Media Law Prof Blog

Editor: Christine A. Corcos
Louisiana State Univ.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Ninth Circuit Rules In Flashdance Case

The Ninth Circuit has ruled in Marder v. Lopez that a dancer who signed a General Release allowing Paramount to use her life story as the basis for the film Flashdance and received $2300 in return does not state a claim upon which relief can be granted in her attempt to share in "the revenues Paramount allegedly received from Sony for the licensing and exploitation of Flashdance in the Video [Jennifer Lopez created]" or as co-author of the screenplay for the film, or in claims under the "Lanham Act, the Copyright Act, and the state law right of publicity and unfair competition." The court examined the General Release and held that its language "is exceptionally broad and we hold that it is fatal to each of Marder's claims against Paramount. Such a release of "each and every claim" covers all claims within the scope of the language, absent extrinsic evidence to the contrary." While the court noted that "in hindsight the agreement appears to be unfair to Marder...there is simply no evidence that her consent was obtained by fraud, deception, misrepresentation, duress, or undue influence. Indeed, when she signed the Release, Marder was represented by counsel. She has not asserted that her counsel in 1983 was incompetent or deficient in any way." Neither could she assert copyright infringement claims against Sony or against singer Jennifer Lopez for a music video Lopez created that used scenes from the film.

The court considered Marder's claim that the Release did not apply to her contention that she still retained co-ownership and co-authorship rights. "This argument contravenes the plain language of the Release which states that Marder released Paramount from "each and every claim...of any kind or character." Marder also claimed that "the word "matters is susceptible to a narrower interpretation as "actionable conduct." According to Marder, the "actionable conduct" here was the alleged infringement by Sony and Lopez in 2003...Therefore Marder alleges that her claims are not precluded....Admittedly, the word "matter" has a specialized legal meaning...But courts should interpret the words of a contract in their "ordinary and popular sense..."...We read the Release to suggest that the parties did not intend "matters" to be interpreted in a strictly legal sense. The Release actually encourages a broad reading...because it encompasses claims that "are based in whole or in part upon any matters occurring" prior to the date of the Release."

In addition, the court affirmed the lower court's dismissal of Marder's claims against Sony and Lopez. Since she had no co-ownership of the film Flashdance, she could not establish a copyright infringement claim against Sony and Lopez.

Read the entire opinion here.

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