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Moore v. Lightstorm Entertainment

United States District Court, Fourth Circuit

August 8, 2013

BRYANT MOORE, Plaintiff,
v.
LIGHTSTORM ENTERTAINMENT, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ROGER W. TITUS, District Judge.

"Only one thing is impossible for God: to find any sense in any copyright law on the planet." Mark Twain, The Complete Works of Mark Twain: Mark Twain's Notebook 381 (Albert Bigelow Paine ed., 1935). Mark Twain's frustration notwithstanding, Congress evinced a clear intent that federal copyright laws preempt equivalent state law claims. See 17 U.S.C. § 301 (2006). On March 18, 2013, following a hearing, the Court dismissed Plaintiff Bryant Moore's breach of implied contract claims on preemption grounds. ECF No. 59. Moore now moves for reconsideration of that decision, arguing that the Court erred in holding that those claims are preempted. Mot. Recons., Apr. 15, 2013, ECF No. 73. Moore's Motion for Reconsideration suffers from several fatal procedural defects, and even if it did not, he has failed to satisfy the requirements for motions under the applicable Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For those reasons, Moore's Motion for Reconsideration will be denied.

BACKGROUND

I. Parties and Subject Matter

Moore is a "passionate science fiction writer" residing in Maryland. Second Am. Compl. at 1, Aug. 29, 2013, ECF No.45. He wrote several original works, including two screenplays at issue here: Aquatica and Descendants: The Pollination ( Pollination ). Id. Moore wrote Aquatica in 1992 and registered it with the U.S. Copyright Office in 1994; he wrote Pollination in 2002 and registered it in 2003. Id. He later revised Aquatica and re-registered the screenplay in 2006 under the title Aquapocalypse. Mot. Dismiss at 12, Jun. 29, 2012, ECF No. 23.[1]

Defendants are individuals and entities involved in writing, producing, and distributing the film Avatar. Second Am. Compl. at ¶¶ 4-6. James Cameron is a writer, producer, and director who Defendants assert wrote Avatar. Id. at ¶ 4. Cameron is also the principal owner of Lightstorm Entertainment, the California corporation that produced the film. Id. at ¶¶ 4-5. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation is a film studio incorporated in Delaware with its principal place of business in California. Id. at ¶ 6. Fox produced and distributed Avatar. Id.

Fox released Avatar in movie theaters worldwide in December of 2009. Id. at ¶ 8. It is unclear precisely when the script was written, but Moore alleges that Defendants pre-registered the screenplay that would become Avatar in November of 2006. Id. at ¶ 34.[2] Upon release, the film received substantial critical acclaim; it was nominated for nine and won three Academy Awards as well as a Golden Globe Award. Id. at ¶ 9. The film also generated a video game, and several sequel films are apparently planned. Id. As of August of 2012, Avatar remains the highest-grossing film of all time with reported box office earnings surpassing $2.7 billion. Id.

II. Defendants' Alleged Access to Aquatica and Pollination

Moore alleges that Defendants had access to both scripts well before they pre-registered Avatar in 2006. Id. at ¶ 34. According to Moore's Second Amended Complaint, he first submitted the screenplay for Aquatica to Lightstorm in 1994 and then again in 1995, always through some intermediary or intermediaries. Id. at ¶¶ 23-24. Moore does not allege that these intermediaries were authorized to receive scripts on behalf of Defendants, nor does he describe industry conventions for submitting scripts in detail.

Eight years later, in or around January of 2003, Moore obtained contact information from the Director's Guild of America for Cameron's business manager at Sher, Sherr, Gelb, and Company ("SSG"). Id. at ¶ 25. Moore alleges that he sent a script to SSG, and on referral sent a copy to Tom Cohen, Lightstorm's Creative Director, on April 7, 2003. Id. at ¶ 26-27. Moore alleges that Lightstorm subsequently informed him that it was not interested in producing Aquatica, but does not indicate how or when Defendants allegedly contacted him. Id. at ¶ 28.

In July of 2003, Moore sent the screenplay for Pollination to Lightstorm through counsel, allegedly "with permission" from Lightstorm. Id. at ¶ 29. Moore asserts that he made a series of follow-up phone calls to Lightstorm throughout 2003 and sent mail in February 2004. Id. at ¶¶ 30-31. On April 29, 2005, Plaintiff registered Pollination -themed artwork with the U.S. Copyright Office and, on some unstated date, submitted the art to a producer who allegedly had "a nexus" with Cameron. Id. at ¶ 32.[3] On May 3, 2006, Moore registered a revised copy of Pollination with the Writers Guild of America. Id. at ¶ 33.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Moore filed his first complaint on December 19, 2011. Compl., ECF No. 1. He amended his complaint twice, first on June 11, 2012 [Am. Compl., ECF No. 21] and then on August 29, 2012 [Second Am. Compl.]. He claims that in the course of writing, producing, and distributing Avatar, Defendants (1) breached an implied contract as to Pollination, (2) breached an implied contract as to Aquatica, (3) violated the Federal Copyright Act as to Pollination, and (4) violated the Federal Copyright Act as to Aquatica. Id. at 2. Moore sought declaratory relief as well as a total of $2.5 billion in actual and punitive damages, subject to an accounting. Id. at 15-16.

Defendants moved to dismiss Moore's complaint for failure to state a claim on June 29, 2012. Mot. Dismiss. The Court held a motions hearing on March 18, 2013 and granted the Motion to Dismiss as to Moore's breach of implied contract claims and denied ...


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