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Circumventing the 7th Amendment

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I have written many articles concerning copyright infringement over the years. It is so common people have an attitude that it does not matter. Well it does and will continue to matter. It matters to writers, photographers and other artists of all kinds. Being a photographer most of the time it is not as hard to show ownership of a photograph or in many cases prove infringement or DMCA violations. The example below shows how we must stand up for our rights no matter what artistic arena we are working.

This article is concerning a case that was decided with a summary judgment. I am not a big fan of summary judgment but the federal courts are and have been directed to use it to help clear the court’s calendars. The case I am writing about today concerns one Darryl D. Lassiter. I have been in contact with Darryl and gotten his opinions on many things. One is summary judgments. He is in favor of abolishing it. I am not but I do feel it should not be used to circumvent the 7th amendment to the Constitution as I personally feel it being done in this case and many others. I would like to see it removed from the courts as an option in copyright cases except for some of the most frivolous lawsuits.

A background on this case is in order since it is over ten years old. Darryl wrote a screenplay in 1992 concerning his college adventures in a black college band. It was put into a movie called Pay the Price in 2000. Without a distribution deal the film was released on video. The catch to all this is that along the way Darryl had approached Dallas Austin in 1994 with the script for Pay the Price and in 2000 for help with the distribution for the movie. That points to a very different situation than just a simple coincidence. Austin went on to make a movie called Drumline. They used the same college bands and storyline. With the personal contact in 1994 concerning the script the making of Drumline with all the similarities seems to a very large coincidence indeed. That alone makes the case for a jury trial. The case was filed but was transferred to the 9th district court in California and a summary judgment was issued closing the case. This is as far as I am going with the history of this case.

The purpose of this article is to show people that this type of thing goes on every day and is just swept under the rug. It is a huge and growing problem for photographers so beware. We as a people should be outraged that it is allowed to continue and even helped by the way the court system has reacted over the last few years. This applies especially to the 9th District Court. With that said, we have seen some signs that the work of many people fighting this fight is starting to pay dividends. The latest case being Getty vs Virtual Clinics the 9th ruled against a summary judgment for dismissal and imposed the maximum statutory damages it could impose. The Morel case that was decided approved a summary judgment for copyright infringement against several large corporations including Getty Images. The summary judgment was in favor of the photographer and was worth over a million dollars.

In my opinion after reading about this case including the story of his attorney showing a video publicly of 40 scenes in the movie that were almost identical is that Darryl and his co-plaintiff David Gough were victims of infringement and of a court system that has in the past allowed it to continue if not refuse to stop it. They should have been compensated accordingly and probably would have been if the case had been seen the light of day instead of being decided in a judge’s chamber behind closed doors.

Here is a quote from an article from PRNewswire. The full article is here.

Charles Stone III, the director of “Drumline,” released in December 2002, said “The only difference between the two films that I can see is that one got major studio funding [Drumline] and the other didn’t. Best of luck to the creators of ‘Pay the Price.’”

It seems to me that common sense says Darryl and David were taken advantage of and used to generate millions of dollars for Austin. They should have had their day in court and 20th Century Fox should have faced a jury.

Our founding fathers probably understood that just letting attorneys or judges decide may not be in the best interest of the people. Out of the 55 delegates only 35 had any training in the law at all and many did not have a law degree. The Constitution was written by people who tried to use commonsense to build this country not legalize. We know live in a society that allows the very people and institutions the Constitution is supposed to protect us from to circumvent and work around it. This is not a good thing.

I am a full and staunch supporter of the Constitution and especially The Bill of Rights. Everyone is supposed to have the right to a trial if the financial consequences are met under the 7th amendment. With that said, this case needs to be tried and let the commonsense of the people set the standards for professional conduct and what is fair. The preamble to the Constitution says WE the people, NOT we the attorneys and judges.

I am not an attorney. These are my personal opinions and general information only. These are not legal advice and should not be used as such.