Clint Eastwood's "Trouble With the Curve" wasn't a box-office hit, but that hasn't stopped a bitter and costly lawsuit over its authorship.
On Monday, a federal judge in Los Angeles will try to determine whether the baseball movie stole more than a base.
Former actor Randy Brown tried for years to become a screenwriter. Finally, after almost two decades of thankless effort, he sold a baseball story to Clint Eastwood's production company.
The film, a critical and commercial washout, grossed just $48.9 million globally. But Brown could say he wrote a produced feature.
Or could he? Now Brown must face accusations that his script was a copy of another baseball screenplay, called "Omaha," which producer Ryan Brooks alleges is his company's original creation.
In a copyright infringement lawsuit filed against Brown, Warner Bros. and Eastwood's production company, among others, Brooks and his production company allege that "Trouble With the Curve" not only copies the plot, characters, setting and scenes from "Omaha," but also that Brown's computer files and notebooks were doctored as part of an elaborate conspiracy to hide the plagiarism.
Brooks is seeking all "Trouble With the Curve" revenue on the basis of criminal copyright infringement, damages "in excess of tens of millions of dollars" and attorneys' fees.
Although the case is but one of dozens of usually unsuccessful complaints filed every year by screenwriters who claim that someone stole their scripts, the "Trouble With the Curve" litigation has been particularly venomous.
Warner Bros. dismisses the lawsuit as "reckless and a waste of time and money."
"The allegations are false," studio spokesman Paul McGuire said.
Lawyers for Brooks declined to comment.
In addition to piles of pleadings and expert reports costing tens of thousands of dollars, U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fischer and her law clerks have been sent and asked to compare several dozen drafts of "Trouble With the Curve" and "Omaha" ahead of Monday's hearing, in which lawyers for Brown, Eastwood and Warner Bros. will ask her to dismiss the lawsuit.
Brooks' lawyers are opposing that request for summary judgment and have asked the court to grant them more time to collect evidence to bolster their case.
Brown's attorneys hope to benefit from both copyright law and the sworn statements from several Hollywood executives, who say they read or knew about "Trouble With the Curve" as far back as 1997 — almost a decade before Brooks copyrighted his "Omaha" screenplay.
Copyright infringement law broadly requires that Brooks, a producer ("Inocente," "The Elephant King") and former college baseball player, prove that Brown had access to "Omaha" to copy it and that there is a "substantial similarity of protected expression" between the two works.
"Protected expression" doesn't include basic story lines or stock characters like grumpy older men. But even a plaintiff who doesn't have evidence of the defendant's prior access can still win if there is a "bare possibility" that the defendant could have viewed the work and that the works are "strikingly similar," or nearly exact copies.