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in Filmmaking
on Oct 13, 2004


Producer Ted Hope e-mailed me this New York Times article by Anne Thompson which is mandatory reading for all producers, writers and development executives. The article concerns the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and its recent ruling in the Jeff Grosso v. Miramax Film Corporation case. In the case, Grosso, a freelance writer and high-stakes poker player, sued Miramax claiming that the John Dahl film Rounders lifted story details and characters from his own spec script The Shell Game, which he had submitted unsolicited to a production company that had offices in the Miramax building. As quoted in the Times, Grosso said, “[The poker phrase] ‘Texas hold ’em’ had never been used in a movie before… It was obvious to me that they stole my movie. Those two works couldn’t be mutually exclusive. They realized that I was not powerful, had no connections, that they could rewrite the script and use it, for free.”

The Federal District Court dismissed the part of Grosso’s suit claiming copyright violations. But what is concerning producers is the part of the suit the court left standing. Basically, the court says that Miramax must go on trial on the charge of violating an “implied contract” with the writer, a contract that was presumably triggered by the mere act of Grosso’s submission. (The details here are sketchier as to whether Grosso had more detailed discussions with the companies.) Continues the article, “Under California law, Judge Mary M. Schroeder wrote in a ruling for a three-judge panel on Sept. 8, ‘a contract sometimes may be implied even in the absence of an express promise to pay.'”

For unagented writers, the ruling is a mixed blessing. Litigious scribes may wind up with the courts on their side when they claim to be “ripped off” by the movie business, while others struggling to break into the business may find that the courts are creating a new “barrier to entry” as skittish producers will shy away from reading any unrepresented work.

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