United States District Court, S.D. New York
OPINION AND ORDER
G. SCHOFIELD, DISTRICT JUDGE
January 3, 2016, Plaintiff Michael Kaye filed this copyright
infringement action against Cartoon Network, Inc.; Turner
Broadcast Systems, Inc.; Cable News Network, Inc.; Time
Warner, Inc.; Boom Entertainment, Inc.; Rebecca Sugar; Ian
Jones-Quartey and Does 1-10. The Complaint alleges that
Defendants violated the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 101
et seq., by copying Plaintiff s Amphoman
comic book series in their Steven Universe
television series. Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6), Defendants move to dismiss the Complaint
on the ground that Steven Universe is not
substantially similar to Amphoman as a matter of
law. As discussed below, Defendants' motion is granted.
facts below are drawn from the Complaint and documents and
other evidence integral to the Complaint, including
Plaintiffs comic book series, Amphoman, and a
significant portion of the television series, Steven
Universe. The facts are construed in the light most
favorable to Plaintiff as the non-moving party. See Doe
v. Columbia Univ., 831 F.3d 46, 48 (2d Cir. 2016).
began developing the Amphoman character in 1989, and holds
thirty-one related copyrights, the first of which he obtained
in 1995. Between 2012 and 2013, Plaintiff self-published
Amphoman as a nine-part comic book series. The comic
books tell the story of Dr. Ulrius Joules, a marine biologist
striving to cure his own rare form of terminal cancer. Dr.
Joules also worries about the money he lost in the
“mortgage housing crisis, ” his expensive car
loan payments, lack of a pension and the American healthcare
system. He uses profane and sexually explicit language, often
in Yiddish, throughout the comic books.
Joules lives in a condo in Fort Lauderdale. One day, he finds
a green gem that fell from space. After Dr. Joules
accidentally gets water on the gem, it magically fuses into
Dr. Joules' forehead. Since then, whenever Dr. Joules
gets wet, he transforms into Amphoman, an amphibious male
superhero. Amphoman has a long powerful tongue and slippery
skin. He can jump great distances, scale walls, swim at
“stupendous” speed and is cured of cancer. Those
superpowers and the freedom from cancer last only a few
hours, after which Amphoman transforms back to Dr. Joules,
until he gets wet again.
gem contains the soul of a frog, which was placed there by an
evil space king. Other gems that have landed in Fort
Lauderdale also contain the souls of animals and each gem has
its own trigger resulting in its own unique superpowers. For
example, a gem with the soul of an electric eel endows its
human host with electric energy depicted as lightning bolts.
People who find these gems “trigger” them and
transform into super-beings, usually villains, who cause
mayhem across Fort Lauderdale.
saves the city by fighting these super-villains to return
them to their human form, at which point he is able to
dislodge and crush their gems. The super-villains include
Black Bull, a male super-villain who wants to create an army
of womanizers to “teach girls that men are in charge,
” and Shadow Witch, the only female character. Amphoman
is sometimes accompanied by Bleash, another super-hero who
has learned to manipulate his gem's trigger and control
are the creators, distributors and copyright holders of the
animated television series Steven Universe, which
first aired on Cartoon Network in 2013. The show, with scores
of episodes, is still being produced and aired. It tells the
story of a boy named Steven who lives with three
“Crystal Gem” female guardians, Garnet, Pearl and
Amethyst, in a magical temple in “Beach City.”
Crystal Gems are anthropomorphic space rocks. Good Crystal
Gems, like Steven's guardians, protect Earth from
invasions by evil Crystal Gems.
is half Crystal Gem (on his mother's side) and half human
(on his father's side). Crystal Gems have gemstones
embedded in their bodies, symbolizing that the characters are
Crystal Gems. Steven's pink gemstone is in his stomach.
Crystal Gems have unique weapons that emanate from their
gems, and Steven can summon a magical shield from his
gemstone. While the gemstones occasionally glow, they are not
the source of a Crystal Gem's magical powers; a Crystal
Gem's superpowers are innate. For example, Steven can
heal and engulf himself in a protective bubble, and Garnet
can see into the future. Over time, Steven learns to use his
powers to help protect Earth from evil Crystal Gems.
having superpowers, Steven loves “Cookie Cat”
ice-cream sandwiches and is passionate about arcade
videogames. He hopes to fit in with Beach City's popular
kids and scouts for potential playdates. During the course of
their adventures, Steven and his Crystal Gem companions learn
valuable life lessons; each Steven Universe episode
comes with a message. For example, one episode teaches that
everyone is different and things come at one's own time.
Another episode shows that pretending to be someone you are
not will cause more harm than good. The show is also replete
with musical-theater-like numbers; the characters sing,
Steven plays the ukulele and the piano, and his father plays
motion to dismiss, a court accepts as true all well-pleaded
factual allegations and draws all reasonable inferences in
favor of the non-moving party. Trs. of Upstate N.Y.
Eng'rs Pension Fund v. Ivy Asset Mgmt., 843 F.3d
561, 566 (2d Cir. 2016). To withstand dismissal, a pleading
“must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as
true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on
its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S.
662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl Corp. v. Twombly,550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Where the disputed works are
attached to or incorporated by reference in the complaint, a
district court can “consider the similarity between
those works in connection with a motion to dismiss, because
the court has before it all that is necessary in order to
make such an evaluation.” Peter F. Gaito
Architecture, LLC v. Simone Dev. Corp., 602 F.3d 57, 64
(2d Cir. 2010). In a copyright infringement action,
“the works themselves supersede and control ...