DLA Piper Secures Copyright Win for Emma Thompson's film, 'Effie'

DLA Piper represented Effie Film, LLC, the producer of the motion picture Effie and the screenplay’s author, Academy Award-winning actress and screenwriter Emma Thompson, in an important copyright infringement case brought by writer Eve Pomerance. The December 18, 2012 Southern District of New York Court’s decision defends the right for authors of differing creative visions to use the same historical facts in fictional works.

Ms. Thompson wrote the screenplay for Effie, a fictional retelling of a true story that took place in England and Scotland in the 1850s around the romantic triangle between the famed art critic John Ruskin, his wife Effie Gray, and Everett Millais, a painter who was the leader of the pre-Raphaelite art movement, and ultimately the President of the Royal Academy of Arts. The motion picture, which is now in post-production, will star Dakota Fanning as Effie Gray.

Before filming of Effie began, writer Eve Pomerance claimed that the screenplay infringed copyright of her own unproduced screenplays about the Ruskin-Gray-Millais relationship. DLA Piper asked the Southern District of New York Court for a determination that Effie did not infringe Pomerance’s copyright. In a detailed decision, District Judge J. Paul Oetken concluded that any similarities between the screenplay and film of Effie and Ms. Pomerance’s screenplays arose from their use of common historical facts. Copyright does not protect history and every author is free to draw from the historical record. Judge Oetken found that Effie’s fictional treatment of the facts, including Ms. Thompson’s plotting, emphasis on scenes, pace, narrative structure, and characters, was substantively different from the treatment given to the same facts by Ms. Pomerance.

DLA Piper’s New York-based team was led by Andrew Deutsch, a partner in the Intellectual Property and Technology group.

“We are pleased that Judge Oetken found Effie to be an entirely original interpretation of historical facts, and rejected groundless accusations of copyright infringement,” said Deutsch. “It is very gratifying to help make it possible for audiences across the world to see this wonderful story and film.

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