Porto v. Guirgis, 659 F. Supp. 2d 597 (S.D.N.Y. 2009)
The Plaintiff asserted a claim for copyright infringement. Plaintiff wrote a novel about Judas Iscariot’s appeal from eternal damnation. In the novel, the court he appealed to was composed of religious and historical figures. The narrator of the novel is the target of violence surrounding the trial and its theme is “predestination.” The novel ends with outcome of the trial, which includes Jesus intervening on Judas’s behalf, and then the narrator wakes up from his dream.
The Defendant’s play was also about Judas and a trial but the trial was in purgatory and in front of a fictional judge. This play did not have a narrator and focused on Judas’s despair. The play ends with a foreman telling Judas he is guilty and the foreman delivers a monologue about why he is in purgatory and it culminates with Jesus washing Judas’s feet. A different ending from that of the plaintiff's.
A claim was brought to the court for copyright infringement, vicarious and contributory copyright infringement, and common law unfair competition against defendants, a playwright, a theater company, a director, and publishers. Defendant has subsequently filed a motion to dismiss and sought award of costs and attorneys fees.
Ultimately, the court granted defendants motion for summary judgment and granted them costs and attorneys fees. The court held that the two works were not substantially similar. Further, the idea of Judas standing trial was deemed not protectible.
Both works were not substantially similar as required in a copyright infringement claim. Additionally, the ideas about in Judas in the book are not protectible subject matter. The works were “dramatically different in substance, setting, plot, theme, language, and overall thrust and feel." Therefore, the plaintiff whom has the burden of proof shows no infringement.
Likely Future Importance
Works of authorship such as plays and novels, must be substantially similar in order for a copyright infringement claim to arise and succeed. An idea such as Judas’s trial, which is considered a historical and Christian theological concept, is not protectible under copyright laws.