Celebrities Do Not Have to Pay for Tweeted Movie Ideas

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Movie Screenplay IdeaA judge has dismissed a case by a New Jersey actor claiming that Sylvester Stallone, among others, “stole” his idea for the movie Creed.

As Variety reports, Jarrett Alexander wrote a screenplay and created a pitch reel to promote the idea of the Creed movie.

Apollo Creed

Apollo Creed was a character in the original Rocky and several of the sequels. Creed was played by actor Carl Weathers.

In Rocky IV, Creed is killed by Russian fighter Ivan Drago and dies in Rocky’s arms.

In the Creed movie released by MGM, the seventh in the Rocky franchise, it’s revealed that Apollo Creed had an affair that resulted in the birth of a son, Adonis Johnson Creed.

In the latest film, Adonis Creed pursues a career as a boxer with Rocky’s help.

Tweets

Alexander claimed that Stallone was aware of his version of the Creed story because he and his friends tweeted Stallone a link to Alexander’s website.

For example, in 2012 one of Alexander’s friends tweeted:

@TheSlyStallone next rocky installment4u? 2min trailer. Wants to meet u. https://Www.creedmovie.com

Alexander and his supporters also tweeted the link to others, including Dwayne Johnson and Carl Weathers.

Idea Theft?

When Stallone’s Creed movie came out, Alexander sued for theft of his “idea.”

The judge dismissed the case, ruling that the tweets didn’t prove that Stallone or anyone else association with the released Creed film ever visited Alexander’s website.

The defendants had also argued that the case should be dismissed because Alexander’s Creed screenplay and video infringed the copyright in the original Rocky films.

The judge found that there was no agreement to pay Alexander for his idea:

It strains reason that Defendants ‘accepted’ Plaintiff’s offer to enter a contract or understood the conditions under which he tendered the Creed Idea from a unilateral tweet and from Plaintiff disseminating his Creed Idea on the Internet…. The Court will not allow a breach of implied contract claim to proceed on (1) tweets to a popular celebrity social media account which were never responded to; and (2) the fact that Defendants are generally in the same industry as unnamed individuals to whom (Alexander) sent the Screenplay.

The judge also noted that California law generally doesn’t provide a cause of action for theft of an idea.

Billy Wilder

The judge cited Desny v. Wilder, a 1956 California Supreme Court case.  In Desny, the court upheld the dismissal of a claim for idea theft based on the story of a boy who was trapped in a cave.

The writer called writer/director Billy Wilder’s Paramount office and pitched his secretary on the idea, later following up with an outline.

The secretary allegedly told the writer that “if Billy Wilder of Paramount uses the story, ‘naturally we will pay you for it.’ ”

The Law of Ideas

The judge summarized the law of ideas rather poetically:

Generally speaking, ideas are as free as the air and as speech and the senses, and as potent or weak, interesting or drab, as the experiences, philosophies, vocabularies, and other variables of speaker and listener may combine to produce, to portray, or to comprehend. But there can be circumstances when neither air nor ideas may be acquired without cost.

The judge in the Alexander case noted that since there was no contract between Alexander and Stallone or the other filmmakers he disclosed his ideas at his own risk:

[t]he idea man who blurts out his idea without having first made his bargain has no one but himself to blame for the loss of his bargaining power. The law will not in any event, from demands stated subsequent to the unconditioned disclosure of an abstract idea, imply a promise to pay for the idea, for its use, or for its previous disclosure.

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