Author Can’t Copyright Judas Iscariot on Trial

     (CN) – An author can’t copyright the idea of putting biblical betrayer Judas Iscariot on trial for admission into heaven, a federal judge ruled, dismissing writer Guy Michaels’ lawsuit against the playwright, director and producers of a play based on the same concept.

     “Stripped of unprotectible elements – such as biblical characters and biblical story – the works are not substantially similar,” a federal judge in Manhattan ruled, referring to Michaels’ novel, “Judas on Appeal,” and the play “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot.”
     Both works feature the trial of Judas Iscariot, who, after betraying Jesus Christ, hanged himself from a tree. While Iscariot is in purgatory or hell, his lawyers argue his case for entrance into eternal paradise.
     In Michaels’ novel, Solomon presides over Iscariot’s trial in a fictional World Court of Religion at the federal courthouse in New York’s Foley Square. In the play, written by Stephen Adly Guirgis and directed by actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, the venue is Hope, a place in purgatory.
     “The trials depicted in the two works are dramatically different in substance, setting, plot, theme, language, and the overall thrust and feels of the works,” U.S. District Judge John G. Koeltl wrote.
     “While some of the ideas in the two works are similar, it is the black letter of the law that ideas are not copyrightable and … no ordinary reader would view the expression of the ideas as substantially similar.”
Koeltl dismissed the complaint against Guirgis, Hoffman, LAByrinth Theater Co., and publishers Dramatists Play Service, and Faber and Faber.
“It is notable that over the course of a 111-page play and a 305-page book, the plaintiff is unable to point to any similarity of expression that is protectible,” the judge added.
     “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” was first performed off Broadway at The Public Theater in March 2005.
     Michaels, also known as Michael Porto, published his novel in February 1999.

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