On July 5, 2012, a federal court in California denied Sony Pictures’s motion to dismiss writer Joe Quirk’s beach of implied contract claim relating to the upcoming film, Premium Rush. Quirk v. Sony Pictures Entm’t Inc., No. C 11-3773 RS (N.D. Cal. July 5, 2012). Quirk alleged that Premium Rush is derived from his 1998 novel, Ultimate Rush, and that Sony breached an implied contract to compensate him for the use of his material. Although the court noted that Quirk’s theory of liability stretches California’s law of idea theft to its “breaking point” (id. at 6), Quirk’s claim was found to meet the low “facially plausible” standard required to survive a motion to dismiss.

Notably, Quirk failed to allege that Sony received a copy of Ultimate Rush directly from him or his agents. Instead, Quirk theorized that a copy of his novel “passed through one or more routes between those to whom his agent directly submitted the novel” and Sony. This distinction is important because, while there is significant precedent for implied contract claims when an author submits a literary work directly to a producer on the implied condition that the producer will pay if it uses the work, see, e.g., Desny v. Wilder, 46 Cal. 2d 715 (1956), there is no previous authority to support such an implied contract without direct contact.

The court explicitly stated that its decision to deny the motion was a “close call” and it applied an extremely fact-specific analysis. Nonetheless, the fact that Quirk’s claims were allowed to proceed may impact the landscape of implied contract and idea theft cases in California.