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Thursday, May 23, 2024 | Back issues
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Sony’s Bike Messenger Film Flees Copyright Suit

(CN) - A novelist failed to support copyright claims against the 2012 film "Premium Rush," starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, a federal judge ruled.

"The Ultimate Rush," which Joe Quirk published in 1998 though St. Martins Press, is a novel about a rollerblading courier in San Francisco. Quick claimed that his publishers informed him in 2010 that Sony Pictures Entertainment was making a strikingly similar film. "Premium Rush," released in August 2012, starred Gordon-Leviitt as a bike messenger in New York City.

Quirk sued Sony, its subsidiary Columbia Pictures Industries, production company Pariah, and the co-writers of the film, David Koepp and John Kamps.

Quirk said his agent, Matthew Snyder of California Artists Agency, had distributed pre-release copies of "The Ultimate Rush" to a number of entertainment companies, including Sony.

Though Warner Brothers bought an option to Quirk's work and commissioned two writers to adapt the novel into screenplays, the project never moved forward. Warner Brothers is not a party to the action.

In July 2012, one month before the studios released "Premium Rush," U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg refused to dismiss Quirk's claims against Sony, Pariah, Koepp and Kamps. The ruling noted that Columbia had not been a party to the dismissal motion.

Remarking that it was a "close call," Seeborg said Quirk had raised enough facts to move forward.

"Quirk ultimately will have to prove not only that a copy of the novel originally provided by his agent ended up in the moving defendants' hands, but also that each person who accepted it along the way did so with the expectation that payment would be due if the ideas were utilized," Seeborg wrote.

The defendants subsequently filed two motions for summary judgment, which Seeborg granted in an 18-page order Tuesday.

In trying to show that "Premium Rush" was an "adaptation" of his novel, Quirk provided an expert declaration from playwright Bruce Gelfand, explaining that adaptors "stand on the shoulders" of original authors, even when they substantially change elements of the original story.

Seeborg remained unconvinced.

"However accurate Gelfand's description may be as to movie scripts often are adapted from underlying novels, it does not reflect the appropriate legal standard for determining when a movie is a copy (or, more precisely, a derivative work made from) an underlying novel within the meaning of copyright law," Seeborg wrote.

Later, he wrote: "Even assuming Gelfand is factually correct that 'Premium Rush' was 'adapted' from Quirk's novel in exactly the manner he believes occurred, and even assuming that the features he identifies as similarities are evidence of such an adaptation process, it simply does not automatically follow that there is liability under copyright law."

Seeborg also said Quirk's comparisons "often misstate matters to create an exaggerated sense of the degree of similarity."

While the protagonist of the film is trying to escape a corrupt police officer, Quirk's rollerblading courier is wrongly suspected of murder.

"A blue whale is much like a hamster with respect to all the mammalian features they share," Seeborg wrote. "Yet a hamster is more like a sparrow than a whale, if one focuses on size, or the likelihood of finding one in the ocean, rather than whether the creatures under comparison are both mammals. The fact that a hamster bears some important features in common with whales, others with sparrows, and yet others with both, does not necessarily make a hamster 'substantially similar' to either a whale or a sparrow."

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