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Geez, you’ve got a big legal bill.  Geez, you’ve got a big legal bill.  In 2009, writer James Muller filed suit in the US District Court in Central California claiming that 20th Century Fox stole his script to make 2004’s ‘Alien vs. Predator.’  Muller’s script called ‘Lost Continent’ was about a government-led expedition to Antarctica to investigate a structure frozen beneath the ice, resulting in a battle between humans and aliens.

However, the case was thrown out on the basis that the 2000+ similarities alleged by Muller were either dissimilar or not protected.

A common theme in copyright claims over stories, whether they be in movies, comics, or elsewhere, is whether the characters are ‘stock’ characters or not.  Essentially, a ‘stock’ character is a character who is comprised solely of traits common to numerous characters throughout literature.  For example, the nosy neighbor, the overbearing boss, the wise bartender, the prejudiced father upset his daughter is dating outside their culture, the obnoxious house-guest that won’t leave, and others, are characters that can go back to Shakespeare or even Canterbury Tales.  Without more to distinguish them, these archetypes are not protected.  A famous and more detailed discussion can be found in Justice Posner’s opinion in Gaiman v. McFarlane (2004) 360 F.3d 644, the suit between the comic-book legends over certain Spawn characters.  Aliens beneath the ice encountering humans can be found in stories from ‘The Thing’ to H.P. Lovecraft.

Nerds in Court author Christina <3's Predator

20th Century Fox maintained in essence that Muller’s suit was a type of shakedown and spent roughly $300,000 defending the suit, though they requested only $150,000 in attorneys fees.  Agreeing the suit was objectively baseless, the court awarded attorneys fees, but seeing Muller’s tax returns awarded $40,000, which is still reported to have made Muller insolvent.  So, instead of spending $300,000 to only recap up to $40,000, why not pay Muller $100,000 or so to go away and save some money?  It appears that 20th Century Fox was sending a message to deter others who would file meritless copyright infringement suits and save money in the long-run.

About Nerds in Court

John G. Nowakowski, Esq. (LLMT), is a graduate of the University of San Diego School of Law, and is licensed to practice law in California and Nevada. Christina R. Evola, Esq. is a recent graduate of the University of San Diego School of Law where her studies focused on intellectual property, antitrust, and media law. She is a lifelong gamer and avid cosplayer. DISCLAIMER: ‘Nerds in Court’ is for entertainment purposes only. Nothing should be construed as legal advice, or any advice for that matter, and no attorney-client relationship is formed by reading these posts. Do not consider information provided here as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a qualified, licensed attorney in your state.


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