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ARDEN v. COLUMBIA PICTURES INDUS.

December 7, 1995

LEON ARDEN, Plaintiff, against COLUMBIA PICTURES INDUSTRIES, INC., DANNY RUBIN, HAROLD RAMIS, and TREVOR ALBERT, Defendants.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: CHIN

 CHIN, D.J.

 In 1981, plaintiff Leon Arden published a novel, One Fine Day (or the "Novel"), which told the story of a man trapped in a repeating day, forced to live the same day over and over. Some twelve years later, defendants Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc., Danny Rubin, Harold Ramis, and Trevor Albert released their film "Groundhog Day" (or the "Film"), which also featured a man caught in a repeating day.

 Plaintiff brought this action alleging that in making the Film defendants copied certain elements of the Novel, including the plot, mood, characters, pace, setting, and sequence of events. Plaintiff seeks relief under the Copyright Act, the Lanham Act and principles of common law. Defendants have moved for summary judgment on the grounds that no substantial similarity exists with respect to protectible elements of the works.

 BACKGROUND

 A. One Fine Day

 The Novel tells the story of Robinson Blake ("Rob"), a bachelor in his mid-thirties who experiences the unusual phenomenon of a repeating day. As this day recurs, Rob pursues various goals, including discovery of the reason for the phenomenon, a love affair with his boss's wife, Philippa, and the rescue of his former love interest, Milly, from her attempted suicide. After many recurrences of the repeating day, as well as encounters with witchcraft and with God, Rob ultimately attains these goals.

 The Novel begins with Rob ruminating about life's endless beginnings, including the daily routine of waking and getting ready for work. In an effort to break this monotony, Rob has wired a tape recorder to an automatic timer, which awakens him this morning to the sound of his own voice shouting "Wake up you lazy bastard." He looks at a print on the wall, noticing the sunlight touching the lower right-hand corner of the picture frame. Rob finds his slippers and prepares his breakfast, listening to the radio as he gets ready for work. As Rob leaves his apartment, he hears the phone ringing, and thinks that it is a call from Milly, his secretary with whom he has been engaged in a love affair. Without answering the phone, Rob locks the apartment and upon entering the hallway sees an attractive red-headed tenant as she steps into the elevator.

 On the way to the subway Rob notices that two cars have collided in front of his building, sees a man lose his hat in the wind, and buys a newspaper from a street vendor. Rob rides on the subway and then walks to his office, passing a derelict who falls to the ground and is aided by other passersby. Once inside the office building, Rob encounters Vince, the elevator man, who makes a vain attempt at humor. Arriving at work early, Rob sits in his office and contemplates his planned breakup with Milly, which he has postponed numerous times. He reflects upon the start of his relationship with the somewhat plain and sorrowful Milly, remembering how she gave him a ride to a business project in Vermont, as she was driving there to visit her mother. When Rob was no longer needed for the project, Milly offered to let him stay at her mother's home. Murray Scanlan, Rob's boss, interrupts this daydream, and asks Rob to write down a recipe for Philippa, Scanlan's wife, who is expected to stop by the office that day.

 Shortly thereafter Milly arrives at the office and the workday begins. After working for a few hours, Milly guesses what is on Rob's mind and asks him if he wants to end their relationship. His delay in answering indicates that he does. Milly valiantly pulls herself together and they continue working until Scanlan summons Rob to deliver the recipe to Philippa, who is waiting in her husband's office.

 Upon arriving in Scanlan's office, Rob lusts after Philippa, reminiscing about a work-related weekend trip during which he and Philippa enjoyed a late-night swim. After Scanlan leaves his office to speak to another employee, Philippa tells Rob about a dream she had had that night, when Scanlan interrupts to berate Rob for editing a paragraph of a pamphlet that Scanlan had written. Rob returns to his office and is comforted by Philippa, who encourages him to stand up to her husband, starting with leaving work to spend the rest of the day with her. Unable to challenge his boss, Rob regretfully declines her invitation, works for the afternoon, and eventually returns home to his apartment.

 Back at his apartment, Rob spends the evening listening to music, thinking about Philippa, and reading. The telephone rings, but Rob does not answer it because he believes Milly is calling. After eight more unanswered calls the ringing finally stops. Rob watches the news on television, the top stories including the explosion of a Pan Am airplane and the rape of a woman in the laundry room of a nearby apartment building. Rob then goes to bed, first changing the message on his tape recorder to a gentler greeting, leaving the time set for seven-thirty.

 The following morning at seven-thirty Rob again hears the sound of his first, offensive message. Believing he set the tape in the wrong place, Rob prepares for work as usual. He leaves the apartment and as he locks the door hears the phone ring. Again Rob sees the red-headed woman, whom he now refers to as "Her Majesty," in the hallway, and rides downstairs in the elevator with her, attempting unsuccessfully to start a conversation.

