sfmslaw.com). We can also be reached toll-free at (866) 540-5505.

Shepherd Finkelman Miller & Shah, LLP is a law firm with offices in California, Connecticut, Florida, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. SFMS also maintains an affiliate office in London, England, and is an active member of Integrated Advisory Group (www.iaginternational.org), which provides us with the ability to provide our clients with access to excellent legal and accounting resources throughout the globe. For more information about our firm, please visit us at www.sfmslaw.com.

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