Federal Judge Dismisses Copyright Claims Against Firm's Clients in Companion Cases

Robins, Kaplan, Miller and Ciresi L.L.P. recently obtained the dismissal of copyright and related claims asserted against its clients, Best Buy and AMC in two companion cases pending before the Northern District of California.  Identity Arts v. Best Buy; Gee Jeffery & Partners v. AMC, Best Buy & Sprint.  The court also awarded Best Buy fees and costs in the amount of $108,245 in the Identity Arts matter.  

The cases arise from Best Buy's production of cell phone courtesy messages displayed in movie theatres across the United States as part of Best Buy's "Silence is Golden" campaign.  Best Buy's courtesy messages were based on the concept of a faux movie trailer where a ringing cell phone interrupts the dramatic high point of the trailer and the audience is then asked to turn off their cell phones before the movie starts.  The claimants in each of the two companion cases alleged that Best Buy's faux movie trailers infringed on their copyright over other cell phone courtesy messages styled as faux movie trailers. 

After analyzing the copyrighted and accused works, a California federal court held that Best Buy's spots did not infringe because, although the works shared a similar concept (faux movie trailers interrupted by a ringing cell phone), the actual expressive elements of the works were not substantially similar since they used different plots, themes, moods, settings, characters, and sequences of events.  The court's decision was premised on the notion that copyright does not protect ideas or concepts, but only the specific expression of ideas.  The court also dismissed various pendent state law claims as preempted by the Copyright Act.