On July 17, 2014, Douglas Jordan-Benel sued Universal Studios, United Talent Agency and screenplay writer, James Demonaco, claiming the movie The Purge is based on his screenplay, Settler’s Day. Jordan-Benel alleges in his complaint that he submitted his screenplay for consideration to United Talent Agency around July 8, 2011, but the work was ultimately rejected. However, the same agent who passed on Settler’s Day supervised the agent of The Purge writer James Demonaco. As evidence, Jordan-Benel highlights the similarities in theme, setting and plot. In the complaint, Jordan-Benel expresses four claims for relief: copyright infringement regarding The Purge movie, copyright infringement regarding The Purge script, breach of implied-in-fact contract, and declaratory relief.
Universal Studios attempted to dismiss the lawsuit, but California federal judge Michael Fitzgerald denied the motion. Judge Fitzgerald finds Jordan-Benel’s allegations “plausible.” In his discussion of the denial, Judge Fitzgerald states, “[g]iven DeMonaco’s relationship with [United Talent Agency] at the time of the transmission, Kramer’s supervision of DeMonaco’s own agent, and the relatively short interval between submission of the Script and the release of The Purge, Plaintiff’s allegation that the Script was passed on to DeMonaco is not implausible as a matter of law.” The judge did, however, grant the defendants’ motion to strike plaintiff’s request for statutory damages and attorney’s fees. The defendants appealed the motion to dismiss but the district court’s decision was affirmed by the appeals court.
Currently, the lawsuit is in discovery. In September, Jordan-Benel requested emails from DeMonaco, finding discrepancies in email timestamps. He believed there may have been tampering in an attempt to make it look like DeMonaco created the The Purge before he actually did. Though the Judge originally granted the motion, further email requests have been denied. The Judge stated, “[the] plaintiff does not convincingly demonstrate to the court that a deeper dive into the many [more] e-mails [the plaintiff later requested] will produce any evidence to resolve Plaintiff’s suspicions about their authenticity.” Despite this, DeMonaco will have to turn over the original files of the screenplay.
Katherine Khazal is an Entertainment Highlight Contributor for the Harvard Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law and a current first year student at Harvard Law School (Class of 2021).