USDC N.D. California, August 11, 2011

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  • District court awards attorneys' fees of approximately $350,000 to defendants unsuccessful copyright infringement action against James Cameron and others involved in the production of The Terminator and The Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

In 2005, plaintiff Neil Goldberg sued director and writer James Cameron, writer Gale Ann Hurd, and Pacific Western Productions for copyright infringement, claiming that he sent a script and soundtrack to New World Pictures in or around 1979 that were later incorporated into the motion pictures The Terminator (T-1) and The Terminator 2: Judgment Day(T-2). Goldberg also alleged copyright infringement with respect to the later motion pictures Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (T-3) and Terminator 4: Salvation (T-4) and the television series the Sarah Connor Chronicles (Chronicles).

Defendant Cameron directed T-1 and T-2, and both he and defendant Hurd co-wrote T-1 and T-2. Defendants had no involvement with T-3, T-4 or Chronicles. Hurd assigned her rights to the Terminator franchise in 1998.

In February 2007, the court granted defendants’ motion to dismiss Goldberg’s claims arising prior to August 2002 as barred by the statute of limitations. Defendants’ counsel then wrote to Goldberg’s counsel and advised him to dismiss the action and to pursue any claims against the companies involved in the production of T-3, T-4 and Chronicles. Plaintiff did not dismiss the action.

Goldberg filed an amended complaint, portions of which the court dismissed in July 2007, and the remainder of which was resolved by summary judgment in favor of the defendants in December 2008. Goldberg then amended his complaint again to pursue a claim of contributory copyright infringement against Hurd, in connection with her assignment of rights to the Terminator Franchise. The court granted summary judgment for Hurd in April 2011.

The court awarded defendants discretionary attorneys' fees of approximately $350,000 under Section 505 of the Copyright Act. In awarding such fees, the court considered several factors, such as (1) the degree of success obtained, (2) frivolousness, (3) motivation, (4) objective unreasonableness of the factual and legal arguments, (5) the need to advance considerations of compensation and deterrence.

After acknowledging defendants’ success in the matter, the court found that Goldberg’s claims of infringement with respect to T-1 and T-2 were frivolous and objectively unreasonable because they were long time-barred and because Goldberg failed to offer any evidence of access or substantial similarity. Goldberg’s claim of contributory infringement against Hurd was not frivolous, but was objectively unreasonable because Goldberg failed to bring a direct infringement claim against anyone involved in T-3, T-4 or Chronicles, and failed to substantiate the claim beyond offering speculative testimony. Although the court found that Goldberg was not motivated by bad faith in bringing his claims, it concluded that an award of fees was appropriate in order to deter such meritless suits and to compensate defendants for the resources they had expended after litigating for six years.