(CN) – “Star Wars” actor Hayden Christensen may pursue his claim that USA Network stole his idea for the TV show “Royal Pains,” the 2nd Circuit ruled.
A federal judge in Manhattan dismissed Christensen’s claim for breach of implied contract last year after he accused the network of using his idea for a series. The court ruled that the Copyright Act preempted Christensen’s claim, but the 2nd Circuit disagreed.
Christensen, known for his role as Anakin Skywalker in George Lucas’ “Star Wars,” and his brother, Tove, say they created a written treatment for “Housecall,” a series “in which a doctor, after being expelled from the medical community for treating patients who could not pay, moved to Malibu, California, and became a ‘concierge’ doctor to the rich and famous.”
The brothers said they pitched the idea via mail and met with USA Network executive Alex Sepiol in 2005.
“Sepiol said that prior to hearing the idea for ‘Housecall,’ he had never heard of ‘concierge’ doctors, or doctors who make house calls for wealthy patients, and ‘thought it was a fascinating concept for a television show,'” a 23-page ruling by the appeals court states.
Communication between the groups ceased about a week later, the brothers say.
Then, in 2009, USA Network launched “Royal Pains,” “in which a doctor, after being expelled from the medical community for treating patients who could not pay, became a concierge doctor to the rich and famous in the Hamptons.”
The Christensen brothers and their company, Forest Park Pictures, say they “had no prior knowledge of ‘Royal Pains,’ did not consent to its production, and received no compensation from USA Network for the use of its idea for the show.”
The trio sued in federal court in Manhattan for breach of contract, and the network moved to dismiss the action on grounds that the Copyright Act preempted the claim and that the contract was too vague to be enforced.
Judge Colleen McMahon agreed and granted the network’s motion on the preemption claim. She did not address vagueness argument.
The 2nd Circuit took issue with that decision.
“Forest Park adequately alleged the breach of a contract that included an implied promise to pay. Because this claim is based on rights that are not the equivalent of those protected by the Copyright Act, it is not preempted,” 2nd Circuit Judge John Walker Jr. wrote, vacating the district court’s judgment and remanding the complaint for further proceedings.
USA Network, a division of New York-based defendant Universal Television Network, argued that even if Forest Park did allege an implied-in-fact agreement, the contract was not enforceable because it lacked a definite price term.
But that was not enough to sway the 2nd Circuit.
“At trial, Forest Park will have to prove that such an industry standard price exists and that both parties implicitly agreed to it. That Forest Park might fail to prove its claim, however, does not render the contract unenforceable as a matter of law at the pleading stage,” Walker wrote.
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