Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. v. MCA, Inc., CENTURY-FOX

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtBefore CHAMBERS, GOODWIN and TANG; TANG
Citation217 USPQ 611,715 F.2d 1327
Decision Date06 May 1983
Docket NumberCENTURY-FOX,No. CA
Parties, 1983 Copr.L.Dec. P 25,487, 1983 Copr.L.Dec. P 25,598 TWENTIETHFILM CORPORATION, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. MCA, INC., et al., Defendants-Appellees. 80-5868.

Page 1327

715 F.2d 1327
217 U.S.P.Q. 611, 1983 Copr.L.Dec. P 25,487,
1983 Copr.L.Dec. P 25,598
TWENTIETH CENTURY-FOX FILM CORPORATION, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
MCA, INC., et al., Defendants-Appellees.
No. CA 80-5868.
United States Court of Appeals,
Ninth Circuit.
Argued and Submitted Feb. 4, 1982.
Decided Jan. 11, 1983.
As Amended May 6, 1983.

Page 1328

Melville B. Nimmer, Sidley & Austin, Los Angeles, Cal., for plaintiffs-appellants.

Louis P. Petrich, Youngman, Hungate & Leopold, Los Angeles, Cal., for defendants-appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California.

Before CHAMBERS, GOODWIN and TANG, Circuit Judges.

TANG, Circuit Judge:

Appellants claim that their copyrighted production of the book and motion picture "Star Wars" was infringed by appellees' production of "Battlestar: Galactica." The district court granted appellees' motion for partial summary judgment. We reverse and remand.

OVERVIEW

In 1977, Twentieth Century-Fox produced and distributed the motion picture "Star Wars." The commercial success of that venture did not go unnoticed. The following year "Battelstar: Galactica" was released as both a motion picture and television series. Universal Studios, Inc., a subsidiary of MCA, Inc., produced and owned the rights to Battlestar, and ABC televised the Battlestar space saga.

In June, 1978, Fox commenced this action against MCA, Universal, and ABC, alleging copyright infringement. Subsequently, Fox's amended complaint joined Lucasfilm, Ltd. as co-plaintiff, and alleged that defendants had also infringed Lucasfilm's copyright in its 1976 Star Wars book.

Defendants moved for partial summary judgment on the copyright claims. In connection with that motion, the trial judge reviewed a videotape montage of prior science fiction works, the Star Wars film and book, and a videotape of the first television episode of Battlestar. Defendants did not contest the validity of plaintiffs' Star Wars copyrights. Further, for purposes of the motion, defendants admitted access to plaintiffs' works.

The only issue raised in the motion was whether defendants' Battlestar: Galactica production was so dissimilar to plaintiffs' Star Wars works, as to both ideas and expression of those ideas, that no material issue of fact existed on the question of substantial similarity, and the question could be decided as a matter of law. The trial court granted defendants' motion for partial summary judgment. 1 This appeal ensued.

DISCUSSION

The law relating to a grant of summary judgment is clear. Only if no genuine issue of material fact exists will the moving party be entitled to prevail as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). First Nat'l Bank of Ariz. v. Cities Serv. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 288-90, 88 S.Ct. 1575, 1592-93, 20 L.Ed.2d 569 (1968).

On appeal, the question whether summary judgment was properly granted below is one of law. Boone v. Mechanical Specialties Co., 609 F.2d 956, 959 (9th Cir.1979). The standard governing our review is the same as that employed by the trial court under Rule 56(c). British Airways Bd. v. Boeing Co., 585 F.2d 946, 951 n. 6 (9th Cir.1978), cert. denied, 440 U.S. 981, 99 S.Ct. 1790, 60 L.Ed.2d 241 (1979). 2 That is, this court must view the evidence and inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to

Page 1329

the nonmoving party, herein plaintiffs-appellants Fox and Lucasfilm (collectively referred to as "Fox"). See id. at 951. Defendants-appellees MCA, Universal and ABC (collectively referred to as "MCA") may prevail only if no genuine issue of material fact exists on the questions of substantial similarity of idea and idea expression. 3

After viewing the Star Wars and Battlestar motion pictures, we conclude that the films do in fact raise genuine issues of material fact as to whether only the Star Wars idea or the expression of that idea was copied. 4 Sid & Marty Krofft Television Prods., Inc. v. McDonald's Corp. 562 F.2d 1157 (9th Cir.1977). At a minimum, it is a close enough question that it should be resolved by way of a trial. We intimate no opinion whether the films are substantially similar as to either idea or expression, but state only that reasonable minds could differ on those key factual issues. 5 Thus, a grant of summary judgment was...

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108 practice notes
  • Brooktree Corp. v. Advanced Micro Devices, Inc., Nos. 91-1258
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
    • October 9, 1992
    ...questions are the province of the jury, as illustrated in analogous copyright cases, e.g., Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. v. MCA, Inc., 715 F.2d 1327, 1329, 217 USPQ 611, 612 (9th Cir.1983) (question of whether there was copying was a "close enough question" to require trial); D......
  • N.A.A.C.P., Western Region v. City of Richmond, No. 83-2341
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • September 28, 1984
    ...court's review is the same as that employed by the trial court under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. v. MCA, Inc., 715 F.2d 1327, 1328 (9th Cir.1983). We view the evidence and inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the losing party. Angel v. Seattle-First N......
  • Lowe v. City of Monrovia, No. 84-5960
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • January 21, 1986
    ...trial court, we are governed by the standard set forth in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. v. MCA, 715 F.2d 1327, 1328 (9th Cir.1983). We must determine whether, viewing the facts and the law in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, there is......
  • Computer Associates Intern., Inc. v. Altai, Inc., No. 762
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit
    • December 17, 1992
    ...(2d Cir.1986) (recognizing that a book of photographs might infringe ballet choreography); Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. v. MCA, Inc., 715 F.2d 1327, 1329 (9th Cir.1983) (motion picture and television series); Sid & Marty Krofft Television Prods., Inc. v. McDonald's Corp., 562 F.2d 1......
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108 cases
  • Brooktree Corp. v. Advanced Micro Devices, Inc., Nos. 91-1258
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
    • October 9, 1992
    ...questions are the province of the jury, as illustrated in analogous copyright cases, e.g., Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. v. MCA, Inc., 715 F.2d 1327, 1329, 217 USPQ 611, 612 (9th Cir.1983) (question of whether there was copying was a "close enough question" to require trial); Dezendorf v......
  • N.A.A.C.P., Western Region v. City of Richmond, No. 83-2341
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • September 28, 1984
    ...court's review is the same as that employed by the trial court under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. v. MCA, Inc., 715 F.2d 1327, 1328 (9th Cir.1983). We view the evidence and inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the losing party. Angel v. Seattle-First N......
  • Lowe v. City of Monrovia, No. 84-5960
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • January 21, 1986
    ...trial court, we are governed by the standard set forth in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. v. MCA, 715 F.2d 1327, 1328 (9th Cir.1983). We must determine whether, viewing the facts and the law in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, there is......
  • Computer Associates Intern., Inc. v. Altai, Inc., No. 762
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit
    • December 17, 1992
    ...(2d Cir.1986) (recognizing that a book of photographs might infringe ballet choreography); Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. v. MCA, Inc., 715 F.2d 1327, 1329 (9th Cir.1983) (motion picture and television series); Sid & Marty Krofft Television Prods., Inc. v. McDonald's Corp., 562 F.2d 1157,......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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