- Copyright: joint authorship of film screenplay determined
Copyright: joint authorship of film screenplay determined
Copyright: joint authorship of film screenplay determined11th February 2021 - Published by Kuits Intellectual Property Team
Judgment has recently been handed down in the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court (IPEC) in the case of Martin v Kogan  EWHC 24. The case relates to the authorship of the screenplay for the film “Florence Foster Jenkins” starring Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant. The case illustrates how the Court applies the principles on assessing joint authorship and determining the relative contributions of the joint authors. It also sets out the Court’s approach to assessing witness evidence where part of that evidence is to be disbelieved.
Background of the case
A claim was brought by screenwriter Nicholas Martin for a declaration that he was the sole author of the screenplay. The Court initially determined the claim in 2017 in favour of Martin. However, the case was appealed and the Court of Appeal decided that the Judge had made a number of errors, particularly in restricting analysis to the final draft of the work. The Court of Appeal ordered that a new trial take place.
The background to the claim is that Julia Kogan, a professional opera singer, and Martin were in a relationship. Ms Kogan had the initial idea of a screenplay about Florence Foster Jenkins and together they worked on developing the idea with Kogan making plot and character suggestions, some suggestions for dialogue and particularly with regard to the musicality of the screenplay. As a writer, it was Mr Martin that actually put pen to paper and it was clear that the final draft of the screenplay was created by him. The Court had to determine whether the contribution that Kogan made was sufficient to amount to authorship, and if so, to determine the relative contributions of the authors.
The Court held that while the idea of the screenplay alone would not have been authorial, the contribution that Kogan made was creative and imaginative and an expression of her own intellectual creation. The fact that it was Martin who actually wrote down the words and had the final decision did not mean that Kogan did not make a contribution amounting to authorship.
The Court then had to determine the relative contributions. The starting point in this is a presumption in favour of equal shares, but if circumstances justify a different result, then the Court could assign shares pro rata to the parties’ individual contributions. In this case it was clear that Martin had made a considerably greater contribution to the work and therefore Kogan’s contribution was determined to be 20%.
Assessing witness evidence
The decision in this case also sets out the Court’s approach in assessing witness evidence where part of the evidence given by a witness was untrue. The principles are: that just because a witness is lying on one issue does not mean the entirety of their evidence is to be rejected; that a witness may lie to bolster a true story or bolster a false one; and that a witness’ evidence may be wrong without them having lied as their recollection may have become distorted.