(Reuters) – Despite the difficulties plaintiffs typically face in proving that similar programming constitutes copyright infringement, a Florida judge has allowed a Venezuelan television network to sue an American television group over the plot of a telenovela.
On Wednesday, Robin Rosenbaum, a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, ruled that Venezuela’s LaTele Television CA may proceed with its copyright lawsuit against Telemundo Communications Group LLC, accusing the U.S. company of infringing copyrights to “Maria Maria,” a LaTele telenovela.
LaTele claimed in its action that Telemundo and its Miami-based studio violated copyrights to “Maria Maria,” a program about the adventures of a young woman with amnesia who took on the identity of a frivolous millionaire, when it produced and aired “La Rastro,” also about a young woman with amnesia.
Telemundo had asked Rosenbaum to dismiss the case, arguing that “La Rastro” included only ideas that are standard in telenovelas and that LaTele could not show the requisite level of similarity to prove copyright infringement.
But Rosenbaum disagreed and said that although the distinction between an idea and its particular expression is “a lot easier stated than applied,” the case could go forward.
Under copyright law, protected elements of a work do not include ideas but only the “particular expression of ideas,” Rosenbaum wrote. She wrote that “scenes a faire,” or stock scenes and character types that flow from a common theme, are not protectable under copyright law.
Rosenbaum took several pages in her opinion to go through the similarities of the two programs.
Both feature main characters who, after confronting the husband’s mistress, are severely injured in a car crash; both characters, through a series of confusions, have facial reconstruction surgery causing them to look exactly like the mistress; and both characters also do not initially remember their original identities, the court noted.
Rosenbaum also wrote that “Maria Maria,” which aired in 1989 and 1990, and “La Rastro,” which premiered in October 2008, shared a writer.
Telemundo said the claims are “baseless” and noted the ruling comes in the early stages of the case.
Stroock & Stroock & Lavan’s James Sammataro, who represents LaTele, said his client is pleased with the result, especially considering the relatively high bar plaintiffs have in proving such cases.
WHEN IS IT INFRINGEMENT?
Two recent cases demonstrate the difficulties plaintiffs have in proving similar programming goes beyond just “ideas” to constitute infringement.
Earlier this month, actress Emma Thomson was able to successfully prove she had not violated an author’s copyright on a screenplay based on the romantic life of Effie Gray, who was married to John Everett Millais, a painter and founder of the pre-Raphaelite art movement.
In that case, a federal judge in Manhattan found that the screenplays were not “substantially similar” in that they had no dialogue in common and no common characters that weren’t historical figures.
In August, CBS Broadcasting Inc dropped a lawsuit against American Broadcasting Co accusing its rival of infringing its copyright relating to the long-running reality series “Big Brother.”
The lawsuit claimed that “The Glass House” mimicked several elements of “Big Brother” and employed 19 former producers and staff from the show.
A California federal judge had previously refused to grant a restraining order against ABC, saying CBS was not likely to be able to prove “Glass House” had misappropriated protectable elements of “Big Brother.”