 As Rob leaves the apartment building, two cars crash in the street. Rob remembers that a similar accident took place the day before, but does not think much of it and continues on his way to work. After his daily subway ride to work, Rob again sees that the derelict has fallen. Realizing that something is wrong, Rob checks the date on his newspaper--it reads April 15, yesterday's date. Thinking that he has been sold an old newspaper, Rob checks a pile of newspapers at another newsstand, but each reads "Monday, April 15." After experiencing a moment of shock, Rob enters his office building, believing that he must be working too much. The elevator man repeats yesterday's jokes, and again Scanlan enters Rob's office, asking for the recipe for Philippa. Concluding that he must be ill, Rob phones his doctor's office, but no one has arrived there yet.

 Milly arrives at work and after a while realizes that Rob wants to end their relationship. Again Scanlan calls Rob to his office, where Philippa is waiting for the recipe. Scanlan leaves his office, and Rob and Philippa talk. Rob says he has been experiencing deja vu, and tells Philippa, who has no memory of the previous day's events, that in a moment Scanlan will burst into the office and yell at Rob. As predicted, Scanlan enters the room, screaming at Rob. This time Rob grabs the pamphlet, tears it up, and shouts at Scanlan, "SHUT UP!" Rob decides to leave for the day, and Philippa follows him. He tells Philippa that he is experiencing a repeating day. Again Rob calls his doctor, but the doctor is unable to see Rob for three days. Rob then calls a psychiatrist, who is out to lunch.

 Returning to his apartment, Rob again receives nine phone calls in succession. Rob drinks and listens to music to distract himself, and later watches the same stories on the nightly news. Rob decides to go to bed; this time he removes the old cassette from the tape recorder and records another new wake-up message.

 The following morning Rob awakens to the original message and upon discovering that it is again Monday, April 15, comes to believe that he is dead and is experiencing hell. Milly calls again, Rob hears the accident through the window, sees the man lose his hat in the wind, watches Her Majesty walking toward the subway station, etc.

 Rob realizes that he can do whatever he wishes without consequence, because at midnight all will be erased. Recognizing his freedom to act with abandon and the potential enjoyment this lack of consequences presents, Rob concludes that he cannot be in hell. Rather, Rob reasons that he must be in purgatory, from which he can earn his release by performing good works. Thus, Rob donates three-quarters of his life's savings to the United Cancer Fund, prevents the rape of the woman in the laundry room, and calls the airport anonymously to report a bomb on the Pan Am flight.

 Rob tries to escape the trap by flying to Los Angeles. When the clock strikes midnight (New York time), however, Rob is back in his bed again, listening to the sound of his own voice. After drowning his sorrows in brandy, Rob rides the elevator downstairs with Her Majesty, whom he proceeds to grab. Rob takes advantage of the knowledge he has learned from past repetitions of the day to explain his actions to Her Majesty and to pursue Philippa. As the day continues to repeat, Rob realizes that he is not in purgatory.

 In a break from the repeating day, Rob remembers the beginning of his relationship with Milly, picking up where his earlier remembrances left off, at the Vermont cottage of Mrs. Hawkmann, Milly's overbearing mother. Mrs. Hawkmann discusses her daughter's love life (or lack thereof) with Rob. Shortly thereafter Rob seduces Milly, marking the beginning of their love affair. For approximately fifteen pages Rob reminisces about his affair with Milly, which continued until his feelings for her ceased abruptly.

 Returning to the trap of the repeating day, Rob continues to exploit his new-found freedom from consequence, eating expensive meals and declaring his love to Philippa. He uses his knowledge of the dream Philippa described to him to seduce her while her husband is at work.

 One evening Rob answers the telephone and discovers that Milly has killed herself. Rob rushes to Milly's apartment, finds the police there, and fervently hopes that she will be alive again at midnight. The next morning Rob calls Milly to make sure that she is still alive. Upon discovering that she is, Rob determines that the solution to his conundrum is to prevent Milly's suicide. Thus, he spends that day and night with Milly, pretending that he still cares for her. The next morning Rob wakes up alone, to the sound of his own voice repeating the original message. Upon realizing that saving Milly did not make a difference, he becomes enraged and breaks the tape recorder by pounding upon it with a chair.

 When Rob finally calms down, he gazes at the print on the wall and notices that each day the sunlight has hit a different spot on the painting; this leads him to believe that there is something wrong with the sun, something that he does not understand. Again Rob visits Philippa and seduces her. That evening Rob saves Milly, who tells him about massive tidal waves that have been striking various parts of the earth, causing widespread flooding and disaster.

 The next day Rob again seduces Philippa while her husband is at work. That evening Rob again prevents Milly's suicide. Rob continues to spend the day with Philippa and the evening with Milly. Becoming tired of saving Milly, Rob decides to enlist Mrs. Hawkmann's help, but is unable to contact her.

