Tuesday, December 11, 2007

"Heroes" Suit Dismissed

Southern District Judge Denise Cote has dismissed a copyright infringement claim involving the NBC TV series "Heroes," mentioned earlier here. The decision is here. The plaintiffs -- "divination artists" known professionally as "The Twins" -- claimed the series infringed their copyrights in a 777-page handwritten novel The Twins: Journey of the Soul, a short film based on the novel entitled The Letter, and their painting series Envious of America. According to Judge Cote, the claim "focus[ed] particularly" on the similarities between a character named Idai from the novel and the character Issac Mendez in the TV series, noting that "both (1) are 'minorities' ..., (2) have the ability to 'paint the future'; (3) often paint in oil in large canvasses; (3) [sic] create depictions of 'two landmark New York City buildings being destroyed' (Idai the Twin Towers, Issac the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings); (4) create paintings of a bus being destroyed in the future, which prediction is then validated in a newspaper article; and (5) attempt to stop the destruction of those buildings."

The case was decided on idea vs. expression grounds. On summary judgment (the case was before her on a motion to dismiss, which she converted to a motion for summary judgment), Judge Cote held that, "having reviewed these works in some detail, it is readily apparent that these claims are wholly without merit, as nearly every instance of alleged similarity between Heroes and the plaintiffs' work relates to unprotectable ideas rather than protectable expression." She said that "a 'minority artist' who has the ability to paint the future is an 'idea' that is not protected under the copyright laws." After reviewing a number of other alleged similarities between the works, she concluded that "while the line between mere 'ideas' and protected 'expression' is famously difficult to fix precisely, these alleged 'similarities' are textbook examples of the former. ... [I]t must be concluded that whatever similarities may be said to exist between Heroes and plaintiffs' works are not due to protected aesthetic expressions original to the allegedly infringed work, but rather related to ideas in the original that are free for the taking."

Next up: NBC's request for attorney's fees.