On Friday, March 5, 2010, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California granted Sony’s motion for summary judgment in Bissoon-Dath v. Sony Computer Entertainment of America, Inc., Case No. 08-cv-012350MHP.
Bissoon-Dath and a fellow plaintiff are screenwriters who previously accused Sony of copying elements of several of the plaintiff’s stories in developing Sony’s God of War video game.
In considering this motion for summary judgment, the court evaluated the plaintiffs’ claims for copyright infringement to determine whether “no reasonable juror could find substantial similarity of ideas and expression” between the plaintiffs’ stories and God of War. In particular, the court explained that the legal standard for copyright infringement required a plaintiff to show ownership of the copyright and copying of protected elements.
This case turned on the issue of copying, and the court evaluated whether the plaintiffs’ stories and God of War were “substantially similar,” which the plaintiffs had to establish to prove copying. In doing this, the court compared the plot, themes, dialogue, mood, settings, pace, characters, and sequence of events of the works.
In addition, the court noted that general plot ideas and other scenes that flow naturally from “unprotectable basic plot premises” are not protected by copyright law and thus not considered when the works are compared. As the court put it:
“In such a case, it is particularly important for the court to use its own ‘Blade of Chaos’ to slice or filter out the unprotectable elements. Greek gods, dialogues among them about mortal affairs, rivalries among the gods, and mythical beasts such as the Hydra or the Nemean Lion are unprotectable elements; it is uncontroversial that they have been used widely in both ancient and modern artistic works, in the naming of astronomical bodies and spacecraft, and in other fields.” Slip Op. at 19-20.
Ultimately, after comparing all of the elements listed above (i.e., the plot, themes, dialogue, mood, settings, pace, characters, and sequence of events of the works), the court concluded that no reasonable juror could find substantial similarity between the plaintiff’s stories and God of War, and the court therefore ruled in favor of Sony.