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Miller v. Holtzbrinck Publishers

November 11, 2008

DIANNE MILLER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
HOLTZBRINCK PUBLISHERS, LLC, MACMILLAN PUBLISHERS, INC., SAINT MARTIN'S PRESS, HEATHER HUNTER AND MICHELLE VALENTINE, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Harold Baer, Jr., United States District Judge*fn1

OPINION & ORDER

Plaintiff Diane Miller ("Plaintiff") brings this lawsuit for tortious interference with business relations against Heather Hunter ("Defendant Hunter"), MacMillan Publishers, Inc., Holtzbrinck Publishers, LLC and Saint Martin's Press (collectively, the "MacMillan Defendants"), and Michelle Valentine ("Defendant Valentine"). Plaintiff also lodges a claim for conversion against the MacMillan Defendants and Defendant Valentine, and a claim for fraudulent inducement and misrepresentation against Defendant Hunter. Defendant Hunter and the MacMillan Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff's claims pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's claims against all the defendants are dismissed, but Plaintiff is granted leave to amend her claim for fraudulent inducement and misrepresentation against Defendant Hunter within twenty days from the date of this opinion.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, an author, alleges that she agreed to co-author a book for publication with Defendant Hunter and that in April of 2005 she delivered a finished manuscript to Defendant Hunter and her agent. Compl. ¶¶ 10-11. Plaintiff asserts that on July 24, 2007, the MacMillan Defendants released a book purportedly written by Defendants Hunter and Valentine. Id. ¶ 12. Plaintiff claims that this book is substantially the same work as the manuscript she delivered to Defendant Hunter in April 2005. Id. ¶ 13. The gravamen of Plaintiff's complaint is that Defendant Hunter intentionally misled her into believing that she would be paid and acknowledged as the principal writer of the book, and that all the defendants knew the book was not an original work by Defendants Hunter and Valentine but published the book without acknowledging or paying Plaintiff. Id. ¶¶ 14-16.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A motion to dismiss is properly granted when a complaint provides no "more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1965 (2007) ("Twombly"). In considering a motion to dismiss under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), a court must determine whether the claimant has stated a claim upon which relief may be granted. The factual allegations within the claim "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. "[O]nce a claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint." Id. at 1969. When deciding a motion to dismiss, a court must accept all the well-pleaded allegations of the claim as true, even if doubtful in fact, and must draw all reasonable inferences in the claimant's favor. Id. at 1965; Ruotolo v. City of New York, 514 F.3d 184, 188 (2d Cir. 2008).

III. DISCUSSION

A. Tortious Interference and Conversion Claims Are Preempted

The MacMillan Defendants and Defendant Hunter aver that Plaintiff's tortious interference and conversion claims under New York law are preempted by the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. § 101 et seq., which provides in pertinent part that all legal or equitable rights that are equivalent to any of the exclusive rights within the general scope of copyright... in works of authorship that are fixed in a tangible medium of expression and come within the subject matter of copyright... whether published or unpublished, are governed exclusively by this title....

[N]o person is entitled to any such right or equivalent right in any such work under the common law or statutes of any State.

17 U.S.C. § 301(a) (emphasis added).

Thus, the Copyright Act preempts a state claim when: (1) the work at issue is of a type that is protected by the Copyright Act (referred to as the "subject matter requirement"); (2) the state claim seeks to redress a legal or equitable right that is "equivalent" to one of the exclusive rights protected by the Act; and (3) the law claim does not contain any additional elements that would make it qualitatively different from a federal copyright infringement claim (referred to as the "general scope requirement"). See, e.g., Silverstein v. Penguin Putnam, Inc., 522 F. Supp. 2d 579, 608 (S.D.N.Y. 2007); Briarpatch Ltd. v. Phoenix Pictures, 373 F.3d 296, 305 (2d Cir. 2004).

Both the tortious interference and conversion claims depend on Plaintiff's allegations that the substance of her manuscript was published as a book bearing the names of Defendants Hunter and Valentine as authors, without her permission. Here, the subject matter requirement is met because Plaintiff's manuscript was a literary work protected by the Copyright Act. The Copyright Act protects "original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression," including literary works, and accords the authors of such works the exclusive rights of publication, copying and distribution. 17 U.S.C. §§ 102, 106; see also Harper & Row Publishers, Inc. v. Nation Enters., 471 U.S. 539, 546-47 (1985). "Literary works" include manuscripts within the meaning of the Copyright Act. 17 U.S.C. § 101.

Plaintiff's claims for tortious interference with business relations and conversion seek to redress a legal or equitable right that is equivalent to exclusive rights protected by the Copyright Act: her exclusive rights to publish, copy and distribute her manuscript under her own name. The tortious interference claim depends on her contention that Defendants' "fail[ure] to give Plaintiff notoriety for the manuscript written" injured Plaintiff's "business relations with those inside of the literary community." Compl. ΒΆ 21. To support her conversion claim she alleges that Defendant Valentine "intentionally took the manuscript written by Plaintiff, and held it out as her own work," ...


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