 During their days together, Rob and Philippa eat lunch at various restaurants. On one occasion, Rob spots Mrs. Hawkmann walking by the restaurant. Rob chases Mrs. Hawkmann, follows her onto a bus, and approaches her to discuss Milly. Rob tells Mrs. Hawkmann that Milly is suicidal and asks her to watch over Milly for one night. Mrs. Hawkmann states that she and Milly are not speaking and that he should save her. Finally, Rob convinces Mrs. Hawkmann to attend to Milly, but Mrs. Hawkmann manages to disappear, leaving Rob to save Milly.

 While eating lunch with Philippa the next day at the same restaurant, Rob anxiously looks out the window for Mrs. Hawkmann. To Rob's bewilderment, Mrs. Hawkmann is nowhere to be found. Rob takes a train to Vermont in search of Milly's mother. When he finds the house locked, Rob breaks in to look for Mrs. Hawkmann. Searching the cellar, Rob discovers signs that Mrs. Hawkmann has been practicing witchcraft, including a circular band of black material spread out on the floor with various items placed on it, as well as a clock with its hands tied to a small straw doll with one of Rob's neckties. The doll's feet are bound with a string of beads similar to the kind that Milly wears. Rob tries to destroy Mrs. Hawkmann's creation, breaking the clock. Thinking he has finally stopped the repeating day, Rob calls Milly, telling her to wait for him and not to do anything rash in the meantime. He rushes back to New York, and calls Milly as soon as he arrives at Grand Central Station, only to find that the police officer is at her apartment and that Milly is dead.

 Rob hires Vince, the elevator man, to follow Mrs. Hawkmann and learns that she is at Kennedy Airport, about to take a flight to London aboard the airplane that explodes each day. Rob purchases a ticket, instructing Vince to report the bomb. Aboard the airplane, Rob confronts Mrs. Hawkmann, who explains that she was merely using white magic to help her daughter. The clairvoyant Mrs. Hawkmann had seen Milly's suicide and made a pact with the devil to repeat the day until she could save her daughter. Mrs. Hawkmann does not know why the day has continued to repeat, and her efforts to stop it have failed.

 Meanwhile, as the flight continues, Rob grows worried that Vince has not reported the bomb. A child aboard the airplane leads Rob into the restroom, the light goes out, and when Rob turns it on again he is in his bedroom closet, and the child is gone. Her Majesty appears at the door and surprises Rob by remembering the day he fondled her in the elevator. God, in the form of Her Majesty, proceeds to explain that the earth's spin has been slowing down, requiring intervention to prevent the earth from stopping entirely. To solve the problem, God adjusted the earth's rotation through numerous repetitions of a day. This happened to be the very day on which Milly committed suicide.

 Back on the airplane, Rob discovers that Mrs. Hawkmann has reported the bomb herself. Now that God has fixed the problem with the earth's spin, the day will stop repeating and this time Rob must prevent Milly's suicide. To be certain her daughter would not kill herself, however, Mrs. Hawkmann has already sent Milly a telegram purporting to be a marriage proposal from Rob. That night at midnight Rob remains in London, to his delight.

 After flying back to New York the next day, Mrs. Hawkmann calls Milly and finds her still alive. Rob visits Philippa to profess his love for her--Philippa, however, believes that Rob is engaged to Milly. Scanlan returns to the apartment, and Rob reveals that he and Philippa had an affair, describing things about Philippa that he could not have known otherwise. Scanlan attacks Rob, and fires him. Rob returns to the office, where he finds Milly, and accepts that he will have to marry Milly to keep her from killing herself. Meanwhile, Philippa calls Rob and asks him to meet her for lunch.

 At the restaurant, Rob discovers that Philippa thinks he is the reincarnation of her long lost love who died years ago, but realizes that he is not when he is unable to name the gift given to her by her former lover. In her anger, Philippa persuades Rob to kiss her in front of Milly, who, unbeknownst to Rob, is looking at them through a window. Rob runs after Milly; shortly thereafter, however, Mrs. Hawkmann succeeds in removing the spell from her daughter, and suddenly Milly is no longer in love with Rob, leaving him free to pursue Philippa.

 B. "Groundhog Day"

 Columbia Pictures released the motion picture "Groundhog Day" for theatrical exhibition in the United States in 1993. Defendants Danny Rubin and Harold Ramis co-authored the screenplay for the Film, purportedly on the basis of a story written by Danny Rubin. Trevor Albert and Harold Ramis produced the Film. "Groundhog Day" involves Phil Connors ("Phil"), a Pittsburgh television weatherman in his mid-thirties portrayed by Bill Murray. Accompanied by a camera man, Larry (played by Chris Elliott), and his producer, Rita (played by Andie MacDowell), the self-absorbed Phil travels to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to cover the annual Groundhog Day festivities taking place ...


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