DLA Piper represented Effie Film, LLC, the producer of the motion picture Effie, in a successful infringement case against New York playwright Gregory Murphy. Murphy had accused Academy Award-winning actress and screenwriter Emma Thompson, the author of the Effie screenplay, of infringing his copyright. A March 20, 2013 decision of the Southern District of New York found that Effie did not infringe Murphy’s copyright, and upheld the right of authors of fiction to re-interpret history and historical figures through their own creative vision.
This decision marks the second victory DLA Piper has secured on behalf of Effie Film, LLC, clearing the film from all claims of infringement.
Ms. Thompson wrote the screenplay for Effie, a fictional retelling of a true story that took place in England and Scotland in the 1850s around the romantic triangle between the famed art critic John Ruskin, his wife Effie Gray, and Everett Millais, a painter who was the leader of the pre-Raphaelite art movement, and ultimately the President of the Royal Academy of Arts. The motion picture, which is now in post-production, will star Dakota Fanning as Effie Gray.
Murphy wrote a play and screenplay about the Ruskin-Gray-Millais relationship entitled The Countess. When he learned of the project to film Effie, he claimed in the press that Thompson had stolen from his movie and infringed his copyright. DLA Piper asked the Southern District of New York Court to find that Effie did not infringe Murphy’s copyright. In a detailed opinion, District Judge Thomas P. Griesa concluded that the works had no dialogue in common and had no characters in common that were not historical figures. Judge Griesa concluded that the works have “greatly differing internal structures,” and are “quite dissimilar in their two approaches to fictionalizing the same historical events.”
Judge Griesa’s decision follows a similarly detailed decision, dated December 18, 2012, in which District Judge J. Paul Oetken found that Effie did not infringe an unproduced screenplay by author Eve Pomerance. The Pomerance screenplay also presented a fictionalized version of the Ruskin-Gray-Millais relationship. Judge Oetken likewise held that the creative elements of the two screenplays were substantially different.
DLA Piper’s New York-based team was led by Andrew Deutsch, a partner in the Intellectual Property and Technology group.
“We are pleased that Judge Griesa’s decision confirms that copyright does not protect history and every author is free to draw from this historical record.” said Deutsch. “Combined with Judge Oetken’s earlier decision, these rulings free Effie from all claims of infringement and present the film of Effie to be released in the near future.”