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National Center For Jewish Film v. Riverside Films LLC; Joseph Dorman; and Does 1 Through 10

September 14, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Otis D. Wright, II United States District Judge


Before the Court is Defendants Riverside Films LLC and Joseph Dorman's Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 25.) Defendants seek a judgment that either: Plaintiff National Center for Jewish Film's copyrights are invalid; or that Defendants' use of the alleged copyrighted materials constitutes fair use. For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS Defendants' Motion.


Plaintiff, a non-profit corporation, archives and distributes films that promote Jewish heritage. (UF ¶ 1.) In July 2011, Defendants released a feature-length documentary, Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness. (UF ¶ 4.) The film is about a 19th century Yiddish author whose works have remained a cultural touchstone for Jews across the world. (UF ¶ 5.) More than a mere biography, the film examines the last 150 years of Jewish history, covering the transition from the traditional, religiously dominated world of shtetls to modern secular life.*fn1 (UF ¶ 6.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendants, without permission or compensation, used clips of varying lengths from four of Plaintiff's copyrighted films: (1) Yiddle with His Fiddle; (2) A Letter to Mother;(3) Tevye the Milkman;and (4) Jewish Luck. (Opp'n 4.)

While Plaintiff did not register a copyright for Yiddle or Letter in the U.S., Plaintiff asserts that Joseph Green, the screenplay writer and director of these two films, owned and later assigned his Polish copyrights to Plaintiff in 1990. (Opp'n 1--2.) Plaintiff also contends that in 1996, the U.S. Copyright Office restored the copyright in Yiddle and Letter. (Opp'n 8--9.) In 1997, Plaintiff registered the assignment and its restored and assigned copyrights for Yiddle and Letter with the U.S. Copyright Office. (Opp'n 1--2.)

Regarding Tevye and Jewish Luck,Plaintiffaversit registered the English prologues and English subtitles as derivative works in 1981 and 2011, respectively. (Opp'n 2--3.) Plaintiff concedes that, as with any derivative work, it did not register the original films. (UF ¶¶ 27, 32.) Defendants do not dispute that Plaintiff registered the English prologues and subtitles as derivative works. (Reply 4.)

Attempting to enforce their copyrights, Plaintiff filed a complaint alleging seven claims against Defendants for: (1) copyright infringement; (2) vicarious and contributory copyright infringement; (3) unfair competition under California Business and Professions Code section 17200; (4) unfair competition under section 43(a) of the Lanham Act; (5) common law unfair competition; (6) injunctive relief; and

(7) declaratory relief.

Defendants now seek summary judgment on all claims and assert the fair use defense, arguing their limited use of short clips from the four films, along with other factors such as the nature of the four films and the purpose of the use, constitutes fair use under 17 U.S.C. § 107. (Mot. 10--11.)

Defendants also argue that Plaintiff either owns no copyright or a limited copyright in the four films. Specifically: (1) Defendants dispute whether Green owned or later assigned any Polish copyrights in either Yiddle or Letter, and whether Green could have conveyed to Plaintiff any interest at all, since Yiddle and Letter were in the public domain (Mot. 9); and (2) Defendants contend that Plaintiff's copyrights in Tevye and Jewish Luck protect only the English prologues and subtitles in those two films, and not the films as a whole. (Mot. 10.)


Summary judgment should be granted if there are no genuine issues of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. The moving party bears the initial burden of establishing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323--24 (1986). Once the moving party has met its burden, the nonmoving party must go beyond the pleadings and identify specific facts that show a genuine issue for trial. Id.

A genuine issue of material fact must be more than a scintilla of evidence, or evidence that is merely colorable or not significantly probative. Addisu v. Fred Meyer, Inc., 198 F.3d 1130, 1134 (9th Cir. 2000). A disputed fact is "material" where the resolution of that fact might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1968). An issue is "genuine" if the evidence is sufficient for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Id. Where the moving and nonmoving parties' versions of events differ, courts are required to view the facts and draw reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007).

Further, the Court need not "scour the record in search of a genuine issue of triable fact"-it is the nonmoving party's responsibility to "identify with reasonable particularity the evidence that precludes summary judgment." Keenan v. Allan, 91 F.3d 1275, 1279 (9th Cir. 1996). Finally, conclusory or speculative testimony in affidavits and moving papers is insufficient to raise genuine issues of fact and ...

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