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Thomas Swartz
Thomas Swartz, Lawyer
Category: Intellectual Property Law
Satisfied Customers: 3006
Experience:  Twenty one years experience as a lawyer in New York and New Jersey. Former Appellate Law Clerk.
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My team is being sued for intellectual property by a man who

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My team is being sued for intellectual property by a man who dictated a film synopsis from the executive producer, he is now claiming he came up with the idea and wants $2,000 in financial damages via small claims court. First, can you even sue for this in small claims? And second, all he has is the synopsis, but the film that was produced after his company was fired only contains elements of the producers original idea. Does he even have a case? I know we can't prove our producer had him dictate the the synopsis... but I would guess he wouldn't he have to prove he owned it in the first place? Also.. the movie has made no money... so what financial damages would even be rewarded?

I believe he would not have a case. If he only orally dictated a synopsis to you he would not own any intellectual property. Copyright rights only come into existence when you fix a expression in some tangible form such as a writing, a video, a photograph, painting, etc. Oral expressions are not in a fixed, tangible form. To express this in another way, copyright does not protect ideas, concepts, stories in an of themselves. It only protects the particular way in which these things are expressed. Thus, there is the need for a story, for example, to be in some fixed, tangible form. So, if he just told you a story it would not be protected.

In addition, before someone can commence a copyright infringement case, that person must register a copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office. If this person has no registered copyright on any work, you could move to dismiss the lawsuit.

If you had some sort of contract with this individual that you would not use, exploit or disclose the story, he could have a breach of contract claim against you. But I take it that there was no such contract with this individual.

So, I don't think he would have any basis for any lawsuit.

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