Effie Film v. Murphy: Second Victory for Emma Thompson Film

Southern District of New York grants motion for judgment on the pleadings

In February, we discussed Effie Film, LLC v. Pomerance, in which the Southern District of New York held that the Emma Thompson scripted film Effie did not infringe upon the copyrights in two screenplays by another writer on a similar historical subject. The upcoming film won another victory in the Southern District this week in Effie Film, LLC v. Murphy, as the court held that the Effie screenplay did not infringe upon playwright Gregory Murphy’s copyrights for a screenplay called The Countess. The court accordingly granted Effie Film’s motion for judgment on the pleadings.

The court’s judgment hinged upon its finding that the two works are not substantially similar. The court remarked that “the two works have no dialogue in common, no characters in common that are not historical figures, and though they contain the same settings (a similarity attributable to their shared historical background) the two screenplays give these episodes vastly differing levels of attention.” The court stated that the pacing and structure of the two screenplays and the emotional motivation for their characters differed substantially, while it also compared the two in quantitative terms (the characters arrive in Scotland after 12 pages in The Countess; it takes 80 pages for them to arrive there in Effie). While the court conceded that there are certain similarities between the work, it held that they were not sufficient to conclude that the two works are substantially similar in their total concepts.

This second victory for Effie precedes its proposed May 2013 release in the UK, and further confirms the difficulty of sustaining a claim of copyright infringement in historical works.