August 27, 2012

PN Case Update: Hallford v. Fox Entertainment Group

Fox Pans Claims It Lifted Plot Of Kiefer Sutherland Show

By Max Stendahl

Law360, New York (August 24, 2012, 2:54 PM ET) -- Fox Entertainment Group Inc. on Friday slammed a complaint alleging it stole an author's screenplay and turned it into actor Kiefer Sutherland's TV show "Touch," telling a New York federal judge the works had only “scattershot” similarities.

Fox attorney Jonathan Zavin of Loeb & Loeb LLP asked U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III to dismiss the March 12 suit filed by Everette Hallford, who claims "Touch" bears a significant resemblance to his screenplay "Prodigy," which is based on his 2008 novel "Visionary." The screenplay and show both feature an autistic boy with special powers that give him knowledge of the "interconnectedness of all things," Hallford asserts.

"Touch," whose season finale aired May 31, steals ideas for characters, plot developments and themes from "Prodigy," which Hallford registered with the U.S. Copyright Office, the suit contends. Sutherland, the star and executive producer of the show, is named as a defendant in the suit, along with Fox and show writer Richard Kring.

But Zavin told the court that the notion of a boy with the ability to view the “interconnectedness” of things was merely a vague idea — not a copyrightable expression.

"It's been misdescribed by the plaintiff, and nothing's going to change this," Zavin said at oral arguments. “The scattershot similarities that the plaintiff is urging on this court are not a proper copyright analysis."

“How is the concept of a boy with special powers protectable?” the judge then asked Hallford’s attorney, Joseph D. Nohavicka.

“A reasonable juror could find that these are exact copies,” Nohavicka replied. “I’m not saying it’s proof positive that we win our case, but it certainly creates an issue of fact.”

Nohavicka added that Hallford’s case had been bolstered by recent episodes of the show, which he said played down the autism of the protagonist. The plot change came after the plaintiff sent Fox a cease-and-desist letter, Nohavicka said.

The judge did not issue a decision after hearing arguments from both sides.

Hallford has advanced the theory that Kring may have accessed the screenplay through a mutual acquaintance.

From May to July 2009, Hallford spent much of his time at Schneider Children's Hospital, where his infant granddaughter, who later died at the age of eight months, was being treated for cancer. During that time, he grew friendly with the hospital's bioethics representative, Robert Cassidy Jr., who happened to be old friends with Kring, the complaint said.

Hallford gave Cassidy a signed copy of "Visionary" and a website link to the full text of the "Prodigy" screenplay in the hopes that Cassidy might pass them along to Kring, who had previously created NBC's hit show "Heroes," the suit alleges.

Fox has challenged that assertion, saying Cassidy may not have been the individual who allegedly passed the information along.

"Touch" premiered on Fox in January and has been renewed for a second season.

Hallford is represented by Joseph D. Nohavicka and Taso Pardalis of Pardalis & Nohavicka LLP.

Fox is represented by Jonathan Zavin of Loeb & Loeb LLP.

The case is Everette Hallford v. Fox Entertainment Group Inc. et al., case number 1:12-cv-01806, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

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