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Breach of contract dispute may affect films coming to Miami

Miami moviegoers may have seen the trailer for the upcoming film “Premium Rush,” starring actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt. But movie fans may be unaware that the film, which tells the story of an intrepid bicycle messenger, has a controversy brewing underneath it. This controversy centers on a contract dispute that could negatively affect the movie, the studios behind it and the entire film industry.

The contract dispute is one between Sony, the studio overseeing the film, and the author of a 1998 novel that is allegedly similar to the film. The novel was optioned for film rights by Warner Bros. around the time of the publication of the novel, and a screenplay was written, only for the option to expire in 2002 with no film having been made. The author claims that “Premium Rush” is too similar to his own work, and that the film is derived from the original script produced from the novel, as well as the novel itself.

The exact dispute is what is called a breach of implied contract. Such a dispute focuses on the existence of an expectation that when an idea is submitted and is later used, the original writer will receive some sort of payment. However, the plaintiff — in this case the author of the novel — would have to prove both that such an expectation existed, and that the resulting material, in this case “Premium Rush,” is in fact derived from the original script or the novel.

This second condition would require the original script to have passed through multiple hands, across film production studios, and after the original optioning expired. A breach of implied contract dispute is easier to tackle than a copyright infringement claim, as the same proof of “substantially similar expression” is not required. However, as Miami film buffs may know, these matters are still complicated and involve documenting a connection between the two works.

Source: Hollywood Reporter, “Judge Rejects Sony Attempt to Kill ‘Premium Rush’ Lawsuit,” Eriq Gardner, July 6, 2012

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